Tag Archives: Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace

Read Luke 20:9-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken.’” (Isaiah 28:16 NLT)

AmazingGraceAgain, I want to reevaluate the parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants. In particular, I would like to have us focus on the wrathful ending to it. In the last devotion, we spent time discussing what the parable reveals to us about God’s plan of redemption. Being that this is the parable Jesus chose to teach just days before he was going to be betrayed and handed over to the Romans for capital punishment, it reveals to us exactly what Jesus thought his mission to be. Yet, as was also discussed, the redemption seems to get lost in translation and overshadowed by God’s wrath.

So, let us look at the rhetoric Jesus is using and try to understand this not as God’s wrath, but of God’s ultimate measure of grace. The reality is that when Jesus asks the question, “what do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do to [those wicked tennants]?”, he is attemption to elicit a certain response. Yet, the religious leaders had come to be trap this pesky Galilean teacher, not to be trapped by him. So, these leaders remain silent rather than answering the question.

Of course, they surely knew what the answer was. They knew that any owner of such a vineyard, who had the right to claim his/her share of the crops, would definitely not sit by after having his servants killed by such wicked tenants. What’s more, the murder of his son would have driven this father (and any parent) over the proverbial edge. Yet, there the religious leaders stood, resolute in their silence.

Thus, Jesus answered for them, “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others” (Luke 20:16a NLT). This response elicited the exact response Jesus knew they would come up with. Instantly, the religious leaders scoffed, “how terrible that such a thing should ever happen.” In other words, these religious leaders were both saying that such a scenario is horrible and, on the same note, a rather far-fetched story that bore no relevance to them.

Yet, it absolutely bore relevance to them. Jesus, knowing their hearts were hardened, quoted scripture, “Then what does this Scripture mean? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ Everyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on” (Luke 20:17-18 NLT).

First, I want to point out that Jesus’ answer on how the vineyard owner would respond does not exactly match the Scripture that Jesus quotes. The answer itself is the answer that Jesus knew lay in the hearts of the ones he was telling the story to. It is the answer that we as humans would wish that the owner, who’s own son was murdered, would do. Of course, the father is going to seek vengeance and retribution for the death of his son, right? What father wouldn’t?

Jesus then follows that up with something quite different from that answer. Jesus points out to the religious leaders that God had given them the stone upon which to build God’s kingdom. This was the very stone that stood before them: Jesus Christ. Yet these religious leaders, who were builders in the sense that they were supposed to be leading the people in building God’s kingdom, had rejected that stone and, in doing so, had turned away from God. Thus, they would end up stumbling over the stone and falling because of it.

Yet, that was not God’s wrathful vengeance, but their own hardened hearts that led them to trip up instead of build. That was the result of their own unwillingness to see what God was doing through Jesus. Sadly, the religious leaders realized that they were the “wicked tenants” in Jesus’ story and, instead of repenting and turning back to God, they fulfilled their part in the prophetic parable. Instead of reacting as humans would in that situation, God instead showed AMAZING GRACE. This grace is extended toward all humanity, even those who have rejected God. In fact, some of Jesus’ opponents did eventually come to follow Jesus (e.g. Nicodemus, Saul of Tarsus, etc.). Everyone can turn from their sins through faith in Jesus Christ, and become the Kingdom builders they were created to be. This is God’s challenge to us this Lent.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” – John Newton

PRAYER
Lord, you are the corner stone upon which I have been built. Thank you for your amazing grace. Amen.

Amazing Paradox

Read Romans 3:21-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (James 2:17 NLT)

AmazingParadoxI think if you were to ask people what their favorite Christian hymns are most people would have “Amazing Grace” some where on that list. I wonder how many people actually know the story behind that hymn. No doubt, some people will have seen the 2006 film that was named after the famous hymn. For those who have seen that film, which details William Wilberforce’s fight for the abolishment of slavery in Great Britain, this story is something they are already familiar with; however, even if you are familiar with the story, it is still good to hear it again.

The hymn was written by John Newton, who was a slave ship captain. He never had any religious upbringing while growing up and so, as you can imagine, he didn’t have any real religious sensibilities as a slave ship captain; however, that all changed in 1748 when is ship was nearly over come by a terrible storm off of the coast of County Donegal, Ireland. In the midst of the storm, for fear of his life, John Newton found himself doing something he had never really done before: he was praying to God for life. It was in that moment that Newton converted to being a Christian and he penned the first verse while waiting for his ship to be repaired. While Newton did not stop being a Slave Ship Captain right away, by 1754 or 1755 he had completely given up his career and began studying Christian theology.

From there, John Newton went on to be ordained in the Church of England and became curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire. The rest of Amazing Grace was completed in order to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day, 1773. While this hymn didn’t take off right away, the Second Great Awakening in the United States gave birth to it’s popularity. John Newton, a former slave captain, also became an influential proponent of the abolishment of slavery. After experiencing a conversion to Christian faith, William Wilberforce sought spiritual counsel to see if he should remain in politics. Newton encouraged him to stay in politics and became an ally of Wilberforece’s in his quest to abolish slavery from Great Britain. By 1807, both Newton and Wilberforce’s dream of the downfall of the slave trade came to pass.

What’s important to note about both Newton and Wilberforce is that in both of them we see the true nature of God’s Grace. In today’s Christianity, the focus on God’s grace is how FREE it is. While it is true that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace, and while it is true that Grace is a gift from God to us, to focus solely on Grace being FREE is to miss a profoundly powerful paradox. Here’s the deal, God’s grace maybe free for us to accept; however, it comes at the highest of costs. As John Newton and William Wilberforce both came to realize, accepting God’s amazing grace meant that they were selling their souls and their lives to God. Nothing…absolutely nothing…would remain the same again.

The same is true for us, if we want God’s free and amazing Grace, we have to be willing to pay the cost. It will change who we are from the inside out. It will push us to uncomfortable places we never imagined ourselves going. It will call us to forsake our own wills for the will of God. It will compel us to stand up against oppression, against injustice, in order to fight for the “least of these” and for the souls of those who are seeking release from captivity (physical and spiritual). While this change, as in the case of Newton, might not happen overnight…it will most certainly happen! Because those who are possessed by God’s Spirit, and filled with God’s amazing grace, cannot continue living lives that are antithetical to God’s love. So, sing it! Sing Amazing Grace at the top of your lungs and be transformed by God’s amazing paradox.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Cheap grace is the enemy of the church. We are fighting today for costly grace.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Cost of Discipleship”.

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your costly grace and transform me in ways that produce transformative change in the world around me. Amen.