GOD ANSWERS DOUBTS-GRACE SOUNDS TOO EASY
Dear friends in Christ,
Much time has been spent in my ministry learning how and then sharing my faith. How does one verbalize sharing Jesus? Like anything, the more you practice, the easier it gets. The hardest part is handling the objections. People go all over the place on that.
Recently in such a conversation, someone told me that he knew there was a God. When he was young he was taken to church by his parents, but then he got married. He got married to someone who was not the same faith. He didn’t like his wife’s church; his wife didn’t like his church. So they settled by not going at all. Are you going to heaven when you die? “I try to do my best,” he said, “I’m as good as the next guy.” He, like so many, compared himself to other people rather than God’s standards. Let me make a comparison. If I owned a company don’t you think I have a right to ask my employees to work according to my expectations? If I had an employee who said they just do what the next guy does, I think I would have a conversation with him.
Comparing ourselves to others is not right. That is why salvation is by grace. I explained the passage “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.” He found the concept of grace difficult to understand – grace is a gift. Salvation is free. Jesus makes it free. It is done. He had a hard time with that. While he had said that he was as good as the next guy, he said that he was not worthy of the gift. But sir, if you have to be worthy, then it is not a gift! .
500 years ago Martin Luther was confused on this point too. Not only he but the Roman church which trained him to be one of their clergy was confused. We celebrate the day Luther saw the light and understood grace. We celebrate the day he wanted the world to believe the Bible instead of the false teaching of grace that the church was proposing. We call it Reformation Sunday. The commemoration of this day fits with our sermon series. God Answers Doubts – God’s Grace Sounds Too Easy.” Today we are reminded to 1) Remember what Jesus did; 2) Remember what the Holy Spirit does.
It’s not just the word “grace” that people object to. There are a number of other words that are connected and that we treasure that people have doubts about.
Salvation – to be saved! Some say, “It’s deeds not creeds that saves!” Surely God values what you do over what you happen to believe. Will he actually ignore what you have done and punish because you don’t believe in him. That doesn’t sound right.
How about the Gospel? It seems such a strange notion and unfair that God should punish His innocent Son and declare sinners not guilty.
Forgiveness? Is it really free? Well, if that is the case then what’s going to keep people from doing anything they want because they are forgiven anyway?
And then going back to “grace.” A gift? Free? There is no such thing as a free lunch. Anyone who believes the politician who says that there is free college tuition and free healthcare or free phones is crazy and everything else needs to get a lesson in life. So it is with heaven. I will earn that too…or so say many.
Maybe in every day life there seems to be nothing free, but that’s not the way it is with our Lord. Salvation has to be free, forgiveness has to be free because no one can earn it, including the man on the mat.
Matthew’s version of this miracle is shorter than the one from Mark that has more details. Jesus was in his adopted hometown of Capernaum. Jesus was mobbed by a crowd who wanted him to teach. He was in a home. Friends of a helpless paralytic man knew they needed to get their friend or relative to Jesus to be healed. He received more healing than he came for. After these four cut through the roof and dropped him in front of Jesus, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
It is impossible for us to see into the mind of the paralyzed man, but Jesus could and knew what he needed. Perhaps the man was thinking he had done something wrong and that was why he was paralyzed. You know how it is! When we go through a tough stretch, even tragedy – we think the Lord is punishing us.
The first words from Jesus are these, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Not “could be” or “should be” or “will be”, they are! How could Jesus say that? Two reasons: 1) The actual payment lay in the future. His mission was to complete that payment; 2) He was and is God. The miracle of healing the man that followed proved it.
Yes, Jesus earned it. Every drop of blood he shed earned it. Even though the payment was still in the future, it was as good as done. It was as good as done from the time God gave the promise after humanity’s first parents tragically disobeyed and changed this perfect world.
But don’t ever say that grace is too easy. As someone said that it is free but not cheap.
• Let’s start with the agonizing prayer in the Garden. You know the one - the prayer that left sweat and blood on the ground.
• The trials – so unfair, so illegal and so rigged.
• The brutal torture, the beatings, the berating, the blood!
• The humiliation through the streets of Jerusalem to that hill of shame called Golgotha.
• The perfect crucified with the vile ones who earned their place next to Jesus really had no business being there in the first place. Don’t say that grace is too easy.
Martin Luther whom God enlightened and whose Reformation we celebrate we celebrate for the 498th year said it like this: As Jesus suffered on the cross “Christ became the greatest transgressor, the greatest murderer, the greatest adulterer, thief, rebel, and blasphemer that ever was or could be in all the world… he, being made a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world is not now an innocent person and without sins...but a sinner." God had laid on him the sins of the whole world. All our wrongs were blamed on Jesus. Grace sounds so easy? I think not.
He prayed, “Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.” He prayed for those soldiers who had treated him so badly; he prayed for religious leaders whose calling was to know he was coming but didn’t; he prayed for Jerusalem’s masses who had sung “hosannas” on Palm Sunday but who turned their backs on him by Good Friday; he prayed for the man on that mat and the four who were carrying him. He prayed for all of us who have gathered in this room today and those who are outside; he prayed for the billions of people whose entry into the world lay in the future but whose hearts are all the same way, wickedly imperfect and in desperate need of the grace that only the sinless Son of God could provide. Grace sounds too easy? It was certainly not too easy for Jesus. Remember what Jesus did for you!
But also remember what the Holy Spirit continues to do. Some might think that having a tender conscience is a curse because such a person feels guilty all the time. As I said before, Scripture doesn’t reveal to us what the paralyzed man was thinking. Some Bible commentators say the reason for Jesus saying, “Your sins are forgiven” is because Jesus knew what was on his mind and perhaps thought his paralysis was some sort of punishment for his sin.
Be careful of that kind of thinking. It is true that all the trials and tragedies in this world are a result of sin. But if we believe that God is punishing us as we do things that are wrong then Jesus’ work was not complete and total enough if we have to bear some punishment. No, fellow Christians Jesus bore all the punishment.
Maybe he is calling on us to repent. That’s not punishment, but love. Maybe he sees our faith lagging and he’s getting our attention. That’s not punishment, that’s love. Think about what happened here. Jesus used this paralyzed man to show he was God by doing the miracle and because he is God has the power to forgive sin.
Here we are 2000 years later talking about this same Jesus today and invited to follow as the paralyzed man was. Millions and millions know this story too from the eyewitnesses. They have as we have, by the Holy Spirit’s power, follow and teach the truth about Jesus to others.
As we celebrate the Reformation we see how that was also true of Martin Luther. To know Jesus as the merciful Savior of the world does not come natural to him or anyone. We are sinners born with cold and unbelieving hearts. Luther kept asking the age old question how to find release from his sin. How can I appease God’s wrath? How can I discover what I really need, the assurance that I am forgiven? “He became a theological professor,” someone wrote, “but he couldn’t teach the simplest Gospel lesson.”
He thought he could earn it. He dedicated his life and energy to a relentless program of earning his own salvation. Few worked as hard as he did. Luther wrote, “I wore myself out with self-sacrifice, tormenting myself with fasting, vigils and prayers and other very burdensome tasks, with the idea of attaining righteousness by his own works.” He spent half of every year fasting and having sleepless nights in prayers until his brothers in the monastery saw him as an emaciated wonder. “If I had lasted much longer I would have martyred myself to death.” He also said, “For I labored under the belief that I must by my own good works seek to make Christ my gracious friend and thereby reconcile an angry God.” But it didn’t work!
By the Holy Spirit’s power Luther discovered all this when he was studying Romans 1: 17, “The righteous will live by faith.” He was in a heated room of the tower of the Black Cloister in Wittenberg, Germany. It is often called the "Tower Experience." He had always thought the righteousness that the Bible speaks about is a righteousness that God requires. He thought it could only be attained by working for it. The righteousness IS a righteousness that God requires but it is also a righteousness that God supplies in Jesus Christ. When the Spirit enlightened him to understand, he said he "was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates . . . that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise."
Later in life and more mature in his faith he wrote, “Learn to sing to him, and say, 'Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and given me what is yours. You became what you were not, so that I might become what I was not.'" Jesus came to be the righteous one in our place. By faith we take possession of it, a faith that comes not from our sinful hearts but from God the Holy Spirit.
You see grace is not too easy here either. Without the Holy Spirit we would think this was all foolishness and fake. Yet God is merciful and says, “No man can say that Jesus in Lord but by the Holy Spirit.” Paul says elsewhere, “God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” Jesus declared us to be forgiven by what he did; we believe it by what the Holy Spirit did. It is God’s work – that’s grace.
All this is ours too. Salvation is certain from beginning to end. Jesus earned it; the Holy Spirit gives us the faith to embrace it. It is easy for us, but only because God made it easy. Thank God he did.