Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Grace of God in Christ (John 1.14-18)

September 20, 2009
Sermon by: Robert Austell
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Some Sundays the sermon varies significantly from the draft manuscript. This is one such Sunday, and I commend the audio version over the written version below.


Last week, this week, and next week, we are looking at the same set of core verses in John 1. Last week we were reminded that Jesus uniquely shows us God the Father. I used physical blindness to illustrate our spiritual blindness apart from Jesus Christ to note that it is only Jesus who opens our spiritual eyes so that God’s Word to us makes sense.

The passage in John goes on twice to describe Jesus in terms of “grace and truth.” This week I want to talk to you about the Grace of God revealed to us when Jesus opens our eyes to God. And next week, we’ll look at the Truth of God revealed to us when Jesus opens our eyes to God.

I will also continue to use the blindness illustration from last week to help us understand grace, truth, and the role of Jesus in allowing us to see and experience these qualities of the glory of God.

Grace in the Blue Box

First, let me define grace. One of the most helpful descriptions I’ve heard comes (I think) from John Piper and deals with mercy and grace. Mercy is not getting what you deserve; grace is getting what you don’t deserve. So, you hurt and offend a friend. They show you mercy by not coming back with you with angry and hurtful words – you don’t get what you deserve. That’s a mature and special thing when it happens, and often can stir you to apologize or seek reconciliation. But what if that friend shows you grace by giving you what you don’t deserve. They seek you out and tell you that, though you hurt them, they love you and desire restoration of friendship. That gift of love in the midst of a wrong – that’s grace, and that is even more powerful than mercy!

God is a God of mercy and of grace. It is a mercy that we don’t immediately experience the consequence of sin, which is death. It is a mercy that God withholds judgment, giving us time to come to knowledge of the truth, repent, and be reconciled. And God has been merciful since the first sin in the Garden of Eden. He had told Adam and Eve that in the day they disobeyed and ate that fruit, they would surely die. God didn’t give them what they deserved, but in mercy delayed that consequence for a lifetime. And in the meantime, God began to reveal His Law, practical ways to live a holy life and work against experiencing the daily consequences of human disobedience.

That is why both the John 1 passage and the Romans 5-6 passage reference the Law. The Law relates to grace and truth and the consequences of human disobedience toward God. The Law accomplished several things, according to scripture. It revealed God’s Will and Word, describing both obedience and the fruit of obedience to God. Unfortunately (or fortunately!), it served to highlight the problem of sin and disobedience, for no one was able to keep the Law perfectly. Romans 5:20 reads, “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase…” That doesn’t mean that God’s Law made people sin more, but that it made people more aware of their sin and the distance between them and God. What is understood there is that the Law came in so that knowledge of human sin would increase. But what a terrible burden of knowledge!!

The verse in Romans goes on to say that where this knowledge increased, grace abounded all the more. What that means is that this knowledge of sin and its consequences made (or at least should have made) humanity ever more aware of the need for God’s grace, that is for God to step in and provide what they did not and could not deserve. For even with the Law, especially with the clarity of the Law, it was clear that all humanity deserved the consequence of our disobedience.

Let me try to illustrate this. Let’s say you are driving your car through a residential neighborhood. And you are going way too fast. How do you know this? Well, you may have some near misses – kids out in the street on bikes dodging out of your way. You may feel out of control. You may sense that you are not being safe. Human beings are born with some sense of right and wrong. But when you are stopped by police and the officer points to the speed limit sign on the side of the road that says 25 mph and you were going 60, that’s the Law and the effect of the Law. It calls you out and concretely lets you know what you sensed (or maybe didn’t sense) in your conscience.

So Romans says that the Law points us toward the need for God to intervene and to provide a solution. That God would do this without us meriting it is grace; it is God’s free gift, given in love.

But here’s the problem, related to last week. God promised and spoke of this provision from the beginning and in His dealings with His people throughout the Old Testament. But like all people everywhere, they were spiritually blind apart from faith. Remember the limitations of blindness – it is as if the Law said, “God has a free gift for you that will remedy this dreadful curse. It’s over there in the blue box.”

Free Gift in Jesus (aka the Giver of Sight)

It’s not that God was trying to hide salvation or grace from us. It’s that, by our own choice of sin and disobedience, we lacked the spiritual equipment to see it. The choice Adam and Eve made, and that each of us has followed after them is like gouging our spiritual eyes out from birth. And then we complain that we can’t see God!

That’s why the news in John 1 is such good news! God didn’t give up on us, despite our disobedience. That is mercy! God came near in Christ and moved into our neighborhood to heal us and open our eyes so that we could see the blue box, so that we could perceive the grace-gift of salvation. That is undeserved and free – it is grace! And that is where we got to last week. It is through faith in Jesus – trusting who he was and what he said enough to believe and follow after him – that opens our spiritual eyes so that these words of grace, truth, salvation, and God-stuff begin to make sense like colors to one who has seen for the first time. Apart from faith in Christ, it just doesn’t compute… at best, they are things you admire in people you love and respect, but you just can’t understand blue until you see it for yourself.

This is what Romans 6:23 is talking about: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It is near impossible to talk about God’s grace without also talking about His truth. The truth is what the Law revealed, but what most sense even apart from Scripture: this world is not right and I am not right. There must be more than this. Scripture declares that as true, and it declares Jesus as true. He said, “I am the truth… and the truth will set you free.” Through faith in Jesus, we may not only know the truth, but see and KNOW God’s grace for what it is – a free and undeserved gift of God that makes us right with God and grants us life.

Grace for You

I’ve known for several weeks that I was going to preach on these texts and this topic today. I always look out for ways to illustrate the things I’m talking about, especially when they are kind of theological or abstract, like grace.

I’ll be honest and let you know the last 4-5 weeks have been tough. I’ve been physically sick several times with stomach bugs and other things. I’ve been emotionally and spiritually low, struggling with discouragement and depression. And I’ve been struggling with several hurt relationships with dear friends. It has not been a happy place.

And three times in the last few weeks, I have experienced God’s grace in these hurt relationships. Three times I have experienced or witnessed God’s grace, not coming from me, but given freely TO me or in front of me. Frankly, in each case, the situation deserved a fight. It deserved defensiveness or retaliation. And three times I saw godly mercy and restraint. More than that – undeserved and unexpected – three times I experienced grace on top of mercy. Three times I saw people around me lay hold of grace in Christ and pour out a gift of unconditional love and forgiveness.

Sometimes, apparently, even a preacher has to be hit up-side the head with a 2x4 to get it. (Maybe we do MORE than other people?!) I remember verbalizing after the third time, “That felt like God ran a Mack-truck of grace over me…”

And those were human expressions of godly grace. What God has given me in Jesus Christ is so much more and deeper. What God has given YOU in Jesus is so much more and deeper.

So hear this; it is the Good News at the heart of the Bible: in Jesus Christ, God became flesh to come live in YOUR world, to open your eyes to God and reveal God’s grace and truth. There is no sin that can keep you away from God because God has acted. If God’s love and salvation were conditional on our behavior, actions, and choices, NONE of us would know God! Rather, God has come near to you to invite you to know Him through trusting in Jesus. It is an unconditional and free gift – grace, for you.

If you have never trusted in Jesus Christ or put your faith in Him, I invite you to do so. I will pray with and for you in a moment and invite you to agree in prayer and to either let me know or let someone you trust know.

It may well be that you have spent a lot of time in church, but have never experienced or rested in God’s grace. Christianity has been a labor of good works, frustrating ladder-climbing, or ideas that just don’t make sense deep down. I invite you to also agree with me in prayer, for Jesus to open your eyes to grace and dependency on God’s provision. I also invite you to let me know and follow up with some more conversation.

Finally, the story of God is not a story about what we have done or not done, but a story about what God has done in Christ. As you ponder “grace” recognize that it is ultimately God’s action, God’s initiative, and God’s gift, freely given in love. Amen.

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