11-30-2014 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
Meet the Giver of “Scandalous” Grace
Do you know why they call it “black” Friday? There are conflicting stories. Some say the term was coined 90 years ago by cops in Philadelphia because of horrible traffic caused by hordes of people invading the city for the Army-Navy football game. Others say it refers to a stock market crash on a Friday way back in 1869. Still others say the term comes from the day retail sales finally turn a profit, pulling the books for the year out of the red and into the black. But for a lot of people, “Black Friday” makes them think of shopping mayhem—long lines and crazy shoppers (some will camp outside for days to be first in line!).
Predictions (National Retail Federation survey): Over 140 million shoppers this weekend (slightly less than last year when they spent $57 billion over the weekend); but Cyber Monday is still coming and expectations are for $89 billion in sales online this year (up over 13%).
If Black Friday means good deals, I’m wondering if we should coin another phrase: “Black Sunday”! We could advertise “the best deal ever”: Trade in your troubles and problems…your mistakes, bad decisions, and sins…your habits, hurts, and hang-ups…your pain and loss and sadness. Trade in everything that’s wrong with your life—and what do you get? You get a new start, a new life—an abundant, full life. You get peace and freedom and hope for eternity. You get forgiveness of sin. You get heaven—you get Jesus!
As we leave Thanksgiving behind and move into the Christmas season, I want to remind you over the next few weeks about the extraordinary gifts of God. I want to talk about the…
Radical Giver. Or, to put it another way: the story of extravagant grace. Today, let’s “Meet the Giver”; let’s check out why God’s grace can be called “Scandalous grace.” Let’s take a look at the
John 1:14-17 (NIV-1984)
14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ” 16From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
- For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. (NASB)
→ Notice: Jesus came “full of grace and truth” (v 14)—both are needed in a world ravaged by sin and deceived by so-called “truth” that’s been twisted.
→ Verse 16, however, focuses on grace. It does not say “For of His fullness we have all received, and truth upon truth.” Why not? Because the the OT Law still stands. Jesus did not abolish the Law; he fulfilled it. (Matt 5:17)
→ The moral code remains (truth is still truth; Jesus came full of truth). But he fulfilled the OT sacrifices with his own life (Hebrews). The Good News for us is that he came full of truth and full of grace: the fullness of his grace.
- Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. (NIV-2011)
→ This suggests: a new supply of grace day after day, fresh grace for each new situation or circumstance. We’re not talking “left-over” grace (like eating the same old turkey every day for a week after Thanksgiving).
→ God does not deal in left-overs! No, we’re talking about a fresh, new outpouring of grace, tailor-made specifically for what you will face on that particular day—this is grace upon grace—[fresh] grace [given] in place of grace already given.
You say, “Well, that sounds pretty good! What a blessing to know that through Jesus God provides fresh grace so I can meet whatever comes my way—problems, disappointments, failure, loss—I know that I can make it because of grace, God’s amazing grace. But why would you call it scandalous grace?”
I’ll tell you why: Grace is amazing when it is applied to us. It’s amazing because we know we don’t deserve it. It’s amazing because it is given freely in unlimited measure—one place in the NT says it is “lavished on us” (Eph 1:7-8).
But when we see grace lavished on others, we sometimes have a problem—especially when we feel like those people really deserved punishment or judgment. We might not say so publicly, but internally we feel some sense of satisfaction when some really bad people get what’s coming to them, when they’re held accountable, when they have to face the consequences for their crimes. We don’t want to see them get off the hook and walk away scott free. It bothers us if an evil person gets only a “slap on the wrist.”
It’s an understandable feeling. This attitude has long been a problem for people trying to live good lives. When the wicked city of Ninevah repented and received God’s forgiveness, Jonah complained bitterly:
Jonah 3:10-4:3 – 10When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. 1But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah was scandalized by all those sinners avoiding the punishment they deserved. He knew how evil the Assyrians were—the atrocities and war crimes they had committed. They were the terrorists of their day. He wanted them punished, not forgiven.
Many others in the Bible have felt the same sort of indignation. Like Jonah, they also were scandalized by grace:
- The workers who were upset when others worked only an hour and still received the same pay they got for working all day in the hot sun. (Matt 20:11-12)
- The older brother who refused to celebrate with his Father when his younger brother returned home after wasting all his inheritance on wild living. (Luke 15:28-30)
- People of Nazareth were furious when Jesus reminded them that God sent Elijah to save a starving Gentile widow and Elisha healed a leper from Syria—an army officer. (Luke 4:25-27)
- Jesus own disciples, James and John, wanted to call down fire from heaven to punish a town that wouldn’t let Jesus pass through. (Jesus rebuked them and said, “You don’t know what kind of spirit you’re of; I didn’t come to destroy people but to save them.”) (Luke 9:54-56)
- Jews were upset when Jesus hung out with “sinners,” eating and drinking with despised tax collectors and other “sinners.” (Mark 2:16; Luke 7:34)
Grace is amazing—when God gives his gift to us. But grace can scandalize us when we see God pouring it out on people we look down on…on people we’d prefer to see punished. Have you ever felt like Jonah or these others? Upset because somebody was not held accountable?
This last week we saw people all across the country, in city after city, outraged and incensed about what they believed to be a travesty of justice in Ferguson, Missouri. We saw riots and demonstrations, anger in the streets. Pent up frustration led to violence and destruction of property. People were injured and killed. Businesses burned to the ground. Millions of dollars worth of merchandise up in smoke.
Why all the anger and outrage? Because they believed a police officer was let off the hook. They believed he got a pass—that he got away with murder. They believed the grand jury made a mistake—that the officer should have been held accountable for his actions.
None of us were there. None of us heard heard what the grand jury heard from the witnesses; none of us examined the evidence. But despite all that, the emotions people feel are real and raw. People were scandalized by what they felt was a grave injustice. Right or wrong, the anger, the frustration, the rage are genuine emotions.
It happens to all of us. It’s something we all feel at various times to one degree or another. Maybe you haven’t taken to the streets in protest, but haven’t you been outraged when you see someone get away with something?
Those kind of emotions surface regularly. It hardly ever even makes the news. You’re angry when a classmate cheats on a test and gets an “A” while you studied for hours and get only a “B.” Your blood pressure goes up when someone cuts in front of you. You’ve been standing in line, trying to patiently wait your turn. Then all of a sudden, some inconsiderate jerk circles from somewhere behind you and plants himself firmly at the center of the counter ahead of you.
That happened to me a week ago at the Menard’s service counter…
When those things happen to us, we feel cheated. Wronged. It’s not fair and we know it. If our sense of justice is sufficiently offended, we might say something. “Excuse me…I was here first.” We may not throw rocks or molotof cocktails, but we may toss some dirty looks.
We are outraged and upset when someone breaks the rules and is not held accountable. We are scandalized when people get away with something.
But it’s a different story when we get away with something. One time years ago, I was the one who caused the outrage. I was waiting to check out at an office supply store. Several people were waiting—it was more a group than a line. When the clerk said, “Next,” no one moved. I looked around, not knowing who was supposed to be next. It seemed nobody was ready to be next, so I stepped up.
Then I heard him. The angry man. I hadn’t noticed him before, but I certainly noticed him now. He was loud and he was outraged. What made it even worse, however, was that I had just come from my job at a nursing home where I was a chaplain. I was wearing a suit and tie, and though I didn’t realize it, I was still wearing my name tag: “Chaplain Doebler.”
“Oh sure, go ahead!” said the angry man. “Go to the head of the line. All you Christians are alike. Chaplain! You think you’re so holy, but you’re like all the rest.” There were a few extra words thrown in that I can’t repeat.
From my perspective, I had done nothing wrong. I had looked around. I had waited for others. I only stepped up when it seemed the rest were waiting for me. But that was not the view of the angry man. In his opinion, I was cheating him out of his place in line.
I didn’t do it intentionally, so I tried to rectify the wrong: “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you. Please go ahead of me. I insist.” But nothing I did or said made any difference. He was determined to be outraged. So in the end, I decided it was his problem, not mine. I paid for my stuff and got out of there as quickly as I could.
Now I tell you that story to make a point: when we speak of God’s grace, we have a different perspective depending on who the grace is for.
If we receive God’s grace, if we’re forgiven of our sins, if we’re let off the hook, if we’re not indicted and held accountable for our actions—well, we are amazed at the wonderful and amazing grace of God.
But if grace is extended to someone that irritates and bothers us, someone that angers us, it’s a different story. When we are forgiven by God’s grace, we take comfort in knowing that we didn’t really intend to be bad. We didn’t really mean to sin. We just made a mistake. We dropped the ball. We weren’t intentionally evil. We were deceived or weak or mistaken…and so we yielded to temptation.
When we sing of God’s grace for ourselves, we see grace as amazing. It’s about rescuing someone sinking in sin—like we were swept away by flood waters through no fault of our own. Or we were hit by temptation—like a poor pedestrian crossing the street when a big SIN truck comes careening around the corner and nails us. We never had a chance.
That’s amazing grace. Grace that saves us; grace that rescues us.
But when amazing grace upon amazing grace is poured out in overflowing measure to someone else—someone who deserves to be punished, someone who should be held accountable, someone who needs to feel the heavy hand of the law, someone who needs justice administered severely—when grace comes to the person who offends us, we are outraged. We are incensed. It’s not fair that that person should get away with murder.
That’s when we are scandalized by grace: when someone who deserves judgment gets off Scott free, it’s scandalous.
The irony is that we are people who deserve judgment—not grace. Each one of us deserves judgment. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is none of us who is righteous, no not one. We all, like sheep, have gone astray and wandered away from the Shepherd. None of us deserve grace.
But that’s why it is grace. God’s outrageous gift of grace is a scandal to anyone with a sense of justice—a sense of right and wrong.
Grace is a gift. It’s the free gift of God. It is given to people who do not deserve it. Like you and me. It’s amazing…but it’s also scandalous—how God’s gift gets us off the hook, how we are not held accountable, how God keeps pouring it on, day after day, fresh grace for each new day, though we don’t deserve it.
If grace is not a scandal to you, it probably also no longer amazes you. If you’re not scandalized by grace, then you probably need to stand again before the cross. See the judgment poured out upon Jesus.
If you somehow expect grace or think you deserve grace, then you need once again to see how justice was accomplished. It was what we deserved, but Jesus took our place and suffered our punishment—so we could receive God’s gift of grace. And he keeps pouring it on, day after day.
[John 1:16, AMPLIFIED] For out of His fullness (abundance) we have all received [all had a share and we were all supplied with] one grace after another and spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing and even favor upon favor and gift [heaped] upon gift.
You may have got off Scott free, but Jesus didn’t. So grace really means a double scandal—not only was the sinner let off, but the sinless One was held accountable for your sin. Jesus paid the price.
We talk about the gift of Christmas and we think about the Savior born as a baby, the gift of God to the world. But the real gift is what that baby did after he grew up.
He lived a perfect life. He was without sin—the only one in history who did not deserve to die, yet he gave his life as a sacrifice for us. He took the abuse and the anger and the outrage of the world upon himself.
He gave himself up in the Garden; he stood silently before his accusers; he took the beating—the wicked whip, the thorns, the abuse; he permitted his body to be stretched out on the cross, fastened to the beams by nails driven through his hands and feet.
It was a scandal! He was God in the flesh—God who had healed the sick and raised the dead and multiplied the loaves and calmed the stormy seas. He was God and could easily have overwhelmed his tormenters—but he gave himself up on our behalf.
It was a scandal that God would take our place. But the scandal shows us what was in God’s heart. It reveals his infinite love and his immeasureable passion for us. That was his gift to us, his grace to us.
A song came out last year (from Hillsong) called “The Scandal of Grace.” Some of the lyrics go like this:
Grace, what have You done? / Murdered for me on that cross
Accused in absence of wrong / My sin washed away in Your blood
Too much to make sense of it all / I know that Your love breaks my fall
The scandal of grace, You died in my place / So my soul will live