In the Bible, in the Book of Matthew we read the following dialogue between Jesus and his disciples:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."
Jesus can always be counted on to make some pretty blunt and challenging statements! This conversation with the disciples is a lot like the conversation Jesus had with the Jewish leader, Nicodemus, when he told him, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." Nicodemus' response was quite natural, "How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"
The key points Jesus is making are:
- Jesus speaks the truth and is emphatic;
- A life change is required;
- The good news (the Gospel massage) must be received with the simplicity of a child's understanding;
- Unless you receive the gift Jesus is offering - Heaven won't be an option;
- Humility will take you a long, long way; and,
- The consequences of rejecting God's gift, and trying to dissuade others from accepting it, has eternal and disastrous consequences.
A child of 3 or 4 years old doesn't yet understand the concept of pride and the older we get the bigger the stumbling block pride becomes. It is a simple fact that most people enter into a relationship with Jesus before they turn 20, after that it becomes more and more difficult. The difficulty is not the process of entering into a relationship with God - a child of 3 can do that - rather, the difficulty is overcoming self-reliance and pride and acknowledging who and what we are before God.
Most think they have to earn their way into Heaven by penance and 'good deeds'. Crawling on your knees, or any other activity you can conceive, doesn't cut it with God. He wants a relationship with you! God wants you to be his friend. He wants to adopt you as his own child. God wants you to be like a little child and run and jump into his lap! He wants to put his arms around you.
This is not to say that doing good is not important; in fact the disciple James describes 'true religion' as looking after orphans and widows. But when it comes to coming before a holy God, our good works are as filthy rags, and can in no way make up for all our shortcomings.
The simplicity of the Gospel Message is this: we (without a single exception) are all sinners, Jesus, who was blameless and without sin, paid the penalty for our sin on the cross. God accepted Jesus' self-sacrifice on our account and offers each of us an absolute discharge and pardon. This is called grace. Grace, in its short definition, is unmerited favor. You can’t earn grace. Grace is a gift and it’s always freely given. Grace means not getting what we so richly deserve.
Sometimes a simple story can illustrate a great truth. Jesus called them parables.
The boy stands defiantly with his head cocked back and hands clenched. "Go ahead. Give it to me; I can take it."
The principal looks down at the young rebel. "How many times have you been here?"
The child sneers rebelliously, "Apparently, not enough."
The principal gives the boy a strange look and says, "You have been punished each time, have you not?"
"Yeah, I’ve been punished; if that's what you want to call it." He throws out his small chest and says, "Go ahead, I can take whatever you can dish out; I always have."
Carefully studying the boy's face, the principal says, "Are there any thoughts of punishment when you break these rules?"
"Nope; I do whatever I want. Ain't nothing you people gonna do to stop me neither."
The principal looks over at the teacher who is sitting nearby and asks, "What did he do this time?"
"Fighting. He took little Tommy and shoved his face into the sandbox."
The principal turns to look at the boy and asks, "Why? What did little Tommy do to you?"
"Nothin', I didn't like the way he was lookin' at me; just like I don't like the way you're lookin' at me now! In fact, if I thought I could do it, I'd shove your face into something."
The teacher stiffens and starts to rise, but a quick look from the principal stops him. He contemplates the child for a moment and then quietly says, "Today, my young student, is the day you will learn about grace."
"Grace? Isn't that what you old people do before you eat a meal? I don't need any of your stinkin' grace."
"Oh, but you do," says the principal. After studying the boy's face he whispers, "Oh yes, you truly do need grace." The boy glared as the principal continued. "Grace, in its short definition, is unmerited favor. You can’t earn grace, my child. Grace is a gift and it’s always freely given. Grace means you will not be getting what you so richly deserve."
The boy looks puzzled. "You're not gonna whup me? You just gonna let me walk?"
The principal looks down at the unyielding child and says, "Yes, I am going to let you walk."
The boy studies the face of the principal and says, "No punishment at all? You’re not going to punish me even though I socked Tommy and shoved his face into the sandbox?"
"Oh, there has to be punishment. What you did was wrong and there will always be consequences for our actions. There will be punishment. Grace is not an excuse for doing wrong."
"I knew it," sneers the boy. Holding out his hands he says, "Let’s get on with it."
The principal nods toward the teacher and says, "Bring me the belt."
The teacher presents the belt to the principal. He carefully folds it in two and hands it back to the teacher. He looks at the child and says, "I want you to count the blows." The principal slides out from behind his desk and walks over to the child. The child stands defiantly with his hands outstretched. The principal gently moves the child’s expectant hands down to his sides. Turning to the teacher, the principal stretches out his own hands and quietly says, "Begin."
The belt slaps against the principal’s outstretched hands. Crack! The young boy jumps. Shock registers across his face, "One" he whispers. Crack! "Two." His voice raises an octave. Crack! "Three." He is unable to believe this. Crack! "Four." Big tears well up in the eyes of the young rebel.
"Okay, stop! That's enough. Stop!" Crack!
The belt continues to come down on the principal’s swollen hands. Crack! The child flinches with each blow. Tears start streaming down the child’s face. Crack! Crack!
"No, please," the former rebel begs. "Stop. I’m the one who did it. I'm the one who deserves the punishment. Stop! Please stop," the boy sobs.
Still the blows come. Crack! Crack! Finally it is over. The principal, with sweat glistening across his forehead, turns to the former rebel and kneels down. Carefully cradling the child’s face with his swollen hands, the principal softly says, "This, my boy, is grace."
This story is an excellent example of God’s grace (unmerited favor). Just as the boy received the opposite of what he deserved, we too can receive the opposite of what we deserve.
Although some people feel that an Almighty God can "forgive and forget" our sins, He can’t. His holy and righteous nature demands He properly deal with our sins. Every transgression has to be punished. There are always consequences for our actions.
Fortunately for us, God stepped forward and was punished in our place. He bore the stripes we deserved. He was bruised and pierced in our place. God’s grace (unmerited favor) means we did not get what we so richly deserved.
What will you do with God's gift? Accept or reject?
Divergent opinions are welcomed in this forum, however, disparaging or derogatory comments will be deleted immediately. Remember to keep your thoughts concise and to the point, and don't forget to check your grammar and spelling. Enjoy the dialogue!