The Scandal of Grace
Imagine you are one of the early church's first members. You are sitting in a home with a few other believers, sharing a meal. You pray together. You sing a few Psalms. Someone recites a bit he's heard of Jesus' biography. Then someone gets up to read a letter to you from some guy named Paul.
Paul is a guy who used to go by the name Saul. It's possible he is responsible for the murder of someone you know, perhaps even your parents or one of your children. Now you have to sit and listen to someone read not just words from this guy, but instructions from this guy. Since his conversion from Christ-hating enforcer of the Law to card-carrying Jesus freak, he's not just one of your fellow Christians. He's an authority over all Christians recognized by nearly everyone.
It is possible this arrangement would not have sit well with you.
Imagine you're attached to Peter, a guy who has his problems, but who has been with Jesus from the beginning. And this newcomer Paul actually exerts authority over Peter! He seems to wield power over apostles who were actual disciples!
What in the world can explain the rise of Paul's recognized authority in the primitive church? The first explanation that comes to my mind is the authority over all authorities himself -- Jesus. If you were an early church member tempted to dismiss or disregard the teaching of a guy who used to push the killing of the ones you love, maybe you thought of something you heard Jesus said from the cross. In that excruciating place where Jewish officials like Paul had taken him, Jesus hung there dying and wished forgiveness even on the unrepentant revelers carrying out his execution.
The difference between Saul the persecutor and Paul the apostle was Jesus. The very road Paul was taking to kill Christians became his road to becoming one, because Jesus put up a roadblock and intervened. Revenge became repentance.
The difference between an early church member despising Paul's leadership and embracing it was Jesus. The same Pauline letter that might have irked became an encouragement.
Isn't that completely illogical? What weirdos this following Jesus thing makes us. C.S. Lewis was once asked what the main difference between Christianity and all other religions was, and he answered, "Oh, that's easy -- grace."
Grace isn't just amazing; it's ridiculous. It's revolutionary to our thoughts and feelings. It humbles the powerful and empowers the humble.
Jesus didn't die so you could learn how to be a better person. He died because you can't be. (That's grace offending your sensibilities right now.)
The grace of Jesus is a foolishness that, when believed, brings power to save (1 Cor. 1:18).
Grace is that bizarre missing ingredient that mucks up all human foibles, flaws, and fears. Grace is the thing that turns lives upside down. It is a sweet, beautiful irritant.
Grace is scandalous. It makes murderers into apostles, it makes victims into forgivers. It takes "never the twain shall meet" and makes "reunited and it feels so good." ;-)
Have you been scandalized by grace lately? Has Jesus shocked you through someone's granting grace to you?
When was the last time you offended someone's expectations by extending grace to them?
This is what I see as the big idea of Bellevue Community Church. Not that we entertain the masses better, not that we provide a fun and relaxing atmosphere for folks tired of the stodgy church down the street, and not even that we are friendly or "relevant" or easy to understand. No, the scandalous beauty of our church is that we believe in bringing grace to the hopeless, to the hurting, to the shamed, to the discarded, to the confused, to the powerless. If we aren't about Jesus, the savior of sinners, we aren't about the Gospel. And if we aren't about the Gospel, then all the sentiment and sap in the world isn't going to make us about grace.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -— of whom I am the worst.
-- 1 Timothy 1:15