Monday, April 02, 2007

Glorying in God's Grace

And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress, with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.
Jeremiah 19:9

These are the words of God Himself addressed to His chosen people in Jerusalem. That’s right. Cannibalism is ordained by God Himself—not Satan or anyone else—and for His own people. And this is more than cannibalism; this is wickedness of the worst kind. Think of it. Mother eating daughter. Father eating son. This is the wrath that God inflicts on His people because they have “stiffened their neck, refusing to hear [His] words (Jeremiah 19:15).” And this is NOT an overreaction. This should tell us something of how infinitely offensive it is when we belittle the glory of God. It’s plain to see how much God loves His glory in the Old Testament. So much so that He is quickly willing to despise human well-being to make clear what His highest allegiance is to—namely, His infinitely glorious name.

Yet I have often heard it said that we encounter a God of a different nature in the New Testament from the One that we encounter in the Old Testament. I hear something of the likes: “In the Old Testament, God is a God of wrath and justice. In the New Testament, God is a God of grace and mercy.” But this cannot be because the inspired, inerrant Scriptures teach us that God is the One “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17).” We read that Jesus Christ, very God of very God, “is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).” In other words, God is not one way yesterday (Old Testament) and different today (New Testament). So here’s how I would correct that statement: In the Old Testament, God is a God of grace, mercy, justice, and wrath. In the New Testament, God is a God of grace, mercy, justice, and wrath.

The Old Testament God who is often characterized by wrath and justice is the same God who, after the Israelites had created a golden calf to worship and Moses had pleaded that God not destroy them for this, “relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people (Exodus 32:24).” Is this not grace and mercy?

The New Testament God in the person of Jesus Christ who is often characterized by grace and mercy, the One who is called the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29),” is the same Lamb that many will be referring to when they call out to the mountains and rocks one day saying, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:16).” Is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world not the same Lamb full of wrath?

So how do we understand the differences between the Old and New Testaments? How do we understand God the Father and God the Son who are unchanging? Once again, we let the Scriptures answer for us as they tell us about Jesus:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
John 1:14,16-17

As we see in many places throughout the Old Testament, God isn’t One who is without grace and mercy. Indeed, He describes Himself to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious (Exodus 34:6).” But quite often we see Him get angry. We see Him show His wrath. We see Him bring His vengeance on people who rebel against Him as is the case in Jeremiah 19:9. We see Him often withhold grace. And this passage in John seems to imply that His purpose all along was to let that grace shine most brightly through the person of His Son, the One who is full of grace and truth. The people of God wouldn’t know the full meaning of Yahweh as a God merciful and gracious until the Word would become flesh and dwell among us. The Father withheld it and Jesus wouldn’t.

Ponder the statement John makes when he says of Jesus “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1:16).” Grace upon grace. Gift upon gift. The nature of grace is that it is a free gift. It is undeserved. And so this means that we can never presume upon it. We should never think that we deserve it. But Jesus gives it to us time and again in the form of mercy and forgiveness and life and breath and food and families that aren’t eating each other. And so much more. Again and again and again and again. This won’t mean anything to us if we don’t understand the righteousness of God in acting the way He does in Jeremiah 19:9. Jesus should treat us that way, but He doesn’t.

Jesus shouldn’t receive and forgive the “woman of the city” (read: prostitute), but He does… (Luke 7:36-50)

Jesus shouldn’t save and redeem the corrupt, swindler of a tax collector named Zaccheus, but He does… (Luke 19:1-10)

Jesus should condemn the adulterous woman, but He doesn’t… (John 8:2-11)

Jesus shouldn’t embrace and reinstate the disciple who three times denied Him, but He does… (John 21:15-19)

Jesus shouldn’t grant me breath in this next moment, but He does…

…And grace upon grace upon grace upon grace that I can’t count and don’t even know…

The grace of God Almighty is fully realized in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. This was His plan all along. The law that we could never keep brought us condemnation and wrath through Moses. But the grace to save us from it came through the person of Jesus Christ. And this grace finds its apex on the cross where Jesus died. Indeed, all grace before and after the cross is secured by the cross. It was made possible only through Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection. So as we go through this Holy Week, let us love the glorious person of Jesus Christ who shines so brightly in His infinite grace most fully manifested on the cross.

Jesus shouldn’t have been crucified on the cross, but He was… (Matthew 26:39, John 19:30)

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised…in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
Romans 15:8,9

Father in Heaven, thank You for the cross. Thank You for Your Son. Thank You that there is none like Him. Grace is so cheap to us. That statement that we have received “grace upon grace” is so true in our lives that we get used to these graces and they lose their wonder. Forgive us for the ways that we so often treat grace so plainly. May You remind us especially in these days leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday that grace is not cheap. Each grace that we receive cost the Son of God His life which is of infinite worth. And Father, may we never look at the way Jesus treats people in the Gospels and say or think in our minds and hearts that this is the way You should treat people. For then grace would no longer be grace. May we instead look at the horror of Your wrath in the Old Testament, believe that this is the way you should treat us today, and then glory in Your grace because You don’t treat us this way. May we never look at anything You do in anger as an overreaction but may we know that Your Name is infinitely valuable so that we see rebelling against You as worthy of the most terrible, unspeakable punishment. And so make us a people who value Your glory more than we value our own lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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