The Grace of God
For two weeks we have been on a journey exploring the exclusive claims of the Christian faith. Every religious and non-religious makes exclusive claims, therefore to give them a fair hearing we need to those exclusive claims. If someone wants to truly examine the exclusive Christian claims then they must start with Jesus Christ. Therefore, we have been walking through one of the earliest Christian documents on the historical figure of Jesus Christ—The Gospel of Mark.
We have looked at the authority of Jesus Christ. Then last we saw how Jesus’ authority and power are coupled with His deep loving care. What we will examine today is how the grace of God is uniquely on display in Jesus Christ. Our main theme today is…
Theme: Jesus teaches us how to be rugged sacrificial gracious people.
1. Lethal Legalism—Mark 7.1-23.
One of the ways we can better understand the grace of God is by looking at what is not. In Mark 7 we see a group of men called “Pharisees” gathered around Jesus. Throughout the Gospels men like the Pharisees come to challenge Jesus. It is common today to see the Pharisees as bad guys, but the truth is if these men were alive today we might like them. Dr. Akin puts it this way:
A Pharisee in the first century was not scorned as a legalist. No, he was looked up to as a model citizen and person of piety and religion…We can be deceived, captured, and enslaved by the deadly lure of legalism. Tragically, those who have been raised in the church are the most susceptible to this deception.—Akin, p. 149-50
Legalism looks attractive, but in the end it is full of deadly poison. Legalism is lethal. And what is legalism? Legalism is a strict or excessive conformity to a religious moral code. Why is legalism so lethal?
Legalist Compare Themselves to Others (Mark 7.1-13)
READ Mark 7.2-3, 5. The Pharisees are comparing Jesus’ disciples to themselves. Their worship is not centered on God, but themselves. The poisonous fruits of these beliefs are: self-imposed bondage, spiritual superiority, and self-righteousness. They will elevate their own man made rules above the Word of God. Legalists have the “appearance” of godliness, but they only keep God’s “rules” as a means to try to control Him. They don’t actually love God, but they love what they believe they can get from Him.
Legalist Boast In Behavioral Superiority (Mark 7.14-23)
We must never forget Jesus is a Master Counselor. As someone who does a great deal of counseling I can see Jesus is exposing the true motives the Pharisees hearts by applying Biblical pressure. He quoted the prophet Isaiah—READ Mark 7.6-8. He then builds on that—READ Mark 7.14-15, 21-23. Here Jesus applies the pressure of Scripture. Later in Mark’s Gospel they plot to murder Jesus, thus revealing the true nature of their hearts and proving what Jesus says is true, “all these evil things come from within.”
Friends, the Legalist believes if they can just change our external circumstances they can change our world. If we just clean up our behaviors we will change the person. Notice how this exposes both the political right and political left. Both are legalists. But Jesus cuts right through all that. Jesus warns His disciples in Mark 8 about the “leaven” of the Pharisees. According to Luke 12, I Corinthians 5, and Galatians 5 “leaven” is a symbol of self-centered self-reliant arrogance. Legalists have no need for God—they will solve the world’s problems on their own.
2. Life-Giving Grace—Mark 7.24-30; 10.32-45.
Rugged Grace (Mark 7.24-30)
It is in this part of Mark that I see the beginning of various types of grace God offers us in Jesus Christ. But first let’s define grace, “unmerited divine assistance given to humans. God’s kind disposition and acts toward humans.”
There are various kinds of grace demonstrated throughout the Bible, but I want to focus on two today. One I would call “Rugged Grace.” There are times throughout the Gospels Jesus says HARD THINGS. If we really paid attention to what just happened in Mark 7 then we see what Jesus did to the Pharisees was HIGHLY offensive. He called out an entire group of people who dedicated their own lives to personal holiness. He exposed their personal holiness was not about God but themselves.
This is not the only place Jesus demonstrates rugged grace—READ Mark 7.24-27. Jesus decided to take a retreat with His disciples, but chose to do it in a region that most Jews were taught to stay away from. I believe Jesus did this intentionally. He went there to have a conversation with this specific Gentile woman. While Jesus’ words are HARD they are in the context of an illustration. What Jesus says to her is absolutely true. Theologically the Gospel of Jesus Christ was supposed to go to Jews first, then Gentiles. Paul says and does the same thing in His ministry:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.—Romans 1.16
But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.—Acts 13.45-49
The point here is Jesus practicing the same counseling method I mentioned to you before. Jesus is applying Biblical pressure to draw out what is in the heart. The woman’s response is astonishing—READ Mark 7.28-30. Commenting on the same story the Gospel of Matthew says, “Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Matt 15.28).
Jesus’ rugged grace revealed her astonishing faith! This woman did not lash back, she did not just tuck her tail and walk away, no, she humbly embraced the truth of what Jesus revealed. In fact if anyone wants to begin to experience Jesus’ grace we need faith like this woman. We need to be willing to see ourselves as undeserving outsiders longing for a morsel from the King’s table. Rugged grace reveals the more we understand the depths of our sin the more we see how much we need our Savior.
Sacrificial Grace (Mark 10.32-45)
While rugged grace is a huge part of Jesus’ ministry on earth, the greatest display of His rugged grace is through SACRIFICE. True rugged grace will requires sacrifice—a willingness to lay down our lives for others. Rugged grace has a tough yet tender mentality. In Mark 10 Jesus talks about His coming death for the THIRD time (Mark 10.32-34; cf. Mark 8.31-38; 9.30-32). And what is the response of the disciples? They start clawing for a significant place in the kingdom of God (Mark 10.35-41). Some friends. Jesus is talking about how He will suffer and die, and they are fighting over job titles. How does Jesus responds to all this?—READ Mark 10.42-45.
Jesus wants His current and future disciples to understand that those who are great in Kingdom of God are those who are sacrificial servants—those willing to lay down their lives for others. Those who take more pride in seeing other flourish than themselves. Studies have shown God has built this into our DNA. The serotonin I spoke about last week is an example of how God has down that. For instance, most people in the mental health profession would say the best way to get over your own struggles is to pour into someone else. The last step in alcoholic anonymous is taking someone else through the twelve steps. It is right for us to feel a sense of pride when we see someone we have helped flourish. This is redemptive sacrificial swagger. It is reasons like this that Jesus says, “…whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” True leaders see their role as a public servant—they want to see the whole group or community flourish.
To recap here when consider the grace God has made available to us we first must remember is what God gives us that we don’t deserve. God gives us RUGGED grace to reveal our SIN. This rugged grace helps us see how desperate we are in need of Jesus Christ. And when we truly accept the rugged grace we become ripe for Jesus’ SACRIFICIAL grace. Jesus’ sacrifice at the Cross will mean so much more to us. We truly appreciate and understand the depths of what the Cross of Christ means.
When coupled together rugged and sacrificial grace teach us how to deal with each other. For instance, we all get into conflicts. Rugged sacrificial grace can give those who are afraid to speak truth the fuel they need to speak up. But for those who have a hard time holding their tongues rugged sacrificial grace helps them hold back.