What's so amazing about grace?
Young John Newton had a strong start to life. During childhood, he was taught about Jesus’ love and wisdom by his Christian mother. But at the young age of 7, he was forced to become a man when his mother died of tuberculosis. Just a few years later, he began the rough profession of sailing. While sailors are not typically known for their upstanding character, John Newton was particularly skilled in being bad. He couldn’t keep a job because of his “unsettled behavior and impatience of restraint”. He was even given the nick-name, “The Great Blasphemer”. He had hatred for God and found delight in helping others to do the same. Despite his contempt towards God, Jesus had a plan to restore John’s life and give him a new start. On March 10, 1748, John, who was a Slave Trader at this point in his life, found himself and his crew in the midst of a deadly storm. It was the 11th day of the storm, sails were torn, the ship was tattered, and John was tied to the helm trying to keep the vessel afloat. It was in this moment of despair that John remembered the God of his childhood. He cried out to God in simple desperation. He asked for physical saving, but God was doing a spiritual renewing. Though it took time for his patterns to change, God used that moment to show John his need for heart transformation. His need for grace. Grace that he would go on to receive. In fact, God’s mercy impacted him so deeply that he worked to abolish slavery, the trade he once lived for, and he became a minister of the gospel.
John wrote hymns for his church. One day, as he was preparing for the service, he pinned these words… “Amazing grace! how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch; like me!”
This week, as you returned to school, what thoughts and emotions were in your chest? I vividly remember the first day of my sophomore year of high school. It wasn’t assignments or schedules that caught my attention, it was people. “Who are my new classmates? What are they like? Are they the good crowd? Or are they the bad crowd? Should I stand firm in my faith or should I try to be cool? Who am I to represent Jesus anyways? I know how I have failed him in my past, who am I to represent him in the present?”
Imagine how John Newton must have felt when he sensed that God was calling him into ministry. Do you think John felt insecure about that calling? I imagine him thinking, “who am I to share Jesus when I used to enslave people made in his image?” But God had a plan. Through grace, God made John new.
Do you struggle to believe that you can be forgiven? You need a fresh reminder on grace. Do you find it difficult to understand why God would choose you to represent him? You need to be encouraged by grace. Do you think there is no hope for “those people”? We need to believe the life-changing power of grace.
Tonight we are going to learn what’s so amazing about grace by looking at a character in scripture who’s life was completely transformed by Jesus.
Grace makes us new.
Grace makes us new.
12 I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord who has strengthened me, because he considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry—
The passage tonight was hand written by the Apostle Paul. The same hands that penned over 10 books of the New Testament. He was a key leader in the start of the church and helped spread Christianity to nations that had no gospel presence by establishing new churches.
Impressive ministry resume right? In fact, Jesus himself was the one who appointed Paul to ministry and strengthened him for the work. But it was not always this way…
13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man.
Before ministry, Paul hated Jesus. As a devout Jew, Paul thought that Jesus was an imposter and sought to destroy the movement that was forming after claims of Jesus’ resurrection. Here are his own words describing this season of his life,
Galatians 1:13 “... I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.”
Part of this “violence” looked like the stoning of Stephen. Stephen was a devout Christian who was the first believer to be killed for his faith. As he was dying, he saw a vision of Jesus standing to receive him into heaven. But there was another near him standing, not to commend, but to condemn, Paul.
Acts 7:58 “... And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
Paul, who was named Saul at the time, was the final approval for Stephen’s murder. He was ravaging the church, entering into peoples homes to drag off both men and women believers to prison for their faith in Jesus.
Some of you have trusted in Jesus’ grace. You believe in his forgiveness. You want to be his representative. But you are weighed down by the decisions of your past. In your low moments, you think, how can Jesus use me? Doesn’t he know what I have done? Doesn’t he know the evil I have committed? To make these negative thoughts stronger, your conscience and community tag team against you. Reminding you of your past failures, instead of your present mission.
When thoughts of self-condemnation rise in our hearts, we need to remember the grace that we have been given.
Look at how Paul did it...
But I received mercy because I acted out of ignorance in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Jesus was not motivated to forgive Paul because of the love within Paul’s heart. There was no love in Paul at that time. There was only arrogant hatred driven by blind unbelief. Jesus was motivate to forgive Paul because of the faith and love within himself.
Jesus did not have to muster up grace for Paul. He needed no pro’s and con’s list of what it would be like to make Paul new. His grace for Paul overflowed.
Do you believe Jesus has the same feelings towards you?
The greek root for the word, “overflowed” is similar to our English word, “hyper”. What causes Jesus to be energized? Saving those who hate him. What does Jesus struggle to hold-in? Grace towards the undeserving.
A popular phrase describing our current climate is, “Cancel Culture”. It feels like everyone is walking around with a red rubber stamp that reads, “CANCELED” in all caps. With the slightest sign of wrongdoing, we are ready to condemn those around us.
Jesus walks around with a different stamp, his read’s “GRACE” and he is ready to stamp it onto anyone’s life who will receive his mercy.
Grace makes us new.
If Jesus walked into your school, who do you think he would be drawn towards? The bible’s answer may surprise you…
Grace seeks the undeserving.
Grace seeks the undeserving.
15 This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”
Jesus is drawn to those who are talking about all the wrong they did at last weeks party, to show them a greater satisfaction. Jesus is drawn towards the bully's, to show them mercy. Jesus is drawn towards the alcoholic, to guide them to a better escape.
When this letter was written, the early church did not have hundreds of printed bibles lying around. They had to remind each other of the message through word of mouth.
In the whole new testament, only five phrases share the intro, “This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.” It’s as if these sayings were written in bold. These five sayings were the main points. You may not know much, but you must know this truth, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. Do you believe this truth?
Paul believed it, despite his past of being a persecutor of the church. In fact, he said of himself.
—and I am the worst of them.
Notice, he didn’t say, “I was” the worst. He said, “I am” the worst.
We don’t know the hearts of other people, but we do know our own thoughts. We know our own weaknesses. And we can be honest about them. Because Jesus came into the world to save sinners, honesty about your brokenness should only serve to strengthen your belief that Jesus came for you.
Next time your conscience says, “Jesus can’t use your life, you are a sinner”. Simply respond, “you are right... I am a sinner. In fact, I am the worst sinner I know, but Jesus came to save sinners. He came for people just like me. If Jesus can turn a persecutor into a pastor, he can turn my story around.”
And if verse 15 is true, then verse 16 can become anyone’s story.
16 But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate his extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in him for eternal life.
When you receive mercy, your regrets of the past are turned into displays of Jesus’ patience.
So let go of your past. Not by acting as if it did not happen. But by remembering that Jesus watched it all happen, and offered you mercy instead of judgement.
Instead of staying stuck on how unforgivable you are, believe that Jesus is gracious enough to make you new. That truth will help you to remember how amazing Jesus is and how he is changing brokenness into beauty.
Haircuts for the homeless: it is their dirtiness that creates the contrast of beauty.
If I didn’t show you the “before” picture, you wouldn’t be amazed with the “after” picture and the talent of the barber.
As you have conversations with your friends who don’t know Jesus, you can be real about your brokenness, because it wasn’t your goodness that made you beautiful, it was Jesus’ grace.
When we recognize that we are not saved because of our goodness, but Jesus’ grace, our attention turns the right direction...
Grace shifts our attention to Jesus.
Grace shifts our attention to Jesus.
As Paul thinks back on how his story has been made new, he bursts out into praise...
17 Now to the King eternal Jesus was present with Paul during every moment of his life.
, immortal, Jesus is not an inspiring dead historical figure, he is the living God.
invisible, When Paul was killing and imprisoning Jesus’ people, Jesus was there. Not with arms crossed in judgement, but with a heart patiently waiting for the right time to overflow with grace.
the only God, What other person or religion is like our God? be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
The hands that once dragged Christians into prison, penned this song of praise.
Loving something I cannot see is one of the most beautiful mysteries I have enjoyed during Jordyn’s pregnancy. The baby’s appearance is invisible to me, and yet, he is always present. Like an ultrasound, this passage shows us the features of Jesus’ character. If you have recieved his mercy, when you pass into eternity, you will be with Jesus in person, experiencing the fullness of his love for you.
I wonder, perhaps you will look back upon all of your moments, including your deepest regrets, and you will see that he was there the whole time. Patiently waiting to overflow with grace.
“Amazing grace! how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch; like me! I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.”
Do you see?