“Only when sin is seen in all its horror does grace appear next to it in all its splendor. Viewing God’s gracious gift of our salvation against any backdrop other than our hopelessness does it a disservice.” ~ William Pile, What the Bible Says About Grace, p. 33
This past Sunday I preached from Matthew 18:21-35 which is the parable of the unmerciful servant. A quick summary of the parable is the king decides it is time to take care of the books. One of his servants owes an astronomical amount to the king. When the servant pleads for mercy, the king forgives the debt. The astounding part of the story comes when the forgiven servant encounters a fellow servant who owes him a significant, but manageable, amount of money. The forgiven servant threatens the other servant and ignores his pleas for mercy and throws the servant in prison until the debt could be paid. Servants who witnessed both encounters tell the king what happened, and the king calls the forgiven servant back into his presence. The king condemns the servant, takes away his forgiveness, and throws the servant into prison.
What occurred to me as I worked on the sermon last week is how we tend to minimize our sin. Working with the estimates given in one of the commentaries I was using about how big a debt 10,000 talents would be, I came up with the number of $7,000,000,000. Yes, that is right 7 billion dollars. That is what caught my attention, because that reminded me that there is no way I could ever repay a loan that was that large. I would be in a hopeless situation.
I think too many of us view the grace of God as making up the little bit of righteousness that we didn’t have on our own. It is like God demands that we have 100 pounds of righteousness, and when He measures the righteousness of our lives He comes up with 80 pounds. This is where Jesus steps in and gives us the 20 pounds that we lack. Since this is the situation, we are grateful for the gift, but we can imagine that given a little more time we could have made up that last 20 pounds.
We have totally lost sight to what reality is. Jesus doesn’t step in to make up the difference in our lives, but Jesus gives us life. Sin steals away our righteousness and our life. Inherently there is nothing good about us because of sin. We are doomed for destruction. An eternity would not be sufficient time for us to make up for the evil we have done and how we have participated in the destruction of God’s creation. Sin makes our existence hopeless.
The beauty of grace is that it is totally undeserved and it is completely God at work. There is no reason why God should forgive us, should give us life, or should love us, but He does and that makes all the difference. Instead of hopelessness we can life a life of hope and meaning.
One of the challenges that we face in a culture that believes that given a little more time and a little more hard work everything will be made right in the world is to help people understand how hopeless and futile life is without God, and once the stage is set to bring out the Good News of Grace. That even though we are hopeless there is hope, and His name is Jesus.
I am afraid until we grasp this reality we will never appreciate the grace of God, and thus we will cheapen it and disregard it. God’s grace is to wonderful to be treated like that, and so plead with you to remember that you are hopeless by yourself, and it is only through God’s grace that you discover what hope and life are all about.
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