II Timothy 1:9-10 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
We often think of peace and joy at Christmas time and rightly so. The angels heralded a message of great joy and peace on earth for all people in Luke 2. Perhaps, however, more subtle but more profound than joy and peace is the message of grace that is wrapped around every facet of the Christmas story.
We see in the life of Mary who was handpicked, as a young virgin girl, to bear the Son of God that God gives us SUFFICIENT GRACE.
In Luke 1:30 we read, But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.” The Greek word for “favor,” in this verse is the word “charis” which is better translated as “grace.” Mary was chosen for this special task not because of anything she had done, but because she had “found grace” with God.
When we’re chosen for something, we usually see that as exciting or as a compliment. Being chosen to be the starting players on a team, being chosen to represent your school or business somewhere, being picked to receive a scholarship, or being selected for a promotion . . . all of those scenarios are accompanied by great thrill and excitement. They may require some rearranging of our schedules or some extra preparation, but usually they are viewed as something to attain or to strive for. They are seen as an achievement because of work a person has done. They are considered deserved recognition and are welcomed.
But there are times in our lives when we are chosen for a task by God that requires a major life adjustment and sometimes even difficulty, pain and persecution. I wouldn’t have thought it strange if Mary would have politely said to the angel, “I’m honored, but could He pick someone else?” When God told Moses He had chosen Him to be His mouthpiece to Pharaoh and wanted Moses to go to the Pharaoh in Egypt and demand the Israelites be freed from slavery, Moses didn’t view it as a compliment, a promotion or a vote of confidence. He basically told God he’d rather Him find someone else for the job. Mary immediately accepted the assignment. Moses reluctantly accepted the assignment, but both received the grace they needed to carry out the assignment.
Sometimes God allows a situation to come into our lives that is intended to bless others and us in the end, but it involves pain and heartache at the time. God’s grace is sufficient in those situations.
When the bomb went off on a road near Baghdad, Hilbert Caesar thought his life was over. He discovered, however, it was just beginning.
Army staff sergeant Caesar was in charge of a long-range 155mm howitzer — a self-propelled gun that resembles a tank. He was out on patrol in Iraq when a roadside bomb exploded. When the smoke cleared, Caesar looked down and saw that his right leg was severed in three places, flipped backward, just dangling by the skin. He tried to give his machine gun to a fellow soldier, but discovered it was bent. Then he yelled for the howitzer hatches to be closed, and thought to himself, “Oh man. This is it. My life is over.”
But he didn’t die. The insurgents responsible for the attack disappeared, and Caesar was transported to safety. Later, at Walter Reed Hospital, his missing limb was replaced with an artificial leg of plastic and steel.
Still, he felt despair about his future. He was in pain, and was worried that he’d never be able to run again, or be attractive to women. He received word that eight men from his platoon had been killed by a car bomb in Baghdad, including one of his role models. The news was devastating.
But little by little, he began to shift his focus. Caesar met other injured soldiers and heard them talk about their recoveries. He began to look for the best, and realized that he was fortunate to make it back from battle with just one missing limb. “I’m grateful for that,” he told The Washington Post last fall (November 26, 2005). “I’m thankful for just being here.”
Caesar now completes marathons in racing wheelchairs, and has found a job with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He sees the loss of his leg as a minor setback, and believes that he has come out of the war with more wisdom, compassion and appreciation for life.
The same thing happened to the apostle Paul after he was stabbed with a “thorn…in the flesh.” (II Corinthians 12:7b-10) “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
It is unclear just what the “thorn” was. Biblical scholars have suggested all kinds of things. It could have been a physical or emotional illness that Paul simply had to “live with.” Maybe it is vague and general on purpose so that we can relate to Paul on some level. Whatever it was, Paul saw it as a trap of the enemy. He viewed it as a form of torture intended to take him out.
That word Paul used to mean “thorn” is “skolops” in the Greek. Skolops referred to sharp wooden stakes that were put in pits in the ground with the hope that enemy soldiers would fall on them and be impaled by them. It is this exact word Paul used to describe his “thorn.” Three times Paul asked God to remove the “skolops” or “thorn” and God chose not to remove it. But in the midst of it, he came to recognize God’s presence and strength in a new way! We know God’s power to deliver us, but what of His grace and power to sustain us in the midst of difficulty? We only know that kind of grace, sufficient grace, when God chooses to allow the “skolops” to remain.
The Bible is a story of victory after victory after victory. God’s people defeated their enemies. God’s people overcame great challenges. But the Bible is also filled with stories of people who were strong in adversity, faithful under trial, and victorious even when they lost their very lives. Sometimes victory comes when we are delivered from pain. Other times, however, it is God’s sufficient grace which allows us to experience victory in the midst of the pain!
I hear people say, “I know God won’t give me more than I can handle, but I just wish He wouldn’t trust me so much.” Have you ever felt that way? When life gets intense, be reminded of Mary. She faced the judgment of her friends and family. She dealt with conflict with her fiancée. She was displaced from her home. She had to watch her Son be misunderstood, mistreated, and cruelly killed through crucifixion. God’s grace enabled her to get through it all.
Be reminded of Paul. He asked God for help and he didn’t get it in the way he wanted, but the help he received, the grace he found, he found to be sufficient. Maybe just this last week as you have thought about what you are going through you have thought, “I don’t know if I will make it through this.” God has Christmas grace for you to unwrap. Ask Him to help you to unwrap “SUFFICIENT GRACE.”
In the life of Joseph we see God gives us DISCERNING GRACE when we don’t know what to do or when our soul is in conflict. Joseph had some tough decisions to make. Finding out his fiancée was pregnant sent him into a tailspin. Should he claim the child as his own? Should he break off the engagement which in that culture was like a divorce? Should he ask for the law to be enacted and for Mary to be stoned to death for violation of their pledge to one another? Should he consider that there were other explanations for this recent turn of events? I mean after all, there couldn’t really be another earthly explanation for her pregnancy. Could he stretch himself beyond the physical to believe that there was a spiritual explanation? Would people think he was crazy if he did? What decision should he make?
We’ve all be there, right? Your boss keeps demanding more and more for the same pay, which is taxing you and robbing your family of your presence. Your kids get into a situation that catches you off guard and you don’t want to over react, but you know you have to do something and you aren’t sure what that would be. A friend betrays you and you don’t know if it was intentional or if there has just been a misunderstanding. You continue to bail a friend out of a self-imposed mess and they promise this is the last time they will make the same bad choice. You see someone headed down the wrong path, but you aren’t sure if it is any of your business to step in and say something. You know your boss or co-worker is stealing from the company, but saying anything could cost you your job. Friends are dealing drugs at school, but blowing the whistle will mark you for the rest of your high school career and cost you friendships. Perhaps another scenario has come to your mind as I have been speaking. You are happy to do the right thing. You just aren’t sure what the right thing is. Ask God for “discerning grace.”
We’re told in Proverbs 3:5-6 to “Trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding, but in all our ways to acknowledge Him and He will direct our paths.” When you let your heart be consumed with fear, worry, doubt, and anxiety, there isn’t any part of your heart left to trust God with. He promises to help us sort out life’s difficulties and questions if we will trust fully in Him. He has “discerning grace” to offer this Christmas. Seek Him with your whole heart!
Scripture says Joseph “had in mind to divorce Mary quietly.” He was considering walking away from the relationship. That is what his flesh suggested he should do. He had a good case for doing so. Perhaps that was the advice of family and friends. But because he was a person who trusted God, he didn’t just act impulsively. As he was sorting through his feelings, he allowed God to speak to him through an angel.
Some of you may be thinking, “Well, he didn’t really allow God to speak to him through the angel. The angel just appeared and started talking.” While that is true, my statement is also true. I believe God is speaking constantly in various ways and through various circumstances, but fewer and fewer people are willing to listen. Only those who are trusting God will open their spiritual ears and allow God’s word to override their feelings! Only those whose hearts belong to God will seek discerning grace for the conflict in their soul and mind.
Our main texts speak about God’s grace as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, whose birthday we are celebrating today.
Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.
II Timothy 1:9-10 This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus,
Titus tells us it is the grace of God which has appeared. That makes this grace a DIVINE GRACE. Like human love, the kind of grace we have to give can sometimes be thin, limited and be offered with strings attached. Someone crosses us one too many times and we cut them off. Someone disappoints us one too many times and we wash our hands of them. Not so with our Lord!
But pastor, eventually some people go to heaven and some go to Hell. Doesn’t that prove there is a limit to God’s grace? Absolutely not. If I put a gallon of sweet tea in front of you and offer you a glass and you refuse to drink it, that gallon of sweet tea doesn’t become less than a gallon. Our God possesses infinite grace. It doesn’t become less than infinite just because some people refuse it. Even if everyone refused God’s grace and no one was saved, it wouldn’t take away from God’s limitless grace. His grace doesn’t become limitless because we accept it. It is limitless because it is He Who offers it! It is Divine!
Just like the old hymn says, “His love knows no limit. His grace has no measure. His power has no boundary known unto man! For out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth and giveth and giveth again.”
With the coming of Jesus Christ, God’s grace is now on display. It has appeared for all to see! In the announcement to the shepherds, we see it is a UNIVERSAL GRACE.
The angels heralded an announcement of Good News for ALL people. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests!” Favor=Grace! Jesus has graced us all with His presence. He was born of a meek, poor, lowly virgin. What grace! The news was given to social outcasts, the shepherds. What grace! Jesus ministered to prostitutes, lepers, liars and thieves as well as to the religious leaders of His day. Universal grace! He came for all! “For God so loved THE WORLD that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”
I’m glad God’s grace is available to all people because we all need it. Amen? Mary, the mother of Jesus needed just as much grace as Adolf Hitler. Mother Teresa needed just as much grace as Osama Bin Laden. Lost is lost regardless of what you have done, and all who haven’t accepted God’s grace are just that . . . lost. It doesn’t matter how vile a person is or how sweet, kind and “good” a person is, without Christ we are all in the same shape and are all in need of God’s grace. Sin makes us guilty and guilty is simply guilty. There aren’t degrees of guilt with God. We are either guilty or we are righteous through the sacrifice of Christ’s blood shed for us on the cross.
Are you getting a picture of Christmas grace this morning? It is that which is given to all people to enable them to deal with difficult situations, to make right choices, and it is without limit. It is sufficient, discerning, limitless and universal, and it fits so beautifully in our discussion on Christmas because it is a GIFT. God has prepared it for you.
Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith and this not of yourselves. It is the GIFT of God, so that no one can boast.” No one can say, “I impressed God enough to the point where He rewarded me with His grace.” No one can boast, “I worked my way into God’s good graces.” It isn’t possible. Nothing we could ever do would be good enough to earn God’s grace. That’s why it has to be a gift. If it wasn’t a gift, none of us could ever receive it.
Charles Stanley tells the following story: “One of my more memorable seminary professors had a practical way of illustrating to his students the concept of grace. At the end of his evangelism course he would distribute the exam with the caution to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it. This caution was written on the exam as well. As we read the test, it became unquestionably clear to each of us that we had not studied nearly enough.
The further we read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard throughout the lecture hall. On the last page, however, was a note that read, “You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment.”
Wow? We sat there stunned. “Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A?” Slowly, the point dawned on us, and one by one we turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room.
When I talked with the professor about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years. Some students began to take the exam without reading it all the way through, and they would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page.
Others read the first two pages, became angry, turned the test in blank, and stormed out of the room without signing it. They never realized what was available, and as a result, they lost out totally.
One fellow, however, read the entire test, including the note at the end, but decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, but he could easily have had an A.
This story illustrates many people’s reaction to God’s solution to sin. Some people look at God’s standard–moral and ethical perfection–and throw their hands up in surrender. Why even try? They tell themselves, “I could never live up to all that stuff.”
Others are like the student who read the test through and was aware of the professor’s offer but took the test anyway. Unwilling to simply receive God’s gift of forgiveness, they set about to rack up enough points with God to earn it. It can’t be done. It can’t be earned. Rewards are earned. Gifts are merely received.
But God’s grace truly is like the professor’s offer. It may seem unbelievable, but if we accept it, then, like the stunned students who accepted the professor’s offer, we, too, will discover that, Yes, God’s grace truly is free. All we have to do is accept it.
Christians boldly proclaim that grace really has precious little to do with us, our inner resolve, or our lack of inner resolve. Rather, grace is all about God and God freely giving to us the gifts of forgiveness, mercy, and love.
Christmas grace is a gift to be opened. Once you open the grace gift of salvation through faith in Christ, you have all of the other graces available to you to help you live this life. Those who reject the gift of salvation forfeit all of the other graces and also forfeit a place in heaven that Jesus died to secure for all. The truth is, the day of grace will one day be over. We live in what theologians call a “dispensation of grace” right now. But the minute an unrepentant sinner takes his or her last breath, the day of grace ends, and the Day of Judgment begins.
Christian writer and commentator Warren Wiersbe, tells about a town where a horse bolted and ran away with a wagon carrying a little boy. Seeing the child in danger, a young man risked his life to catch the horse and stop the wagon. The child who was saved grew up to become a lawless man, and one day he stood before a judge to be sentenced for a serious crime. The prisoner recognized the judge as the man who, years before had saved his life; so he pled for mercy on the basis of that experience. But the words from the bench silenced his plea: “Young man, then I was your savior; today I am your judge, and I must sentence you to be hanged.” One day Jesus Christ will say to rebellious sinners, “During that long day of grace, I was the Savior, and I would have forgiven you. But today I am your Judge.” Don’t leave the gift of grace unopened this Christmas!
Are you going through a difficult time and you need to be sustained by God’s grace? Come and pray. Are you going through a confusing time and you need grace to discern what is best in your situation? Come and pray. Have you accepted Christ as Savior and Lord for yourself? Come and pray. Unwrap the Christmas grace God seeks to give to you.