Is there a sentence that when spoken just makes you smile? Maybe “it’s Friday” or “only 3 weeks until half term”. We probably all have sentences that bring that joy to us, and put a smile on our face. (I would like to take this opportunity to point out that I do love school, but that is helped by the fact that I get breaks from it as well!)
For John Newton that statement was “Amazing Grace” which he described as a “sweet sound”. Why is it a sweet sound? He explains in the first verse of the hymn… he was lost then found, blind then able to see. But what has that go to do with grace?
Grace is one of those Christian words that is used a lot, but it isn’t always understood. The reading today from John1:14-18 says “out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given” but once again, it is using the word grace. So I did some research, it’s one of those words that even if you know what it means, that doesn’t mean it is easy to define. So let’s give these a go…
Firstly there is an acrostic
God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense
Secondly, just two words, unmerited favour
The third one was actually developed for a Christian community who have learning difficulties and it is “ receiving a gift we don’t deserve”
These are all good ways of remembering what grace is but it doesn’t actually explain much about what it means in a Christian context. The first chapter of John goes on to say “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”.
From the start of time God has kept rescuing his people. In the beginning God created a beautiful world, with beautiful plants and animals, he then chose to create people in His likeness. He didn’t have to, but he chose to. Then the people went against God, he could have just given up there and then but he didn’t. There was a consequence, but he didn’t give up. We’re not going to go through all of the examples of humans messing up because that would essentially involve me writing out the entire Bible. But in that sentence from John 1 it talks about the law and Moses. The Israelites had been imprisoned and enslaved by the Egyptians, through Moses they were free, and then God gave them the law, the 10 commandments, guidance for how they should live their life, none of it is rocket science, just common sense, but the guidance was there.
People continued to be people. Finally, God, does the only thing he can, he comes to earth in the person of Jesus, to live amongst His people, to be an example, to teach them, and then to pay the ultimate price… to be crucified. This is the bit we don’t deserve, the bit that is unmerited, the bit that is done at Christ’s expense. Because Jesus had done nothing wrong, He defeated death, and rose again. This means that we no longer need Moses to be our representative to go to speak to the Father without His shoes on, but we, ourselves, can go to him. We can be in relationship with him, we can have eternal life.
No one deserves it, it is a lavish gift that didn’t need to be given. God could have given up on us so many times, but he chose to keep going. He knows that we are going to make mistakes, but that doesn’t matter, because Jesus’ death has taken that place.
This is why John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me”. John Newton was involved in the slave trade, when he had a revelation about Jesus, when he realised what the Christian message was and what it meant for him. He didn’t continue with the life he was living but he changed his life completely, and wanted to tell everyone else about it as well.
Grace doesn’t mean we can just keep making mistakes. It is, however, the ultimate of undeserved gifts, of a path to God the father, through the Son, helped along by the Spirit. The question is: “are you willing to take the path?”
Challenge: God gave us a gift we don’t deserve, what gifts could you give to others for no reason but to show Gods love?
Prayer: father God, we thank you that you created us, that you love us, that you keep rescuing us. We thank you that you sent your so Jesus to live with us, and to die for us. We thank you that you raised Him to life, and that we can now be in relationship with you. May we constantly be reminded of the sweet sound of your amazing grace, and that it will save us, free us, and help us to see. Amen