Christian Belief Session 1: The God of Grace

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1 Christian Belief Session 1: The God of Grace Grace can be defined as unmerited favor or a kindly disposition that leads to acts of kindness. Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin and brokenness. Scripture reveals that Almighty God is the God of Grace. Over and over again he reveals his unmerited favor and kindly disposition through specific acts of kindness. The Hebrew word that describes this in the Old Testament is hesed, which is God s one-way love, mercy, and compassion toward his people. As it states twenty six times in Psalm 136, God s hesed lasts forever. There are many examples of God s hesed in the Old Testament, but this evening we ll just look at three: the Fall, the Exodus, and the Exile. In addition, Jesus Christ reveals that the God of Grace is also our Heavenly Father in how he taught us to pray and in his Parable of the Prodigal Son. The entire Bible contains one big story, the story of the creation and redemption of the world by the God of grace. The Fall After God created human beings in his image and blessed them (Genesis 1:27-28), he commanded them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or else they would die (Genesis 2:16-17). Adam and Eve later succumbed to the temptation proffered by Satan, disguised as a serpent, and ate the forbidden fruit. That evening God went to them, and even in the midst of the fall, did two things that reveal his grace. First, God promised them a future Savior, as he spoke to Satan: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel (Genesis 3:15). This is the first of many prophecies in the Old Testament about Jesus Christ, the coming Messiah, and this prophecy was spoken by God the Father. In the presence of Adam and Eve God made it clear that in his time he would delver them by his grace. Ultimately this occurred, not just for Adam and Eve, but for all humanity, in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, which we ll address next week. Second, God made clothes for Adam and Eve from animal skins (Genesis 3:21), because their sin had caused them to be ashamed of their nakedness. These garments replaced the garments Adam and Eve made for themselves out of fig leaves (3:7), and required the shedding of blood. This prefigures the blood Jesus Christ would ultimately shed on the cross to truly cover our sins and replace our own efforts to cover things up. Even at the fall, God expressed his grace in word and deed, revealing that he is the God of grace. The Exodus After the fall the rest of the book of Genesis details God s unfolding plan of redemption through the saving of Noah and his family at the flood, the lives of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph), and the arrival of the children of Israel in Egypt. The children of Israel (God had changed Jacob s name to Israel after Jacob s encounter with God at Peniel Genesis 32:28) had moved to Egypt in order to escape severe famine, and they initially prospered because of Joseph, 1

2 who had risen to being second only to Pharaoh in all of Egypt. Years later, after the deaths of Joseph and the Pharaoh under whom he served, subsequent Pharaohs enslaved the children of Israel. This period of bondage lasted four hundred years, and then the God of grace, in response to the cries of the children of Israel, sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt. God sent ten plagues upon Egypt in preparation for the exodus, and the tenth plague, the death of all the firstborn throughout Egypt, occurred on the night of the exodus. In order to escape this plague, God had commanded Israel to slay a lamb and place its blood on the doorposts of their homes. If they did so, the judgment of God would pass over them and they would be safe and that is exactly what happened as God delivered Israel from four centuries of bondage (Exodus 12). This great work of deliverance from Egypt is celebrated annually by Israel at the festival of Passover. It prefigures Jesus Christ, who would be identified by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), who instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion at the Last Supper (see Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:14-20; and I Corinthians 11:23-26), and shed his blood on the cross so that the judgment of God would pass over us. The Exile After God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, he further demonstrated his grace in manifesting his presence among them in the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night (see Exodus 13:21-22), and in providing for their every need in their forty-year sojourn in the wilderness. After the death of Moses, Joshua lead Israel into the Promised Land, and God demonstrated his grace in delivering them from many enemies. After the death of Joshua Israel repeatedly completed a cycle in which they rebelled against God and did what was right in their own eyes (see Judges 17:6 and 21:25), were oppressed by an enemy (like the Philistines or Midianites), and called on God for help. God always demonstrated his grace by sending them a judge (like Gideon and Samson) to deliver them from their enemies and establish peace again. The last of these judges was Samuel, who anointed the first king of Israel, Saul (see I Samuel 10), and his successor, David, described as a man after God s own heart (see I Samuel 13:14 and 16:1-13). After David s death his was succeeded by his son, Solomon, who oversaw the building of the temple. Solomon s son, Rehoboam succeed him, and because he chose to be harsh with the Israelites, the northern tribes all seceded from the nation of Israel, leaving the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Throughout all these years there had been many times when as a nation both Israel and Judah rebelled against God. God demonstrated his grace by sending prophets (like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Elijah) to call his people to do one thing: repent turn away from their sin and idolatry and turn back to him. Ultimately neither Israel nor Judah repented, and in 722 B.C. the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, slaughtering thousands and thousands of Israelites and carrying the survivors into exile. The Southern Kingdom of Judah later suffered the same fate at the hand of the Babylonians in 586 B.C. And yet prior to and even in the midst of these events God continued to demonstrate his grace by speaking words of comfort to Israel through the prophets. For example: 2

3 Prior to the exile: But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (Isaiah 43:1-3a). In the midst of the exile: For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile (Jeremiah 29:11-14). Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, Oh my people (Ezekiel 37:12b-13). So from the time of Joshua through the judges and the kings, all the way through the fall to Assyria and Babylon, God repeatedly demonstrated his grace, his hesed to Israel. Jesus Christ reveals that the God of grace is also our Heavenly Father In the New Testament the word used to describe God s one way love, mercy and compassion is grace. The ultimate expression of the grace of God is found in Jesus Christ, as the Apostle John wrote in his account of the gospel: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (1:17). Jesus Christ is the Son of God (fully divine) and the Son of Man (fully human), or as we sing at Christmas time, God incarnate, man divine. All the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:19), who is the reflection of God s glory and the exact imprint of God s very being (Hebrews 1:3). It is Jesus Christ s identity as the Son of God that makes his death on the cross sufficient to atone for the sins of the world, as we ll examine more closely next week. Jesus revealed that the God of grace is our Heavenly Father in teaching us the Lord s Prayer: After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name (Matthew 6:9, King James Version see also Luke 11:2). In a conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus (the Pharisees were among the wealthy, elite Jewish religious leaders in Jesus day) Jesus revealed God s gracious father heart toward the world: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in 3

4 him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17). Through faith (belief and trust) in Jesus Christ and his blood shed on the cross for us, through believing in him and receiving him, God makes us his children: But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God (John 1:12). See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are (I John 3:1a). Moreover, Jesus revealed that Almighty God is like a loving father in his Parable of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15:11-32). In this parable Jesus gives a beautiful picture that reveals the compassion of our God of grace, the love of our Heavenly Father. A wealthy man has two sons. The older son is a classic dutiful firstborn child. The younger is rebellious, and insults his father by demanding his share of the inheritance, a request that revealed that in fact he wished his father were already dead. His gracious father gives him his share of the inheritance, no questions asked. The younger son then goes to a faraway land and wastes every last cent on his fleshly appetites, indulging himself in every vice and lust he could imagine. He finds himself broke, hungry, far from home, desperate and ends up finding a job feeding pigs. (This would have been considered especially repulsive to Jesus Jewish audience because pigs were considered unclean and were not to be eaten or cared for). He then hits rock bottom and decides he will return home and see if he could be a servant at his father s estate. On his way home he rehearses a speech, Father, I have sinned against heaven and you and am no longer worthy to be called your son. While he is still a long way off, his father sees him coming home and runs to him. (In Jesus day it was considered undignified for an old man to run, but the father was more concerned about his son than his own dignity). He embraces his son, who gives his rehearsed speech. Instead of allowing his son to be a servant, the gracious father completely forgives him, throws a massive welcome home party for him, and totally restores him. He gives his son three things: a robe, signifying that he was the guest of honor; a ring, signifying his authority as a son in his father s house; and sandals, signifying that he was a son rather than a slave. The gracious father has a kindly disposition toward his son marked by all these acts of kindness. Jesus point in this parable is that our Heavenly Father, our God of grace, welcomes home sinners as well, and completely forgives them and totally restores them. Belief in the God of grace as our Heavenly Father is classically expressed at the beginning of the two major historic Christian creeds: the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed: Apostles Creed: I believe in God, the Father almighty Nicene Creed: We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty In the Episcopal Church the Apostles Creed is most commonly recited at the services of Holy Baptism and Morning and Evening Prayer, and the Nicene Creed is most commonly recited at the service of Holy Eucharist. Thus, the Christian affirmation of Jesus revelation of the God of 4

5 grace being our Heavenly Father is reaffirmed at all the major services within the Episcopal Church. Moreover, the main part of the Eucharistic prayers of both the Rite I and Rite II services of Holy Eucharist begin by addressing God as our Father: All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our Heavenly Father (The Book of Common Prayer 334) and Holy and gracious Father (362). So we ve seen that Scripture shows us that God is a God of grace. He has continued his great work of creation and redemption to this day, a work that will ultimately culminate in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. God demonstrated his grace at the fall, through the flood, the lives of the patriarchs, the exodus, the conquering of the Promised Land, the judges and kings, and even in the midst of the fall to Assyria and Babylon ultimately revealing his grace through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Our God of grace has a kindly disposition towards us, and throughout history he has demonstrated his grace in specific acts of kindness. He meets us in our places of hurt, sin, and brokenness and invites us to sit next to him on the bus. It is in those seasons in our lives when the grace of God is most needed and best understood. The ultimate act of the God of grace, the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for the sins of the world, is our topic for next week. Our God of grace carries us all our lives, even when, and especially when, we are completely able to move forward on our own. In fact, it is in our weakness that God s grace is made perfect (II Corinthians 12:9). We ll close with a video clip that shows us what this looks like. Triathlon video clip a father takes his son with special needs along with him as he completes the iron man triathlon: pulling his son in a raft during the swim, pedaling his son on his bike, and pushing his son in a stroller. His son experiences the grace (one-way love, mercy and compassion) of his father from beginning to end, just like we experience the grace of our Heavenly Father, the God of grace. Reading Recommendations: Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son Brennan Manning, The Ragumuffin Gospel 5

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