Summary: What is grace? What do we do with it? As well, this is an introduction to the purposes of our church, which spell GRACE.
John 1:1-5, 10-18 – Saying Grace
I read a story this week by a fellow named Ray Raycroft, who I think is a pastor in Michigan. He says the story is true. Apparently, two pastors were on their way to Atlanta, Ga. for a large Christian men’s gathering. One of them had never been in the south before. After staying in a motel overnight, they stopped at a nearby restaurant for breakfast. When their meal was delivered, the pastor who had never been south before saw this white, mushy looking stuff on his plate. When the waitress came by again he asked her what it was.
"Grits", she replied.
"Ma'am I didn't order it and I'm not paying for it".
"Sir, down here you don't order it and you don't pay for it, you just get it."
This is what grace is. Today, we’re taking a short break from going verse by verse through Colossians. I want to spend just a few minutes talking about something we’ve all heard about and experienced. That’s grace. Let’s read from the book of John, chapter 1, verses 1-5, 10-18.
The gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – tell the story of Jesus but rarely mention the word “grace”. I guess they figured grace is better demonstrated than explained. But this passage in John connects Jesus and grace. V14 says that Jesus was, and still is, full of grace. V16 says that the blessings we have in this life come from Jesus’ never-ending grace. And v17 says that grace and truth came from Jesus, running as a comparison to the OT way of doing things.
So what is grace? People have tried over the years to define it. One person said it’s the undeserved favour of God. Another person said that grace is the unconditional love of God for us, exactly as we are, apart from our own efforts. Still another person defined it by spelling it out: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. An internet author said this: “Grace is the power of God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves and the fact is that we cannot do anything for ourselves.”
You could look at it this way. Justice is getting what we deserve. Mercy is not getting the bad that we deserve. And grace is getting the good that we do not deserve.
G.W. Knight put it this way: “When a person works an eight-hour day and receives a fair day’s pay for his time, that is a wage. When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy for his performance, that is a prize. When a person receives appropriate recognition for his long service or high achievements, that is an award. But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award—yet receives such a gift anyway—that is a good picture of God’s unmerited favor. This is what we mean when we talk about the grace of God.”
Perhaps grace is God’s best gift to the world, a gift that says, “You don’t have to earn this, just accept it!” Jesus’ life was filled with grace, and it made many of those around Him angry about it.
Jesus told stories about grace. One story was about a blue-collar worker in the field who came to the job at 4:30, worked for half an hour, and got paid the same as the workers who’d been there since 9AM.
Jesus told another story about a landlord who cancelled a debt too large for his servant to reimburse. He told a story about a banquet-giver who went out everywhere to find undeserving people to taste his rich food.
One time, Peter came to Jesus, the same Peter who bothered to count how many fish he caught one day – 153. Peter asked how many times he should forgive someone. And depending on the original manuscript, Jesus either answered 77 times, or 70 x 7, which is 490. Either way, that’s a lot. Jesus said that grace doesn’t keep count. Grace doesn’t care about scores. Grace isn’t about record-keeping. Grace is about giving people what they don’t deserve – forgiveness, over and over and over again.
Another story was about a lovesick father who didn’t scold his chid when he finally came home, but gave him the best things in the house. There were no “I told you so” spiels, just affection.
Grace seems so lacking in churches today. If you were to ask Joe Schmo off the street what the church is about, and he’d probably list things the church is against: anti-smoking, anti-abortion, anti-homosexual, anti-drinking, anti-sex… I wonder if anybody would list things that the church is for: for love, for hope, for happiness, for forgiveness, for fixing…