Standing in Grace (Romans 5:1-8)

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I love the story in Luke 13:18-21 when Jesus asked, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to?’ (NIV). I can picture Jesus sitting with his disciples, looking at what was happening and what people were doing around him, as he searched for examples that would help his followers grow in their understanding of the way God was at work in the world. Jesus went on to use two very ordinary, every-day objects to illustrate the mystery of the kingdom of God in the world – a mustard seed and yeast.

As a disciple of Jesus who is continually learning from him, this is how I approach my message preparation each week. I listen to God’s Word for the good news he is speaking into our lives, and then I look for an ordinary, every-day item that will help to illustrate the ways in which God is at work in our lives. Some weeks they come easily. Other weeks, however, it can be more of a challenge…

This week was one of the harder ones. We have these amazing words from Paul in Romans 5:1-8 about being justified through faith which gives us peace with God (v1). What really caught my attention was what Paul wrote about standing in God’s grace. With all the upheaval and uncertainty that we are experiencing with the rest of the world at this time, there is something reassuring about being able to stand in something we can be sure of while it seems like a lot of other things are falling down around us.

Then came the hard part as I asked myself the same questions as Jesus: What is it like to stand in God’s grace? To what shall I compare it?

I had a few ideas, none of which were really working, so I asked my children what they stand in. Their answers were classic! One said that they like to stand in the rain. Another answered that they stand in lines. Another suggestion was that they stand in muddy puddles. Then one of our children said that they stand on the trampoline…

This answer got my imagination firing. Can we compare standing in God’s grace to standing in a trampoline? How might standing in God’s grace be like standing in a trampoline?

Firstly, there is a way in. When I climb into our trampoline there is a small entrance where the netting around the trampoline overlaps. It was designed for children because it’s not easy for a person my age to climb through it. Paul wrote that we have access or entry into God’s grace by faith in Jesus (v2). I have heard some people say that the Christian religion is too easy because all you have to do is believe and you’re in. But is faith really a simple and easy way to access the grace of God?

In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus described the entrance that leads to life as a narrow and small gate. Maybe the way to access God’s grace isn’t as easy as some people might think. If we think of faith as trusting God’s promises to us in Jesus, sometimes that isn’t easy for us. We can find it hard enough to trust people that we can see, so it can be even harder to trust in the promises of God who we can’t see. That’s why Hebrews 11:1 describes faith as ‘confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see’ (NIV). There will always be a degree of uncertainty in faith that will make it difficult. However, when we hear God’s promises to us in Jesus and trust them enough to live like what they say is true, we crawl through that narrow and small entry into the perfect and infinite grace of God.

When we gain access to God’s grace in Jesus through faith, we can find some similarities between standing in this grace and in a trampoline. Firstly, it surrounds us and protects us. Modern trampolines have nets around them, so people don’t fall off and hurt themselves. There are lots of things in life that would hurt us and rob us of the life God has given to us in physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual ways. However, when we stand in God’s grace for us in Jesus, God protects us like a net around a trampoline. We can be sure of who we are, what we’re worth, where we belong, and what our purpose is in life because God gifts us with all these in Jesus. When we stand in God’s grace, nothing can harm us because we know who we are, whose we are, what we’re worth and where we’re going.

Standing in God’s grace can be like a trampoline because it helps us to see things differently. The first time I climbed into our trampoline I was surprised by all the different things I could see. It gave me a different perspective of our backyard and the properties around us. Standing in God’s grace through Jesus gives us a different perspective on life as well. We can see things in a different way when we trust that God loves us enough to give everything for us in Jesus, and who has literally gone to hell and back for us. Standing in God’s grace helps us to see that every good thing we have in life is a gift from our Father in heaven who loves us. Standing in God’s grace opens our eyes to see that life itself is a gift that we can cherish and pass on to others by extending God’s grace to them as well.

Standing in God’s grace can be like a trampoline because it brings us joy! Bouncing on a trampoline gets pretty tiring for an older bloke like me and I can’t do it as long as my kids, but it’s still fun! Living in the reality of God’s grace gives us joy as we trust that Jesus’ love is stronger that death and the brokenness of this world. It will bring us through every struggle, difficulty, hardship, or uncertainty we might encounter in this life. This joy is different to the fun I might have on the trampoline because it runs much deeper, lasts much longer, and is more enduring through life’s problems. The fun I have on the trampoline depends on my stamina and my own ability to keep bouncing. The joy we find when we stand in God’s grace doesn’t depend on us but is a gift from God which grows out of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives through the gospel as God justifies us, gives us peace and fills us with hope.

Jesus looked for every-day things to illustrate the mystery of the kingdom of God to help people encounter God’s goodness and stand in the reality of his grace. Just like I can crawl onto the trampoline and stand on it, I hope and pray that we will all enter into the grace of God through Jesus by trusting in God’s promises to us, and that we will stand in the reality of God’s grace as it keeps us safe, gives us a new way of seeing ourselves and the world around us, and gives us joy.

Maybe you might like to bounce on a trampoline for a while as you contemplate God’s grace for you in Jesus, in which you now stand.

More to think about & discuss:

  • What are some things that you stand in?
  • How might they illustrate what it means to stand in God’s grace for you or for others?
  • What does the language of ‘standing in’ mean to you? Does it sound strong, messy, resolute, something different…?
  • What does it mean for you to stand in God’s grace?
  • Do you find faith easy or difficult? Why is that? Why do you think Paul describes faith as the way to gain access to God’s grace?
  • Paul connects faith and grace with peace and hope in the opening verses of Romans 5. Where do you need God’s peace in your life? How might standing in God’s grace through faith help you to find the peace you need?
  • Where do you need hope in your life? How might standing in God’s grace through faith help you to find the hope you need?
  • Is there someone in your life who needs peace or hope? How can you stand with them in grace through faith in Jesus to help them find the peace or hope they need?

You can also find a video version of this message here: https://youtu.be/R33HN9sPoeE

God bless!

Beneath Jesus’ Wings (Luke 13:31-35)

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There has been one question in particular that has bothered me about this text during the week: Why wouldn’t baby chicks want to come back to their Mum?

It seems like a natural thing for chicks to want to run towards their mother. In particular, if they were facing threats or danger, then it would make sense that they would look for shelter and protection under her wings. However, when Jesus describes his desire to enfold the people of Jerusalem under his protection like a mother chicken protects her young under her wings, he says that the people he wanted to embrace wouldn’t actually let him (v34). They ran away from him instead.

That doesn’t make sense to me. Why would they run away from their Mum instead of towards her?

People had a number of ideas about why this might be the case in our discussions on this text during the week. Maybe the chicks wanted to be independent, or they weren’t aware of danger, or they just wanted to do their own thing. It is even possible that they didn’t believe that their Mum could keep them safe.

It’s worth spending time thinking why the chicks weren’t willing to find shelter and protection under the wings of their Mum for ourselves. Sometimes the reasons we come up with can reflect why we tend not to come to Jesus when life gets difficult or we are confronted with problems of any sort.

Because another question which has followed me this week with this text is which way are we moving on our lives? It’s easy for us to look at the people of Jerusalem from this side of Jesus’ resurrection and think that they should have known better. However, do we tend to run towards Jesus or away from him, especially when we face dangers, difficulties or suffering in our own lives?

From what I’ve experienced in my life, it seems to me that we tend to see Jesus more as a last resort than our first option when we face difficulties in life. When I listened to people’s thoughts about why the chicks would run away from their Mama Chook instead of towards her, their ideas reflected the common human experience. We want to be independent, self-sufficient people. Often, we aren’t aware of how dangerous particular circumstances can be, either to our physical, emotional or spiritual selves. We live in a culture that tells us to do our own thing and not worry about anyone or anything else. A lot of the time, I wonder if we even believe that Jesus can help us with what’s going on in our lives.

So we run around like baby chicks, stressed out and under pressure, trying to make everything right and cope with life’s challenges and tragedies by ourselves. All the while, however, we have a Mama Chook in Jesus who calls us by name, offering us protection, security and safety under the wings of his grace and love.

This is fundamentally a question of trust. Do we trust that Jesus can provide us with the security, shelter and protection we need when life gets difficult and we face dangers or threats to our wellbeing? It is good to remember that the person who wants to shelter us under his wings is also the Son of the Almighty God. I find the words of Jesus fascinating when he, a human person about 33 years old, talks about wanting to shelter the people of Jerusalem throughout the Old Testament times. We can’t divide Jesus’ humanity from this divinity, but here we hear God speaking through a flesh-and-blood person, using the picture of a chook to show us how he wants to embrace all of us!

This is the man through whom God enters our human existence so he can understand us and what we go through in life. Jesus is the one through whom God experiences rejection, suffering, abandonment and death. Jesus is also the one through whom God defeats sin, death and the power of the devil in his resurrection. In Jesus, we can see God overcoming everything in this world that would threaten us, put our wellbeing in danger, rob us of the life he has given us or harm us in any way. Faith in Jesus doesn’t mean that nothing will touch us and we’ll never have any problems. What it does mean, however, is that when troubles come, we can view them from the perspective of faith: we are under Jesus’ protection and no matter what may happen, he will always keep us safe with him.

When troubles come and when dangers appear in life, do we try to deal with things ourselves and treat Jesus as our last resort? Or do we trust Jesus enough to run to him as our first option? Or better still, do we trust Jesus enough to live under his protection every day by regularly listening to his word of grace and love, and talking to him about what’s going on in our lives regularly through prayer? How might our lives be different if Jesus was our first option rather than our last resort?

We’re all running in one direction or another. Generally, those directions are either towards Jesus or away from him. When the man who suffered, was crucified and is risen again is offering us security, safety and protection under his wings, why wouldn’t we run to Jesus in the faith that he has everything we need?

My hope is that by learning how to listen to Jesus’ voice in the Bible and talking with him in prayer, we will all find what we need under the shelter of his grace, just like those baby chicks can find what they need under the shelter of their Mama’s wings.

Luke 13:31-35 Discussion / Reflection Questions

The message for 17 March at St John’s will be based on Luke 13:31-35. Here are some questions for you to reflect on or discuss in a small group to help you prepare for Sunday’s services…

  • What questions do you have about this text?
  • What do you think Jesus meant by his reply in verses 32 & 33? What do you think he understands as his ‘purpose’?
  • What do you hear Jesus saying with the image of the mother hen in verse 34?
  • Why do you think baby chicks wouldn’t want to find shelter under their mother’s wings? What does this image tell you about the way in which Jesus saw the people of Jerusalem? What might it be saying about people in general?
  • In verse 35, what does Jesus say is the consequence of the people rejecting him? What can we learn from his words?
  • When you think about your life, in which direction are you moving – towards Jesus or away from Jesus? Why is that?
  • If Jesus describes himself as a mother chook, what might he be offering people under his wings? What might he be offering you?
  • Lent is a time of repentance, meaning turning around & changing direction. How could you move closer towards Jesus to find shelter under his wings? What changes might you need to make to do that? What might you gain by doing that?

Please feel free to leave your comments or further questions in the comment section below. God bless your reflection & discussion…

Psalm 91:1,2,9-16 Discussion/Reflection Questions

Next Sunday’s message at St John’s will be based on Psalm 91:1,2,9-16. Read the text and then discuss or reflect on the following questions:

  • What questions to you have of the text?
  • What promise do you hear from God in this text?
  • What is difficult to believe about this text? Why do you find it hard to believe?
  • In Luke 4:9-12 the devil used these words to tempt Jesus. How does what the devil say show us how we can interpret them wrongly?
  • How do you think Jesus might have interpreted these words while he was hanging on the cross? What do you think they might have been saying to him then?
  • When we are going through difficult times or suffering in life, would these words be difficult to believe? Or might they be able to give you hope? Explain why…

Feel free to leave any comments or questions below.

God bless ya…