Wednesday, 25 March 2015
Tasting the Free Grace of God
You see, when I started this blog over ten years ago, I picked 3 themes: Seeing Jesus, Tasting Grace, Hearing Good News. Personally, I wanted Jesus’ gospel to become more than an idea to me–I wanted it to become a reality to my senses. That’s what I want for anyone who happens to read these posts as well.
Of all the senses, none produces a more visceral reaction than taste. Take a bite of something bitter and you sputter to spit out the nasty stuff immediately. But take a bite of something yummy and your eyes close as you savor it slowly. No wonder all of those vendors at Costco want you to sample their stuff. They know that one taste is more convincing than all of their words.
King David exulted in tasting the goodness of the LORD. I suspect grace was one of the main flavors that caused him to invite others to share a bite.
O taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!Psalm 34:8
Tasting Grace at a Local Pub
There was a time when a chef appeared at our table with a large wooden board loaded with meats and cheese. We hadn’t ordered that particular item–even though we wanted it– because it was too expensive.
“My apologies for the delay of your main course. Enjoy tonight’s selection of charcuterie while you wait. Compliments of the house.”
What?? We were amazed, dumbfounded at this unexpected gift. The very thing we couldn’t afford had been plunked down in front of us. But was it grace? Certainly it was free to us. Obviously it had been paid for by someone else. In addition we hadn’t asked for or even expected it.
But. The dinner was late. We were paying top dollar for an exceptional meal, and by every measurement, we had been waiting too long. At the very least we deserved some kind of apology and explanation.
The appearance of the chef himself, the generosity of the free food went above and beyond what we were owed. But it also bought our return business. It was a savvy, classy business strategy.
The charcuterie platter tasted great, but it wasn’t the taste of free grace.
Tasting Grace In the Gospel of Mark
Mark crafts his gospel to focus on several things: He wants us to see the King who came to serve and suffer. He wants us to hear the good news of the kingdom. These are the big points. Seeing. Hearing.
Tasting grace is more subtle. Our sense of taste is hard to put into words. We know when something doesn’t quite taste right, but we often have a hard time putting our finger on it. Let’s take a look at the four scenes in Mark 2 and see if we can put words to what we taste.
Healing the Paralytic
First we see the nature of the grace Jesus offers. The paralytic came–or more specifically–was carried to Jesus for healing. Paralysis was the presenting need. If he had showed up at an emergency room, the physician on duty would have charted his condition so. But Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” His words surprise, not just the hearers, but us. Why? Because in our minds, the presenting need seems bigger. In reality, as our pastor preached recently, forgiveness is our biggest need. The healing is secondary, a visible sign pointing to the greater, invisible reality of forgiveness.
In other words, grace blows up our expectations. It’s not just surprising, it’s shocking, because we don’t think we actually need it. We come asking for a little help, but grace says, “You don’t need help, you need a complete makeover!”
Second we see that there are no prerequisites to meet before receiving this gift. By contrast at the restaurant we had paid the price of waiting to long. In addition, we only received the complimentary food because we could afford to dine there in the first place. But the paralytic literally brought nothing to the table. He didn’t have to clean himself up first. He didn’t have to get himself in the door. Not to mention, he didn’t even have to ask politely or correctly or even articulate faith at all.
Jesus is so gracious that the inarticulate longings of a troubled heart are enough for him.
Third there are no exclusions to the reach of free grace. We can’t place ourselves past the point of no return. Look at Matthew. No respectable Jew would have approached his table. He was a traitor and a cheat, who not only collected taxes for the Roman government, but overcharged his fellow Jews so he could skim the extra for himself.
Yet, Jesus pauses at his table, looks him in the eye, and says “Follow me.”
In case that doesn’t punch you and me in the gut the way it did the eye witnesses, imagine this: Jesus approaching a pimp sitting in his Cadillac, keeping an eye on his girls to make sure they are “behaving themselves.” If we heard Jesus say “follow me” to him, we would cry out in protest.
The Bridegroom, and the Lord of the Sabbath
Fourth and finally, God’s grace is abundant. It’s not just one gift, but many! In fact there’s always more to this gift of salvation than we realize. It’s more like a gift inside a gift inside yet another gift. Unwrap the free gift of forgiveness from God and inside you find box after box of lavish goodness.
This chapter points to two of the gifts: a wedding ring and the softest downy pillow. He pulls out both gifts as a generous response to the stingy attitudes of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees are perturbed because Jesus and his disciples don’t seem to follow the rules. They shadow him closely, so they can point these things out. “What’s up with not fasting? Think you’re above it? And who gave you permission to pluck bits of grain for yourselves on the Sabbath? You’re busted!”
Instead of arguing the finer points of the Law, Jesus says, “You don’t know who I am. I’m not another prophet, I’m the Bridegroom! I’m not just another teacher, I’m the Lord of the Sabbath!” These terms are assertions of deity–God is both our husband and the Sabbath giver–but they are also gifts of relationship. He is our husband, forever. He is our rest, eternally.
Jesus is our husband, forever. He is our rest, eternally.
It’s as if the chef didn’t just bring us some free food, but sat down at the table and made friends with us. Then he offered to come over on his day off so we could cook and eat together. On a regular basis.
Grace doesn’t just mean we’re forgiven, it means we’re with him–which changes absolutely everything.
That’s the experience of tasting grace.