Surprised by Grace


Surprised by Grace

Genesis 33:1–17

Jacob and Esau Meet

Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother.

But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the maids drew near, they and their children, and bowed down; Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down; and finally Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor with my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” Jacob said, “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor. Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.” So he urged him, and he took it.

Then Esau said, “Let us journey on our way, and I will go alongside you.” But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds, which are nursing, are a care to me; and if they are overdriven for one day, all the flocks will die. Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”

So Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “Why should my lord be so kind to me?” So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house, and made booths for his cattle; therefore the place is called Succoth.

Galatians 4:21–5:1

The Allegory of Hagar and Sarah1

Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,

“Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children,

burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs;

for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous

than the children of the one who is married.”

Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac. But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.” So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman. 5 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

The moment arrives. Esau comes down to meet Jacob. Palms are sweating. Anything could happen. We expect a showdown. Few words shouted sharply back and forth, then followed by fists and firearms. Well perhaps not back in those days, but we have similar moments all the time in our world. Most of our biggest conflicts are not spur of the moment quandaries we fall into. They are sharp stones we keep in our shoes for years, feeling with every step we take.

The last thing we expect to see is our nemesis wearing new shoes and a smile… and carrying a pair of new shoes for us as well. That is what Jacob found when he met his brother. Grace. How would this look if we applied it to international relations? It would mean meeting our enemies with help instead of threats, despite past transgressions. I suppose it depends upon which side we stand on in the conflict. It is an unexpected surprise to receive grace. Can we give grace back in return?

The Galatians, like most of us, assumed that once we became Christians we were supposed to follow a higher moral code than everyone else and that this obedience would confirm our faith. Their eyes and their aims were on obedience, which is not bad, until we set that aim to others as well… expecting obedience from those who have not first received grace. That puts Christians at a permanent disadvantage in their dealings with others because we are indeed expected to follow a higher law than them, and instead of reciprocating wrongdoing for wrongdoing. Paul wrote to them that this surprising grace looks unfair and sometimes wrong. Paul says, it is like when the unmarried woman is able to have more children than the married one, and he points back to Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar as the founding example.

We skip over that example (it’s just an illustration anyway isn’t it?) and push on to the more ambiguous ideas of grace and law. But these ideas were never meant to be ambiguous, any more than God was just an idea. God became flesh to show us that grace to, must become flesh in us.

Where have you been surprised by Grace?

Where is God calling you to surprise someone else with Grace today?

  1. (Gen 21:8–21; Isa 54:1)

Preparing for Payback


Preparing for Payback

Genesis 32:3-21

Jacob Sends Presents to Appease Esau

Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have lived with Laban as an alien, and stayed until now; and I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves; and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.’ ”

The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one company and destroys it, then the company that is left will escape.”

And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. Yet you have said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.’ ”

So he spent that night there, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. These he delivered into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me, and put a space between drove and drove.” He instructed the foremost, “When Esau my brother meets you, and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’ then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob; they are a present sent to my lord Esau; and moreover he is behind us.’ ” He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you meet him, and you shall say, ‘Moreover your servant Jacob is behind us.’ ” For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterwards I shall see his face; perhaps he will accept me.” So the present passed on ahead of him; and he himself spent that night in the camp.

Revelation 14:12-20

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”

Reaping the Earth’s Harvest

Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.

Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.

One of the secrets of success is to begin with the end in mind. It is how we set goals, cast visions, develop missions, and break things down into manageable, doable, tasks for each day. Without this first step, we are just guessing and not even sure what success looks like, let alone how to achieve it.

I think that is why God gave us the prophets, and why He showed John the vision that has become the final book of the Bible. What would happen if we read that first though. Before we got into arguments about creation, what counts as sin, whose fault it is, etc… what if we started with a picture of the glorious perfection of the end? When I read the last several chapters of Revelation, it seems almost alien to me, like something drawn up out of a fantasy world that I have never seen and can’t imagine.

How do we get from here to there? Well, Revelation covers that too, and it’s not pretty. The passage above gives us an image of judgment being passed down upon creation and the wrath of God being used as an instrument – not only of destruction, but of redemption. A wine press is used to separate the good (juice) from the bad (pomace). In fact, if I had to pick one overarching theme of the whole vision of Revelation, it would be this: God is going to have His will done on earth as it is in heaven, and any part of us that is willing to surrender will be made new, but any part of us that refuses will be destroyed to make way for God’s plans. The gospel train’s a comin’ and you don’t want to be on the tracks in it’s way when it comes through.

So what do you do when you hear God headed your way and your house is not in order? We make like Jacob, and start doing good deeds, making donations, throwing away our addictions and cleaning house as fast as we can. At that point, we don’t just want to appear like a basically good person. We want to appear poor and humble… not worth the judge’s attention. We aren’t looking for a justification that will never come our way. We want pity. We want to make it look like we are the victim, not the perpetrator.

It never works. God sees through that every time, and those kinds of preparations are wasted efforts. To the church in Laodicea, God had John write:

“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

God would rather we be honest about our sin than to try to cover it up with false humility, pretending to be faithful, when the truth is, we don’t even know how to be faithful. There is no fooling God. He is going to have His will and He is going to have it His way, and if there is any honest part of us that really knows God at all, we will hear it tell us that we should be thankful of that, because He is a far better ruler of our world and our life than we could ever hope to be.

What parts of your life do you think are obedient to God?

“What parts of your life do you feel would be in jeopardy if God were to call you to account today?