Grace as Sacrifice - Wellington First Assembly

Wellington First Assembly

326 W Botkin Lane, Wellington Kansas ........Family Faith Lessons - 9:30 AM........ Sunday Worship - 10:30 AM


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Grace as Sacrifice

Living a life of Grace
Today we begin a new series, looking at this illusive and mysterious concept of grace.  Grace is multi-faceted.  It has many angles and edges.  When we allow it, grace can act as a fluid, infiltrating every nook and cranny of our soul, invading every part of our life.  When we allow God’s grace to cut through us, it can bubble over into other people’s lives.  Grace is contagious.  When we operate in a life full of grace, it infects those around is.  It can be like an airborne virus.  We can be dispensers of God’s grace, like salt shakers, pouring it out among other people.

But before we can do that, before we can enact world change through our actions of compassion and mercy, we must learn to accept the full dynamics of grace.  The unconditional reality, stamped indelibly across the image of this planet is that God’s grace is sufficient for us.  It’s more than enough.  But then why don’t we see grace and mercy lived out among us in our relationships, in our business dealings, in our interactions with fellow students on campus?  Why don’t we see grace filled conversations at the bus stop, the grocery store, the gas station?  Why is grace even so difficult to access that Christians often life grace up as a virtue but have so little of it in their daily lives.

I think that one reason might be we often try to divorce grace from the very substance which gives it power.  The very hybrid engine which drives the function of grace.  The one thing Jesus knew and tapped into in his ministry.  Overflowing abundance of grace is directly related to sacrifice.  It has a connection to suffering.  Grace endures all things because it shares the burden of suffering.
In today’s text, we will examine the moment when Jesus makes this clear to his young followers.  We will look at principles we can place into our lives that will access the unlimited supply of grace that Christ as already authorized us to use every day.

Please stand with me in body or spirit as you are able as we read together the gospel of Jesus Christ, found in Matthew 16:21-28.

21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Have you ever been at the top of your game? Floating high?  Having the “bestest” day ever? Your team won the championship.  You’ve had an awesome day at school.  Someone said yes, they’d go on a date with you.  Do you remember that feeling of euphoria – like nothing can stop you?

How many have then the very next day, had the hopes crushed, their dreams shattered, the date never called you back.  Everything you thought was going great, according to your plan, suddenly changed.

This is the position that Peter finds himself in.  Just a few verses before, Peter had finally gotten it.  Dude, he realizes.  Jesus, you the Man!  Jesus, you the God!  Jesus, you the Messiah!  He’s dancing around all happy. Jesus is smiling, saying, yep Peter you got it.  Then Jesus does the ultimate compliment.  He gives Peter a nickname.  The Rock.  The original Rock.  Not Dwayne Johnson. This realization of Peter, this confession that Jesus is Lord.  This is the high point of revelation.  In Peter’s mind, he has all the pieces coming together.  The promise of salvation, the Messiah has arrived and he Peter gets to play a part in the unfolding story of Jesus. 
It’s not just Peter feeling this way, the grace in the air is tangible, it’s contagious, the whole group of disciples is quickly cluing in, repeating and reaffirming the confession of Peter.  They are dedicated to seeing this whole event through.  What’s next?
Let’s step back a moment.  The writer of Matthew’s gospel is relating these stories in a narrative that begins at the birth of Christ and concludes with his Resurrection.  The people hearing this are primarily a Jewish audience who are somewhat familiar with this story – but here is an authorized witness who was there.  Matthew’s gospel is actually divided into two parts – we don’t necessarily recognize this immediately in our texts.  But the passage where Peter confesses Christ is the centerpiece of the book.  It’s the end of Part 1.  Part 1 actually started back in verse 4:17 where it says… from that time Jesus began… Do you remember that?  It’s after Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist, spent time in the wilderness with God and was then tempted by Satan to give up the plan and messianic mission he had come to fulfill.  Satan did not win that argument and Jesus set out to collect his disciples, to find some followers who would be committed to him, to live life with them and teach them for the next 3 years. 

Part 2 of this story begins here in this verse with the very same phrase.  From that time Jesus began.  In part one, Jesus taught his disciples, he laid the foundations down for 3 years, he got them to believe in his mission and to recognize the grace that he brought as their Lord and Savior.

Now in part two, Jesus is going to show them how the story ends.  And it’s not the conclusion they wanted.  If they were a movie producer, they would have ordered the movie director to refilm an alternate ending.  This is what they heard.  Four infinitives of what to do.  A four-stage plan of how to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Can you picture their excitement?  I mean this is it.  I can see the group as Jesus starts talking!  After his first point, they are yelling Amen, pumping their fist in the air.  Yeah!  By about the third one, their’ enthusiasm has a question mark.  By the 4th one, they are glancing at each other and saying,” oh yeah?”

What they did not realize, however, that it is these four things that would usher abundant grace into the world and into their lives, and into the lives of us today.  It’s a lesson that we too must learn.  Just like them, we are enthusiastic about the first few and a little wary of the others.  But just like them, if desire to see God’s abundant grace flow through our lives, these are four principles we must follow.

God’s grace surrounds us when we follow His leading.
If we want to exercise grace flowing through our lives, it is imperative that we go where he goes.
Since football season has started, I can start using my football analogies.  If a running back wants to advance a few yards up the field, he has several ways to go.  He can follow the lead blockers and have a path cleared out in front of him, or he can turn the other way and run right into the defensive back blitzing the corner who will pile drive him into the ground.  It’s a whole lot easier to win the game when you follow someone who is leading the way.  When we get away from his protection, from his wills and desires, from the guidelines that are given to us through the readings from scripture and the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the wise counsel of fellow believers, we run the risk of ending up at the bottom of a pile wondering how in the world we ever got there.  When God says his grace is enough for us, we must take him at his word.  But to access his grace we must receive it.  He cannot force it upon us.  There’s plenty of grace to wash away every single bit of our sin, no matter how devious and conniving and destructive it is.  Christ is always willing to pull us out of the bottom of the pile, sit us on the bench to give us a breather, tape up our injuries, and re-armor us once again.  But we must follow him. 
By the way, God’s football team is kind of like my small high school’s football team.  How’s that pastor?  Everyone is needed, everyone gets to play.  Coach doesn’t take you out.  You can take yourself out by running the wrong direction and not following the plan.  But even if you get knocked down, knocked out, he will pull you back together and send you in.  Follow God’s game plan and the outcome is always a success.  Go where he leads you, speak as he tells you, and you will never be disappointed.
For the disciples, who had already been following Jesus for 3 years through some pretty amazing things, this one they could go for.  Then Jesus said the second thing which leads to this point.
Grace surrounds us when we stand firm in our confession.
What did Jesus say – he said we would suffer.  Guess what folks, the Christian life is not all roses and daises.  Just because you accept Christ as your Lord and Savior and confess him before God and man does not mean life smooths out.  Conflicts still arise, misunderstandings occur, people still might not like you.  Hurricanes still come on shore, jobs are still lost, loved ones still get sick. 
The follower of Christ who confesses that Jesus is Lord in the good times, must also learn to confess that Jesus is Lord in the bad times.  Life has its ups and downs, but Christ is the anchor, the rock upon which we can be set in stone.  The circumstances of our lives may change, but our trust in the Lord our God must never waiver. This is where grace is made evident.  This is where the power of grace sustains us and begins to be a witness to others.
We’ve all looked at someone and with respectful admiration wonder how they can survive the trials they are enduring with the peace of Christ still on their face.  It’s not easy – but it is grace that comes through.
Peter never wavered in his confession.  He would follow Christ through thick and then, whatever came.  He signed on for the full ride, warts and all.  So too, must we be.  When I stood at the bedsides of people dying in the hospital, surrounded by loved ones, there was a drastic difference in the sadness of those who prayed and confessed Jesus as Lord in the painful times versus the sadness of those who had no hope, no rock to lean on.  God’s grace gets us through.  God’s grace comforts others through us in their times of crisis.
God’s grace surrounds us when we put to death our selfish desires.
It’s at this point of Jesus mini-speech that the eyebrows start to be raised and suddenly the disciples realize what they are agreeing to. I can hear them thinking… I’ll endure a little suffering – after all, it’s not been a piece of cake to wander around sleeping on the ground for 3 years.  But now, hold up – you are talking about death?  Voluntarily?  I thought we were talking about a coronation, not a crucifixion.
I don’t see many people flocking to join a losing team.  It’s a whole lot easier to get people to sign up for a cause when there is a reward in it for them at the end.  When the boss comes to you and says, you have two choices -- the first one is to go to this room and get a pay raise or the second is to go to this room and get fired – guess what most people will chose?
Grace and selfishness are opposites by their very nature.  Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God, manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessing.  Grace give out, selfishness hoards.  They are attributes of two very distinct kingdoms.  Grace points to Christ, Selfishness points to damnation.  People are said to show grace when they give up something that cost them in order to lift someone else up instead of putting them down. 
How do you want to be known at your school, on your jobsite, or in the community?  Are you all about me, me, me… or are you all about pushing someone on ahead of you, being the ever-present encourager?
Too often we are short-sighted.  We see very clearly what is immediately in front of us – but we fail to see the big picture, the long-term plan.  Peter was hoping to be exalted, placed in a prominent position in the kingdom.  What he didn’t realize yet, the prominent position in Christ’s kingdom would be on a cross crucified in Christ’s name.  But it was that selfless act of martyrdom which would result in the spreading of the gospel throughout continents and centuries.
This is a hard message for most of us.  There are things we like.  There are things we want.  There are things that would make our lives easier.  But those things do not count as much when we learn to prefer others.
Finally, God’s grace surrounds us when we rejoice in the resurrection and return.
I’m so glad Jesus gave that fourth infinitive.  Because if we had ended after the third one, it would not have been a great story.  Going to Jerusalem, suffering, dying but also rising again to see the kingdom of heaven.
Of course, we come to the story on this side of the resurrection.  For Peter and the disciples this talk was getting non-sensical. So, he did what he does best.  He pulled Jesus aside and said enough of this crazy talk, let’s get on with the real plan.
And the emotional high Peter had verses ago came crashing down when he realized that he Peter, the rock, was being used as a stumbling stone.  Jesus was not being demeaning to Peter at all; Jesus was calling out the Satanic forces that were trying to prevent the plan ever since the temptation in the wilderness.
There will be times when we are confused about God’s plan.  Peter was totally confused, but because he followed Jesus, because he stood firm in his confession, because he put to death all the selfish desires raging within him, Peter got to be one of the first ones to see the resurrected Christ on that Easter morning.  Peter got to see the ascension of Christ into the heavens, Peter got to see the descent of the Holy Spirit marked by the mighty rushing wind, flames of the Spirit, and speaking in unknown tongues.  Peter got to see the church built into a movement to proclaim the gospel to all people, the grace of Christ covering male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free.
The same grace that Peter encountered can be ours today as well.  We rejoice in the resurrection and we look forward to his return.  Until that day we are called to be dispensers of his sacrificial grace.  Grace is not possible without sacrifice, but what we give up pales in comparison of what can be. 

Remember This Today.
Grace covers the whole enchilada.
I have no idea where that slang term comes from.  But I know what it means.  It means totality, it means everything, it means smothered so there is nothing left peeking out.  When we live our lives in sacrificial grace, there is not one thing that escapes God’s forgiveness, mercy and love.  His grace is enough.
Let us make sure we pour out grace instead of condemnation.  The same grace that comforts us is available to comfort other, even those people we might not like.  Instead of shaking your head at other people’s actions, pray God’s grace upon their lives.  Our enchiladas are just as messy as theirs.

The greater the grace desired,
the greater the sacrifice required.

Let me be clear – this statement is not talking about the grace that God has provided for us.  There is nothing works based about this.  We cannot earn grace, we cannot earn grace for others.  Jesus Christ paid the ultimate sacrifice so we could receive the ultimate free gift of salvation.
Let this be an example for us.  When we appropriate sacrificial grace in our lives, it is for the purpose of sharing what God pours out through us.  If we desire to be truly transformed into the image of Christ, if we desire to be a mediator of grace upon the lives of others, it will take sacrifice.  Sacrificing time in prayer, sacrificing resources in gifts, sacrificing ourselves for others.

My prayer today -- Let us accept God’s grace in our lives.  Let us share God’s grace with others.  This is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Shall we pray.