26 October 2020 Pastor Rick: Relentless Grace
by Pastor Rick Henderson
This weekend I shared with you what I believe to be one of the most compelling, yet oft ignored evidences for the resurrection. As the church took root in Jerusalem, Pharisees abandoned their lofty social standing to follow Jesus. Their conversion came at great personal cost and deserves to be pondered. Yet, examining their conversion is not the subject of this article. Instead, let’s get personal and perhaps a little messy.
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5)
What do you think it was like to go to church with people like that? Because we are Gentiles, they would have instinctively seen us as racially and religiously inferior. What do you think it would have been like to go to church with people who routinely vocalized the inadequacy of your faith and devotion? Have you ever experienced that level of scrutiny and disapproval? Can you imagine trying to worship, pray, or eat next to someone whose attitude was, “I will accept you once you are like me.”
What I’m describing is enough to wreck a church. And yet, the Gospel message thrived, and the church rapidly expanded. Somehow, some way, they were able to navigate these landmines without blowing up momentum. How was it that they experienced unity while gripped by powerful forces that sought to pull them apart? As you read further through Acts and Paul’s epistles, their misgivings and misunderstandings were consistently, if not relentlessly, corrected.
Information without transformation never wins the day. If we could travel back in time and observe this volatile mix of people and cultures, I think we would be astounded by grace. Though imperfect, and at times contradictory, I think we’d see men and women who pushed past discomfort, who immersed themselves in pain so they could be givers of grace.
I think we’d see Gentiles, who were unduly imposed upon, overlooking offenses and giving grace. I think we’d see Pharisees wrestling their arrogant tendencies to the ground. I think we’d see Gentiles repent of sinful reactions and unkind behavior of their own. I think we’d see people angered that they have to endure the same demeaning attitude again and have to forgive again. And then we’d see people reflect on the cost of their own sin—some of whom literally saw it. As some thought back on watching a crucifixion, they would have softened and gladly extended undeserved kindness again. I think we’d see Gentiles and Pharisees praying together, eating together, and then humbly repenting to each other when they had refused to eat and pray together.
I don’t think we’d see the absence of conflict. I believe we’d see the dance of forgiveness and offense set to the soundtrack of grace. When I read the New Testament, I often see good guys and bad guys. I so badly want to see myself as a good guy. The problem with that narrative is that it’s a lie. Though a happy fiction, a fiction it remains. There is one good guy and the rest (me included, me especially) are spiritually dead, sin wrecked, enemies of God. Only by his grace has that story changed.
Racially and religiously, I’m no Pharisee. And yet, if you could look into my heart, you might find the heart of one. I don’t just need to give grace; I remain utterly dependent upon it. I’m grateful that Jesus is relentless in dispensing grace. If, like me, you never tire in receiving it—let’s also never tire in giving it.