God’s Grace: Majestic and Inscrutable: Part I
Introduction: This three-part series: God’s Grace: majestic and inscrutable addresses and answers a common salvation theme: how can any person be saved? Generally, the question-asker focuses on the badness of the person. The person’s life has been less than stellar. In fact, the person was most ungodly!
Sometimes a person may focus on himself and ask: how is it possible for me to be saved? His answer is telling. He may wonder about God’s character and saving power, or he may be trying to convince himself that he is “not that bad.” Perhaps you have thought of the matter as you consider the nature of God – His goodness and power; is God really that good and powerful and is man as bad as the Bible teaches? The questions force the question-asker to make a statement about God and himself.
The Jews considered these questions. For the great majority of them, it was a Jewish world and a Jewish God. If they were not saved no one would be. Jonah thought he knew God – a gracious and merciful God. However, initially, he refused to go to Babylon – bad people are there! But he did not know himself and he did not truly know God. He refused God’s initial command and even in chapter 4 he was not pleased that God saved “bad” people.
Such it was for the nation of Israel when Jesus entered the picture. He came to His own, but they rejected Him (John 1:4-5, 9-11). Their refusal differed from Jonah’s: they loved the darkness (John 3:17-21). Jonah did not want God to share His grace. He did not appreciate God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable and thereby God’s glory. Arrogantly and ignorantly, he thought he could thwart God’s redemptive plan.
First consider grace and mercy. Often, people distinguish grace and mercy. Grace is a gift of the Triune God. Saving grace is often defined as unmerited or undeserved favor. It may be more accurate to use the term de-merited favor. The person graced deserves the opposite: damnation because he is guilty and condemned. Saving grace is the provision of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit unto salvation for a hell-deserving person who is at enmity with God and God with him.
God also provides enabling grace for growth in Christlikeness after salvation. The focus of grace is on salvation (saving grace) and life after salvation (enabling or sanctifying grace). Both are gifts of the Triune God.
Mercy focuses on the misery of man, both saved and unsaved. Christ had compassion on the people as He poured love and concern on them (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Mark 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; Luke 15:20). To help us appreciate our amazing God, I consider Matthew’s parable given in chapter 20:1-16, Manasseh, and the thief on the cross.
I begin with Matthew 20 and the parable of the workers in the vineyard. This parable is recorded only in Matthew’s gospel. It focuses on God’s graciousness and God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable.
The parable is another kingdom parable and verses 1-15 are sandwiched between 19:30 and 20:16 which convey the same message: But many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first; So the last first will be first and the first last. Jesus teaches that the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who hired workers throughout the day. He agreed to pay each worker a certain wage (a denarius) and seemingly every worker was appreciative if not overjoyed.
The parable includes the landowner, his vineyard, and workers. The land – the vineyard – was the owner’s and the object of his special care. He invested in the land and he wanted workers to do the same. He hired people as his representative and expected good work – a return on his investment.
The wealthy owner represents God, the Owner of all (Matthew 13:27; 21:33; 24:43). The owner, as does God, sets the rules for and on his land. He has the right to rule as owner and controller. He is also generous and invites others and pays them a wage that is agreed upon. He had a large vineyard and there was much work to do.
Work was completed at the end of the day and payment began with the last worker. The payment schedule was unusual. Each worker from the last to the first was given the same agreed upon wage. The last but first to be paid were satisfied but the first who had worked the longest were not.
They received the wage agreed upon but grumbled and complained and told the owner why (v.11-12). Their reasoning: we worked longer and maybe harder. Duration was the main issue and not necessarily the quality of work. They professed: We deserve more. We did not get a fair share. You are unfair! We deserve a higher wage – a different place in the kingdom!
But the owner disagreed (v.13-15). The owner replied: there is no injustice on my part: you are looking at others instead of our agreement; the wage was exactly what we agreed upon; I am graciousness and generous as well as fair; it is my land and my money and my right (note: in our culture many will disagree!). He exposed their envy and pride: this group had the evil eye as did the older brother in Luke 15.
In Luke 15, the older brother made the same charge against the father as the early-arriving workers did against the owner. Each party (early workers and the older son) had a work-for-wage spirit – to get rather than to give and to serve.
The owner exposed their view of fairness and justice. He exposed their view of self, others, and him. He told them that their view was wrong because their view of him, work, payment, and self was wrong. They had missed the point: they were working for a wage and themselves. Rather, working for God in His kingdom has its own and great reward. Ask Jesus! The latter workers were appreciative to be counted worthy of working in the vineyard – God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable!
The offer of the kingdom of God is a universal offer. Understanding the kingdom, the Owner, and the receiver is critical. Jesus’ disciples had an eye on the kingdom and their place in it (Matthew 18:1; 20:20-28). A constant refrain of theirs was who is greatest in Kingdom (Matthew 18:1-5; Mark 9:33-39; Luke 9:46-50 (after Jesus second prediction of the cross); Matthew 20:20-28/Mark 10:35-45 (after the third prediction of the cross); and at the Last Supper (Luke 22:28: who will sit in seat of preeminence). Sadly, but predictably, the disciples focused on and demanded an answer to the question: who is the greatest? Self always reared its ugly head. Such was the case with the early workers in the parable before us.
Some may think the parable is a reference to Jew and Gentile. Perhaps it is. But it is true that this and other kingdom parables disabuse the false teaching prevalent among the Jews that salvation and remuneration are rights based on the mindset of my pedigree, my progeny, my worth, my position, what I deserve; and my energy and efforts.
Envy of fellow workers and a generous owner/boss is coveting and breaks the tenth Commandment. It is idolatry thus breaking the first two commandments. Inherent in the teaching regarding the Kingdom of God is the truth that entrance into it, salvation, and growth in Christ are gifts and not something earned. Moreover, God’s sovereignty underlines the truth that the workers are totally dependent on Him and Christlike submission is the proper response.
1. Does God have rights and if so which ones?
2. What is your standard for your answer?
3. What is your view of the timing of entrance into the kingdom such as with the thief on the cross to be discussed in Part III?
4. What is your view of the person and his sinfulness and entrance into the kingdom such as with Manasseh as discussed in Part II?
God’s Grace: Majestic: Kings Manasseh and Ahab and You: Part II
As we continue the series: God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable, one issue stands out: who comes into the kingdom. The question should focus more on God and less so on people. The answer of entrance is a story of graciousness, compassion, and control. It helps answer the questions: what God is doing and what is He up to? The answers explode God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable.
Israel is God’s covenant people designed in eternity past and continued and secured until consummation when Jesus returns. The Israel of the Old Testament is the new Israel of the New Testament – the covenant community is one and the same (Romans 2:28-29; 9:6; Galatians 3:29; 6:16; 1 Peter 2:4-10). The message of salvation is one and the same in both Testaments.
God is a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God which He repeatedly declared and explained throughout redemptive history. His yes is now yes and amen in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20-22).
God proclaimed His covenant in Genesis 3:15 and continued: Genesis 6 – Noah; Genesis 12, 15, 17, 22 – Abraham; Exodus 3:6-15; 6:14-15 – Moses; 2 Samuel 7 – David; and the so-called new covenant fulfilled in Christ (Jeremiah 31:31-34). God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable is the same in essence although different in administration throughout the ages. God is saving people – all kinds of people, from every tribe, language, people, and nation (Acts 17:26; Revelation 5:9-10). God is calling His people to Himself until the final number has entered.
The covenant promises and blessings were given to a person, family, and a nation. Abraham became a Jew even though he never set foot in the Promised Land. He is the father of both Jew and Gentile through Isaac and Ishmael. In Romans 3:9-21; 9:1-4; 11:16-17, and Ephesians 2:11-15, Paul reminds his Gentile readers that they were far off but now the two are one: God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable!
In Matthew’s parable (20:1-16), the Gentiles and other Jews such as the tax collectors are the later workers. They come on the redemptive scene much later compared to “spiritual” Israel. The owner treated them equally: same wages and same work although the duration of the work was shorter. The workers who had worked the longest could not and perhaps would not, believe in the owner’s generosity and the consideration of their worth. Even though the owner acted in good faith toward them, they denied his faithfulness because of his loving kindness to others. They concluded that the owner was not kind to them! In fact, the owner owed them!
They extolled their rights thus functionally depriving the owner of his rights and the other workers their joy. They lived the lie! The owner loudly and clearly announced: my grace: majestic and inscrutable. I wish to give and give generously to those of my choice. I am sovereign.
That brings us to an Old Testament figure king Manasseh. There are two accounts regarding his life: 2 Kings 21:1-19 and 2 Chronicles 33:1-20. The accounts are similar but differ on at one least one major detail: his repentance while captive in Babylon is recorded in 2 Chronicles 33:12-13: In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew the Lord is God. These are amazing words: God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable.
Consider Manasseh the person. His father was good king Hezekiah. Manasseh became king of the southern kingdom at twelve years of age and ruled for 55 years, the longest reign of any king in either kingdom. Both accounts detail the fact that he was a horribly bad king rivaling Ahab of the northern kingdom. Both and specifically Manasseh did evil in the sight the sight of the Lord following the detestable practices of the nations that the Lord had driven out before the Israelites (2 Kings 21:2; 2 Chronicles 33:2). Both accounts list the religious outrages including idolatry, child sacrifice, and the practice of divination (2 Kings 21:4-9; 2 Chronicles 33:3-9); he undid what the purge of Jehu and the godly Hezekiah accomplished (2 Kings 15:34; 2 Kings 18:4-6).
A telling statement is given in two passages: he did much evil in the eyes of the Lord provoking him to anger (21:6; 33:6). For the writer of Kings, Manasseh was perhaps the singular cause for the exile (21:10-15; 23:20-26). Yet the account in 2 Chronicles records an apparent about-face as given in 2 Chronicles 33:11-12. Manasseh in his distress sought the favor of the Lord. The term distress (tsarah) is a general term and indicates a squeezing, hardship, trouble, and affliction – hard times. He was being squeezed! Sought (paneh) the Lord is a phrase that indicates he desired to be in the presence and before the face of God.
Manasseh had either humbled himself or was ignorant of the justice, holiness, and righteousness of God and his own sinfulness. As the account unfolds, he seemed to want God which was in marked contrast to his previous view and relationship to God and His word (v.6, 9-10).
He humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers (v.12). Once there, Manasseh used the time wisely in contrast to his father (Isaiah 39:4-8). The term humbled (kana) occurs 36 times and it is a powerful word. It denotes bringing a proud and rebellious person and people into subjection (Psalm 106:42). The word indicates both military and “spiritual” subjection and in that sense repentance. The same word is used in 1 Kings 21:29 regarding Ahab: Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has I will not bring this disaster this day…. The writer of Kings does not say Ahab sought the Lord’s presence as did Manasseh. Should we assume that Ahab did not repent? Perhaps, but we must remember: God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable
What is your response to these words of Scripture? Were these two men changed? Were they saved? We are not told for sure. But the lesson is the same: God has mercy on and saves whom He wills (Romans 9:18)! It may be that there is no mention of Manasseh’s humbling in the book of Kings because the setting and theme of the book of Kings is mostly pre-exilic and judgment is coming because Israel deserved it. The exile did come but the book ends on note of hope (2 Kings 25:27-30).
In contrast, the theme of 2 Chronicles is one of hope and restoration and follows the adage: as the king goes, so goes nation. God was gracious to Manasseh despite himself as he is to individuals and corporately – Israel and the Church. Like the later workers in Matthew 20:1-16, Manasseh was a later worker. Apparently, he came. Perhaps so did Ahab. God is covenantally-faithful despite covenant breakers. Our God is some kind of God – He is sui generis – one of a kind! Such is God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable!
1. God saves: on what basis?
2. Must there be evidence of salvation in a person’s life?
3. What kind of God do you think the Triune God is by bringing home such people as Manasseh and perhaps even Ahab?
4. How is the life of Manasseh a blessing for you? What does it teach you about God?
God’s Grace: The Thief on the Cross and You: Part III
As we conclude the series: God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable, we come to the thief on the cross (Matthew 27:33, 44; Mark 15:27-28, 32; Luke 22:32, 39-43). Only Luke records the conversation between Jesus and the thieves. Two other men were led out and crucified with Jesus (Luke 23:32). They were counterparts to Barabbas who was released at the demand of the crowd and the sinful fearfulness of Pilate (23:18). To the crowds three losers were on display!
Jesus was ridiculed as He hung on the cross: soldiers; passer-byers; chief priests, scribes, elders; and the thieves as recorded in the accounts of Matthew and Mark. All wanted a piece of the action by seemingly adding to Jesus’ humiliation!
In Luke’s account, he adds that one thief identified Jesus as the Christ; and because He was, He should save Himself and them (24:39). He followed the mainstream philosophy: Jesus, whoever He is, exists for me and my freedom spelled my way.
In marked contrast we read: But the other thief rebuked him: “Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence?’ We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong (23:40-41). Initially, this man was one of the mockers (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32). Now he was rebuking the other thief. This man had counseled himself and showed godly fruits of that counsel. He no longer wanted to live the lie – God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable!
The word rebuked carries the idea of a strong admonishment. This man had a change in his view of himself, Jesus, and others. His changed thinking resulted in a rebuke to the other man and a request to Jesus. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (23:42). What an amazing turn around. He had hung on the cross next to Jesus and the other thief for hours. In the context of physical affliction and misery, he conversed with himself, the other thief, and with Jesus. This must have some type of counseling session!
We know nothing of his background and his exposure to biblical truth. We know that the Romans treated him as a threat to the state. He said he and the other thief were getting what they deserved. Apparently, he made a correct assessment of himself but until he was with Jesus, he had not changed his thinking and wanting. This man was in the school of Christ’s discipleship. He saw and heard Jesus and His response to people.
It seems quite possible that his request in verse 42 is his repentance and a request for membership into the kingdom. His physical life was ebbing away. He looked for something beautiful. He understood he had nothing he could give Jesus – no works and no money. He made a simple but profound plea: membership in the kingdom and being in His presence. He recognized Jesus as King! He came to grips with his sinfulness, eternal destiny, and the majesty of Christ!
Jesus honored his request: I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (23:43). Imagine a man who had fought the Lord all his life coming to faith in Christ. Many would call this a last-minute conversion: God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable. But Jesus was right on schedule!
Seemingly, this man was not a candidate for salvation. But who is? All mankind is born a sinner but more: an enemy of God, a rebel, covenant-breaker – everything that Adam was after his first sin (Romans 5:6-10). Yet God saves sinners. What sinners? Those people who deserve hell and are at enmity with Him. How is it possible for God to save such as these? We asked the same question regarding Manasseh and perhaps Ahab. We must ask the same question of ourselves! Again, we come face to face with God’s grace”: majestic and inscrutable!
We may not be sure if the two kings were saved; but that is not our business. As we noted in blog 2, God was “impressed” by their change in thinking and wanting. Manasseh gave evidence of this change as detailed in Chronicles 33:13-17. In verse 15, the Chronicler states it this way: …Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God. Apparently, he had an entirely different relationship with God and God with him. Yet we know that he was not buried in the place of honor – in tomb of the kings – but in the palace (2 Kings 21:16; 2 Chronicles 28:27; 33:20).
What are we to learn? God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable! It is personal and relational! God is perfect in His timing and His way. The Triune God saves His people and He alone. He has mercy on whom He wills (Romans 9:18). No one can but many try to call God to account as evidenced by the early workers in the parable recorded in Matthew 20:1-16 (see Romans 9:22-23 for God’s grand demonstration of mercy and justice).
Furthermore, we are more like pre-conversion Manasseh than we like to believe. Many people, believers included, have wondered just how bad they are. Many seem to ignore the fact that even if they could be sin-free as the Rich Young Ruler said he was, he is guilty and condemned in Adam! He is still liable for misery of this world and hell unless he is saved.
Paul said it well: he was chief of sinners (1Timothy 1:15). How could Paul say that? I believe one reason is this: he knew that he alone would be face to face with the living God. He could not blame another for his sins and rebellion.
At salvation, Paul had a changed view of God and himself. As a result, he lived as one saved. He wanted more of God as did the one thief and apparently Manasseh. Paul also counseled himself and showed fruits of that counsel. This is another example of God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable!
Just how bad does someone “need” to be to be saved? Strange question isn’t it? Not really. God saves those who are His enemies and rebels: “bad people” (Romans 5:6-10)! Unsaved sinners are much worse than sinful man can fathom. Yet, God brings all types of people to Him at various times and in various ways. Some come early in their live and others much later. There are consequences and benefits of each way. God is the One who determines fair and unfair.
Rejoicing in one’s salvation leads to godly living and growth in Christlikeness. In the parable of the workers (Matthew 20:1-16), the owner’s generosity uncovered pride, coveting, envy, and malcontent in the early workers. They were exposed as lovers of self and idolaters. Yet God saved some of them – His remnant. He saved them despite themselves and with an agenda to change.
A proper focus on God and His gifts – saving and enabling grace – leads to a proper understanding of self and the proper use of gifts. Manasseh and the thief counseled themselves. They had been slow learners! They lived horrible lives and in the case of Manasseh he led many astray. Yet God can and does save those types of people. Not only did they counsel themselves, but they showed fruits of that counsel even though in the thief’s case it was only for hours. Such is our God. God’s grace: majestic and inscrutable!
1. What is your response to God when thinking of salvation: yours and such people as Manasseh and the thief?
2. How do you measure badness? How “bad” do you think you are?
3. How are you to enjoy your salvation? What evidence is there in your life that you do?
4. How are you doing in counseling yourself?
5. What is the evidence for pride, covetousness, and discontent in your life?
6. What has been your response?
7. How do these blogs help you counsel yourself?