Grace Has a Face

When I was seven years old, my family lived in a little community in North Dakota called Beach. One day the whole family piled into the car to visit my great-aunt Grace, who lived in a little community called Killdeer. When we got to Killdeer, the house was filled with adults and a few older cousins. We were quite bored, so Aunt Grace instructed one of the older cousins to walk us down to the school playground, which was few blocks away. We were glad to go. The cousin took us there and left us on our own to play.

A great deal of time passed, and we decided we probably should get back to Aunt Grace’s house. Unfortunately we could not remember how to get back there. After a couple of attempts with nothing looking familiar to us, I realized we were lost. My sister started crying. I did something I probably should not have done. I took her by the hand and began to knock on doors. When people answered I would ask, “Do you know where Grace lives?”

The first few homes did not know Grace. Finally, I knocked on a door where a younger adult man responded positively to my question, “Do you know where Grace lives?” He asked about her last name and I could not remember. He told us to wait a minute and he would check his phone book. He came back out and said, “Yes, I know where Grace lives. Get into my car and I will drive you there.” We got in the car and a few minutes later we were sitting in front of Grace’s house. We were so relieved. My sister ran in and immediately told my parents how we had gotten lost. They were not too happy about that, but were glad to see us. We had a pleasant dinner, piled back into the car, and made the long drive home that evening. All ended well.

Do you know where grace lives? I am not talking about my aunt, but the experience one has when God steps into their life and they receive His unmerited love and favor. Do you know where to find that? We hear about it now and then. For instance, from the sober alcoholic who testifies that is by the grace of God that he hasn’t had a drink in a long time. Or we might hear a friend talk about God as if he lives right in his house with him. Or we hear someone who has gone through a crisis and says, “I would never have made it but by the grace of God.” We think to ourselves that we would like to have some of that grace. Where can we find it?

John tells us in his Gospel that I just read where to find grace. He first tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Replace the Word with Jesus, because that is the truth John is sharing with us. Then we learn that the Word was not only with God, but that the Word was God. They are one in the same.

In verse 14, John announces that the Word (Jesus) became flesh and lived among us. That is John’s way of saying that Word became a human being and tabernacled among us. We are reminded of God’s presence with his people in wilderness as he led them to the Promised Land. His presence was in the Tabernacle. I like the way Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase, interprets this: “The Word moved into our neighborhood and became one of us.” He came to get personal with us.

John goes on and states, “We have seen his glory, glory as of a Father’s only Son.” That is an Old Testament word as well. It is associated with God’s presence. One time Moses told God he wanted to see His glory. God said, “Turn your face away and I will make my goodness pass by you. But don’t you look at me. No one can look at me and live.”

Think of the glory of God that rested upon the tabernacle at the end of each day when the Israelites would camp on their way to the Promised Land. Glory has something to do with the very presence of God. John says Jesus was full of that glory of God. He was a reflection of God. When you looked into the face of Jesus, you were looking into the face of God.

What was that face like? John describes that face. He writes that it was full of GRACE. It was overflowing with unmerited love . . . And TRUTH . . . He knows what makes life work and what we need to know about ourselves and our Father.

John then testifies, “From his fullness . . .” There is a New Testament term we find in Colossians as Paul describes that in Jesus is the fullness of God. “From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” In other words, trusting in Christ we receive an abundance of God’s love in our lives. Someone once described that grace in this way – it is like trying to drain the ocean with a teaspoon. You cannot do it. It is inexhaustible.

John then goes on and says, “You know God was good to us when he gave us Moses.” That first step was important. Moses gave us the Law, but that was the just a beginning. Now in Jesus Christ we get grace and truth. That first covenant was fine; now God has stepped into this world to save us with his grace.

Then he wraps his story up by saying, “It is God – the only Son who is intimately tied to God – who has made God known.” He has taken us on a personal God tour. He has shown us God’s heart.

Later in John’s Gospel Jesus will say, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”

To look into the face of Jesus Christ is to look into the face of God. Looking into that face a person will find, receive, and experience GRACE. Grace has a face – Jesus Christ!

We no longer have to guess about God in terms of how he feels about me and what he thinks. Christ has made him known as he stepped into our world filled with grace and truth.

We hear the grace and truth in Jesus’ story of the son who left his father’s home and blew his inheritance. When he came home broke, he was surprised with the grace of his Father. Jesus said that is a picture of God.

We see that grace and truth as we look at the cross. Jesus died to save us from our sins. We were in debt up to our ears in our sinfulness. Far away. However, God in his mercy gave us his Son, who died upon that cross as a sacrifice for our sins. He paid the debt in full. Forgiveness awaits the sinner who turns to him. We have the promise of eternal life in his heaven as we place our trust in the One who gave himself for us and was raised again. Jesus Christ.

Two or three years after getting lost in Killdeer my parents moved our family to Livingston, Montana. One day a new friend’s mother asked if they could take me to Chico Hot Springs to go swimming. It was a natural hot springs pool. Mom said yes, but keep an eye on me because I was not a good swimmer.

The day arrived when we went. Mom reminded me to play it safe and be careful. There are two pool areas at Chico. One was big and the other small. Being new to this place I assumed that the small pool was shallow so I jumped in. I was wrong. It was the hottest pool and quite deep for a little guy like me. In my surprise I swallowed a lot of water. As I came back up, I was panicked and cried for help. When I went down again, I could see horrified faces behind the fence as people watched me drowning. Suddenly after a third time a hand reached out and yanked me to the side. As I looked up sputtering, I saw the face of a young man who had responded to my cry and put me back on solid ground. I said thanks, relieved.

You know, that is what Jesus did for you and me. I was drowning in my sin. However, Jesus did not just reach down – he jumped in and sacrificed his own life to put me on solid ground in my relationship with my Father in heaven. That is grace.

Fortunately the guy on the side of pool did not yell, “Try harder” or “Try doing it this way.” No, he stooped down and took action to save me. That is what Christ Jesus has done for you and me. From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.

Now, did you notice that a couple of times John uses the word we? “We have seen his glory” as if he were saying, I lived with him. I had a personal relationship with him. I followed him and was there when he turned water into wine. I saw his glory repeatedly in the various signs. Ultimately I saw his glory at the cross and grave as he gave his life for me. God raised him on the third day, putting his stamp of approval upon that sacrifice.

The second time he uses the word we, he says, “From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” He seems to be making a proclamation, an announcement. Grace has been made available to everyone. It is offered to everyone. God invites us to come and hold out our empty hands so that he might pour his unmerited love and favor into our lives as we entrust ourselves to his care and leadership. He wants to give you a grace testimony like John’s.

Grace is available and it has a face – the face of Jesus Christ. So . . .

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Look full in his wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

in the light of his glory and grace.

He Will Come Again

About seven hundred years before Jesus was born, the people of Judah lived in misery. They were destitute spiritually and morally. The Bible says, “The godly have been swept form the land and not one upright man remains.” The Assyrians and Babylonians were knocking at the door to defeat them in battle and to take them as captives from their homeland.

It was in this depressed setting that God’s voice was heard through two men called Prophets Ð Micah and Isaiah.

After Micah had condemned Judah for turning her back on God, he assured them that better days were ahead. God had made a covenant with them, and he was not going to let them go. Here are Micah’s words: “But you Bethlehem, Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are form of old, from ancient times. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace” (Micah 5:2, 4).

Micah was foretelling the birth of Jesus of Bethlehem. However, that was not the only voice that spoke of the coming of Jesus. Isaiah comforts the people by saying, “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall call his name Immanuel.” This is known as the incarnation when God came to this earth in the person of a baby.

This prophecy was fulfilled. Jesus was born and dwelt among his people for 33 years. So, today we again celebrate the birth of our Lord. He was the One who, not only was born in a manger, but also died on a cross, and three days later rose from the dead.

Jesus came to his own, the people of Israel, but his own did not receive him, so he moved out to others. John writes, “To those who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” The message is clear: the Kingdom of God is for all who receive him. This Christmas He is wrapping at our hearts’ doors and asking to come inside and live with us in a personal relationship.

What has our response been?

Some have rejected him as the God-man who takes away the sins of the world. Others give him some kind of intellectual acceptance, but Jesus does not affect their lives. Still others receive him. Jesus lives in their hearts, and they are God’s children forever. This Christmas Day we find an appeal to all who have not received him to do so.

My most unforgettable Christmas Eve was the night I saw a young person come to faith at a midnight service. This man of about 35 years of age had been in my confirmation class where I had the opportunity to share the truths of God’s Word with him. The seed had been planted, but it had grown little since. Christ had been placed on the back burner of his life. Alcohol and bad company had separated him from his family and those who loved him.

As I was leaving the church well after midnight, Larry met me and told me of his experiences at the service. That night he had not only celebrated Christ’s birth at Bethlehem’s manger 2,000 years ago, but he had experienced Christ’s presence in his own soul. We never know how and when God’s Spirit will do his work. Oh, the mysteries of the Christian faith. From that night on, Larry became a new person. As Paul wrote, “The old has passed away, and the new has come.”

Yet as we rejoice over Jesus’ first coming, he gives us another promise: He promises to come again. Then we will see Him face to face, and many mysteries will be solved. Our questions will be answered.

His second coming will not be in a manger. He will come as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

Yet there is a third coming that is so very important.

First, He came at Bethlehem.

Second, He will come again, and the entire world will bow before his throne.

Third, He wants to come in our hearts and make us his forever.

Now, I ask you this: Does Jesus live in your heart? Only then can we sing from the bottom of our hearts,

“Joy to the world,

The Lord has come. . . .”

What Should I Do?

What should I do?

This is a question of a desperate person. It might be a child who has disobeyed his parents and knows he will be punished. Or it could be the husband whose wife has learned of his affair with another woman. Or it could be the politician whose dishonesty for personal gain could force him to resign his seat in the Congress of the United States.

What should I do?

This was the question of many in the crowd who listened to John the Baptist preach and was weighed down with guilt. When a man wearing a beautiful tunic was complimented on the garment, he boasted of the others he had back home in his closet. John the Baptist counseled him to give the others to his neighbors who had no tunics. Share your wealth.

The tax collectors were told to stop overcharging those whom from whom they were sent to collect taxes. The soldiers, who received an adequate salary, were told to be content with they pay and not accept bribes for favors.

Many people ask this question. Peter’s congregation on Pentecost asked the question Ð What should we do? Ð when the apostle reminded them of crucifying Christ. The Philippian jailer was filled with guilt and fear of what was going to happen when the Roman authorities learned the prisoners had escaped. He was about to commit suicide when Paul and Silas told hm not to harm himself. Filled with guilt, he said, “What must I do to be saved?”

Behind this question is the feeling of guilt. Guilt is a killer. People who do not know what to do with their guilt can be very dangerous.

But we thank God the Holy Spirit has not only convicted us of our sins, he has also shown us that we can have the forgiveness of our sins if we will repent and trust Jesus Christ as our Savior. Our text says, “John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.”

What is the good news? Listen: “John pointed to Jesus and said, ÔBehold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of th world'” John 12:29.

John was not simply moralizing, telling them that if they would care for the poor and be honest in their business transactions, God would look with favor on them. So often this is our solution. We reason this way: I have not been a very good person, but perhaps I can make up for it by doing some good deeds, and this will please God.

Listen to what God’s Word says, “Repent and trust Christ to take away your sins.” When these sins are forgiven, you are restored into a personal relationship with God. Now, out of love for the Savior, your desire is to live according to God’s will.” This is far more than moralizing. This is evangelizing. It is not trying to reform people. It is to see them transformed until they belong to God through faith in Christ and they have an inner desire to live for him.

The Advent message points to the Babe of Bethlehem’s manger, but it also goes further. In front of the manger is a cross and an empty tomb. He is the answer for our lives. What must we do to live at peace with God? Turn to Christ.

Of, if the America we love, which has blessed us in so many ways, would only bow in humble adoration! If the leaders of our land on both sides of the aisle would seek God’s will as it is revealed in the Scriptures and have the courage to be faithful servants of God, called to govern according to his will and not political gain, either personal or for the constituents. Haven’t we learned that we do not have the answers for the world’s problems? Only Christ has them. He teaches us how to deal with our enemies when we have become one in him.

Reading this you say, How true, but it will never happen, so let’s be practical. We live in a democracy, not a theocracy. We are a government of the people, not a government of God. People do not think and act as God does.

You are so right. History has proven this, but how necessary it is for the Church of Christ, in these perilous times, to hold high the name of Christ, who alone has the answers. If we must fall in defeat because we will not be led by this Savior, let us not perish simply because God’s people have not faithfully proclaimed the truth: Repent, and turn to Christ.

Remember how God’s Word described John the Baptist.

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Ômake straight the way for the Lord.'”

God grant that the Church of Jesus Christ, those who truly believe, may be filled with many John the Baptists.

A Voice in the Wilderness

If you have been raised in a church that uses the liturgical calendar, you are familiar with the term Advent. If not, Advent is the four Sundays preceding Christmas when our hearts are being prepared to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter.

The night Jesus was born, His birth received little attention in Bethlehem. A few people might have heard that, because the inn was full and a woman could not get a room, she gave birth to her baby boy in the manger. Today, Christians celebrate this event known as the Incarnation, meaning God had come to earth in the form of a man.

John the Baptist is the primary preacher of the Advent season. He preached in the countryside around the Jordan River. The crowds were large. His message called the people to repentance and to turn their eyes on Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

What does it mean to repent of our sins?

Repentance simply means that we are sorry for our sins from our hearts and, turning to Christ, we confess our sins and receive Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Walking with Jesus in this new personal relationship, there is a great desire to become new people in Jesus Christ.

In preparing this sermon, I found a sermon in my files that I preached in 1973. Following is a quote from this message:

“In 1953, President Eisenhower, in his proclamation of the National Day of Prayer, quoted Lincoln, who said in 1863, ÔIt is the duty of nations, as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with the assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon.’

“Reading this quote from Lincoln, Karl Menninger from the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, quoted Theology Today as saying that since 1953 no U.S. President has mentioned sin as a national feeling. He says that, as a nation, the U.S. officially ceased sinning some twenty years ago.”

Has America had a spiritual awakening? Is there more sin in our nation today than there was many years ago? We all know the answer to these questions. Post-modern America is anxious to do away with the absolutes. Then we will have no guilt, because we have no objective rights and wrongs. John the Baptist speaks clearly to our culture in his preaching that repentance is the one positive way to handle our sins and guilt.

John’s first audience was the Jews, God’s chosen people. They had heard the Law of God from childhood, but it had not affected their lifestyles. “You have to live in a personal relationship with God,” John explained to his country men. “Don’t rely on your blood line. Having Abraham as your father will never save you, for God can will raise up other children.”

Such a message was disturbing to the chosen people, but it brought them to their knees, and they came to John the Baptist with their questions. They asked a general question: What should we do?

John answered, “Share your wealth with the poor. For example, if you have two tunics and your neighbor has none, share with him.”

The tax collectors asked a specific question: “As tax collectors, what should we do?” John told them, “Don’t collect any more than you are required to.”

Then the soldiers came and asked him, “What should we do?”

“Don’t extort money, and don’t accuse people falsely. Be content with your pay,” John said.

John was teaching that repentance is more than saying I am sorry, and then living as you jolly well please. It means that true sorrow affects the way a person lives. Jesus came to be our Savior, and for that we give thanks. However, he also came to change our lives and make us new people.

This is the message Christ wants every generation to hear. I still believe that, as humans, we know our lives are not what they should be. The natural law of God is still in our hearts. We simply do not want to live the way this law dictates. We enjoy our sinfulness and don’t want it interrupted. It is to these hearts that God in his Word tells us to repent.

Our wilderness is quite different from the one that John knew. Ours is well cultivated and inhabited by millions of people. Most of those people couldn’t care less about what God is saying. This is why it is a place of chaos and we live under the judgment of God, the Creator.

In 1930 Mark Connely wrote a play called Green Pastures. In the play, the angel Gabriel is angry with man’s sinful ways and wants the world brought to an end. God in his patience is going to hold out for a while, knowing that something better could come. Finally, in his frustration, Gabriel says, “Everything nailed down is coming loose.”

Isn’t this a feeling that we sometimes have? God continues to speak through John the Baptist. He is patient and loving, but as the Psalmist wrote, “He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever” (Psalm 103:8, 9).

In this Advent season, may we see anew how precious the gift of Jesus is as we bow in repentance and faith at the manger.

Let God’s Voice Be Heard

In theological language, the Bible is sometimes called holy history, meaning God’s moving in history. It is in history, and especially in holy history, that God’s voice can be heard clearly. In the spirit of the psalmist we can say, “Blessed is the nation who hears his voice and receives it as truth that cannot be ignored.”

One of the great prophets of history through whom God voice spoke, and continues to speak in our day, is Jeremiah. His ministry began in 626 B.C. and lasted for forty-two years. Jeremiah tells us, “The word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations'” (1:4, 5).

Jeremiah was reluctant to accept the appointment. “Ah, Sovereign Lord,” he said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child” (1:6).

But the Lord replied, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you” (1:7, 8).

“Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to him, ‘Now I have put words in your mouth'” (1:9).

It was God’s Word, not Jeremiah’s own opinion that he was to proclaim.

God makes his law known through Jeremiah calling the listener to repentance. He writes, “I will pronounce my judgments on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made” (1:16).

Is that word applicable to us? If so, what are our gods? What do we worship?

Listen to this word: “Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet, they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols” (2:11).

Does this describe America from the landing of the Pilgrim fathers until today? Have we continued to move farther and farther away from God as we increase in wealth and knowledge? Have we become so independent and all powerful that we don’t need the Almighty God?

The people did not listen to God speaking through Jeremiah. History tells us that in 586 B.C. Jerusalem was captured and carried into exile by the Babylonians.

This was not the only message that Jeremiah brought from God to this people. Pointing to the Messiah who was to come, the prophet said, “In those days and at that time, I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness” (23:5, 6).

This is a messianic prophecy. It points to a Deliverer who is coming. The prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

God speaks to us tody through holy history and shows us how his prophecy came true for Judah in Christ’s birth at the manger. This is not just another history lesson, it is applicable for all people in every generation throughout our world.

A nation cannot turn to other gods, which are not gods at all, without experiencing the judgment of God. Look at the history books. Nations have come and gone as they tried desperately to reign on their own power. What makes us think that we are different from these people of days gone by? We have our false prophets who teach us to question the absolutes laid down in God’s Law. The Ten Commandments, no longer the basis for our moral law, should govern us in all dealings with our neighbors. We refuse to look at our own nation and ask in all honesty how our influence in this world would be different than it would be if God were leading us rather than humankind with its limited knowledge and wisdom.

God clearly tells us through the Scriptures that we cannot continue to live this way and escape the punishment of God.

Who has God chosen to be his prophetic voice in the twenty-first century? It is the Church – no one denomination, but all believers in Christ Jesus who are to faithfully proclaim God’s Word, both Law and Gospel. There should be a call of repentance coming to our land from the pulpits on Sunday and through the personal witnesses of the committed during the week.

Now let me ask, are we the faithful voices of God in our society? We should be agonizing over these questions in our churches. As one layman said, “Jesus told us to be the salt of the earth. Today our culture shapes the message of the church.”

It is not only the Law of God that the Church is to proclaim, but we are to also preach the Gospel clearly. Our hope is Christ Jesus. If we will come to him in repentance and faith, he will forgive us and bring us into a personal relationship with him so that we can be the light of the world.

In this Advent season, let us celebrate Christ’s coming by listening to his voice. Then let us pray that in our churches and throughout America it might be a time of spiritual awakening.