As I said in Part 1, this series was originally given as a sermon to a group of prisoners attending my church’s prison ministry. This is the conclusion and benediction I gave them at the end. This post picks up right after the end of Part 4, where we listed out practical ways that Jesus prepares his disciples for them forsaking him and the ways he reveals himself to already-wayward disciples, thereby calling them back to Him. I encourage you to read the other parts of this message: Part 1: the forsaking of God; Part 2: the Grace of Jesus; Part 3: the limits of Grace?; Part 4: the restoration of disciples; Part 5: conclusion & benediction]
These are not guarantees: all these different practical things I’ve mentioned are not the “magic formula” for how to restore your faith if you feel you’ve lost or forsaken it. Sometimes none of these things are necessary; the Centurion did not seem to have any of these things. Sometimes, you’ll do all of these things for years–decades, even–and nothing will change.
All I can tell you is that He is worth it. The God of Holy Week is a God worthy to be wrestled against for years and years and years and years until he finally meets you, even if it is for the briefest of moments before slipping away back into frustration, doubt and sin.
God’s unfettered and beautiful grace is being extended to us at every moment of every day. At times, we’ll see it; at other times we’ll crucify it. But it is there nonetheless. Can I challenge us in our response to this? What would it look like if the church learned how to sin well? What if–even just for a week–we tried to take Jesus at his word and whenever we sinned, we said to ourselves, I’m a beloved child of God, and then just moved on?
Does that scare us? Does it make us think that we aren’t “taking sin seriously”? We are far too weak to take sin as seriously as we ought. We can’t even hate our sin as much as God hates it. And that’s why he poured his hatred for our sin out on his Son. Our sin has already been taken seriously better than we could ever take it seriously. So can we try to sin and just move on?
And my hope through all this is that as we move on in our lives into those seasons of doubt, insecurity, anxiety, and forsakenness, we will not hold in our minds the conception of a God that is surprised, angered, or frustrated by this. Instead, he is a God that loves us, is patient with us, and is gracious to us through it all. And my prayer is that as we cling to that truth, it might sustain us, even as we continue further down the path of sin’s allurements. Grace is what draws us back; not “trying harder”.
This is Christian life as simply as I can put it: find those things that stir your heart for Christ and fill your life with them; then find those things that rob your joy in Christ and rid your life of them. That’s it.
And so we see how we will all forsake Christ in our own times and ways. And when we do, he will extend nothing but grace to us in those moments. Will we accept it and perhaps return, or will we stubbornly refuse it as we stay addicted to our need for “accomplishment”? Let me encourage you with the prophetic words that the events of Palm Sunday were meant to fulfill, and may we learn to see our Jesus in these words and return to the Shepherd and Overseer of our Souls:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey,” saying “because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope.” (Zech 9:9,11-12)
And lastly, I’ll end with this conclusion from an essay by the late Michael Spencer that changed the way I saw grace. I’ve edited these words into the form of a Benediction for us:
May you die daily. May you die to the works that you think bring God’s blessing. May you die to the works that attempt to steal significance from our own obedience–obedience made possible only because of grace upon grace. May you die a little at a time, one day at a time, practicing for the big one at the end when grace will come lapping at your door like a rising tide, and you will have nowhere to go to run away from it; a gracious flood come to take you home from this troubled world to the place Jesus has prepared for you.
May you get ready for the time when resting in the arms of God and grace will be all you have to do. May this be be more than enough to bring you home.
May you choose death to anything but grace, so you can one day be alive in nothing except grace.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in whom we find breath and life, One God, now and forever,