One thing that is common among us, is the belief that we were generally good people. A lot of people say, ” I’m sure that if God is so loving, he’ll just see I’m pretty good, most of the time and be happy with that.” It’s a common assumption.
Matthew, the guy that wrote the first gospel and was a disciple of Jesus, lived in a time when his people were ruled over by the Romans. He was a tax collector, and not until recently have I understood the significance of this. Tax collectors were rejected, despised by the people. His job was inherently corrupt, he collected tax for the Romans but with his authority he was capable and permitted to extort as much as he wanted from the people. And in order to get as much money as he could, he inspired fear in the people.
To the Jews, this was the least of his problems. To become a tax collector, you had to purchase an office from the Romans to live in, which means selling your portion of the land God had promised and divided amongst the people. Like prostitutes selling their bodies, tax collectors sold themselves to Rome and corruption.
Not only were there tax collectors, but also, Pharisees and Saducees. Pharisees were self-righteous religious leaders, they patronised the community while living off donations to the temple (despite there well known hypocrisy). The Saducees on the other hand, openly showed their corruption, they had come to the decision that Israel was owned by Rome and nothing was going to change. If they fought against Rome, they’d get crushed, so they just went along with them. Exploiting the people to stay in the good books with Rome.
So within this climate, Jesus walks onto the scene. Any Pharisee expected that if a Messiah were to come, hid first stop would be at their house, glorifying them for their triumphant maintenance of righteousness. Expecting him to knock on their door, give them a wink and say “Thanks for watching the flock for me”.
What’s weird is that he does the complete opposite. He spends his life having dinner parties at tax collectors’ houses, at healing the outcast and forgiving prostitutes. So while at Matt’s place, our tax collector, the Pharisees have huddled together watching the going on’s with their beady eyes and confront Jesus disciples about it: “Why does your teacher eat with the tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Matt 9:11
Jesus gets up and replies to them himself: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Matt 9:12). The Pharisees assumed they were healthy, they were righteous. Jesus said this with an element of what we’d call sarcasm. He’s here to save people, but these people think they are already saved so why come to the doctor?
Jesus then went on the quote an Old Testament passage that they would be well acquianted with : “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”(Hosea 6:6). Basically, God prioritises grace over sacrifice. And finally Jesus reveals his mission statement: “I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt 9:13)
Think about it. Grace is inviting to the unrighteous and threatening to the self-righteous. Grace cannot be earned, but it is instead given. It’s given to those that recognise that they need it. As awful as it sounds to say this, no-one is ‘good’ enough to be in God’s good books without grace. No matter how many charities you donate to, how many children you adopt, how much volunteering you do, how many people you help, none of it amounts or will ever amount to the perfection you need to achieve eternal life.
You can only get there through grace.
I’ve just started getting into Judges in the old testament and I’ve just been struck by how endless Gods forgiveness is.
Here’s the background story: God created the world for us to live in, giving us minimal requirements and we screwed up. Instead of just leaving us there, in our own mess, he decided to intervene and clean it up. Even from here it is clear that grace is not reserved for good people; it instead underscores the goodness of God.
So God makes contact, with Israel, one thing I’ve really noted here is that God didn’t give them a list of rules and say, if you sign here, here and here, I’ll help you out. He made contact, made a relationship before he told them what the rules were. They are there to confirm an existing relationship. Essentially, the law is there to show our sin.
So here we are, God with a nation that he’s initiated a relationship with and shown them the sin manifest in them. In Judges 1, The Israelites are finally seeing Gods promise of conquering and then owning the “Promised Land”. Now the conditions here were along the lines of, God will help them, if they keep submitting to him.
Sadly, the nature of humans kicks in and once they got their hands on the prize they began to indulge in whatever they wanted. They forget God and revel in their surroundings. So God no longer ‘protected them’. What’s happened is that now that they’ve got their side of the deal, they don’t think they need it anymore. They start worshipping other gods. You might think that’s ok, but just look up the methods used to worship Baal and Asherahs – I’m pretty sure they involve orgies and copulation with animals and possibly also child sacrifice. So not only are they rejecting the one and only God who saved them out of his kindness and blessed them, but they’re doing all these detestable things along the way.
As God lets their enemies overwhelm them “they cried out to the Lord, [and] he raised up a deliverer” (Judges 3:9)…”For the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them” (Judges 2:18). “But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than their fathers….they refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways” (Judges 2:19).
Just flicking through Judges, God sent over 10 judges to save Israel and as each one died they “did evil in the eyes of the Lord” and he gave them what they wanted, the experience of doing life yourself. They then would cry out to him and he’d give them another judge to get them out of their mess. Then the judge died, and the cycle continued.
That bottomless grace is just phenomenal, completely undeserved forgiveness and compassion. And it’s the same grace that God holds out to us in Jesus, you’re welcome to have it whenever you like, it’s always available, always free. Always undeserved.
Faith is living and unshakeable confidence, a belief in the grace of God so assured that a man would die a thousand death’s for it’s sake. This kind of confidence in God’s grace, this sort of knowledge of it, makes us joyful, high spirited, and eager in our relations with God and with all humanity. This is what the Holy Spirit effects through faith. Hence a man of faith, without being driven, willingly and gladly seeks to do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of hardships, for the sake of the love and glory of God who has shown his grace.