Seeing the Grace of God – August 25, 2019
August 25, 2019
When I read the scripture, words will sometimes “jump off of the page” at me. I’ve always believed that’s one way the Holy Spirit speaks to us through God’s word. I hope you’ve experienced that, too. And I hope you look for that happening. In fact, it’s always a good thing to say a quick prayer for the Spirit to teach you as you open the Bible. That helps us to be “in tune” with the Spirit, and makes us open to him.
Well, what jumped off the page at me from this passage was this sentence. “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad!” That’s verse 23.
They had sent Barnabas to Antioch. If you remember, the church had been dispersed throughout the region because of the persecution that had arisen in Jerusalem. We talked about that several weeks ago. (You can re-read that message on the church’s website – which is now working again, I’m SOOO glad to say!)
So, they had sent Barnabas to Antioch. And that goes along with a subject we’ve also been talking about recently, which is the question of “who will be included in this new thing called ‘the Church?’” This story is about people who went out from Jerusalem and spoke to people about Jesus. This time it was to the Greeks in Antioch.
Now, Antioch was a city on the northeastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. (North of Israel.) It was almost in the region we now call Turkey. So, I wonder, were these “Greeks” actually people from Greece, which was hundreds of miles from there, or were they simply people who were part of the Greco-Roman world? The Romans thought very highly of, and copied a lot of, the Greek civilization.
Well, it’s not all that clear here who these people were. But two things we can be clear about. First, we’re talking again about people from the “Gentile” world, and the Gentiles were being included in this new thing called “the Church.” But beyond that, we’re now talking about people who were told about Jesus by people other than the apostles! That’s an important thing to note! Because that’s how the church grew! This message of Jesus was so important to people they told other people about it! We could stop right there and that could be our sermon for today! Couldn’t it? Is the message of Jesus so important to you that you tell other people about it?
But there’s more. And I want you to hear this. Because that’s where this sentence comes in that jumped off the page at me. Barnabas came to Antioch, and “when he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad!” “When he saw the Grace of God.”
I think that means two things. I think first, it meant that he saw that God’s Grace had come upon the people of Antioch, too. Again, that’s part of the whole “who’s included” thing. But the second thing it means, and this is even more important, he saw the Grace of God in them! And that’s what I want us to focus on today. Barnabas saw God’s grace in these people’s lives! And I ask you today, “What does it mean for people to see God’s grace in us?”
Last week, Kari gave us some wonderful thoughts about us about being “Balcony people” That means being people who are always encouraging and upbuilding to others. The opposite, she said, are “basement people.” Those are people who are always criticizing and finding fault in others. There are a lot of those people out there, because that is a natural human tendency! It is the “natural thing” to be critical and to find fault in others. “But as God’s people,” she said, “we are to be ‘balcony people.’” You’ve heard me preach for long enough to know that’s something I firmly believe, too! (And “firmly” is an understatement!) And the only thing I would add, is that that’s something we need to choose to do!
So then, let me take this all back to what I started with, that the Church was dispersed throughout the surrounding region, and how it became the common people who told the story of Jesus, not just the Apostles. And that’s the way the church spread! Keep that thought in mind. But I believe it was more than that. It was more than just a matter of them telling the story, It was about people “Seeing the Grace of God” in them! It wasn’t just what they said. It was how they lived the Grace of God. It’s how they were Gracious people themselves! That’s what was happening in Antioch. That’s what Barnabas saw. And that was compelling to their world. And that’s what’s compelling to our world, too!
Think about our world. It’s not always easy to talk to people in our world about our faith, is it? And when we do, we often try to do so by telling them the “truth” about Jesus. “We have the truth. Don’t you want the truth?” That’s often a lot of the Christian message. “We’re all sinners, and Jesus died for us.” That’s the truth for us. And it’s wonderful! The problem is, we live in a world where all truth is relative. People will tell us, “That’s truth for you. But it’s not truth for me. I have my own truth.” And when we try to talk to people, too often what we say comes out as “Your truth is wrong.” “You’re wrong about what you believe!” That’s what they hear. Then, to them, we become “insensitive,” and “intolerant,” and “exclusionary.” And those are all “bad words” in our modern world.
That’s our world. And when we try to approach people that way they shut us off. Or they say, “That’s nice. But it’s not ‘truth’ for me.” As I’ve often said, we need to find new ways to talk to people in our world about our faith. We need to find new ways to show them what’s important to us. Because you can’t win people’s hearts, if you’ve shut down their minds! In fact, you can’t win their hearts just by teaching their minds. I think a big part of this is that we win people’s hearts by showing them God’s grace! And the way we do that is by being people of Grace. God has shown us his Grace, we need to show Grace in our lives. Too many people in our world have a bad image of Christians. We need to turn that image around for them by the way we live our lives and by the way we treat the people around us!
That’s what I want you to think about today. Think about what it means for people to “see the Grace of God in you.” And as you think about that, let me close with these words of Paul to the Colossians. I love this verse! He wrote, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. That’s Colossians 3:16. And I love that imagery. “Let the word of Christ – let the Grace of God – dwell in you richly!” Be people of Grace. Let it be said of us, that “When they came, they saw the Grace of God in us!”
Eternal God, help us to grow in your Grace. May your word dwell in us richly, that people may see your Grace in us. Help us to be encouraging and upbuilding and forgiving. May others see your joy in us every day, no matter the circumstances of this life. We pray these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.