By Curtis K. Shelburne: Religion columnist
If I had but one final opportunity to stand before Christ’s people and speak his word, I pray that my sermon would be centered on the good news of God’s grace.
The grace of God as expressed through Christ Jesus and his death on the cross.
Grace that is freely given.
Grace that is free because it is given as a gift and can only be accepted as such.
Grace that is free but never cheap.
Grace that is freely available to you and to me but that cost its Giver more dearly than mortal minds can begin to fathom.
If mortals like us were big enough, strong enough, wise enough to reach up into the night sky with a paper cup and scoop up a drink of the Milky Way’s liquid light, maybe we’d be big enough, strong enough, wise enough to catch with our minds some idea of the enormity of the sacrifice God’s Son made to leave the right hand of the Father, to be clothed in humanity, and finally to bear on his own now human shoulders all the sin of the world.
But we’re not that big.
Small as we are, we can barely begin to catch a glimpse of what Christ has really done for mankind, but even that glimpse should be enough to make us fall at his feet and worship.
And so, if I had only one final chance to preach one last sermon, I pray that it would be a message focused on Christ’s cross and centered on the good news of his grace. No other message is worth preaching.
That, after all, is what it means to be not a “minister of the law” but a “minister of the gospel,” the “good news,” of his grace.
It’s a sad commentary on our fallen natures that we humans tend to react to such good news with cynicism and mistrust and sometimes downright hostility.
Stephen became the first Christian martyr because he preached the gospel of grace, which holds that since the grace of God is a free gift, not wages that can be earned or a commodity that can be bought, then even Gentiles who had been ignorant of God could stand justified on level ground with God’s “chosen people” who’d had God’s law for centuries. Accepting that kind of grace spelled death for human pride. It still does. Instead of stooping to bow to thank God for the depth of his mercy and the breadth of his love, the religious leaders who listened to Stephen’s message stooped to pick up the stones they would use to kill him. Pharisees in any age are deadly and dangerous.
But God is sovereign. His love and grace are always stronger than hatred and arrogant pride. The persecution that began with Stephen’s death spread Christians and the gospel of God’s grace all over the world. Sparks from the Holy Spirit’s fire that had begun burning brightly in Jerusalem began to flare into life-giving flame everywhere that fire was carried.
Focus on law and on do-it-yourself religion and the result is always slavery, despair and death. But focus on the Savior and his power, and the result is always life and joy, freedom and hope.
That message is worth preaching, worth sharing, worth living.