The Defiance of Grace in the Ministry of Jesus - page 2

 


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From the Summer 2016 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

The Defiance of Grace in the Ministry of Jesus

by Dane Ortlund, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President of Bible Publishing, Crossway

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  All this we happily receive from the hand of the Lord. The need of the hour, however, is neither self-congratulation nor smug diagnosis of who “gets” the gospel of grace. The need of the hour is deeper reverence, new levels of wonder at the kindness shown oneself, and a whispered prayer that the good news of God’s free mercy in Christ would spread with a continued contagion the effects of which will be felt for generations to come. After all, wherever the gospel is recovered, diseased forms of the gospel sprout, too. Also, as is always the case, some of the most articulate trumpeters of the gospel of grace lose their way and torpedo their lives and ministries through scandal and sin. Such adversities are not reason to rein the gospel but to trumpet it—the full, comprehensive, biblical gospel—more than ever.
  Paul is often seen as the key biblical writer to write of grace. But as a German Bible scholar from another generation, Ernst Käsemann, said, Paul taught what Jesus did. Paul’s letters give us the prose of grace; Jesus’ life paints us a portrait of grace.
  This grace shines through uniquely in each of the four Gospels. In Matthew we see the surprise of disobedient obedience. Jesus’ rebuke is counterintuitive. Mark shows us the surprise of the king as a criminal. Jesus’ mission is counterintuitive. In Luke we are confronted with the surprise of outsiders becoming the insiders and insiders, oddly, becoming the outsiders. Jesus’ community is counterintuitive. And in John we see the surprise of the Creator taking on flesh and blood as a creature. Jesus’ identity is counterintuitive.

Matthew

  The deepest distinction among human beings is not between the bad and the good, but between those who know they are bad and those who do not. Yet strangely, it is not the blatantly wicked who have the greatest difficulty seeing this but the carefully obedient. Jesus consistently diagnoses the quiet guilt of the rule keepers. Scrupulous obedience is, more often than we are aware, thinly veiled disobedience. Obedience, therefore, can be damning.
  Nowhere is this put more sharply than in Matthew’s Gospel. Throughout the book, the strange key to participation in the joys of God’s kingdom is not qualifying ourselves for it but frankly acknowledging our disqualification, a disqualification that manifests itself not only in rule breaking, but also in rule keeping. Keeping the rules extinguishes the sin in our hearts no more than buckets of gasoline extinguish the flames in our fireplaces.
  Consider a string of accounts in the middle of Matthew’s Gospel. In each passage, a central character assumes one has to “qualify” to gain some corresponding approval.

  • The disciples thought little children needed to qualify with age in order to gain Jesus’ attention (19:13–15).
  • The rich young man thought he needed to qualify with law keeping in order to gain eternal life (19:16–22).
  • Peter and company thought they had to qualify with sacrifice in order to gain a reward (19:23–30).
  • The early hired workers thought all employees had to qualify with sufficient work in order to gain a day’s wage (20:1–16).

  The greatest danger for followers of Christ is not the ways they fail Him, but the ways they succeed. Failures are precisely the kind of people God is looking for. For failures instinctively understand how to open the windows of their hearts to let in help. Successes invariably turn in on themselves in satisfied self-reliance.

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