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Are we to find a doctrine of grace within the Old Testament?
David hid himself in the field for three days. He had to take off without any preparation and they left in a hurry, they had taken no food. He was fleeing from King Saul. When they came to a place called Nob, by the time they got there they were in a bad situation. They needed food, and there was only one place that David knew of where he might get something to eat. The story is in 1 Samuel 21.
1 Samuel 21:1, “Then came David to Nob to Ahimelech the priest: and Ahimelech was afraid at the meeting of David, and said unto him, Why art thou alone, and no man with thee?”
Ahimelech was frightened that David was showing up there by himself, it was very unusual. For David, as one of the King’s top men, was always accompanied by a regiment of people. He had some fighters that traveled with him usually, who were men who were the type who wore their cloths out from the inside, they were tuff men. David was alone. But David said to Ahimelech the priest, who really was concerned and wanted to know why he was alone, said, “The king has commanded me a business, and he said to me ‘tell no man of the business I’m about to send you on that I commanded you’, and I…”, David said, “have sent my servants on ahead, I’ll be meeting them shortly” (1 Sam.21:2).
Now David lied to the priest. Should he have done that? Well, in fact, he goes on now to compound his law-breaking.
1 Samuel 21:3-6, “Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of bread in mine hand, or what there is present. And the priest answered David, and said, There is no common bread under mine hand, but there is hallowed bread; if the young men have kept themselves at least from women. And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel. So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the shewbread, that was taken from before the LORD, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away.”
Now this is a real classic of realization. A reasoning your way around the law. Right? The law says no one but the priests can eat Holy bread (Exo.25:30, Lev.24:5). Well, we’ve got a problem. Maybe if the young men haven’t been close to women the past three days, and maybe with this it’s all right. And David said, “well, yea, in a manner of speaking, it’s common”, and he managed his way to work around it, and the priest gave him the shewbread to eat.
If you were the judge, and this infraction was brought before you…because it is an infraction of the law, make no mistake about that, only the priests could eat Holy bread…what would you say? And how do you think God would judge this infraction of the law? Well, fortunately, we have a clue. Jesus himself evaluated this instance.
Matthew 12:1-2, “At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.”Now, a very interesting question comes up at this point. Was it, or was it not? Surely, by their interpretation, it was wrong for them to be plucking those ears of corn and eating on the Sabbath day. You’re supposed to get your food ready on Friday so you don’t have to do that kind of thing. Jesus replied:
Matthew 12:3-4, “But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?”Now, you think about that for a moment. Jesus was plainly ready to let David off. Not only that, he did not even argue with the Pharisees the question of whether it was right or wrong for his disciples to pluck ears of corn on the Sabbath day. In fact, he turns to David’s situation and he just says, “Look what David did! He did what was not lawful to do.”
On what basis did Jesus let them off? On what basis was he prepared to justify David? Well, if you look at the situation, you have the crowd that says, “If you give them an inch they’ll take a mile”, and their idea is you don’t give that inch in the first place and then nobody can take the mile. Everything’s kept nice and neat, and everything is quite in order. This school of thought is exemplified by the Pharisees. They say to themselves, “Look, we’ve got to spell these things out. We’ve got to build a fence around the law so that people will not accidentally step over the line and break God’s law, thereby be defiled or incur God’s displeasure.”
Now, there is a strange fear, and maybe you feel a little of it right now, that if we begin to let the barriers down, that people will take liberties, and they will abuse the law, and everything will get completely out of control. Well, I can tell you one thing, Jesus and the Pharisees were on completely opposite sides of the fence on this issue. On that, there can’t be much dispute.
Now, somebody might have walked up to Jesus right after he had said this, and quoted him this scripture:
Exodus 29:32-33, “And Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram, and the bread that is in the basket, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And they shall eat those things wherewith the atonement was made, to consecrate and to sanctify them: but a stranger shall not eat thereof, because they are holy.”
That’s not the only scripture he could have quoted to Jesus, because, very plainly, if you go back to the law, the law does not make any room for exemptions on the shewbread. It’s for the priests, no one else. And the person would want to know, “Jesus? How can you justify what David did in light of these passages of scripture?” How do you suppose Jesus would have answered him?
Well, I am going to try to answer that question for you in some detail. And, in the process, I’m going to explain to you one of the most important things you will ever learn about God and his law. In fact, if you can grasp what I’m about to say, it may revolutionize the way you read the Bible, the way you relate to God, and the way you relate to one another. Now, if this sounds a little presumptuous to you, well, we’ll let you listen and you can judge when I have finished.
But first, I want to make three things clear. One: the law of the shewbread was not superseded or set aside by any of the actions of David. David did not have that kind of authority. The law of the shewbread was not unimportant. It was as important as any other law of God. It was the law of God then, it was the law when David did it, it was the law when Christ talked about it, and it was the law after that. Two: I am a radical believer in the law of God. Three: All rationalizations considered, David did break the law. Jesus said he ate the bread which was not lawful for him to eat.
Why, then, does Jesus use this example in reply to the accusation that his disciples were breaking the Sabbath day? How is it possible for him to justify David? And how can he justify David when there is not a hint in the biblical account of any remorse on David’s part, of any repentance on David’s part, nor anything being done by David to make up for his error? Nothing. He just did it, and he went away. How can he do that?
The answer comes in one word. It’s a familiar word. In fact, the word is too familiar. It’s been used and used and used, and I think it’s gotten to the place where nobody really has much of a clue what Jesus means when he uses this word, or when anyone else does for that matter. The word is “Grace”. A one syllable, short little word. Grace. And here is a sentence that’s so important, you might want to write it down, because I don’t want you to forget it. Grace is an Old Testament doctrine.
Grace is an Old Testament doctrine. David, an Old Testament character, was justified, not because what he did was right, but because God is gracious. Isn’t that simple? Now I know you know that God is gracious. I know you heard that phrase, “God is gracious”. It may be a part of, “God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger”. You know, all these lines and words and descriptions of what God is like. God is gracious. I wonder, though, what we think that means. What does it mean to say that God is gracious? Well, one of the things I want to try to do today is to see if I can explain to you, clearly, what that means.
There’s a beautiful example of the graciousness of God right in the very beginning of your Bible. God came to the end of all his creation, and finally, on the sixth day, he created man. He created man in his own image. And we’re told that he created man male and female. And he took the man and woman he created, both of them perfect physical specimens, beautiful creatures, well formed in every direction, fully mature, beautiful, gorgeous people, and they were, in God’s wisdom, completely naked. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply”.
Now, there are two kinds of people listening to me today. There are the people who believe that God is all seeing, he knows everything that is happening, and that nothing in the world is hidden from him. Then there are the people who believe the book of Genesis is telling the truth. And the book of Genesis presents a different picture for us. For Genesis gives us the picture that God created this beautiful woman and this handsome man, and put them in this lovely garden on a warn sunny day, totally naked, and then he left them completely alone!
You know, what is interesting to me is, I personally am charmed by the Genesis account. I just read it and I’m filled to overflowing with a realization of who I’m looking at here. Who is this person? For what he has now done is what a gracious man would do. He did not create them beautiful, naked, and tell them to reproduce, and then go hide in the bushes and watch! He granted them complete privacy, which has an interesting consequence. It means that God doesn’t know everything or see everything that ever happens. Not that he couldn’t, it is that he chooses not to. Why does he choose not to? Because God is gracious. Gracious is a character trait that responds to awkward situations with grace.
There are those who believe that God is more like a computer than he is like a man. If you press the delete button, things disappear! That’s the way God is. Press the right button things go away, you press this button things appear. It’s all automatic. They picture a God who is remorseless, that whatever the program says has to happen, has to happen, and if anything happens contrary to that it’s because the program was written wrong or was written differently than what we thought it was. God is like a computer. Whatever happens, if you do wrong then you suffer, if you do right then things work for you. It’s all automatic. That’s what some people believe about God. They would never in a million years admit that. But emotionally, in their heart, in the way they think about God, pray to him, and react to him, they think he is more like a computer than he is like a man. “If you break the law, the law breaks you”. I wonder if you’ve ever heard that expression. David broke the law, and the law didn’t break him! What went wrong with our computer program? Something did.
God is not a computer, God is a person. And the thing that began to dawn on me in the first two chapters of Genesis is, not only is God a person, but that God is personable. That he has characteristics and traits of a person, and that when you are with him he is gracious, he is kind, he is generous, he is open. One of the things that terrify us about God is that he is also just, and believes in justice, and insists on justice. But you know, mercy rejoices against justice. And it is the justice of God and of his world that he himself decides not to carry out, that constitutes grace, graciousness, and mercy. God is a kind person, he is gentle, he is compassionate, he is forgiving, he is gracious.
Now, it is true that God can be very strict at times, but that strictness grows out of his sense of justice. And when you don’t have any justice, what you would have is capriciousness. And there is a world of difference, there’s a great gulf, between graciousness and capriciousness. Because graciousness can exist right along side of justice. The two of them go hand in hand, because there was justice: Adam and Eve were eventually shut out of the garden of Eden, they were denied access to the tree of life (Gen.3:24), because there was justice. But in fact, it was a choice they made; they chose the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil.
Time passed, two sons are born. One of them is named Cain, the other one is named Abel. You know the story: they made their offerings to God, God accepted Abel’s offering, but he didn’t accept Cain’s offering. Cain was angry, and apparently he called his brother out into the field, and while they were out there, and they argued, he killed him. And God came looking for Abel, and he said to Cain, “Where’s your brother?” And Cain lied! He said, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s keeper?!” And God said, “Your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground, I know what’s happened” (Gen.4:1-10).
Now, justice would have called for the death of Cain. Genesis 9:6, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” For his own reasons, and God doesn’t even explain what his reason’s are, and without any kind of remorse on Cain’s part, God graciously did not kill him. It was purely a matter of grace that he was allowed to live. And, more than that, he sent him into exile, but he put a mark on Cain. The mark that was put upon Cain, however, was not a punishment, it was to preserve his life and to warn other men that they must not touch Cain (Gen.4:11-15), because they knew Cain’s punishment was death! Why’d he do that? He did that because God is gracious.
More time passes, and things really deteriorate on the earth. The earth is filled with violence, and things got so bad that God finally decided he was sorry he ever started the project! Yea, he said, “I’m sorry I ever put man on the earth”. Now, I realize that this runs counter to the idea that God knows everything in advance. What can I tell you? God comes on the scene and says, “I’m sorry I ever started this mess.” He really was!
You know, it seems better to me that if I want to know God, and I really want to know what he’s like, I had better take him as he is, and not as I want him to be. God was sorry, he wished he hadn’t done it. Remember, God is not a computer. This is not a program that was written long ago that we’re running out and all we are is a bunch of electrical currents running around through wires and running across switches in a computer that are either on or off. That is not what’s happening here.
Genesis 6:5-6, “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” How would you say it if you don’t want to say, “I wish I hadn’t done it”? Genesis 6:7, “And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.”
God was sorry he even made them.
You know, it really is foolish to go around apologizing for God, but that’s what a lot of us try to do when we try to find explanations of this passage of scripture that somehow will reconcile of what we think we know about God, with what he’s actually doing in here. Far smarter, folks, to just take what he’s doing in here as fact. And I’m sorry if it’s upsetting to some people to learn that God does not control everything. By his own choice, God does not control everything. That’s why you get into the trouble you get into!
So, God decided to end the whole earth. Just wipe it out, start over again, maybe someplace else. And except for one thing, he would have. That one thing is in Genesis 6:8, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” Now mind you, Noah was a good man, he was righteous in all of his generations. But if you think that that is the reason why Noah and his family survived the flood, you have it all wrong. That’s not what the Bible says. Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. He was a good man, but he was not that good.
More time passes, and God strikes up a friendship with a man named Abraham. And this is really fascinating because this friendship is remarkably personal. Now it’s remarkable to you and I because we don’t think of God, normally, in the terms in which this passage of scripture, and the events that I’m about to talk about, are written. We really don’t think that way. We know God’s a person and we visualize him on a throne somewhere, but we still have a hard time thinking of him as a person who is personable with whom we can relate. We try, we want to, but we think of him as remote, distant, far off, high and lifted up, and untouchable, unapproachable, and all those adjectives I might put on him. I know you might tell me, “No, I don’t believe that”, but I’m talking about not what you say you believe, I’m talking about the way you feel about God. The way you respond to God. The way you react to the scriptures. The way you react to life in general tells me that most of us really don’t think of God in these terms. God, remember, is not a computer, he’s a person.
So he comes to see Abraham one day. This occasion, we’re not really told in what form he came, only that he and Abraham are talking back and forth. And God wants Abraham to have a son, and he wants him to have it by Sarah. Now this is an interesting thing, because this is obviously a person, God is God, who has preferences, because Abraham has got a son by his wife’s handmaid named Ishmael. And as far as any particular requirement of God’s original promises, all this stuff could have gone straight forward with Ishmael, and all would be well. Right? There’s no real problem here. But that’s not what he wanted! Why did God do it this way? He did it this way because he wanted it this way! And for God, that’s enough! You know, if you’re God, you can have what you want. He wanted Abraham to have a son by Sarah.
You know when you know someone, and you’re a friend with someone, you’re also a friend with his wife, and vice versa. Right? And we really care about one another’s couples too, and the love that often times develop on our friends, where we see each other, and squeal with delight, run and hug one another back and forth. When you’re dealing with couples, the love for a couple is a combined thing. And one of the terrible things that happens with divorce is this rupture of a couple that so many of us have learned to love as a couple, and now we’ve got to learn to relate to them separately.
Well, God knew Abraham and Sarah, and he liked them. Now, I choose the phrase, “he liked them” because we think of God as, “Well, God loves all men”, and we speak that as a platitude. We need to understand he liked these people, cared about them. So he wanted them to have a son by Sarah. So God said, “Abraham, I’m going to see to it that Sarah has a son”. Abraham, then, laughed! Now, he didn’t just laugh, he fell on the ground laughing! With God there. And he is not laughing for joy, if you read the account very carefully you will see this is true (Gen.17:16-17). He is laughing because the idea of he and Sarah having a baby is ridiculous! It’s laughable. It’s funny. And he really doesn’t believe it. He hasn’t got his mind right, he can’t quite deal with it. Fell on the ground.
Now, think about this for a moment. God is present, they’re talking, God says, “You and Sarah are going to have a son”, and he starts laughing, falls on the ground laughing, in front of God! Do you think God would be offended? Well, it’s fascinating, most of you people here would not be able to laugh in the presence of God no matter what he said. You just couldn’t do it! All of your strings would be so tight, if you were in the presence of God, God would probably look at you and say, “Son, you are not a fish, close your mouth!”
What’s also interesting about this is that God did not smite Abraham with boils for laughing at him. Did he? What’d he do? You know, an ungracious God would have been insulted. When he made Abraham a promise, he’d say, “What are you laughing at me for? I made you a promise! I’m going to give you and this woman a son! Why are you laughing?! Get up!!!” But that would have been very ungracious, would it not? And God is not ungracious, he is gracious! Abraham falls on the ground laughing, and I think God looked down on him and said, “Well, just wait, you’ll see.” I think God takes a certain amount of pleasure in doing things the hard way. And this also tells me that God has a sense of humor, for he was able to see why Abraham would laugh, and not get offended by it, because God is gracious.
More time passes, and God comes to call on Abraham on his way to Sodom and Gomorrah. Now, if you had been able to hide in the bushes near by, and watched this encounter, what you would’ve seen would have been very commonplace indeed. You would have seen three men walking down the road in the dust, Abraham had been sitting in the shade over here, Abraham spots them, jumps up, and you would’ve seen Abraham make arrangements to have water brought for them to wash their feet. You would have seen them wash their feet. You would have seen Abraham lay a meal before them. You would have seen them sit down and eat. I don’t know what could have been more ordinary in that world. Everything that happens in that account, there is not a hint of anything other than the fact here’s Abraham, here are three men who came to visit him about evening time. There’s just one thing. Two of these men were angels, as we call them, and the third was God himself (Gen.18:1-8).
Now, does it seem out of the ordinary for you that God and two angels would sit down and wash their feet? That God and two angels would sit down and eat food that Abraham placed before them? Do their feet get dirty? Do they get hungry? Well, when they are in the flesh, which apparently they can be in the flesh when they choose to do so, they do get dirty and they do get hungry. And I also thought, “God created man and he created food, and he created food so that it would taste good”. And I can see God saying to the two angels that are on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah, “Let’s stop off and see Abraham, I’ve got something I want to tell him, and you can always get a good feed at Abraham’s place”.
God, who created man and created food and created all things good in their time, is quite capable of appearing in the flesh and enjoying the things that he made possible. And like he said, “I know we can get a good feed at Abraham’s house”. And God, I suspect, enjoyed good food! Strange, isn’t it?
But, as he left Abraham to go on to Sodom, God paused. Genesis 18:20-21, “And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.”
My question is, “How come he didn’t already know if he is a computer that has sensors all around the world?!” How come he didn’t know? Why did God have to go down there himself to find out? Another example that shows that God doesn’t know everything is in Genesis 22, when God tested Abraham. He told Abraham to sacrifice his son because God wanted to find out something. After God tested Abraham and stopped him from slaying his son at the last moment, God said, “now I know that thou fearest God” (verse 12). The implication is that before that period of time, there was some degree of uncertainty as to what Abraham would do.
All right, think about this for a moment. God knows everything, that’s our assumption. God is on his throne, wherever his throne is, and he is sitting up there, and in front of him, across the room, there is this huge bank of videos. And he’s got a clicker in his hand.
Now, I want you to tell me, can you visualize God sitting on his throne, clicking across the television sets up there, and finally seeing one, and having it focus in close on what was going on in the back rooms of Sodom at any time? God is not a voyeur. He doesn’t peek into your bedroom, he doesn’t want to know what you do in secret or in private. He did not want to watch what was going on in Sodom, because folks, God is gracious, and he just doesn’t want to look at that kind of thing, or face that kind of thing.
But he did receive the reports (Ezekiel 9:4,11) from his angels about Sodom and Gomorrah, and because he was a God of justice, it was not enough for him to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah on hearsay. He said, “I am going to go down and I’m going to see for myself”. Not only that, but God decided to go down and see for himself in the flesh. He was not going to stand off in the Spirit and observe this, he was going to smell it, and taste it, and experience it, to hear it with human ears, so that his judgment would be right. Because he’s Just, but he is also gracious. And a great leader will always face up to his problems and the things he has to deal with, and will deal with them personally, he will not deal with them from a distance.
What a leader he is! It’s beyond my capacity to describe or imagine, but more and more I keep getting these little hints in the Bible to realize what a tremendous person this is. A real person who is willing to come down and get his feet dirty on the earth and have to wash them to get them clean, who will enjoy a good meal, who will stand and talk to Abraham about what he’s about to do and share this thoughts with him. And who is not willing to judge from afar off on hearsay of what somebody else told him, but was going to force himself to go down and confront Sodom and Gomorrah in the flesh.
Well, the men turned their faces from thence and they went on towards Sodom, but Abraham stood yet before Jehovah. And Abraham drew near, and said, “Will you also destroy the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people within the city? Will you also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are there?” And he goes on to say that, “That would be far from you to do like that” (Gen.18:16-25).
Now isn’t that interesting? Abraham knew God, God was his friend and he was God’s friend, and he was able to say to God, “That’s not like you”. Why wasn’t it like God? Because God is gracious! He’s not the kind of person to do that. Abraham said, “I can’t believe that you would do that!” And God said, “No, if I find in Sodom fifty righteous people, then I will spare the place for that fifty righteous people”. And Abraham said, “Oh, don’t be mad at me, I want to speak one more time. Maybe there are ten righteous people there…” You know what he did, he worked himself all the way down, one step at a time, a little bargaining, giving and taking going on here. And God finally said, “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake”. (Gen.18:26-32).
Why would God let Abraham talk him down like this? Why didn’t he just shut him up the first time out of his mouth, “Look, Abraham, don’t even worry about it. I’ll do what’s right, you go mind your own business and I’ll take care of mine”. Why didn’t God do that? Because God is gracious. And gracious people don’t do that, they listen, they hear you out, they want to know how you feel about it, they want to respond. And God wanted to do as much as he could what Abraham was asking.
And there’s another thing about God that I think you should know. God does not like the idea of executing judgment. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Exe.18:32; 33:11). It is not something that he wants to do. He doesn’t like killing people, even when they have it coming, even when they richly deserve it, even when they ought to be dead and they ought to die in a horrible way, God does not like that! He doesn’t want to do it, and he will take whatever reason comes to hand that he can use, to be gracious, and to grant grace to someone who does not deserve it. There are so many examples of this in the Old Testament, we could be here all day reviewing them, but let me give you the definitive example of what it is I’m driving at.
Still more time passes, and God finds himself a prophet. The man’s name is Jonah. And he says to Jonah, “I want you to go to that great city Nineveh, and I want you to walk into that city and proclaim ‘Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.’” And Jonah was not having any of it. You all know about Jonah fleeing from the Lord, he got on the boat, went away, thrown overboard, swallowed by the whale, spit up on the shore, and finally he comes to Nineveh and does what he’s suppose to do. All the rest of that stuff is a lot of fun for the kids, but I’m talking to adults right now, and there’s something in this story I really want you to get…and it’s not the whale.
He goes into the city and starts preaching, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” He doesn’t even tell them why. And I kind of think that, judging from the response of Nineveh, he didn’t even have to! Jonah 3:5-8, “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God:” and listen to what he says, “yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands”.
I don’t know if you remember it or not, but the primary reason God said he was going down to Sodom and Gomorrah was because of the violence that it was filled with (Gen.13:13), the reason he destroyed the earth in the time of Noah was because of the violence it was filled with (Gen.6:13). And here he is into Nineveh and the Ninevites knew that they needed to repent of their evil doings, and specifically turn and repent and turn away from his fierce anger, so that they don’t perish. And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil ways, and God repented of the evil that he said he would do to them, and he did it not.
Well, how can he do that? I mean, he had made a flat out prophesy, we have a promise of God! There is absolutely nothing equivocal about it. If you ever wanted to know where God said something he was going to do, you have it right there. And he didn’t do it! He felt sorry for those people, because they repented. They at least acted like they were sorry, showed signs of sorrow, and who knows whether it would last two days or five days or a week, but God said that’s enough, and he didn’t do it.
But it displeased Jonah, exceedingly, and he was very angry! That’s what I want you to get. Because I sometimes feel, folks, that we’re just a whole lot closer to Jonah in our attitude than we are to God. Because Jonah was not gracious about this at all. It displeased him. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “I say this! Before I ever left, I knew that you were a gracious God, merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repent of evil. And you won’t even carry out what you say you will do!?” (Jonah 4:1-2).
That’s what he said! He was furious, he was upset with God because God wouldn’t do what he said he would do. “Therefore take my life. It’s better for me to die than to live”. Jehovah was not the kind of God that Jonah wanted him to be. Simple as that. Jonah is the archetype of a man that wants his religion by the numbers. He didn’t want Nineveh to fall on the thirty-ninth day, and he didn’t want Nineveh to fall on the first-first day, he wanted Nineveh to fall on the fortieth day. And he wanted blood in the streets, that’s what he wanted. Why did he want that? Well, they probably deserved it! And for men like Jonah, exemptions to the rule drive them crazy! And in fact, Jonah is a little bit crazy here. A man to be angry with God? I don’t think that’s a sound mind.
There’s a real irony in it, though. If God had been the kind of God that Jonah said he wanted, he would have taken a giant fly swatter and turn Jonah into so much road kill. If that was the kind of God that Jonah really wanted. So God said, “Are you doing well to be this angry? Should you really be this hot under the collar?”
Jonah 4:5-6, “So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.”
Now mind you, I said earlier that God has a sense of humor, there are a lot of ways to teach men things. God chose this.
Then God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and as a result of the worm, the stupid plant died before the day was over. And it came to pass the next day, when the sun came up, God prepared a vehement east wind, and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he passed out! And when he came to he wished he was dead. “It is better for me to die than to live”. And God said to Jonah, “Are you doing the right thing here? Is it OK for you to be angry about this plant?” And he said, “Yes! Yes, I do well to be angry, even unto death! I want to die!” Then said the LORD, “You had had pity on the plant, for the which you did not labor, you didn’t build that thing, you didn’t make it grow, you didn’t even plant it! It came up in the night, and perished in the night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons (that’s one hundred twenty thousand) that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and a lot of sheep and goats and cows and so forth, that I kind of feel sorry for to?” (Jonah 4:7-11).
“You could feel sorry for that plant, and you don’t think I have the right to feel sorry for a bunch of people in a town that don’t even know what’s going on around them?” Why did God do that? Because he’s gracious. Now are you beginning to see what I mean when I say that grace is an Old Testament doctrine? It is written throughout the Old Testament. You encounter grace again and again and again, and I don’t understand why! As we read the Old Testament, we focus in on all the things that Jonah wants, and forget all the things that God wants!
Sure God is strict. Sure God is stern. Sure he is a God of Justice. Sure sometimes he comes down. Sure he incinerated Sodom and Gomorrah! But you know something? Lot and his family got out of Sodom and Gomorrah. Do you know why? It was not because they were righteous, it was not because they were obedient, it was because God is gracious. Because, in the end, Lot was standing there, fooling around, and the angel had to take him and his wife and his daughters by the hand, and lead them out of the city, to get them out of there (Gen.19:15-16)! Lot was saved because God is gracious (Gen.19:19). And in a way, he was saved because he was Abraham’s nephew, and God really cared about Abraham, and he really liked Abraham and his family, and didn’t want Abraham to feel bad because of the death of Lot.
Does it strike you as odd at all that I talk about grace as a doctrine? Does it strike you as odd that we have a lot to say about doctrine? I mean, we got doctrine over this that we make up, and we argue doctrine and discuss doctrine, and go on and on about doctrine, and we divide Churches over doctrine, and we won’t speak to friends over doctrine, we have doctrine coming out of our ears! Why don’t we talk about grace?! If grace is a doctrine of God, why does it not play a huge role in the whole panoply of doctrine that we have out here? Of course, it’s kind of hard to divide over grace.
There’s a funny thing about grace in the New Testament. In all four gospels, the complete accounts of all of Jesus’ life, ministry, and works, there is not a single instance in all the gospels where Jesus ever used the word “grace”. Strange, isn’t it? One might have thought, especially if grace was a doctrine, that somewhere along the line, Jesus would expound the doctrine of grace. Grace was not a doctrine that Jesus preached. Then what role did grace play in his ministry? Was it there?
Luke 2:40, “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.”
Do you know what that means? That means the graciousness that you see all the way through the Old Testament, in all these examples of God who could have killed somebody and didn’t, a God who healed people, forgave people, let people off the hook, again and again, that graciousness of the Old Testament God was upon Jesus.
John 1:14, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.”
Now we all know that Jesus was full of truth, don’t we? We’re all interested in the truth, we talk about truth this, truth that, and everything. Where’s grace? Jesus was full, first, of grace, and then of truth. Where’d the grace come from? It came from his Father. He came by it honestly.
John 1:15-17, “John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”
The law is a wonderful thing, but if you’re looking for a computer, or something to compare to a computer, the law might compare. But the law is not God. God is gracious. God is not like a computer, God is personal and kind and merciful and forgiving.
If you really want to know what is wrong with the Church of God right now, the answer is simple enough. Great grace was upon Jesus Christ. Great grace is not upon us. When we condemn people because they celebrate the birth of Jesus on the wrong day, this is not grace. When we condemn people because they keep the Sabbath on the wrong day, this is not grace. When we are unforgiving of one another, this is not grace. When we take offense easily, when we make a brother an offender for a word, because he hasn’t got the words right, hasn’t got the formulas right, hasn’t got all these little technicalities right, when we make a brother an offender for that, this is not grace. When we make ourselves, our organization, our Church, better than others, that’s not grace. When we envy others, when we are suspicious, negative, looking for flaws, looking for failure, looking for weakness, sorry, this is not grace. And if, as you listen to me site this ungracious list, you are thinking of all the people you know who are like this list, this isn’t grace either. For I’m not talking to them, I’m basically talking to you.
The truth is, we have not received in ourselves enough of God’s grace to be able to share it with others. If we had received it, we would be more gracious! Right? In order for us to be gracious with others, we have got to receive grace in ourselves.
Do you remember the woman who came in to Jesus one day when he was reclining at food? And she walked up behind him and she was weeping, and she bent down and she was weeping so copiously that she was able to wash his feet with her tears. And she then took her long hair and wiped his feet with her hair (Luke 7:44). Don’t you realize that this woman who was there and had been forgiven much, really and truly loved much? You know, Jesus, we are told in the Bible, was full of God’s grace. Where? When? How? Well, when Jesus fed the five thousand (Mat.14:16-21), what character trait led him to do that? Well, it was grace. Can you say grace? Go ahead, say “Grace”.
Now when John tried to get Jesus to stop a man who was successfully casting out demons in Jesus’ name, he’s going, “In the name of Jesus Christ, come out of him!” and the demon left, and John came to Jesus and said, “Let’s stop that man, he is not following after us!” (Mark 9:38-39), what character trait led Jesus to tell John to leave that man alone? It was grace. When his disciples wanted to call down fire on a village in Samaria because they refused to receive Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, they said, “Let’s call down fire from Heaven! Let’s wipe them out!” and Jesus said, “You don’t know what spirit you are of!” (Luke 9:51-56), what character trait led Jesus to refuse that option, and to correct the attitude of his disciples? It was grace.
When he healed the Syrophenician’s woman’s daughter, you remember? He was in Tyre and she came to him, crying to him that he would heal her daughter. And he said, “I’m sorry, it’s not fit to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs”. And she said, “Well that’s the Truth, Lord, but dogs will eat the bread that falls from the master’s table.” What character trait led him to then say, “Woman, I have not found so much faith in all of Israel, you’re daughter will be healed” (Mat.15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30)? It was grace.
When he refused to condemn this woman who washed his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, and the Pharisees said, “She’s a sinner, he ought to know better than that”, and he told the woman her sins were forgiven him (Luke 7:37-48), what character trait made it possible for Jesus to do that? It was grace. When he refused to condemn the woman who was taken in adultery, they brought her in there, they said, “She was caught in the very act of adultery!”, and he said, “Whoever’s without sin, let him cast the first stone”, they all left him alone, and he said to the woman, “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no man condemned you?” and she said, “No man, Lord” (John 8:3-11), and Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you: go, and sin no more”, what character trait enabled him to do that? It was grace.
You know, after Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus were very different men. Did you ever notice that? There’s something important that happened to them, and it’s something, that seems to me, that we rarely ever take notice of. Acts 4:33, “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.” And as I said, if there’s one thing that’s wrong with us today, it is that great grace is not with us.
You know, when I look at these things and I think of what ought to be, when I think of what we could have done, and what we have done, and how much difficulty we are having in working together, I wonder about this example of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet. The parable he gave Simon on that day, he said, “There were two men. One of them came in and had this huge debt, and the master forgave him and wrote it off. Then a man came in with a small debt and the master wrote that off”, and Jesus asked, “Which of these two men will love him the most?” and Simon answered, “Well, him to whom he forgave the most. Why?”, and Jesus said, “He who has been forgiven much, loves much” (Like 7:40-47). It’s another way of saying that he who has received much grace, has much grace to give.
Hebrews 12:28, “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace,”
This is not just salt and pepper thrown in here, folks. The Word has been abused and lost. When he says, “Let us have grace”, he means something! He means that there should be something in us, something in our lives, that enables us to serve God sensibly with reverence and in Godly fear.
You know, maybe, in the end analysis, grace is not a doctrine after all, because, to tell you the truth, I don’t know how we could ever have an argument about grace. May God help us to learn to be gracious with one another.
This article was originally transcribed by www.icogsfg.org/rldtonge.html