The Three Rivers of Grace, Part 2
September 17, 2006
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Mark 2: 1-12
1A few days later, Jesus went to Capernaum, and word spread that He was home. 2So many people came together that there was no room left, not even in front of the door. Jesus was preaching the message to them 3when four men arrived, carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. 4However, they could not get the man to Jesus, so they made a hole in the roof right above the place where Jesus was. When they had made an opening, they let the man down, lying on his mat. 5Seeing how much faith they had, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”
6Now some teachers of the law who were sitting there thought to themselves, 7 “How does He dare to talk like this? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins.”
8At once Jesus knew what they were thinking, so He said to them, “Why do you think such things? 9Is it easier to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’? 10I will prove to you then that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So He said to the paralyzed man, 11 “I tell you, get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” 12While they all watched, the man got up, picked up his mat and hurried away. They were all completely amazed and praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! We’re talking these September weeks about one of the most beloved and important concepts in a Christian’s vocabulary. It is the beautiful word ‘grace.’ I’d like to compare grace to different kinds of rivers. Remember last week, we talked about prevenient grace, the grace that runs before us, the grace that’s like a mountain stream that turns the corner where we cannot see, the grace that goes before. Even before we know where we’re going, God is already there. That’s prevenient grace.
Today I’d like to talk to you about justifying grace. And the body of water I’d like to compare justifying grace to is the Jordan River, where John baptized people. It’s the river of cleansing; it’s the river of renewal; it’s the river of a fresh start.
I have a little device in my car. Probably you have one, too. They’re fairly new. My father’s cars, the Nash Ramblers and Hudsons and Packards, didn’t have them. I believe the device is called a trip meter. It’s a little device next to the odometer where you can measure the distance you’ve traveled. If you’ve gone on a trip and you want to see how far your next trip is, you hit the reset button and it goes to zero, so you can measure the next distance. I sometimes use it as an alternative gasoline gauge – I can go about 336 miles without getting nervous.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that trip meter could cancel out trips that we’d rather not have taken? Maybe it was a trip where I got terribly lost and regretted that lost time. Wouldn’t it be great not only to zero the trip meter but also to have the trip itself vanish and be able to start fresh? Wouldn’t it be neat if I’d taken my car where I shouldn’t have gone and I could say, “Hmm, I regret that” and hit the reset button, and the trip could go away? Then I could begin a fresh new trip.
Well, friends, the good news is this: the justifying grace of God is like that wondrous trip meter. God hits the reset button for us, and the guilt and the error is washed away in the mind of God. We’re able to start on a new, fresh trip. Isn’t it wonderful that the Christian has a reset button that God can hit to give you a fresh, new start? That’s what justifying grace is like.
What is grace? If someone were to ask you what it is, how would you answer? You could reply that it’s God’s love. Grace is God’s love, pure and simple. The important thing to remember is that it’s unmerited. It’s undeserved. It’s not something that we earn. It’s not something that we’re automatically entitled to because of who we are. Why does God give us the gift of His love? It’s because of who He is; that’s the way God is. God is so remarkably, outrageously generous that He wants to bless us with His love. So we’re looking at three forms of grace—prevenient, the kind that runs before, and today, at justifying.
I had an example of prevenient grace happen to me this week, that grace that supplies your need before you knew you had the need. I’ve been blessed that since my cardiac event almost a year ago I haven’t had the need for quite as much sleep, and that’s good. But this week, there was one afternoon I felt so sleepy that I just had to take a nap and rest. And later that day, I had a situation where I needed to listen to a gentleman talk, and he needed to talk for an hour and a half straight. It was a heavy-duty conversation. I needed that rest and that energy. And I realized – aha! God’s preparing for me in advance. He is supplying me with the prevenient grace that I need to move into the future bravely. How about you? I wonder if there have been examples of prevenient grace for you. Be on the lookout for them, because God has them in store for you.
Today we’re looking at justifying grace. God loves you so much that He wants to make you perfect inside. When God sees you, He doesn’t see the mistakes; He doesn’t see the difficult motives; He doesn’t see errors. God looks at you and sees something wonderful. We look back at God and say, “Oh, but God, I’m not so perfect. I make mistakes. I do things that I just don’t know why I do them. And then there’s that whole list of things that I haven’t done but I wish I had. I feel so unworthy of your love.”
And God says in return, “You know what? That’s okay. I’m going to cover over that, and I’m going to see the good in you.” That’s why God gave us Jesus, that His perfection might be in us, that as we accept Him as Lord and Savior, that as we take Him into our lives everyday, we can rely on His righteousness, on His perfection, and claim it as our own.
It has big implications. It is the blessing of heaven. Do we earn heaven? No. What makes us worthy of a perfect God and a wonderful heaven is the righteousness and perfection of Jesus Christ. We can take it on ourselves and claim it for ourselves and feel that perfection within us and know that we are free to be one with God, to live with Him forever, and to live out our full potential here on earth. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? It’s amazing! That’s the amazing thing about grace.
In the Gospel story from the book of Mark, Jesus went back home. He was sitting in His home in Capernaum, and crowds gathered all around. Four men had a friend who was paralyzed. Their friend was all crippled up and lying on a mat, a stretcher. And they couldn’t get near the house. So they had an idea. They went up on a hill behind the house. The roof of the house was flat and made of twigs lined up next to each other and then gathered and woven together with vines. So it wasn’t too hard to get through that kind of roofing construction.
The men took out their saws and went to work. Sawdust was dropping down as they created an opening. They flipped open the section of roof they’d sawed, and below them they saw Jesus. I’ll bet He was looking up and smiling. And beyond the question of what they had done to His roof was His statement, “Man, what faith you have!”
The scripture doesn’t say that the men said much of anything. The four men took the ropes on the corners of the mat and lowered their friend down until he was face to face with the Lord. Jesus looked at this fellow, and He knew so much. He was so sensitive. He knew what the problem was. The fellow was paralyzed with guilt. He was so guilty about something that he was all tied up in knots.
Jesus looked at him, and He said, “Brother, your sins are forgiven.” I’ll bet you the guy’s eyes opened wide at that moment. And then Jesus was interrupted by this vibration. (You can tell when people have the wrong kind of vibration, can’t you? When someone walks into a room angry, you can tell, can’t you?) Well, Jesus was the most sensitive of all, and He saw these teachers of the law bristling. He said, “I know what you’re thinking. Why do you do this? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Take up your mat and walk’? Which is easier?”
“Look, I’m going to show you something,” He said to them. “I’m going to show you that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins.” And He said, “Brother, get up, take your mat, and go home. Your sins are forgiven.” And that fellow, who was all curled up and paralyzed with his burdens – with his guilt, with his anger, with whatever it was that was tying him up – suddenly knew the justifying grace of God.
The man rose up, and he said, “Yes, I will accept your gift, sir.” He looked down at his feet and saw he could stand. He picked up his mat and tucked it under his arm. I hope he said thank you. I don’t know – the Bible doesn’t tell us. I like to think he did. And then he took off running through the crowd. He was healed. He was blessed. Because of justifying grace, he was given another chance.
So it is with us. Friend, do you need another chance? Do you need the Lord to hit the reset button? Do you need Him to say, “Your sins are forgiven. I’m not going to hold it against you. Rise up into a new day!”? It’s there for you. Take it! Claim it! Accept it! But you know what? You’ve got to say yes to it. Prevenient grace is just out there, whether we know it or not, but justifying grace requires us to say yes. Justifying grace requires you to pick up your mat and say, “I accept my own acceptance. I accept my forgiveness.” I invite you to do it. Let God hit the reset button for you. Let God wash away the guilt of the past and set your feet on a straight path for a new day, because that’s what Jesus wants to do.
One last story – I was riding in my car a week or so ago and I saw something that startled me. I was driving through a neighborhood and I saw, on the curb in front of a house, some garbage cans and some white garbage cans next to the garbage cans. And next to the garbage bags was a beautiful planter. It looked like cloisonne. It looked from the car as if it had enameled designs, beautiful rich reds and greens and whites, gorgeous colors. I thought, “That’s odd. Why would anyone throw that away? It must be really broken or something.”
So I stopped the car and backed up. I got out and checked out the planter. It wasn’t broken, but it certainly had been discarded. It had the marks of plants that had once grown in it. It needed a good washing and a good scrubbing. But it was a beautiful pot. And I have plants that need a planter. I have a job for it. So I picked it up and put it in my car so I could take it home and scrub it and use this beautiful planter that had been tossed aside.
Isn’t that what Jesus wants to do for us? If you feel bound up with guilt or anger or any other tight emotion, give it over to the Lord. He wants to brush you off; He wants to hit the reset button. He has a job for you. He has a future in store for you, because that’s what justifying grace is all about. It’s there for you. Say yes to it this week, won’t you? Because God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2006 Anthony J. Godlefski