Grace or Merit? Grace Alone

What is grace? One of the things that happens when a pastor lives next door to the church is people figure it out and start to come to ask for assistance. Last week a homeless man came to our door asking for some food, which we gave him. Was that grace? It was gracious, but it wasn’t like God’s grace. To understand God’s grace, I would have to change the story. I would have to add that this man had come to our home last month, broken in and robbed us, and now he was standing at the door asking for food. To not call the police, but to give him food at that point would be closer to God’s grace. Not only was he getting something he didn’t deserve or work for, but now he is not getting what he did deserve, to be punished for his crime. But even that wouldn’t be like God’s grace, because the law the man would have broken wasn’t my law but the governments law. If we would have turned him in the case would be something like the State of Washington vs. Mr. Homeless man. But with God our sin is personal, it is a direct assault and affront to His holiness and righteousness and justice. We have broken His law. There is yet one more way in which our story is not like God’s grace. The homeless man came to our door asking for help. Scripture says there is none who seeks God, we are all sinners resisting God or trying to avoid God by running from God or denying God. Scripture says it is God who first seeks us, who first loves us while we were yet sinners. [Illustration idea credit to Jerry Bridges]. This is grace. And this is why so many Christians love Ephesians 2.

Works or Faith? Faith Alone

What must I do to be saved? The question before us this morning is the greatest of all questions. It’s the Philippian Jailer question. “What must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas gave the simple answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). Many people today take offense at that answer. Sophisticated people, intellectual people, proud people, politically correct people, take offense at this simple message to trust and obey Jesus. They want something more complicated, something more mysterious, or more philosophically profound, or more difficult, or something that requires some great effort, perhaps something more severe requiring “asceticism and severity to the body” (Colossians 2:23). Self-made men prefer self-made religion, religion after their own making, where their gods ends up being made in their own image. What must I do to be saved? How can an sinful person stand in the presence of a holy God? How is that person justified, on what grounds? That’s the central question.

Esther's First Feast

If chapter five was a movie the producer would make these first two verses very dramatic. The camera would move slowly, the music would be foreboding, the tension would be building, Esther’s heart would be pounding, her hands would be shaking, beads of sweat forming on her forehead. She is walking into a life or death situation with no idea which way it will go. Everything is at stake, her life, the life of all the Jews in the empire. Queen Vashti risked her life by refusing to appear before the king, now Esther risks her life by appearing before the same king. This is not unsubstantiated, there has been uncovered ancient art depicting a Persian king seated on a throne with a long scepter in his right hand and an attendant standing behind the throne with a large ax. Going before the king really is risky business especially in light of how unpredictably he has acted in the past and how much he acts on a whim. Will the king hold out his scepter or will she be executed before she can even speak? She really is walking by faith and not by sight. The fact that she is doing the right thing in no way guarantees she will get a good result. Remember the three men being thrown into the furnace in Daniel 3, they said either God would rescue them, or if not, God is still God and still good and He will do what is right to Him. Esther said, “If I perish, I perish.” Faithfulness is what we are to pursue, the fruit is entirely in God’s hands. Esther has no control over the outcome. Have you faced this kind of situation? You know the right thing to do, but you tremble because you have no clue which way it will turn out? It could be good or bad. We experience that in relationships, in work situations, in finances. What in your life is a sign of faith rather than walking by sight? Making a decision to adopt, to go into some ministry, to take a stand at work that may cost you a promotion or even your job, confronting a good friend about a sin, deciding to leave your career to start something new, when to retire or move out of our home. Esther lives in a world just like ours, where we are called to live holy and blameless lives before God but without any knowledge of what God will do or how He will bless, whether in this life or in the life to come.

How Can We Be Saved? Christ Alone

We turn to another pillar of the Reformation this morning, Christ alone. In some ways, this was the central emphasis of the Reformation. Scripture alone points to Christ alone. Faith alone is faith in Christ alone. Grace alone is the grace of God extended to us in Christ alone. Once Christ was made central again in the church it changed a lot of things. Priests were redefined as pastors, all the fancy vestments were replaced with simple robes, the altar where Christ was re-sacrificed each week in the mass was replaced with a table for communion, and the pulpit was moved to the center as the ministry of the Word replaced sacramentalism. So much changed at the Reformation that we aren’t aware of and take for granted. So, the central question this morning and always is, “Who do men say that I am?” That’s the question. Who do people say Jesus is? And what do we do with this Jesus? What comes to your mind when you hear the name Jesus? Probably not the Latin phrase, solus Christus. Christ alone means three things:

For Such a Time As This

With the king’s blessing, Haman, driven by an intense hatred of Mordecai and his people, issues a decree for an ethnic cleansing, a killing of all the Jews in the entire empire beginning in about eleven months. Esther 4:1-17. Some of you may have seen one of those TV shows or movies that depict some cataclysmic end of the earth like an impending meteor strike. And then the movie shows all the chaos and confusion and how people deal with the world-ending news. One of the things shows like that do is get us to think about how we would react if we found out that the earth was going to be destroyed next year. It can be a sobering thought experiment, a test of our faith and courage. Chapter 4 of Esther is that TV show. The Jews are going to wiped out in 11 months. How would you respond if the government issues a decree to kill all Christian next September? No wonder the city of Susa was thrown into turmoil and confusion.

Haman's Hate Crimes Against the Jews

Do you remember last week when I asked if you appreciated owning your own Bible and that it is in your own language? Can you imagine not having a Bible and never hearing it in your own language? Can you imagine what the day would be like when you got your very own Bible in your language? It happened to some people last month, and a friend of mine was there to witness it. Listen to what that day was like. “On August 23, in a village in central Tanzania (which is in east Africa), around 600 people gathered to celebrate the dedication of the New Testament in the Burunge language! What a day– music, singing, dancing, preaching, and reading from the Word of God in the Burunge language! There was a moment during the celebrations when the importance of the occasion hit home with me. Several Burunge dressed in traditional clothing were leading a cultural dance and invited some of us to come out and dance with them. With arms around people I had never met before, jumping up and down as we moved around in a circle, tears came to my eyes as I experienced a piece of their joy in receiving the Word of God in their mother tongue. Praise the Lord for the power of his Word and that the Burunge now have the New Testament in their language!” (Johnny Walker). Can you imagine not having the truth of the Word of God in your own language? Can you imagine what a famine of the Word of God would be like?

By What Authority? Scripture Alone

Do you remember last week when I asked if you appreciated owning your own Bible and that it is in your own language? Can you imagine not having a Bible and never hearing it in your own language? Can you imagine what the day would be like when you got your very own Bible in your language? It happened to some people last month, and a friend of mine was there to witness it. Listen to what that day was like. “On August 23, in a village in central Tanzania (which is in east Africa), around 600 people gathered to celebrate the dedication of the New Testament in the Burunge language! What a day– music, singing, dancing, preaching, and reading from the Word of God in the Burunge language! There was a moment during the celebrations when the importance of the occasion hit home with me. Several Burunge dressed in traditional clothing were leading a cultural dance and invited some of us to come out and dance with them. With arms around people I had never met before, jumping up and down as we moved around in a circle, tears came to my eyes as I experienced a piece of their joy in receiving the Word of God in their mother tongue. Praise the Lord for the power of his Word and that the Burunge now have the New Testament in their language!” (Johnny Walker). Can you imagine not having the truth of the Word of God in your own language? Can you imagine what a famine of the Word of God would be like?

Mordecai Saves teh King

We are in Susa, one of the oldest cities in the world located in present day Iran. It served as the winter capital of Persia. On a hill in the center of the city was the citadel, or fortress palace, of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I the Great), emperor of the largest empire up to that time in history, stretching from India to Egypt. He was the most powerful man in the world. Esther was crowned the new queen to replace Vashti and as King Ahasuerus liked to do, there was a huge party to celebrate. Now the story quickly settles into the political life around the palace, stories of promotions and plots, the stuff of our evening news. Life in politics is never all sweetness and light.

Cracked Cisterns

In the Protestant world, this year is a Jubilee year, the 500th anniversary of when a young monk, Martin Luther, did the modern equivalent of making an online blog post inviting public discussion. He nailed 95 theses or points for discussion to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. It was the nail that turned the world upside down. Completely unknown to him or even intended by him, he lit a fire that still burns 500 years later. This event is being commemorated all over Europe and North America this Fall. Lord willing, we will spend the next seven Lord’s Days leading up to Reformation Sunday, October 29, considering five pillars of the Protestant Reformation and how they relate to us today. But before we do that it is reasonable to ask the question why, is it really necessary or important?

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