Unearned and undeserved
In his book No Wonder They Call Him Savior, Max Lucado tells the story of a Brazilian peasant girl, Christina, who desperately wanted to leave her simple home, see the world and live the better life she dreamed she would find in the city.
One morning, she slipped away. Her mother was heartbroken when she found that Christina was gone. Knowing that the girl had no money to support herself in Rio de Janeiro and knowing the kinds of things that a stubborn, prideful and hungry young girl would have to do in such a situation, she packed her own bag and headed to the bus station.
Along the way, the mother stopped at a drug store and used the photo booth there to take all the photos of herself that she could afford. She then boarded the bus with a her purse stuffed full of little black and white photos, each of which had a short message printed on the back.
After arriving in Rio, Christina’s mother stopped at every bar, nightclub, hotel and dive that was known for catering to street walkers and their clientele.
At each place, she would leave her photo taped to a bathroom mirror or doorway or bulletin board or phone booth.
Soon she ran out of photos and money, and she returned home, tears filling her eyes as the bus made its way to her small village.
A few weeks later, Christina — broken, tired and afraid — was headed down the stairs of yet another hotel, thinking once again of the home she had left behind and of all the ways that it now seemed so far away, when she noticed a photo stuck to the mirror in the lobby.
The face in that photo was so familiar and so much missed, and she was sobbing as she reached for it.
Through her tears, she gazed at the loving face of her mother, and then she turned the picture over and saw the message on the back.
“Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.”
And so she did.
What a picture of grace.
You’ll recognize that this story sounds a lot like the story of the prodigal son, which Jesus told in part as a picture of the grace that God shows repentant sinners as He welcomes them into His family.
In fact, as Christian apologist J. Gresham Machen noted, “The very center and core of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God.” [Mark Olivero, “God’s Grace,” in Lexham Survey of Theology, ed. Mark Ward et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018).]
1 Mark Olivero, “God’s Grace,” in Lexham Survey of Theology, ed. Mark Ward et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018).
Today, as we continue our series on the attributes of God, I want us to look back into the history of Israel to a time when David, the man after God’s own heart, lavished unearned and undeserved grace on a man whom he might have had killed if he had followed the traditions of his time.
Turn with me to 2 Samuel, Chapter 9, and let’s look at the story of Mephibosheth.
While you’re turning there, I’ll give you the background.
Saul, the evil king whom the people had chosen, had died in battle, along with his sons, and David had been made king over all of Israel.
He had then led the nation in battle against the Philistines, the Moabites, the Arameans, the Amelikites and the Edomites, and God had brought peace to the land.
Now, with his nation finally at peace, David’s mind went back to his friend Jonathan, Saul’s son, whom David had loved greatly and who had been killed along with his father.
David wanted to honor a descendant of his dear friend with the “kindness of God.” The Hebrew word here is hesed, and it can be translated in various ways, including “loyal love,” which comes very close to the sense of what was in David’s heart at this time.
We will learn in a moment that this man Ziba mentions is named Mephibosheth. He first appears in the history of Israel as a five-year-old boy whose nurse took him up and fled when the news reached them that Saul and Jonathan had been killed in the battle at Jezreel.
You see, Mephibosheth would have been in line for the rule of Israel with the death of his grandfather, the king, and of his father. But God had already decreed that David was king, and in the tradition of this time and place, Mephibosheth might have been in mortal danger.
Most kings of the time would have sought to put to death any males of the dead king’s line in order to ensure that there would be no challenge to the throne.
So when the nurse was fleeing with the young boy, worried for his life, Mephibosheth fell and was badly hurt, so badly hurt that he was left lame from the accident.
So now, years later, with Mephibosheth grown to a man, David has found him.
The name of this town, Lo-debar, is significant. It means “land of nothing.” So Mephibosheth, crippled and lame and an unlikely challenge to the throne, was basically a nobody. He was nobody from the land of nothing.
Remember that as we see what David does for him.
You have to imagine that Mephibosheth must have been frightened when he was summoned to see the king. He surely knew of the deadly tradition that might have threatened his life. So his trembling was more than just a sign of respect; it was likely a result of very real fear.
But David had a surprise for him.
David would show him mercy by not killing him.
But the loyal love that David had for Jonathan compelled him to do something even more remarkable. He restored Mephibosheth’s inheritance and he treated Mephibosheth as if he were family.
This is grace in action.
Imagine a man lame in both feet coming to the king’s table. He would not have been able even to get himself seated on the floor without help. He was utterly without anything to offer David.
He had done nothing to deserve the favor that David had shown him, and he could do nothing to earn it.
This is grace in action, and it is but a glimpse of the grace that God shows we dead dogs whom He has adopted into His family through Jesus Christ.
So perhaps you now have an idea of what grace means and how it differs from mercy.
But I want to dig a little deeper into the concepts today; by the time we are finished, I hope you will have a sense of awe at the extent of God’s grace and mercy.
First, let’s look at His mercy.
One of the main Hebrew words that we translate as “mercy” has the sense of an emotional response that can result in removing the object of mercy from impending difficulty.
It is this sense that is in play when God withholds judgment for sin.
God spoke of this kind of mercy through the prophet Ezekiel.
10 “Now as for you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus you have spoken, saying, “Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we are rotting away in them; how then can we survive?” ’
11 “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’
Even in the Old Testament, the punishment for sin was death. “The person who sins will die,” God says elsewhere in this book. In fact, if we didn’t know it any other way, we know that there is still sin in the world, because there is still death.
And we know through the Apostle Paul that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
20 “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.
We are all under sentence of death because of sin, both the original sin of Adam and Eve and the sins that each of us commits.
But in His mercy, God gave the people of Israel the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law. The people could avoid the punishment for their sins by bringing a sacrifice in faith to the altar.
Now, there’s an element of grace working here, too, and we see it most clearly at the cross on Calvary, where Jesus became the once-for-all sacrifice, offering those who follow Him in faith the opportunity for forgiveness from their sins and a place as sons and daughters of God.
Just like Mephibosheth, we bring nothing to the table. We are lame in both feet, unable even to sit there without help.
But we are in an even more precarious position than Mephibosheth was. We come into the presence of the King as those who deserve eternal punishment for our rebellion against this King.
But in His boundless grace, our King offered Himself as payment for the price of our rebellion. He died so that we might live.
And so we transition this discussion from mercy to grace.
If mercy is not getting what we deserve, then grace is getting what we do not deserve, being adopted into the family of God and given a seat at the feast in Heaven.
Understand this: We deserve neither mercy or grace. We deserve justice. And justice for a people who have rebelled against the King, who have sinned against the God who made them in His image — justice for us would mean death, eternal separation from God, eternal damnation in Hell.
R.C. Sproul puts it this way: “Mercy and grace are actions God takes freely. God is never required to be merciful or gracious. The moment we think that God owes us grace or mercy, we are no longer thinking about grace or mercy. Our minds tend to trip there so that we confuse mercy and grace with justice. Justice may be owed, but mercy and grace are always voluntary.” [R. C. Sproul, What Can We Know about God?, First edition., vol. 27, The Crucial Questions Series (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust: A Division of Ligonier Ministries, 2017), 45.]
I think we tend to have a narrow view of grace. We need to understand that it is God’s grace that superintends the very clockwork activity of our planet’s orbit around the sun.
1 R. C. Sproul, What Can We Know about God?, First edition., vol. 27, The Crucial Questions Series (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust: A Division of Ligonier Ministries, 2017), 45.
This is called “common grace,” and God gives common grace to us all, whether we are believers or not, whether we repent of our sins or not.
God created the world. It is His to do with as He pleases. He is not required to do anything to keep it running or to keep us healthy or even alive.
1 John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, The Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 354.
God created the world. It is His to do with as He pleases. He is not required to do anything to keep it running or to keep us healthy or even alive.
But because of God’s grace, you woke up this morning. Because of God’s grace, you were not in an accident on the way here today. Because of God’s grace, you have food and water and strength in your limbs.
Grace has been described as God’s love bestowed upon people who deserve the opposite.
We sinners — and we all are sinners — deserve to be punished for our sins, for our rebellion against the perfect and holy God who made us in His image so that we would represent him — so that we would display His kingdom on earth.
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
This is something much greater than common grace. This is saving grace.
Once again, and I cannot emphasize this too much, please note that there is nothing within us that makes us deserving of this great love.
Scripture says that sinners are dead in their trespasses. What can dead things do? Nothing! They’re dead!
So there’s nothing we can do to earn this love. In His great and boundless grace, God chose to love us, even while we were yet sinners.
The world likes to say that there are many ways to heaven. Believe whatever you want to believe, and do whatever your religion says to do, and you’ll be good.
But Christianity is the only religion that has this concept of grace. If they recognize grace at all, other religions say it’s some sort of divine help toward salvation.
The Mormons, for instance, take what Paul said about grace, and they flip it around. “It is by grace we are saved, after all we can do.”
NO. NO. NO!
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
We are saved BY grace, THROUGH faith, and even the faith is not our own. Even the faith is a gift from God. Our works don’t amount to a hill of beans. In fact they’re filthy rags in the sight of a holy God.
Our faith is a gracious gift from God. Look at this:
27 And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace,
See that? They had believed through grace!
Having believed, they — and all of us who follow Christ in faith — were then justified. They — and we — were put in a right relationship with God.
How does that happen? By GRACE!
24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
And having been put in a right relationship with God, we who follow Christ in faith are sanctified. We are given the identity of Christ, and we are, through the Holy Spirit, made to look more and more like Him all the time.
How does this happen? By GRACE!
13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
We are strengthened to do God’s work by grace.
1 You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
We are given the spiritual gifts that allow us to do that work by grace.
10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
God has done all the work, and He continues to do all the work, and He does it because of His grace.
All for a bunch of dead dogs. All for a rebellious people who set themselves up as His enemies.
When I hated God, He loved me.
In fact, He loved me before I was born. He loved us all so much that He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die on a cross while carrying the sins of the world on his outstretched arms.
Not because I deserved it. Not because you deserved it. Not because any of us could ever earn it.
Simply because He is a God whose defining attributes include grace.
And here’s something that might blow your minds.
Have you ever wondered why God ever allowed sin into the world? Surely an all-powerful and all-knowing God could have created mankind such that we would never have sinned.
But if He had done so, how would He have ever demonstrated His immeasurable grace?
Only by allowing man to rebel against Him was God able to then show him grace and mercy.
And this brings us back to God’s mercy.
Paul talks about this in the book of Romans.
32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.
God created a world in which He knew that we would rebel against Him, and He did it so that He could show mercy to all of us.
With complete knowledge that Adam and Eve would rebel against Him in the Garden of Eden, and with complete knowledge that you and I would rebel against Him in all the ways that we sinned and that we continue to sin, even as believers, He still set the world in motion.
Knowing that we would rebel against His rightful rule, and knowing that the only way we could be made right with Him was by the sacrifice of His only Son, God did it all anyway.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
But there IS a catch.
Think back to Mephibosheth. He didn’t have to do anything to receive David’s mercy. David simply let him live.
But what did he have to do to receive the grace that David wanted to show him?
He had to accept it.
He had to recognize that David was his superior, that he was the king’s subordinate. And that’s repellent to us. We like to think we are masters of our own fate.
God will allow you to be master of your own fate if that’s your desire. You can choose to decline God’s saving grace.
Paul has a word for people who make that choice: fools.
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
You can choose to be repulsed by the idea of recognizing your subordinate position in relation to God. Doing so, you elevate yourself to His rightful position; you worship yourself instead of Him.
That’s pretty common in our world today, just as it was in Paul’s time, and just as it has been since the beginning.
And if you do that, then God will allow your choice to run its course.
24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?
24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.
25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;
25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
This doesn’t end well.
But God is rich in mercy, and He desires that none of us will be lost in our sins.
So He calls to you today with the grace of the cross. He offers you a seat at His table. He offers to save you from the mess you have created.
Have you accepted this gracious gift? If you have not done so, please do it today. Tomorrow may be the day He removes His common grace from you. Tomorrow may be too late for your salvation.
His grace is sufficient for you. He offers it freely. All you have to do is accept it.
Whatever you have done — whatever you have become — it doesn’t matter, He says. Come home.