The Grace of God

What is Jesus’ most offensive teaching?

While we may have differences of opinion on this issue, I believe Jesus’ teaching on the grace of God might just win the vote.

In the parable, which is our text for today, Jesus talks about the grace of God. It is often called the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Let us summarize this portion of God’s Word.

Jesus tells of a landowner who went out early in the morning and hired some men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day. Three hours later he went out and hired some more workers and promised to pay them what was right. He repeated this pattern of hiring new workers in the sixth and ninth hours. At the eleventh hour he hired one last group of workers.

At the end of the day he paid them all the same wage, one denarius. This made the workers who had labored all day angry. They said, “You have made them [those hired at the eleventh hour] equal to us. This is not fair.”

We would have to agree, would we not? It just does not make sense.

Listen to the landowner’s answer, in the words of Jesus: “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give this man who was hired last the same as I gave to you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

Now as you study Jesus’ dealings with people, you have to admit that he practiced what he preached.

Luke, in his Gospel, tells the story of the robber hanging beside Jesus on the cross. Luke writes, “One criminal who hung there hurled insults at him: ÔAren’t you the Christ? Save yourself, and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ÔDon’t you fear God,’ he said, Ôsince you are under the same sentence? We are being punished justly, for we are getting what our desires deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ÔJesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

“Jesus answered him, ÔI tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise'” (Luke 23:39-43).

This is grace. This robber was, according to the law of the time, deserving of death. However, he repented of his sins, placed his faith in Christ as the Savior, and was assured by the Lord himself of his place in paradise. This is Jesus’ teaching in real life.

Such a teaching defies all reason. We believe we get what we deserve. Live a good life and God will reward you.

Seekers of faith who are newly saved are often asked, “If you stood before God tonight and he asked you, ÔWhy should I let you into my heaven?’, what would you say?” The most common response to this evangelism question is, “I would say, ÔI hope I have lived a good enough life that he will receive me.'”

The most difficult message to preach is the grace of God. If you want to hear a good preacher, seek out one who consistently, Sunday after Sunday, preaches the pure Gospel Ð salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Does this mean someone can live a sinful life, say he believes in Christ as his Savior, and be saved? Let me answer it this way: if that person believes in his heart that Jesus is his Savior, his greatest desire will be to live out of love for his Savior who died for him. His Christian life after receiving Christ will be the fruit of his faith, and not a contributing factor to his salvation.

My wife tells of a woman who was in a Bible class she taught. This lady was converted later in life, and what a difference Christ had made in her life! My wife told this woman, “I have always lived in the faith, but when I hear you tell about your conversion, I think I would like to have had such an experience.”

Quickly the woman replied, “Oh, no. Look at all the years I wasted living apart from Christ. You are so fortunate to have had him in your heart from the time you were a child.”

This teaching on the grace of God may be considered fuzzy thinking if all we know is the standard way of doing things: you get what you earn. If that were true, no one would enjoy eternal life with God. Think of what our last days can be like, when finally we close our eyes in death as the forgiven child of God . . . his forever.

Receive Christ and you will see, the center of the Christian faith is the grace of God.

Children of God

Why did your parents give you your name? Were you named after a relative or friend? Were you named after a Biblical character embodying certain qualities impressive to your parents?

I never quite forgave my mother for naming me Homer. I was the only Homer in my elementary school. Later, a notorious television character was named Homer. I was sure my mother did not come up with my name from reading the Greek poet Homer, composer of the famous epics the Iliad and the Odyssey. Later in life, though, I asked my mother why she named me Homer, and I got the answer.

When my mother finished the eighth grade she went to work as a domestic in a local doctor’s home. The family had several boys, all of whom were mean to my mother, except one: Homer. My mother decided that if she ever had a son she would name him Homer, and that is how I got my name. All of the other boys in that family had common names; how I wished it had been one of those boys who had been nice to my mother!

We have many prominent families in this country with distinguished surnames like Rockefeller, Kennedy, and Roosevelt. Renowned institutions carry names that ring of prestige, like Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge.

The point is that there is a lot of history behind some names. That is the thought I want to leave you with in this sermon. Listen to our text: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

There are three biblical meanings for the phraseÑand title of this sermonÑ”children of God.”

The first is that we are all created by God. Genesis 1 tells us that we were created “in the image of God.” Every creature who ever walked the earth is a child of God in the sense that God is his or her maker. The Christian is thoroughly convinced of this. That is why life is so valuable in places where the Christian faith has done its work. It has made a great difference in both Western and Eastern civilization. Life is cheap where Christianity has not had influence.

This is why abortion is not accepted in Christian thought. The fetus, according to Christian thought, is a soul created by God, and who are humans that they can put an end to that soul? That is why abortion is looked upon as murder in Christian thought. It is also why Christians think seriously before they rush into a war where thousands may be killed. This is a bit more difficult for individuals because war is waged by nations, and the Word of God tells us that we are to be obedient to the state. However, it can be debated whether some of America’s wars were really necessary. Most would agree that World War II was a legitimate war that had to be fought. The same people would have differing opinions on the current war in Iraq.

The second meaning of the term “children of God” describes Israel only. From that nation God would send the Savior of the world. This happened with the birth of Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem.

In Genesis 2:1 we read, “The Lord said to Abram, ÔLeave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make you great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.'” Later in Genesis 15:5, God says to Abram, “Look up at the heavens and count the startsÑif indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be.” In Exodus 14:2 God says to Israel, “Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.”

The Jews were, in a special way, God’s own people. Out of this nation a Savior was born. They were rebellious and God, out of love, punished them. Because of their rejection of God’s plan of salvation in sending Jesus to be the Savior of the world, John writes, “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name he gave the right to become the children of God” (John 1:12-13).

So during those days, from the time of Abram to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Jews were the children of God in a unique way. Never before or since has God had a special nation to call his own. When Jesus ascended into heaven, he commissioned his disciples to make children of all nations. From that day on there were neither Jews nor Gentiles. Being children of God was open to all, for God wants all people to be saved.

In the New Testament, “children of God” refers to those people who trust Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. John writes, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And this is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

Being born into a particular family or being a citizen of a country which is called a Christian nation makes no one a child of God. We receive this title only when we accept Christ as our Savior. Then we become his adopted child.

Think of it! Each morning we should remind ourselves of who we are: child of God in Christ Jesus. This should guide our behavior. Our desire is that we bring no disgrace to the family name. John reminds us, “Everyone who has this hope in him is just and pure.”

Children of God. There is a lot of history behind this name. We are all a part of the family of God.

A Forgiving Spirit

Peter, a vocal disciple of the Lord, once asked Jesus a provocative question: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Seven times?”

This is an important question we should all ask. We wrong and we are wronged; we cannot live as healthy people without forgiveness.

First, let’s agree that there are circumstances that limit how long you can forgive or be forgiven. If we violate the traffic laws, we deserve a citation. Driving while under the influence of alcohol is an offense that must be punished. There must be respect for the umpire in a baseball game if it is to be played in an orderly way.

Peter’s question, though, asks about conflict between two people when one has been guilty of hurting the other in some way. “How often must I forgive? Seven times?” Peter asks. The rabbinical law of the time states a person must forgive three times. Peter, more gracious, increases the number to seven. He is assuming there is a limit as to how much we can be expected to forgive.

Jesus answers, “Not seven times, Peter, but seventy times seven.” Forgiving, in other words, is limitless. Remember that Peter is a Christian and the relationship between him and his brother is governed not by law but by a forgiving spirit. And where does that forgiving spirit come from? It is not always in our nature to forgive. Rather, it comes from living in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

To explain this teaching, Jesus tells the parable of the unmerciful servant.

“There was a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. A man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and children and all that he had should be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ÔBe patient with me,’ he begged, Ôand I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled his debt, and let him go.

“But when the servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ÔPay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ÔBe patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown in prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ÔYou wicked servant,’ he said, ÔI cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

The great truth of this text is that we are forgiven. Only by going back to the cross do we begin to understand what forgiveness is. That experience changes us. Then the forgiveness which we receive from God gives us a forgiving heart. Our lives are not controlled by law but by a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is He who gives us that forgiving spirit.

The matter of forgiveness in our day-to-day lives, though, is often difficult to deal with.

There was a mature Christian woman who was happily married with two children. One day her husband became involved with another woman and left his family. In time, he asked his wife for a divorce, which was granted. In visiting with her about her divorce she made a statement which many would find unbelievable: “I loved him when we were married, and I love him now.” Years later her ex-husband returned and wanted to reenter a relationship, but her answer was firm: “No,” she said. “I have forgiven him. Why wouldn’t I? Jesus forgives me daily. But it’s just better this way. I can love him better from a distance. This way I can appreciate all of his wonderful qualities, and he has many. He is still the father of our children.”

This woman understood the meaning of forgiveness. Maybe this is my humanness speaking, but I believe it is natural to get angry with a person when he or she has been offensive and destroyed something precious to us. I even believe a strong confrontation is not contrary to Christian life. However, it is un-Christian to remain angry and unforgiving.

William Arthur Wood once said, “We are most like beast when we kill. We are most like men when we judge. We are most like God when we forgive.” Archibald Hard has said, “Forgiveness is surrendering my right to hurt you for hurting me.” Bruce Larsen writes in Setting Men Free, “A cartoon in New York magazine showed an exasperated father saying to his prodigal son, ÔThis is the fourth time we’ve killed the fatted calf for you!’ God does that over and over in our lifetime.”

Draw close to God and you will have a forgiving spirit.

Time Out!

How often have we heard the preacher say, “In order to grow in a personal relationship

with God, we need a devotional life.”

Hearing this term Ð devotional life Ð you could ask the preacher to be a bit more specific as to what this includes. Let me give you a picture from the athletic world.

I love to watch the Cubs baseball team and use them as an example. It’s the ninth inning. The Cubs are leading, two to one, and the other team is up at bat. There is one out, a man on second base, and a powerful hitter at bat. Right at that moment, the Cubs’ manager, Lou Piniella, walks slowly out of the dugout to the pitcher’s mound. The catcher and a couple other players join them at the mound.

The manager asks, “How do you feel? Do you still have it? ” He gives a few words on how to pitch to this batter, reminds the pitcher how important that next pitch is, and returns to the dugout. That is a time-out.

A devotional life means taking a time-out to be alone with God and receiving a word from him as to what the next step should be. In this word from the Lord, he will rebuke us, forgive us, encourage us, comfort us, and guide us as to how we should think and live.

David, the second king of Israel, is taking a time-out in our scriptural text. He has a lot of unanswered questions and needs to have time with the Lord. So he tells his security guards that he doesn’t want to be bothered and goes out into the night to look up into the heavens to see the moon and the stars.

“Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”

The king is asking, “Who am I in the midst of this great creation?” David feels very insignificant and inadequate to lead Israel. He needs some answers from God.

My prayer is that our leaders Ð the President and his cabinet, the congress and the supreme court Ð might ask these same questions. We humans need answers to questions that we do not have. David shows us that God is approachable, and the answers are in His Word, which will lead us into divine truth

It is my prayer that, as citizens of this nation, which God has blessed in such marvelous ways, we will be asking the same question. We thank God for the thousands of minds who try to answer important questions so that this civilization can endure. However, when the last word is spoken from the lips of men and women, many unanswered questions will still remain. The problems of peace, energy, world hunger,

aids, and above all, man’s relationship with his Creator are too great. We need a word from the Almighty, which is far beyond our reasoning power and will guide us along life’s way.

Listen to God’s word, telling David who he is:

David, I made you a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned you with glory and honor. I made you ruler over the works of my hands; I put everything under your feet; all flocks and herds, and the bests of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, and all that swim the paths of the seas.

What an answer! There is no question that humans are the crowning work of God’s creation. They have been given tremendous responsibilities that, without God’s help, are far beyond their abilities. Yet, God made it clear in other parts of his revelation that he walks by our side ready to direct and strengthen us. The problem is that humans soon forget they are not God. They do not have all the answers; sometimes they forget to take their time-outs with God.

I ask you, would our world be the mess it is today if men and women would have their time-outs with God? The answer is no. Because of our sinful, cold, and hardened hearts, we head for destruction.

We attempt to solve our domestic problems with psychological counseling and ignore the God who instituted marriage and the family. Would such problems as divorce, cohabitation, and homosexuality be as generally accepted as they are if God’s word were heard? Would abused credit cards be the problems they are in our culture if God could lead us in our spending habits and sense of values?

Imagine how many of our financial problems could be eliminated if we only spent time with God pondering Paul’s inspired words: “I have learned in whatever state I am in to be content.”

God is a speaking god. He wants to live in a personal relationship with us. He does not hesitate to tell us that we have sinned and by our nature we are out of a relationship with him. He makes it clear that, if we die outside of a faith in Jesus Christ, we are lost for all eternity. But he also tells us that he loves us and has given his Son to die for us. If in faith we will receive Jesus Christ as our Savior, he will welcome us back into the kingdom to be his forever. Imagine spending our time-outs penetrating the depth of our place in the parable of the prodigal son.

Think of it: one nation under God Ð a people where those who call themselves Christian had a strong devotional life. This could be a reality if the millions of people who are a part of his body Ð the Church Ð had a daily time-out with the Lord.

Well, we must continually make it clear from the pulpits in our churches that, if we are serious about a personal relationship with God, we need a strong devotional life Ð a time-out with our Heavenly Father.