Andy’s our Samoan neighbour. And he’s planning to return to New Zealand. He’s pretty low on money, so he’s been trying to cash in his superannuation. Which isn’t always an easy process.
My guess is/ he struggles with reading, and filling in forms. So he’s been over at our place asking Caron’s help. And we’ve been making some phone-calls, photocopying some documents, and filling in some forms.
While we were doing it, Andy said something about wanting to PAY us. He said if he went to anyone else, like an accountant, he’d be CHARGED.
Caron said, No. She was helping him because he was a FRIEND. She wouldn’t take any money. In fact, she’d be HURT if he tried to OFFER her any.
We gave our time and effort with no strings attached. With no expectation of the favour being returned. It was GRACE. I think he found it hard to understand.
Do you UNDERSTAND grace? What it means to receive an undeserved favour? To gain something you haven’t EARNED?
Have you experienced the JOY of recognizing how UNWORTHY you are? But at the same time recognizing the MAGNITUDE of the gift you’ve received?
Because most people DON’T “get” grace? It goes against everything people do, and say, and believe in. It’s completely counter-cultural to receive SOMETHING FOR NOTHING.
We don’t want to be in someone’s DEBT. To feel like we have a favour to repay.
It’s a truth we don’t just see in LIFE, but we see it in every man-made religion. Every religion, bar Christianity, is about how you EARN God’s favour.
Philip Yancey tells the story of a British conference on comparative religions. Experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was UNIQUE to the Christian faith. They began eliminating the possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from .
The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s all the fuss about?” he asked, and heard that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s GRACE.”
After some discussion, they had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist 8-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of Karma, and the Muslim code of law – each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional. (45, What’s so amazing about grace?)
1. Grace, and OTHERS – responding with grace (1-6)
Grace. Do you “get” it? Many people DON’T.
Jesus knew all about our INBUILT RESISTANCE to grace. And so he often talked about it. He talked about a world FULL of God’s grace – where the sun shines on the good and bad, where birds gather seeds without paying, where wildflowers bloom without being farmed.
And he TAUGHT about Grace. Even though he hardly ever USED the word. But he told lots of STORIES about grace. Parables.
- Like the father who forgives his prodigal son even though he’s done nothing to deserve it.
- Or the hobos and vagrants who are invited to a banquet because the INVITED guests wouldn’t turn up. All they have to do is ACCEPT THE GIFT.
- Or the king who forgives a servant a phenomenal debt – no payments required.
And here in Luke 17, he’s ALSO teaching about GRACE. Even though the word’s not used. First, he talks about how OUR grace affects OTHERS. How we are to RESPOND WITH GRACE.
Then he talks about grace and YOU. What grace means for your view of YOURSELF.
Lastly we see the example of someone who’s UNDERSTOOD grace. And RESPONDS to grace the Jesus wants. It’s about what grace means for how we think ABOUT GOD.
Jesus begins in v1. Talking to his disciples. “It’s impossible for stumbling blocks NOT to come.” Things to trip you up. People who try your patience, and test your commitment to following me. Who’ll try to PROVOKE you into slipping up. Into sinning.
If you really want to walk where I’m walking, it’s going to be A ROCKY PATH.
But at the same time, Jesus says, these people won’t get away with it. They’ll be judged. People who cause my followers to trip and stumble WILL SEE JUSTICE.
People normally read these verses as describing OTHER PEOPLE who are stumbling. And that WE are warned to not make them TRIP.
But I think Jesus is ACTUALLY saying that HIS DISCIPLES are the ones who’ll be walking over the bumpy ground. And so, rather than v2 being a WARNING to us, it’s meant as an ENCOURAGEMENT – Yes, the road following me is ROUGH, but I’ve got my eye on those who MAKE it rough. They won’t get away with it.
And so, Jesus says, v3, WATCH YOURSELVES. Watch out for the stumbling stones. Don’t trip.
And then he explains HOW to do that. And here’s where GRACE comes in.
3 So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
Whatever anyone does to you, you have the CHOICE how you’ll RESPOND to that. Yes, they might have done the wrong thing by you, but YOU CHOOSE the next step.
And Jesus tells us what the RIGHT choice is. For the Christian – the person who’s understood God’s FREE GIFT of forgiveness, the godly choice is to FORGIVE.
If he SINS, for HIS good, he needs to CHANGE – so REBUKE him. Tell him he’s wrong, and that he needs to STOP.
Perhaps he’s not even AWARE of what he’s done. But you need to TELL him.
Is there someone who’s done something to YOU? And you’re HURT. But you haven’t TOLD them. Because you don’t want to make waves. Don’t want to put the relationship under pressure.
Then it’s a STUMBLING BLOCK to you. Because you bottle it up. And get bitter, and resentful. And angry. And your relationship with that person is actually WORSE than if you’d brought it out in the open to begin with.
Rebuking is something I don’t think we’re very good at. But we need to do it. We need to say, “You may not realise this, but when you said that, I felt really hurt. It made me feel worthless/ or upset/ or uncomfortable”.
And the relationship has the chance to be restored. And that’s MISSING the stumbling block.
As difficult as that sometimes is – I think that step is the EASY part. Because Jesus goes on to teach about PART TWO.
If he REPENTS. If he actually DOES change his behaviour. And recognize his mistake. Then you are TO FORGIVE him. Gone. Forgotten. Never to be brought up again.
Even if he does the SAME THING SEVEN TIMES IN ONE DAY. Which would be enough to make you doubt whether he’s really SINCERE, wouldn’t it!
But to the person who’s understood God’s forgiveness. Who’s recognized the enormity of their own sin. And how they KEEP sinning. But God still accepts them. To the person who’s been SHOWN grace. They’re to RESPOND with grace. Even SEVEN TIMES in ONE DAY. Because, even on a GOOD day, you’ve probably sinned against God THAT many times. AT %
Les Miserables tells the story of Jean Valjean, a French prisoner who’s shown GRACE. And who’s ultimately transformed by FORGIVENESS.
After serving 19 years in jail for stealing bread, he’s released, but can’t find anywhere to stay. For 4 days he wanders the countryside, hungry and cold, until a kindly bishop takes him in.
That night, he lies in bed until the family goes to sleep, then gets up, hunts through the cupboards, steals the family silver, and creeps off into the darkness.
Before long he’s caught. And the next morning he’s back on the bishop’s doorstep held firm by three policemen. Who’re ready to put him away for life.
But the bishop responds in a way that no-one, especially Valjean, expected.
“So here you are, he cried to Valjean. I’m delighted to see you. Had you forgotten that I gave you the candlesticks as well?
Jean Valjean’s eyes had widened. He was now staring at the old man with an expression no words can convey.
Valjean was no thief, the bishop assured the policemen. The silver was a gift to him.
When the police withdrew, the bishop gave the candlesticks to his guest, now speechless and trembling. Do not forget, said the bishop to use the money to make yourself an honest man.”
The power of forgiveness – when every human instinct cried for REVENGE – changed Valjean’s life forever. It melted his rock-hard defenses, and he vowed to help others in need.
That’s the sort of forgiveness Jesus calls US to. It’s LIFE-CHANGING GRACE. When the GIVER has EXPERIENCED life-changing grace, he’s able to offer that same grace to OTHERS.
Have you RECEIVED grace like that? From God? How are you going OFFERING that to others?
And for once, the disciples catch the ENORMITY of what Jesus is saying. And when they do, they realize how INCAPABLE they are of achieving it. Look at v5. “Increase our faith”. We need more resources to achieve that sort of response.
We need FATIH to forgive.
What’s the connection between forgiveness and faith. At home group, we could think of three. Perhaps you can think of more.
1. To forgive like THAT takes FAITH. Because, to be able to LET GO OF YOUR ANGER and SENSE OF JUSTICE/ you need to TRUST that God will BRING JUSTICE. It’s FAITH that trusts God to deal JUSTLY with the sinner, and the sinned.
2. To be able to forgive like that – to let it go – even when the person has repented – takes faith. FAITH THAT GOD WILL BRING BETTER THINGS FOR YOU BY FORGIVING THAN BY HOLDING ON. That forgiving will bring HEALING and RESTORATION for you, more than VENGEANCE will. That revenge ISN’T sweet. To forgive like that takes TRUST in God’s promises.
3. To be about to DISPENSE grace, you need to UNDERSTAND it. To be able to understand grace, you need to have EXPERIENCED it. To have Experienced God’s forgiveness. You need to TRUST God’s promises of unconditional forgiveness of YOU.
You have been forgiven a debt beyond counting. And so you must forgive.
You need to have FAITH to forgive like that.
But Jesus replies. It’s not about HOW MUCH. Even a LITTLE faith is ENOUGH. A little faith can achieve AMAZING things. It’s more about WHO YOUR FAITH IS PLACED IN. When you trust GOD, God’s resources can even enable you to FORGIVE as gracefully as THAT.
2. Grace, and YOU – understanding grace (7-14)
It’s all about understanding GRACE. And about how grace relates TO YOU. That’s the second section.
Jesus goes on to tell them a parable about grace. It mightn’t SEEM like a parable about grace– perhaps even THE OPPOSITE. – so let me try and prove it to you.
Think about a master and a slave. Says Jesus. V7. A slave’s job is to work all day in the field, then come in and get dinner ready for his master. And only THEN can he think about his OWN tea.
A master NEVER says to his slave. Thanks for weeding the field today. Because you’ve done such a good job, I’ll serve YOU dinner! That’s RIDICULOUS!
Whatever a slave did, was part of his DUTY. There were no jobs which EARNED money, or SPECIAL FAVOURS.
And it’s the same with US AND GOD. Look at it there in v10.
10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are UNWORTHY servants; we have only done our duty.'”
When we understand GRACE, we recognize that we’ve earned NOTHING from God. We are sinful through and through.
There are no LEVELS OF ACCEPTABILITY to God. No-one more deserving of forgiveness than anyone else. No-one can say they’ve COOPERATED with God for their salvation. 100% of people are saved by 100% grace.
The world talks about the importance of POSITIVE SELF-IMAGE. Humanistic psychologists and counselors say we need to be thinking POSITIVE thoughts about ourselves.
But only a Christian can say with a SMILE on their face, “I’m UNWORTHY. I don’t DESERVE forgiveness. Never have, never will… But I’ve been forgiven ANYWAY!”
We understand GRACE, when we see OURSELVES in the right light. No matter what our position, or what we’ve done, or said. How many letters you’ve got after your name. Or titles BEFORE it. How much money we’ve given, or how many people we’ve lead to the Lord. Understanding grace says, “I’m only an UNWORTHY SERVANT – I’ve only done my duty”
When was the last time, you caught a glimpse of God’s AMAZING grace to you? When you saw the dark shadow of the enormity of your own sin and stubborn-ness. And the brilliant, radiant brightness of the goodness and grace and forgiveness/ of the God who loves you ANYWAY?
I don’t know about you, but it makes ME weep and smile/ BOTH at the same time! It’s often only a GLIMPSE. But it’s sweet and it’s deep. And it’s rich. And it’s what’s GREAT about being a Christian.
Catching a glimpse of grace.
Moving on. Jesus has TOLD a parable about understanding grace. Next we see a LIVING parable about understanding grace.
He’s on his way to Jerusalem. And as he comes into a village, ten lepers yell out to him. And they’ve got enough faith to cry “Jesus, Master. Have PITY on us!”
Unworthy servants. Who deserve nothing but PITY from the master.
And Jesus DOES have pity on them. V14. “Go, show yourselves to the priests. The ones who can decide whether or not you’ve been cleansed.
And EVERY ONE of them took Jesus at his word. They hit the road, and headed for Jerusalem, where the priests were. Even BEFORE they’re healed.
But look at what v14 says. AS THEY WENT they were cleansed. Their faith was evidenced in their heading off to the priests. And because they had faith, they were cleansed.
They knew they needed grace. They needed Jesus to have PITY on them. And He SHOWED them grace.
3. Grace, and GOD – responding to grace (15-19)
But that’s not the end of the story. Because there’s a THIRD part to understanding grace. It’s about RESPONDING appropriately to the one who SHOWS you grace.
Ten lepers are cured. But there’s ONE leper who responds in a SPECIAL way. If anything, he was the lowest of the low. Not only was he a leper, but he was a Samaritan as well. Perhaps that’s why he responds the way he does. Look at v15
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him-and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
The right response to someone who’s offered GRACE… is GRATITUDE. He PRAISES God, and THANKS Jesus.
And it seems like this guy is responding in a DEEPER way to the rest. Because Jesus says to him at the end “Rise and go: your faith has made you well”. Or SAVED you – it’s the same word.
Which seems like something EXTRA that the other nine DIDN’T get. Not only does he have the faith to be healed of leprosy, but he’s recognized that Jesus is the one who can FORGIVE. And so Jesus says he’s SAVED.
Perhaps YOU need to respond like that leper. To recognize that you NEED grace. And that Jesus is the only one who can offer it to you. Today’s a GREAT DAY to do that!
To understand GRACE, you need to understand YOURSELF. That you NEED grace. That you’re an unworthy servant with nothing of value to declare.
To understand grace, you need to understand the one who GIVES grace. To respond to God with thanks and praise. To joyfully wear the GRIN of someone who knows the best secret in the world. To spend your days shaking your head at the NONSENSE of grace. The nonsense that someone who deserves to be punished/ is freed instead. It’s a WONDERFULL nonsense to spend your life trying to work out!
And then, to SHOW that you’ve RECEIVED grace by GIVING grace. To live a life of grace. That responds to OTHERS with the forgiveness that God himself has given us.
To live a life of grace is what Gordon Wilson did. He was a committed Methodist living in Northern Ireland.
In 1987 an IRA exploded in the middle of a group of Protestants gathered on Veteran’s Day. Eleven died, and 63 were wounded.
The buried Wilson and his twenty-year-old daughter under five feet of concrete and brick. “Daddy, I love you very much,” were the last words Marie spoke, grasping her father’s hand as they waited for the rescuers. She suffered severe spinal and brain injuries, and died a few hours later in the hospital.
A newspaper later proclaimed, “No one REMEMBERS what the politicians had to say at that time. No one who heard Gordon Wilson will ever FORGET what he confessed. . . . His GRACE TOWERED over the miserable justifications of the ers.”
Speaking from his hospital bed, Wilson said, “I have lost my daughter, but I bear no grudge. Bitter talk is not going to bring Marie Wilson back to life. I shall pray, tonight and every night, that God will FORGIVE them.”
His daughter’s last words were words of love, and Gordon Wilson determined to LIVE OUT his life on that plane of love. “The world wept,” said one report, as Wilson gave a similar interview over the BBC radio that week.
After his release from the hospital, Gordon Wilson led a crusade for Protestant-Catholic reconciliation. Because of the publicity surrounding Wilson, Protestant extremists who’d planned to avenge the ing, decided it’d be politically foolish.
Wilson wrote a book about his daughter, spoke out against , and constantly repeated the refrain, “Love is the bottom line.” He met with the IRA, personally forgave them for what they had done, and asked them to lay down their arms. “I know that you’ve lost loved ones, just like me,” he told them. “Surely, enough is enough. Enough has been spilled.”
The Irish Republic ultimately made Wilson a member of its Senate
When he died in 1995, the Irish Republic, Northern Ireland, and all of Great Britain honored this ordinary Christian citizen who had gained fame for his uncommon spirit of GRACE and FORGIVENESS.
“To bless the people who have oppressed our spirits, emotionally deprived us, or in other ways handicapped us, is the most EXTRAORDINARY work any of us will ever do, says Philip Yancey (p118).
God has forgiven YOU. Will you forgive OTHERS?
You have been SHOWN grace. Will you SHOW GRACE?