Miracle #41 – Miracles of Pentecost (Continued)
To borrow some baseball lingo, the Samaritan woman wasn’t close to being in the ballpark of the Kingdom of God. She was socially, racially, and morally way off base. But Jesus knocked it out of the park by telling her about living water. And for the Samaritan woman, it was a whole new ball game.
Scientists have devoted centuries of studies trying to figure out HOW the universe was created. But the Bible isn’t so concerned with HOW it happened, it’s more about WHY God created the universe. Scientists aren’t even interested in the “why,” they just want to know the “how.” God created the heavens and the earth. Then He created plants and animals. And finally, His ultimate creation was a man and woman. If you can understand why God made them, then you can understand why God made you—it’s the same reason.
How many of you have ever seen a falling star, raise your hand. Really? I doubt what you saw was a star. Our sun is a star, and stars don’t “fall.” What you saw was a piece of space junk, a meteor. It wasn’t a star falling. If you see a star falling, we’re in trouble. And if you think you saw a Christian who fell from salvation, chances are they weren’t a Christian in the first place.
When we live under the liberty of grace, we admit we are powerless to help ourselves. There’s a reason why that’s the first statement in the 12 steps of AA and in Celebrate Recovery. When a person is in bondage to an addiction, they will remain in chains as long as they try to help themselves. They think, “I can fix this. I can do better. I can live better.” But it’s only when they admit that they are powerless, that they begin the journey to wholeness, healing, and restoration. The same is true about the Christian life.
Most of us struggle with the pure grace of God because we feel better about ourselves if we can do something to earn God’s favor. The idea of grace goes against our human nature. Everything in our nature says, “Try hard. Work hard. Earn acceptance with God.” But salvation is not by trying; it is by trusting.
Justified margins means the left margin and the right margin are both straight; they agree. Justified people are those who have been made right with God. Here are God’s standard on the left—absolute perfection—straight up. And here we are on the right—our lives are ragged. Religion or legalism is the attempt to JUSTIFY our lives with God’s perfect standard. But we can’t justify our lives to God’s standard. Thankfully, God does the justification. It is His act, not ours!
The legalism that exists today isn’t about keeping Jewish festivals as much as it is thinking that a Christian can earn God’s love and acceptance by what they do or don’t do. Legalism is the belief that if I can just keep all my spiritual plates spinning, then I can earn more of God’s favor.
Galatians is a short book—only six chapters. You can easily read it in a half-hour. But don’t be deceived by its size. A tiny stick of dynamite can blow up a big building. That’s more than a figure of speech; it’s a metaphor for the book itself. Galatians is spiritual dynamite. Learn how to achieve freedom from fear, doubt and guilt through grace.
When we think about what the vineyard workers were paid, our immediate reaction to that story is, “Hey, that’s not fair!” Jesus didn’t say this is what the kingdom of this world is like. He said this is what the Kingdom of heaven is like. Heaven uses different math than the world uses. Jesus leaves the 99 sheep to go after the one lost one—the world doesn’t operate that way. Jesus said that a widow’s two pennies were more valuable than all the gold given in the Temple one day. The world would call that fuzzy math, but the Bible calls it grace.
We love to talk about how God has forgiven us, but we sometimes choke on the idea of forgiving others. The world’s answer is simple: Payback time! But as Christians, we’re told to turn the other cheek; we’re told to forgive. But sometimes forgiveness is very difficult when we know the person who needs our forgiveness is going to keep on hitting us.
I’m amazed the two thieves died the same distance from Jesus on the cross. Yet one died trusting Jesus while the other died rejecting Jesus. That should serve as a warning to all of us that you can be close to Jesus and still die without trusting Him. How can two people be seated on the same pew and hear the same gospel, and one comes running to Jesus while the other person walks away unchanged? It’s a mystery to me how anyone can see the cross and not give their heart to Christ. The same sun that melts ice will harden clay.
We talk a lot about that word grace, but what is it really? You’ve probably heard the acrostic for GRACE that says it is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. That’s nice, but it really doesn’t define grace. Years ago, I learned a simple definition for grace: Grace is something I need, but don’t deserve. To me, that says it all. Grace and mercy are two sides of the same coin. Grace is God giving me what I need, but don’t deserve—His unconditional love and His full and free forgiveness. Mercy is God withholding what I DO deserve: death and hell.
Things look a lot different when you’re up high. I’ve traveled the globe enough to know our planet is scooped out and piled up with valleys and mountains. But when you look at our world from outer space, the surface appears completely smooth. We know there are deep valleys and high mountains, but when you back away few thousand miles, it appears as smooth as a billiard ball. Life is the same way. Up close, the challenges of life may appear to be unclimbable or uncrossable, but when you look at problems from the perspective of being seated with Jesus in the heavenly realms, those problems don’t seem nearly as big and scary.
The trouble with doing things to impress God is it forces you to keep coming up with more and better things to do for God. For instance, if you really want God to bless you, then maybe you can do more than the average person to earn more of His favor. Throughout history people have become monks, fasted, or endured masochistic pain as religious acts of devotion. Paul refers to this in verse 23 when he writes about “harsh treatment of the body.” Those kinds of acts may appear valuable, but the Bible says they are worthless.
Some grace-robbers today insist we should still obey obscure Old Testament rules and regulations, and have even substituted a whole new set of rules. Legalism is the attitude that I can establish or improve my standing before God by my activities. It’s not an act–it’s an attitude. If you think there is anything you can do to either establish a relationship or improve your relationship with God, you may have fallen into the trap of legalism. An introduction to three insidious grace-robbers.
God took Rahab from the House of Shame to the Hall of Fame. God can change a lady of the night into a lady of the light. He can change a woman of ill repute into a woman of illustrious reputation. God can turn a harlot into a heroine. And in this message we’re going to examine just how He changes a prostitute into a princess.
Jesus said God runs to meet us when we decided to return to Him. Some of you have drifted out of fellowship with God. You have walked away from the presence of your heavenly Father. Whenever you choose to sin and disobey God, you are leaving His holy presence. Do you sense God is far away from you? God didn’t walk away from you; when you sinned, you walked away from him. But God is a loving heavenly Father who is longing for you to return. He is looking for you to return to Him. Wayward and backslidden child of God, He has a message for you today. With tender words of compassion He is saying to you: “When you start home, I’ll meet you more than halfway.”
Have you ever thought about how through the centuries God has preserved the Jewish people and they have maintained their identity even though they have been scattered all over the planet Earth? Why? Because God preserved them. And that’s what Romans 9-11 is all about. We’ll start that section today. Looking ahead Romans 12 through 16–the last section of the book–is God’s righteousness displayed in our practical duty. Starting in Romans 12 it is very practical because we are righteous in Christ, and this is how we ought to live.
A problem for a lot of people who name the name of Jesus as Christians is there hasn’t been a lot of growth in their Christian life. If I could have a timeline up here, there would be a point in time when you were B.C. (Before Christ) but then there was a point of conversion where you passed from death unto life. The problem a lot of Christians have is they don’t grow much beyond that point. There is no growth in grace, as the Bible calls it. They stay to close to the point of conversion.
Do you remember what happened to Adam when he sinned? He died immediately in his spirit, he died gradually in his soul, and he died ultimately in his body. Now, let me tell you what salvation is. It reverses it. Look at it. When you receive Jesus you receive life immediately in your spirit. Instantaneously, you are justified. Immediately, you receive life in your spirit.
The story of Noah and the catastrophe that struck the whole earth. There is widespread archaeological evidence that every culture has some story of a flood. We are not talking about some idle event that took place in a little corner of the world. Many, many cultures have stories about a flood dating back to this flood. There is geological and meteorological evidence. I have been told and read that if the polar caps of our planet melted, every square foot of land on earth would be submerged. When you think about it, the idea of a worldwide flood is not at all far-fetched. The spiritual reason behind the great flood.
As I stand looking out at the shoreline of the mercy of God into the ocean of the grace of God, looking at the skyline of the love of God, I think, “It is so wonderful to find something that there is enough of.” Of all the sinners in the world, of all who have ever lived, there is more than enough grace, more than enough love, more than enough mercy for all of God’s creatures.
Sometimes we look at a 50- or 60-year-old man who has never darkened the doors of a church in his life and is an awful scoundrel. We look at him and we say now it’s easy for the child to have life, but it’s so hard for this older man to receive life No, it’s not. It takes exactly the same amount of grace to save a child as it does a 60-year-old scoundrel and it is just as much of a miracle when a child accepts Christ as when an old man accepts Christ.
What was it about salvation that made the apostle Paul break out into spontaneous, exuberant praise? He began to understand what had happened to him. If you could catch a glimpse, if your spiritual eyes could be opened to who you are in Jesus and what has happened to you in Jesus, you would also break out in spontaneous praise and adoration.