We visit the Columbia Asia Hospital occasionally. We always make an appointment for a specific time. I remember one occasion very clearly. We arrived early, the appointment was at 10.45 and we arrived at 10.15 am. We took the registration slips and sat down to wait. Half an hour wait in a hospital waiting room could be very painful, if you have experienced it. We were waiting and soon realised that couple of people who walked in after us were going in to see the doctor while we were still waiting. I confronted the nurse who was manning the station and was politely told that they were “walk in patients” and we will be called in at the “appointed time”. I do not know how you would have felt. But I felt very upset and angry. How could “walk in patients” get priority over us who made an appointment and came in early for the appointment? I would like you to think over this and see how you would have felt..
Let us look at some other instances
You work in a corporate, you have been successful, you are doing well, you get your promotions on time.. you are having a great time.. Then some thing happens. You get news that you are getting a new boss. You inquire, and come to know about the details of your new boss.. you come to know that your new boss is none other than some one who was junior to you five years earlier, had quit the organisation and went to another organisation, and has come back to the same organisation as your boss.. How would you feel about this? I would feel shattered, cheated, I would be crying foul? How can some one who deserted the organisation and decided to come back get priority over you? ….How would you feel?
You are driving down , hurrying to attend your son’s school function. You want to reach there early, so that you can get a seat in the front, so that you can see your son’s act clearly. In your hurry you jump a red light and unfortunately you are caught by the police man. While you are busy, explaining the situation to the police man, you see your neighbor , jumping the red light , and speeding away. The policeman does not bother to stop your neighbor. You finally manage to reach the school and end up on the back rows. You look around and find that the neighbor who jumped the red light and did not get caught, is sitting right in front in one of the prime seats. How would you feel
Don’t we burn inside when such things happen to us? Do we feel that this is unfair? Do these go against our understanding of social justice and fairness?
If you have struggled in these situations, it is perfectly human. What we are struggling to understand is the divine concept called Grace
Now let us turn to the Bible.
Let us look at the Parable of the workers paid equally, narrated in Matthew 20:1-16. This might be a familiar parable for many of us. The landowner goes out and hires some people in the morning for a full day work and agrees on a daily wage for them. Then later on in the day he goes out again and hires some more people who have been standing idle. He repeats this act a few more times even up to one hour before the close of the day. It is all right upto here. The landowner decides to pay everyone equally. How many of us like that? Especially if we are in the first group hired to do the full day’s work, and have put in the full day’s work as against those who put in just an hours work and get paid equal to us? Is this fair?
Let us look at the best known and most preached about parable of the prodigal son, narrated in Lk 15:11-32. I am sure most us know this parable and have heard many sermons on this. For this morning, I would like you to put yourselves in the position of the elder brother, and see how you feel. Did the elder son get a fair treatment in the whole episode? What would we do if this happens to us?
Or let us look at the thief on the cross, narrated in Luke 23:40-43. This is a common sermon verse during the Good Friday service. What happens here is again , not comprehensible for many of us. Here is a thief who has never lived a righteous life, but confesses and repents literally five minutes before his death, and our Lord promises him a confirmed berth in heaven. If I had followed Jesus through all the difficulties and am a witness to this episode, how would I feel?
Why is it difficult for ,many of us to understand these gestures? If we do not understand this concept, how do we practice this?
Underlying all these episodes is the greatest concept of all, called Grace. C S Lewis was once asked about the single most factor that differentiates Christianity from other religions. He said the answer is very simple. It is grace. And yet, it is the most difficult concept to understand and comprehend.
Why would God choose Jacob, the person who cheated right from birth, over Esau? Why would He give supernatural powers to a womanizer named Samson? Why would He bestow wisdom on Solomon, who was the result of adultery by David? Why would God choose Paul, a persecutor of the Church to provide sound theological lessons through the Bible? These questions remain until we try and understand the Grace explained to us through the Gospels by Jesus’ parables.
We are not alone in not understanding Grace. The Prophet Jonah, went to the extent of running exactly in the opposite direction, because he knew that “You are a gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:1-2) Jonah was displeased with God, because God would not punish the Ninevites. After all, they deserved their punishment did they not?
Why is it difficult for us to understand and fully comprehend grace? Philip Yancy puts it this way.
From Nursery school onwards we are taught how to succeed in the world of ungrace. The early bird gets the worm, No pain, No gain,. There is no such thing as free lunch. Demand your rights. Get what you pay for. I know these rules well because I live by them. I work for what I earn; I like to win; I insist on my rights. I want people to get what they deserve, nothing less, nothing more.”
We can break this cycle of Ungrace only when we begin to understand and experience God’s grace.
So what is Grace? Many people have tried to define grace, and one of them is to bring out the concept of grace through bringing out the difference between Justice , mercy and Grace.
Justice is getting what we deserve, whether is gifts or punishments
Mercy is the act of withholding a punishment that we deserve.
Grace is when we get everything good that we do not deserve.
So to understand Grace, we first have to accept that we are undeserving of the love that our father is pouring out on us. But the fact is that God loves us unconditionally, he loves us despite who we are , what we do , despite the fact that we do not deserve His love.
Gospel shouts out to me, that I did not get what I deserve. I deserved punishment and got forgiveness. I deserved wrath and got love. I deserved death and hell and I got eternal life. And all because of John 3:16.
Philip Yancy tries to define Grace like this. “Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more—no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciations, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less—no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder. Grace means that God already loves us as much an infinite God can possibly love.”
That is why I like this expansion for the word GRACE .
God had spoken through many prophets in the old testament about his grace.
Micah 7:18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.
Hosea 11:8 “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.
But through Jesus Christ he demonstrated it once and for all. I must have used this illustration before, but let me repeat it once again. There is this beautiful explanation in Hebrews 9:16-17. If I have a rich uncle and he writes all his wealth to me through a will, the will is of no use until my uncle dies, and till the time he dies , he has the power and authority to change the name in the will and give it away to any one else. A will comes into effect only when the author of the will dies, and the death is established. Now consider this, what did God will us? The abundant riches , and how could we inherit that except through the death of the author? The death on the cross freed up the inheritance for all of us who were sinners. Isn’t that a beautiful thought?
Now do we understand the full meaning of Grace? God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
Philip Yancy illustrates a point by quoting from the Movie “The Last Emperor”
In the movie, “The Last Emperor”, the young child anointed as the last emperor of China lives a magical life of luxury, with a 1000 eunuch servants at his command.
One time his brother asks, “What happens when you do wrong?”
“When I do wrong, someone else is punished”, the boy emperor replies.
Then to prove his point, he breaks a jar… and a servant is beaten.
What’s so amazing about grace is that Jesus reversed the pattern… when the servants erred… the KING was punished!
Grace is free, only because the GIVER himself has taken the punishment!
This morning can I encourage all of us to do two things.
1. Let us know that our God loves us , and let us decide to enjoy that love and that fellowship completely and without reservation.
2. Let us receive that grace from God and know that we are called to pass on that chain of Grace, we are called upon to break that cycle of ungrace. Can we in a moment of silence, think about some one who have hurt us, and who might be undeserving of our love, and can we seek the Holy Spirit’s help to forgive that person and if possible to love that person again?
In his early 20’s John Newton made his way to Africa where he became involved in a lucrative enterprise called salve trade.
As a young man he ridiculed mocked and poked fun at the religious. In fact he was joking and mocking Christ just hours before his ship sailed into an angry storm.
That night the waves, wind, & rain battered the ship. For hour he and the other sailors struggled to keep the ship from sinking. He knew it was a lost cause. Finally w/ all hope gone he threw himself on the soaked deck and pleaded “Lord have mercy on us all”.
John Newton did not deserve mercy, but he received it that night. He and the crew survived the storm. John Newton never forgot the mercy God granted him that day on the Atlantic. He returns to England and became a prolific composer of hymns and preacher of God’s word. The slave trader turned preacher who could not help but tell the story of how God will meet you in your storm.
Several years before his death people urged him to give up preaching due to his health and failing memory. His response “my memory is almost gone, but two things I still remember I am a great sinner, and Jesus is a great savior. What more do I need to remember?
Shall we sing that beautiful hymn that John Newton wrote? Amazing Grace?
Now may Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue. Amen