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Bo Stern Brady: The Scandal of Grace, Acts 9:1-9

November 7, 2022

Audio Recording

The idea of grace is so powerful and compelling that it can seem dangerous. What if we throw it around too easily? What if we give people a license to sin? How do we make sure grace is “balanced” by truth? But grace is always lopsided, it’s always scandalous or it isn’t grace. Grace meets us and embraces us long before we “deserve” it. The life of Paul shows us a living color demonstration of the scandalous grace of Jesus. “Knocked flat on the ground on the way to Damascus, Paul never recovered from the impact of grace: the word appears no later than the second sentence in any of his letters.”  (Phillip Yancey).

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Bo Stern Brady: The Scandal of Grace, Acts 9:1-9
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Sermon Transcript:

:00 You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

00:06 I get to be here and talk about grace. That's a good job. I have a good job. I really like it. I think we talk a lot about other kinds of things, and grace is so big and vast and it's hard to kind of understand because it's so big. I think we, Pastor Steve mentioned last night, last week that CS Lewis said, Grace is the fundamental distinctive of the Christian faith. And I, I think that that's true. We'd probably all agree that that's true, but then I wonder why we know so little about it. I wonder why we, we, understand it to such a small degree in our own life and then bigger than that, why we live it out so badly in our world, oftentimes. And so we're looking at grace and I love it. Today we're looking at the lopsided nature of grace.

00:50 the definition that I've chosen for today, and I think it's just a really simple one, but I love it. Grace means there's nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do to make God love us less. You are right now exactly as loved as you have always been by God, and you are exactly as loved as you will always be by God. You are loved. You're not because you're here. Just because you are alive. You're here. You're, you're you're loved. Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love. And so when we start to measure the love of God next to our love, when we start to measure the love of God next to our tolerance of people, it all gets really wonky at that point. But the bottom line is that the love of God is really lopsided.

01:37 It really is a scandalous in a lot of ways, the grace that God offers, the idea of grace is so powerful and compelling that I think it can seem almost dangerous. Like we can say, Well, what? We can't can't just have grace. You gotta have something truth. You gotta have some kind of something. And you, it's this slippery slope when you start to talk about grace too much. And when you love grace too much. And, and I think that we ask questions like, what if we give, we just give people a license to sin, or how do we make sure grace is balanced? And what do we wanna balance grace with? We always wanna balance it with truth. The problem with that idea is that grace and truth are not all positioned. They're not opposing forces. Grace and truth are not, the, it's not a cage match in our faith.

02:26 Again, what's gonna win grace or truth? But we think that it is, and we mirror this in a lot of areas in our world, we talk about, you know, all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy. There's like, you can't have too much work, but you can't have too much play. You can't have too many vegetables, but you can't have too much sugar, but you can't have too much sugar and you can't have too many. You, there's always this thing where we're trying to balance out and there are a lot of things that we can live to excess for sure, but grace is not one of them. Grace is fundamentally powerful, powerful on its own. It is the gift of God. And I think sometimes it's helpful, like if we think about grace and truth, like people, if they were people, then truth, I think in my mind would be like, maybe a banker in a suit and a tie.

03:18 And he's got, you know, a lot of rules in his hands and he knows exactly how we ought to all, you know, do the rules . And, he's stuffy and he is living to, you know, correct your grammar and that kind of thing. He's the truth guy. He's Baker Bob. He's really truthful. And then if we look at grace as a person, she's sort of like your sloppy aunt. She's like sweet and maybe a little bit chubby, and she's always baking cookies and giving cookies away and giving money away. And Banker Bob is always just trying to convince Aunt Grace not to give away the farm. You're just giving to f If I weren't here, this whole place would go under, because truth has to count for something. And we can't just always be giving people cookies. And I think we look at these like very distinctive ideas of grace and truth, and really grace and truth are not two separate people in that they're not even two people at all.

04:12 Grace and truth are embodied in the coming of Jesus Christ. He is all grace and he is all truth. And there's none of this. Oh no, they're fight. They're in a fight with each other. And you step up to the plate until you earn that grace. Live in truth enough, and then maybe we'll trust you with grace. Nope, grace and truth are all the way, together they are. It says Jesus and John wanted, says Jesus came full of grace and truth. That word full in the Greek means replete. So it's like if there's a hole in the ground and you fill it all the way to the top, Jesus is filled all the way to the top with grace and all the way to the top with truth. They work together. And so grace, sometimes, if it's not the opponent of truth, can feel almost scandalous.

05:01 Grace meets us and embraces us before we ever, ever deserve it. So these questions about the nature of grace and whether or not we can overdo it, whether or not we can get off course in believing grace, they can be good and we're gonna tackle 'em this morning, but they also can become a distraction if we let them. They can become, we can get so focused on what grace doesn't do that we fail to ever live in what it does do. We can become so intent on proving who doesn't get to experience grace, that we never actually live out the true meaning of it. And so we wanna know like, what, what, how does this look? How does it look to, to live inside the grace of God? That is, by all accounts really lopsided. If it's not lopsided, it's not grace. If you've put something into it, if you've earned it, if you it, it's not grace.

05:56 It's like if my husband and I love good restaurants, and if we heard that there is the best restaurant in the whole world, no one disputes it. It's the best restaurant, it's gonna cost you $2,000 for dinner, but it's okay, bring your mortgage money and do it. I'm, that's about what it is right now, right? about there. And I, you know, and so we finally, finally get a reservation and we get there and we find a parking space and we find our place at the table and they bring out this feast, and we order whatever we want and we love every bit of it. And every bite is a miracle. And we can't believe we get to be there. And at the end of the meal, we get our check and the check says paid in full. And as we leave the door, they give us a check for $10,000 just for showing up.

06:44 That's a grace feast. That's just a grace feast. It's like, what did we do? We showed up and then they put all of this on our table and we enjoyed it. And then they kept giving us more when we left. And, and I think it would be crazy if that happened to me. And what I told you mostly about was, well, I, I did find the parking space. I did. I I found the parking space. I should, I sat at the table, I, I pulled the chair out, I sat in, I pulled the chair up. I mean, if other people could have that meal, but they, they're gonna have to pull the chair out, pull the chair and sit. They're gonna have to show up. But then that's not even how grace is because the restaurant owner will pack a picnic and take it to where you are.

07:28 They grace will meet you where you are. Show up for it. Sure, yeah. Position yourself to see it and feel it and understand grace, but grace also is super light on its feet and it meets you in the hardest moments. And I think it is just the most brilliant thing that we have undervalued in our faith. So let's start with the question. Is anyone outside the reach of grace? Is anyone not God just can't or is frustrated beyond belief and can't get to them? So let's start with that. So think of the person you perceive right now to be the greatest threat to Christianity. The greatest threat to our faith. They don't. But you know, I think a while ago we were watching Isis kill Christians in, you know, treacherous ways and broadcast it all over the world. someone who is fundamentally anti Jesus or, we, we like to say anti-Christ, think of someone who, who is so opposed to the practice of followers of Jesus that he or she is willing to imprison and torture and even kill them.

08:36 And so we could have all have different pictures in our head, but really we've just described the apostle Paul. This is the father of our faith. And oftentimes we let the weight of his huge achievements cancel out the idea that he was a bad, bad guy. He was a really bad guy. In fact, here's Acts nine. Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. This is right after he's held the coats for all the people who were stoning Stephen. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues and Damascus so that if he found any there, who belonged to the way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. So he was a man who at leads to those living in the fallout of his wrath would have seemed beyond the reach of the love of God.

09:29 But then Paul changes and he comes to Jesus and he says, Please forgive me and extend your grace to me and save me. And Jesus says, Okay, since you asked nope, no, look at the scripture. As he, as he, neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, Saul Sa, why do you per persecute me? Who are you? Lord? Saul asked, I am Jesus whom you're persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do. The men traveling with Paul stood there speechless. Yeah, , they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So they let him by the hand into Damascus for three days.

10:17 He was blind and did not eat or drink anything. Paul does not change. He does not approach Jesus with this good new idea. Hey, I'd like to go your way. He doesn't, He's literally assaulted by grace. He is knocked off his horse and assaulted by the love of God who says, Here's grace you want in. Do you think Paul in this moment would've had the choice to walk away and say, I don't. Yeah, I think he does. Yeah, but he chooses not to because he recognizes Jesus. When it smacks him in the face, he recognizes it. And so Philippian says this, knocked flat on the ground on the way to Damascus. Paul never recovered from the impact of grace. The word appears no later than the second sentence in any of Paul's letters. Listen to this. In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul in apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God to God's holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus, grace and peace to you from God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

11:22 Colossians Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God and Timothy, our brother, to God's holy people in Colossi, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God, our father, First Corinthians a a letter by the way, that he's gonna get kind of mad at them in a second in Corinthians, but he starts here to the church of God and Corinth to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be His holy people together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours, grace and peace to you from God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul always keeps grace in first position. His letters almost always lead to a correction with the exception of Philippians. His 13 letters are pretty heavy handed in terms of you've gotta change the way you're living.

12:13 He does not shrink back on truth. But he always starts with grace before they've changed, before they've read all the things they're doing wrong. First he says, Grace is already yours. You're screwing up. But grace is already yours. And because we look at this and we can see that we are not saved to grace, we're saved by grace. We don't work, work, work, change, change, change. Finally show up, all cleaned up in front of God and say, Okay, can I have grace now? No, it's grace all the way. It's grace all the way home, all the way into eternity. It's grace. It's not dependent on our works. It's not dependent on our goodness, it's not dependent on our our anything. It's dependent on God's love for us. And because that's true for us, it's true for everyone. Grace goes first. It acts, it acts first.

13:14 And we know that grace is not in opposition to truth. It's not a cage match between the love of God and the truth of God. There's no theological good cop, bad cop. So we are remiss when we view grace as something dangerous to the purity and power of truth. It's not they were built to be fully compatible. And that's hard for our human brains to catch. I get it. But I think it's essential that we do catch it because we're called to live grace out the same way. And Evan's gonna talk about that next week. I'm not gonna step on his story, but I think it's important that we understand this, this part of it. Grace is lopsided. So we know exactly the costly grace God is asking us to give others. So we talk about preaching truth with no compromise. And I sign me up.

14:00 I am all about that. I am a truth girl. but I think we also need to talk equally about preaching grace with no compromise truth. If we, if we compromise on truth, it leads to untruth and deception. If we compromise on grace, it leads to ungrace and disgrace. And so we without compromise preach grace and we without compromise preach truth. So how does that look? I think the life of Jesus ha is our best place to start. How about we go there? Cuz Jesus clearly prioritizes both grace and truth. He embodies both and he lives out both. So this is a story I love. It wasn't included in early manuscripts in the gospel of John. theologians suspect is because that the early fathers just felt like it was too much story for the church to handle. Like if, if we tell you that Jesus did this, you're gonna just run aok, you're gonna think he would forgive anything.

14:58 And so they left it out for a while and then they finally included it in at dawn, Jesus appeared again in the temple courts where all the people gathered around him and he sat down to teach them the teachers of the law. And the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery in the law. Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say? They were using this question as a trap in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus, ben down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her again.

15:42 He stooped down and wrote on the ground at this. Those who heard begin to go away one at a time. The older ones first until only Jesus was left with a woman still standing there, Jesus straightened up and asked her woman, Where are they? Has no one condemned you? She answered No one Lord. And Jesus said, I do not condemn you either. Go from now on, say no more. So this is such a big story. At Dawn, Jesus goes to the temple to teach. And at Dawn Sunrise, there's a gang of guys who bring a woman to Jesus. They, they caught her real early. This smells like a setup. And they bring her and they prop her up in the middle of a group and they say, the law says women like this need to die. And actually the law says someone caught an adultery, they both need to die.

16:42 Where is the man? And because the man isn't there, they deliberately misquote scripture. And that is where it leads us. When we are living our life desperate to disprove grace, we're gonna start to twist and bend the word of God to fit all the things. And we end up making it say what we wanted to say. And so they, they don't bring the man, they only bring the woman, the woman who has no rights in this society, the woman who has no defenders here, and they put her in front of the group and they wanna stone her. And I, I think also this is just profoundly cruel. This is just, it's just bad business. It's a bad way to live. And I think when we get caught in this trap where we're trying to disprove grace, we get kind of mean. I've just watching it over and over right now.

17:36 We leave behind the grace of Jesus and it goes from our speech and it goes from our words and it goes from our actions. And then we're just kind of mad at everybody. And so Jesus knows he's in a trap and he knows that they're using scripture to try to kill her and trap him and try to get him to say something so that they can kill him as well. And I, and you know what I'm, I'm gonna just say I, I am fully aware that I have the power to annoy the Holy Trinity. I do not think in any way grace means I never make him frustrated. I don't even know that I'd wanna be in a relationship where I don't have at least the power to make somebody frustrated. I mean that Ben Franklin said, if two people agree on everything, one of them isn't necessary.

18:25 And I feel a little bit like that would be if we just, if you just always like me and never challenge me and never call me in my baloney and never like, Come on Bo, you can be better than that. You're not gonna be a very close friend of mine. And so why would we think that God has no opinion? Of course he does. God has opinions on pretty much everything we call that theology. And I also have opinions on pretty much everything we call that humanity. And so it stands to reason because we also have Isaiah 55 telling us, my theology, my thoughts, my ways, my opinions are way higher than yours. There's a huge distance between my opinions and your opinions. And so I am not pretending that I am never, I am never bugging God. , I get it. That I am I get it that I disappoint him.

19:15 You can convince me that he, you know, wishes I would do better, but you will never convince me that I am outside the reach of his love. You will never, I just know his grace comes first. And I think sometimes it's, it's one thing to say to people, Jesus wouldn't like the position that you're taking or Jesus wouldn't agree with your position on that issue. But it's another thing to say or to imply Jesus wouldn't like you because of the position that you're taking. It's never true. It's just never true. So the woman is caught, Jesus writes on the ground and it really does look like he's got no way out of this. He's either gonna break the law and, and they're gonna wanna kill him for that, or he's gonna let them stone this woman. But he starts writing on the ground for a good time.

20:04 You should look at the commentaries on the gospel and John and see everyone's speculation on what Jesus wrote. Cuz it's fascinating. and I mean a lot of people feel like it had something to do and I would agree something to do with probably their own sin. There's probably a connection to the oldest, to the youngest leaving first there. It could be maybe the, the names of some women. It could be all, all kinds of things. But it probably has something to do with sin. You know, who does know what Jesus wrote on the ground? John? But he does not include it in the story. And I think that's kind of awesome because John doesn't choose to say, in order to defend the woman will disgrace the men. We're gonna, the point of this story is not, that is not sin. The point of the story is grace.

20:57 And so there's no, what about is here? There's no like, well the, the man's sin was worse than the woman. So Jesus defended her. Nope. It's all about Jesus has grace for sinners. It's all that and it's beautiful. So Jesus writes on the ground, the men walk away one by one, and then the woman who does not deserve forgiveness at all and doesn't even ask for it. I think theologians believe that we can draw from her saying, He says, Where are your accusers? Does anyone condemn you? And she says, No one Lord. And that is an acknowledgement of faith. That was enough. And then Jesus says, I don't me either. I'm not here to stone you. Go and change your life. Go and change your behavior because the consequences of sin have caught up to you today. And it's ugly and you can do better.

21:59 And this is grace and it's beautiful. It's beautiful. The thief on the cross is another example of someone who just turns to Jesus and says, Remember me two words, remember me. When you come into your kingdom and Jesus, without asking him for one dime of tithe, without one church attendance, someone clearly deserves to be there. He says it himself, I deserve to be here faced with his own life consequences without any proving it. Jesus says, You're coming with me. It's grace. It's grace that stretches across all of the acres of distance between us and him. All of it. Jesus covers the ground. His goodness runs after us. If we need an Old Testament verse, let's look at Jeremiah where he says, I'll make an everlasting covenant with you that my kindness will not stop following after you everlasting. It's a covenant from generation to generation. It extends to us right here today. Grace pursues us.

23:09 Romans one talks about grace and I, I wonder sometimes how we walk in grace without living in a free for all where there's no rules and no requirements. And I think maybe it's because we sometimes confuse grace with tolerance that we think toler grace means. I just don't even, There is no sin. Grace means there is no truth. Grace means whatever you do, you do. And whatever I do, I do. And I think Jesus has clear opinions on, on what we do. And grace is not the same as tolerance. Grace is love in the face of sin, Romans one says, So what do we do? Keep on sinning. So God can keep on forgiving. I should hope not. If we've left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there or didn't you realize we packed up and left there for good?

24:03 That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind. When we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace. A new life in a new land. The grace feast that Jesus offers is so compelling and so beautiful and so lopsided that I'd like to spend very little time in my life deciding who doesn't qualify for it. I'd like to spend all of my time exclaiming to a world You ought try this restaurant. It's really good. You won't believe it. You won't believe that the feast is lavished on you and the bill is paid and way more than you ever need. This is grace for you. And I wanna move into that country where grace is the natural first response, not at the expense of truth, but to complete truth. Grace embodied in Jesus Christ, poured out on the cross extended to us. It's beautiful, lopsided, scandalous grace. So Jesus, we thank you for a gift beyond telling a gift beyond value. We thank you that you have reached us in our sin

25:34 Because you love us. We thank you that we qualify for a seat at your table because you are so good. Not because we're good, not because we found the right parking spot, not because we edge somebody else out, but because you are so good. Would you teach us how to live in grace and teach us how to live in truth? Teach us to be people who live in the rhythm of grace. As we let truth form our lives and our decisions. We give you glory for who you are and what you do. And your name we pray. Amen.