Sermon delivered October 19, 1996

by Pastor Jim Erwin

McDonald Road SDA Church, McDonald, TN


Do you remember some of the things you used to do in elementary school. I was going to the South Central public school where I grew up. One of things we fellows liked to do was to wrestle. And we would wrestle with each other and we'd ... Sometimes you would get caught in a head-lock, and the person who had you in the head-lock would say, "You give?" "No!" Squeeze and wrangle around. "You give?" "No!" And finally the bell would ring and we'd have to go in.

It didn't take us too long to realize that if what holds that somebody got us in that we could not break. And I remember the first time that somebody decided they weren't going to wait until the bell rang. As soon as they got into the head-lock they couldn't get out of... "You give?" "Yeah!" "What! That's no fun!!" And the fellow said, "Oh, yes it is. I get a whole fresh start now, and maybe I'll pin you this time."

Sometimes we're that way when it comes to God's grace. God comes along, and He wants to give us some grace. "You give in?" And we say, "NO! I'm going to hang in here."

Turn to Ephesians 2:7. While you're turning, I'll talk about gold fish. Any of you ever had a gold fish? My sister had a gold fish. She stays with my aunt now, and I always liked to look at that gold fish, swimming around in circles in a little bowl. Did you know, if you took a gold fish that had been swimming around in circles in a little bowl and took it out to a big lake, that that little gold fish for days would swim around in a little bitty circle. And after a while it would realize that it not hemmed in, and it would give in to the temptation to swim outside that confining circle and it discovers the vastness and the beauty of the huge lake.

Ephesians 2:7 (NIV), Paul is talking about grace and what it means to us. "In order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus."

I want to talk today about the richness of God's grace and the vastness of God's grace that we experience when we give in to God's grace. First of all I want to talk about the primacy of God's grace, and talk about a definition of God's grace, then we'll look and see how this applies to different parts of our lives.

Turn to John 1. As Seventh-day Adventists, we are very much into what we call "the truth." You've heard that expression: "the truth." "We have the truth." In John 1, it talks about Jesus being God's truth. We'll read verse 14 first and then verse 17. "The 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." Which did the Holy Spirit put first? Truth or Grace? Look at verse 17. "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." So, John in his opening statements about who Jesus Christ was, said that Jesus came, He brought grace and, secondarily He brought truth. Grace comes before truth.

Now turn to Romans, chapter 1. In every epistle that Paul wrote, excluding Hebrews: in all of his letter from Romans to Philemon, Paul starts out with a greeting and he always wishes for the saints something. Romans 1: 7. "To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints (set apart to belong to Jesus Christ): Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ." Did it come from Paul? No, it came from God the Father and from Jesus Christ. You'll find this expression in his first 13 epistles. Grace and peace. Grace is always where? First. Before you can have peace you must have grace. Some times Paul will add other words such as "mercy".

Turn to the end of the book of Romans: Romans 16. Verse 24. "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." You will find this in the beginning of all the epistles of Paul. He always starts with grace and peace, and at the very end what he wishes for us most, he was writing to is grace, His grace.

Now we're in the midst of "Net 96 - Beyond 2000" by Mark Finley. We're studying primarily Revelation. Turn to the book of Revelation. In the book of Revelation, where we find out so many things that are going to happen in the future, where we discover what God has said will happen and the things that we can expect. Revelation 1 begins with the prologue: "The revelation of Jesus Christ." But when John finishes the prologue, he launches into his message to the seven churches. He was a circuit-riding preacher who had seven churches that went in order as they are listed in chapters 2 and 3. Notice verse 4: "John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia:..." What does he wish for them? "Grace and peace..." Once again, John puts grace first. Turn to the last chapter in the book of Revelation: Chapter 22; the very last verse (21.). 20: "He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. 21: The grace of the Lord Jesus be with god's people. Amen.

From this brief look at grace, we discover the apostles, the writers of the New Testament put grace down as the very first gift from God, that they wish that we might have. So it comes first: it is premier, it precedes everything else, it precedes peace and mercy, it precedes works, it precedes power. Stephen, when he was preaching, Luke says, he was full of grace and power. But grace came first. Grace comes before the spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 12). Grace comes before spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23): love, peace, joy....

Let's take a look this word, then in its definition. The word "grace is used in the New Testament over a 155 times, for those of you who love mathematics and statistics. Over a hundred of those occurrences are in Paul's writings. If you remember the scripture reading (Romans 4,5, you get a glimpse of Paul's of God's willingness to give him grace and another chance. 25 of those occurrences are in the gospel of Luke. Luke and Paul were partners as missionaries together, and when you put them together, they have over 80 percent of the occurrences of grace in the New Testament. By the way, when you look at Luke's writing and at Paul's writing, that's a large share: 70 to 80 percent of what was written in the New Testament.

What does it mean. What does it mean: this word, grace. Well, we have some folks who come to church here whose name is "Grace." In fact, the very first person who ever came to our house to talk to us about Jesus Christ and the Seventh-day Adventist Church was a lady named, Grace. Grace was premier in our experience of the Gospel. Grace has a twin sister named Joy. The words are almost the same in the Greek (grace:charis/joy:chara). But they're twins: grace and joy. And there's another sister called charisma. We talk about people with personality plus, or when you're looking at the presidential candidates or political candidates, often you look more at the charisma the person has rather than what they're actually saying. A person who doesn't have much charisma may be more qualified for the position but we're won over by the graces or the social graces they have. Social graces primarily come out when people are courting. The fellow opens the door; he brings flowers. Here in the South the social graces are extended a little farther. A Southern hostess or host does not want to offend the guest in any way. So, whatever the guest says or wants, well that's fine. And if you go visit many true Southerners and they have come to "Net 96" and you invite them to come out to Sabbath, "Oh, I'll be there." But they never show up. They just wanted to make you feel good, and be what they thought was gracious.

Now, there are some other ways the word, grace can be used. Today when you go home you will probably have your Sabbath dinner or lunch, but before you do that you will say, what? Grace. Giving thanks over food. Grace we usually translate as "unmerited favor," favor we do not deserve. Something that is graciously given to us. It's also translated; mercy, compassion, good will. It is a title of respect for many people. You may have heard somebody referring to a dignitary as "your Grace." It's also a time that many of us appreciate when it comes to paying bills. You get your water bill in late, you run in to the Village Market and they say they can't take it because it's a day late. You'll have to go down on Lee Highway. So you go down to Lee Highway expecting to pay more, and they say, "No, you're still within the grace period." And so we like that.

We use the word, "grace" today for a name. We call the person that. And we know that it comes from the New Testament word "grace." But there are two other names that people have that come from the Old Testament that also means grace. Do you know anybody by the name: Hanna? Our girls went to school with a girl named, Hanna. Do you know anyone in this church that is named Ann? Ann is a shortened for of Hanna, and means, grace. Now you have learned something new about the names of some of our members.

But the one that interested me the most, which we will look at later, is that sometimes the word for grace is translated: forgive and forgiveness. Now, let's look at how this might work out in our lives when we give in to God's grace. Many of us here were not always Christians, and somewhere in our lives God's grace came along began to work with us. The Holy Spirit was trying to impress upon us something; and that was to give our hearts and lives to Jesus Christ. When that experience came to our family, my dad and I were not interested. Mom was. In fact, dad tore the Voice of Prophecy card in half when I gave it to him (I found it on the door). Mom took it in the house and put scotch tape on it: taped it back together and sent it off to the Voice of Prophecy. And Grace came by to follow up on the lessons mom had done. Well, dad and I were extremely upset. We fought against it. We did not want to give in to it. The Holy Spirit was saying, "You give?" We were saying "NO!" But notice in John 15:16. Jesus was talking to His disciples, those who were loyal to Him: who had followed Him. He said to them, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appoint you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name." Whether you grew up in the church, or whether you didn't know anything about Christianity. Jesus says He chose us. He selected us. (While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.-Romans 5:8)

Many of you have been out looking for jobs or trying to get into a school to get a better education, or you've wanted to play on a particular team, and you were hoping to be chosen. You knew there were many candidates and it might be tough getting on this team or getting this job. For example, in many cases people go to apply for a job and there are two or three thousand people applying for the same job and there's only one opening. You're hoping against hope that you will be chosen. Jesus says, "I have chosen you." He brings His grace and says, "You can be on my team. Will you accept? Will you give in?" And sometimes we want to hang in there when the Holy Spirit puts that arm-hold on us and we want to say, "No, we don't want to give. I don't want to give." Finally we give in and suddenly we experience the vastness of God's grace. We were fighting against something, but when we gave in we discover that there is a whole lot more than we thought to this thing we call "grace."

Aunt Grace was eighty-four years old. No longer able to take care of the two-hundred acre farm and the big Victorian house she lived in. So, she deeded all of her property to her only living relative, and that was her nephew, Sam and his wife, Laura. It provided that they could come and take over the house and farm immediately. And so they did. And they brought along Jimmy. They fixed a little apartment for Aunt Grace out in one of the other buildings. For Jimmy, it was the greatest thing that ever happened. Aunt Grace was so much fun. He didn't have to come home to an empty house anymore. And he would go and talk with Aunt Grace, and she hugged him and paid attention to him and made him feel good. And so they had given in to Aunt Grace's offer. For Jimmy it was the best thing in the world and they were delighted to be there with her.

But God's grace is for us, not only when we accept it when He offers it to us and we follow Him, but God's grace is for us when we fail. In John 21:15-19, Peter had failed miserably, and everybody thought that he was out. But he kind of hung around, not ready to run off. As Jesus talked to him, Jesus asked Simon Peter, "Do you love Me?" And he kept saying, "Yes, you know that I love you." And finally he was grieved, and then Jesus said, "Welcome back."

Jon Valjean because he had picked up a loaf of bread for his starving sister and her son, was sentenced to prison for five years. He escaped and when he was recaptured he was put on a prison shift for nineteen years and then let him go. He was watched by the police. Everybody scorned him because they knew he had been a criminal. He got lodging one night when he was very hungry with the pastor of a district. As he left the next day, he took some of the valuable silver that the pastor had. The police caught him and hauled him back. Surely this man, Jon Valjean, was a miserable failure. But as the police threw him into the pastor's house, the pastor said, "Oh, this is a mistake! It's a mistake! Please let him go. I gave him this silver." And he turned to Jean Valjean and said, "I told you to take all the silver. Why did you only take part of it?" And the police were baffled. But they couldn't do anything, so they left. And Jon stood there looking at the pastor. And the pastor said, "I give you this in order that you may start a new life." And Jon was so taken back, not only by the pastor's acceptance of him the first time around, that he gave in to this grace and he went on to become a respectable citizen, honored, a leader in the community.

Sometimes when we're a failure, when we feel like we aren't going to measure up, that's when we say, "I can't give in. Not that I won't. But how can I give in to God's offered grace?" Just go ahead and say, "I give in, Lord. Help me see the vastness of your grace."

Sometime, though, it's hard to be gracious for many reason. We might be afraid what might happen to us, or we're so upset at what someone else has done. See, grace plays in the field of need. We're not gracious TO someone or gracious FOR someone. We are gracious WITH someone. Jon Valjean got word one day that a man had been arrested and sentenced to prison for something he hadn't done. Jon knew he hadn't committed that crime, because, earlier in his life Jon had done the crime. What should he do? Very popular mayor. Should he extend the grace that he had received to the innocent man? What would happen to him? And so the hardest struggle of his life ever was would he extend the grace to this innocent man that God and other human beings had given him? What would you do? Well, as you expect, the story turns out well. Jon did what was right. He gave in to giving grace to another man.

Turn to Luke 7:42. This is one of the passages in which the word, grace is translated as "forgive." This is the account of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus' feet and Simon was very upset about it. And Jesus told the story about two people owing money. One owe five hundred denarii and the other owed fifty denarii. (verse 41) Neither of them had the money to pay him back. In the NIV verse 42 says: "Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Now which of them would love him most?" In the original Greek, which I checked this morning because somebody else had told me about it, I went and looked. And sure enough, it's there. "He graced (ŠcharĄsato) their debts." He forgave them.

There was an Armenian lady, years ago, who was caught in middle of a very vicious war. Another religious group was trying to eliminate the Armenian Christians. An enemy officer captured her and they abused her viciously and taunted her and asked her where he God was. She finally escaped and several years later was working as a nurse in a hospital, and they brought in this enemy officer. He had been wounded very badly. They assigned this lady, I'll call her "Grace," to take care of him. If that were you, what would have been your first thoughts as you looked down and saw the face and recognized the person who had traumatized you and taunted you about your God? He wasn't expected to live, so it would have been just so easy to not to do something that would have caused him to die. Or maybe just to change something just a little bit. Nobody would ever know. But as she stood there in that moment of decision, she thought about Jesus Christ on the cross, and the grace that he had given to her. Two weeks later, when the man woke up and he saw the nurse standing over him, his eyes opened wide in terror, because he recognized her. And then the other nurses that happened to be in the room began to tell him how this woman had worked so hard, night and day, to save his life. She had given in to grace and had graced him. And the rest of the story is, as Paul Harvey said, this man was so amazed at her grace that he wanted to know about Jesus Christ.

Roger wanted to do something special for his eighty-five-year-old dad. His dad liked the sea, so he went out and rented a yacht and told the rest of the family when to be there. They only had three hours, so they had to be there on time, so they could enjoy this special birthday with dad. Everybody was there, except the daughter. She didn't show up. fifteen minutes later, the brothers started saying it was time to go. Father said, "No, we'll wait, we'll wait. We want to make sure she would want us to go." A half an hour went by. The brothers were saying, "If she's not here by now, she deserves to be left." Forty-five minutes went by, and the brothers were really up tight. Roger looked at his mother and father and they had always talked about being gracious to other people. So the father turned to the brothers and said, "There's no decision to be made here. You remember." And so they waited. An hour after they were to leave the girl came running up. She had had a hair appointment that day and there had been some problems in the hair salon, and so she was an hour late. As they saw her coming down the dock, father said, "Now remember, how would you want to be treated if you were her?" And the brothers gave in to grace, and went up to their sister and hugged her and never said a word about her being late. How many of you, including me, I include myself there (I hate to wait), How many of us would be able to say, "I'm glad to have you here?" They gave in to grace.

In a West Virginia town the pastor had had a visiting dignitary come in for a revival and evangelistic series. The meetings were over and they went home after church for lunch and Pastor Young's wife was known for her ability to create beautiful lunches and dinners. She'd decorate everything to the hilt. She'd gone all out: the best food, flowers on the table, food arranged so beautifully. They sat down together. Pastor Young was at one end of the table and his wife was at the other end of the table. Sitting along side the table: three on one side because they had the visiting dignitary was four- year-old Loran next to father on one side and in the middle was eight-year- old Paula Jean and down near mother was Rocky, who was twelve years old, across from Rocky was a huge boulder of a sixteen-year-old teenager, and next to Pastor Young on the other side was the visiting pastor, the evangelist. After Pastor Young had the blessing, Paula Jean went to reach for the green beans. As she came back, her arm bounced against the goblet and knocked it over. Loran, next to her had been reaching for something and saw the crystal glass toppling over and he jumped out of the way and knocked his glass of drink over, so here's this colored water running all over the white table cloth. Down at the other end, Mrs. Young is kind of whimpering because she has something on her mind that she wants to say to her kids, but because of the visiting evangelist, she can't say it. Normally when you spill something on the table you try to get out of the way. But instead, everybody knew how detailed and organized, and orderly and prim and proper Mrs. Young was, so the only move they made was that everybody looked at Mrs. Young. Pastor Young on this end kind of bends his head over and leans and kind of looks up, and she caught his eye and kind of glared at him, "Bother, don't you raise your head to me." As he had her full attention, he reached up and he flicked his crystal goblet, "POP", there went another glass of drink. Rocky, down at the other end, hated to wear a tie at any time, let alone to eat, "Aha! Dad did it!" Pow! And over went another glass. Mrs. Young is about in shock at what this idiot husband of her did. Across from Rocky was this big boulder of a teen-ager "Ahahaha!" Pow! He knocks his glass over. How many glasses is that now? That's five glasses. The visiting evangelist never did get to have any fun. "Hehehe." Pow! He knocks his glass over. Mrs Young is... you know... What had been an accident was now a federal disaster. She is just trembling and she looks down at her husband and catches his eye again and her husband winks at her, a great big wink. All of sudden, grace jumped all her and she goes, "Hahaha." Pow! Knocks her glass over. And so the tension is broken, everybody is laughing until somebody looks and notices. Paula Jean is not laughing. Paula Jean is looking at her father with tears running down her cheeks. You see, father and mother are representative to Jesus in church. Father got up and patted her on the back and rubbed her head a little bit, but he had decided not to let his little girl bear the brunt of a mistake. Be chewed out, be humiliated. He had decided to take the humiliation and the heat for that mistake, which is what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross so that we would not have to bear the heat, so that we would not have to feel humiliated, but we could feel accepted. And Mrs. Young represents us as the church. As we share grace with other people when they make mistakes, we can see God's love and feel that love, and when we give in to grace, to gracing other people, we will begin to experience the great vastness of God's grace, just as this family did together.

It's my wish for you today is that you will experience of God's grace. And along with that the twin sister of grace, joy in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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