In seminary I had a job at the front desk of registrar’s office. Every quarter a few students would come in to see me because they got a failing grade in a class they didn’t attend. When I looked up the record and showed them they signed up but forgot to drop it, more than one panicking student shouted, “you have to give me grace because you are a Christian School….” Newsflash: Forced grace is not grace, it’s law… Our minds have a tough time grasping pure grace…we excuse ourselves secretly thinking I’m not as bad as the person sitting next to me…
Frederick Buechner gave a great try to define grace in Wishful thinking:
“Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There's no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.
"A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace. Have you ever tried to love somebody?
"A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do.
The grace of God means something like: "Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you."
"There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”
Grace is a mystery. READ Eph. 3:2-4. Three times the word is used, MYSTERY. Mystery is used in relation to grace because we will never fully comprehend Grace… ~ our logic of fully understanding pure grace is elusive…living as a Christian is an art form. To mature in Christian faith is to embrace the mystery of the divine… The amazing benediction of Eph. 4:20 emphasizes the mystery of Christ: “To him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine…” I take that literally: the work of Christ is more than we can grasp… have you ever pondered the fullness of the cross? The cross is the greatest expression of grace! We will never fully grasp grace, but we can live it, know it, sense it, be amazed by it.
The mystery of grace is humbling yet it is also comforting: to live by grace means we surrender our lives to God. Like all disciplines, the more you know the more you realize you don’t know. That’s why grace is amazing! The more you understand grace, the more distant you become from the arrogant side of yourself.
The mystery of Grace humbles us… yet to live by grace is to be comforted. It’s an act of trusting the Lord. It’s an act of receiving. Letting go and inviting the Lord to direct your path… In our scripture today grace is further defined by having a shared life with Jews and gentiles, READ Eph. 3:6, ~ this applies to people who are very different from one another. Next week well talk more about the most amazing life of grace we’re called to live… for today I think it worthwhile to try and grasp the mystery of grace.
Paul chooses the word mystery to emphaze we’ll never fully understand. I think the ultimate mystery of God was demonstrated in the oldest book of the Bible, Job…. Job has loss of family, wealth, and health. He is confused and miserable as he waits for God to show up and provide answers for his suffering… When God finally arrives, amazingly, He doesn’t provide Job a single answer. Instead, in Job 38-41 God pours out a series of unknowable answers to questions.
Here is a sample from Job 38:12-18 (NIV): “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken. Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.
A cascade of questions pours out for three chapters….Job has questions about his own suffering and when God finally speaks he doesn’t provide a single answer. Scholars agree this is the oldest book of the bible which means this is the introduction to God: God is mystery, totally beyond us. I love the words of G.K. Chesterton responding to Job: “God comes in at the end, not to answer riddles, but to [create more riddles] … [Job] has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”
God does not solve the mystery of who He is or why Job suffered. This is not the answers Job hoped for and but it is the answer job needed. In the end, Job is satisfied. Mystery is fundamental to embracing the fullness of God. A full relationship will always have mystery… what would it be like if I truly understood every detail of what made Sally tick… now for me, I keep telling her I’m more simple than she imagines… How much more God. Logical answers are not the answer. How terrible if God was reduced to a creature our minds could fully grasp, how small His grace would be if we could put grace in a box…. Is. 55:9 says it this way: As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
When Paul says in Eph. 3:2-3a READ, he’s keeping the mystery of God alive the same way God revealed himself to Job as mystery. Grace is the mystery you don’t want to solve because as soon as you think you’ve solved it it’s no longer grace…like the boy who wants to keep the beautiful butterfly as he clutches the butterfly in his hand…. In Romans 11:33-34 Paul further describes the mystery of Christ: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or became His counselor?” That sounds like Job!
One person said it this way: “The more profoundly we press into the person of God and the wonder of the gospel, the more we will be confounded by their mysteries. God’s Word and God Himself are wonders we behold, not subjects we master. Doing the latter will lead only to frustration.”
The grace of God is mystery! We don’t want grace to be fully understood because we cannot master grace but we want grace to master us. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man. Paul could declare himself to be a prisoner of Christ because he was living by grace. Live by the mystery of grace. Embrace Grace.
Grace is a mystery ~ Live it! Eph. 3:1 at first seems like an aside note to the larger paragraph, but I think Paul’s testimony in this verse is an example of living grace. READ. Paul is literally a prisoner in a Roman jail as he writes this letter, a prisoner of Emperor Nero (Acts 25:11-12). Paul describes himself not as a prisoner of Rome, but a Prisoner of Christ Jesus! Paul is so committed to Christ he sees everything that happens to him, good or bad, as part of his service to Christ. Paul is living by Grace: to see Christ in the midst of that which you would never choose... Paul is so committed to Christ and bringing the gospel to the gentiles that no matter what happens he is in the will of Christ…
I can hear Paul’s friends and family whispering to him as he sits in jail, sacrificing luxuries to serve the gentiles: “Is serving Christ worth the price of jail?” Paul’s confident response: “I am a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I will face anything he asks of me to fulfill his purpose for me.” That’s living by grace: sacrificing everything in order to serve Christ believing I will be granted purpose and fulfillment in Him. Grace is allowing Jesus Christ to shape my life in his way even when it makes no good human sense. This is why living by grace is also a mystery, because when you suffer for Christ, or compromise greater goals of the world, you aren’t supposed to be satisfied, yet to live for Christ is gain…
Paul says, “I am a prisoner of Christ Jesus” It’s like he’s saying, I may be in prison, but I am living by grace and finding purpose in Christ and it really makes no difference that I am in jail because grace is greater… Living by grace is letting Christ shape your life… if you are in living in Him you can do anything he asks of you. Worldly comforts are not the priority, trusting Christ is…. A fresh start of faith begins as we allow Christ to shape our lives and find meaning in his design for us…
Grace is a mystery ~ Live it and Give it! READ Eph. 3:2. “administration of God’s grace” is an interesting phrase… “Administration” means to organize. I’m the main administrator of this church… I get a ton of calls on the calendar, what I think might work the best for this or that purpose… Paul has the task of administering/organizing grace. His passion: for others to have an experience of God’s grace… I love the thought for our calling as a church: administer grace. Helping people have God experiences they don’t deserve… Isn’t that a great calling… to share the gospel, to teach the children, the upcoming turkey dinner for the community, the music ministry, the small groups… acts of giving grace, the administration of grace… Just as we are to live by grace, we are also to share that grace with others.
May you have a fresh start as you embrace the mystery of grace ~~ as you grow in your understanding, the mystery of grace will be even more elusive yet more amazing. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.
The mystery of grace. Live it. Give it. Amen.