Many people know that a group of lions is called a pride and a group of fish is called a school, but in visiting a Farmers Almanac post on this topic, I was surprised to learn that a group of alligators is called a congregation! I couldn’t help but laugh given my experience with congregations as a pastor.  I will forego any reference to church members as alligators, however I would like to propose that a congregation is not a group of alligators – but is in fact a group of sinners, in need of God’s grace.  That’s what the church is – sinners who are covered by God’s Amazing Grace.

I’ve wrestled all my life with the need to feel self-sufficient. It seems that I always want to try to “earn points” with God. But, grace is a continual reminder that we are not and never will be self-sufficient. Instead, we are and always will be Christ-sufficient.  Christ has done it all!

Grace continually reminds us that we are not self-sufficient; We are Christ-sufficient.

This is what the apostle Paul found to be true as he captured the Lord speaking

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2  Corinthians 12:9

Our culture prizes that which is strong.  But in God’s economy, weakness is a form of strength. This is the scandal of grace. Martin Luther, one of the fathers of the Reformation, said it this way:

“This is the mystery of the riches of divine grace for sinners; for by a wonderful exchange our sins are now not ours but Christ’s, and Christ’s righteousness is not Christ’s but ours.” – Martin Luther

It’s a scandal that God would allow His Son – His perfect and holy Son – to take on our sin so that we could become righteous before him.  This is captured so well in this verse of scripture

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21

The problem with grace is that it doesn’t allow the Pharisees of Christ’s day, the church leaders in Martin Luther’s day, or the self-righteous critics of our day,  to pride themselves in their work. How can they (or we) rank ourselves higher than others if God just gives out righteousness freely?

Jesus dealt with this sentiment in His parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew chapter 20.  This parable is all about God’s grace. We learn from observing the vineyard owner in this parable that

1. God is the initiator of grace.

The workers didn’t go knocking on doors – they were simply waiting to be hired. It was the landowner that went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard” – Matthew 20:1

When we’re honest with ourselves we must recognize that God’s grace works this same way in our life. His grace always comes to us. We don’t go looking for God. He finds us. Even when we’re still sinning God is gracious to us. This kind of grace is scandalous. It really is backwards from the way the world works. In the world, if you want something good you have to make it happen. In God’s Kingdom, however, good things are simply a gracious gift that God gives. Always.

2. God’s grace is relentless.

We read further in this parable that the landowner not only goes out first thing in the morning but he goes out again at 9am, noon, 3pm and even 5 in the afternoon! Was the landowner just trying to make sure he got every last grape out of his vineyard? Or, is it perhaps that he was more concerned about the laborers than his grapes?  From his treatment of the latest group of workers, I’d say it’s the latter. 

If you have family members, loved ones or friends who do not yet know the grace of God, know this: God is relentlessly pursuing after them. Even if it’s 5:00 o’clock (or the “11th hour”), God will not give up on them.  Just as the landowner hired those laborers who had been looked over and not chosen, God will not stop reaching out to those who need Him – no matter how marginalized and even rejected they’ve been. His grace is relentless.

3. God’s grace is a generous promise.

As we continue to read in the parable, we realize that it was only the very first set of workers that had a contractual agreement with the landowner. They would work a day and receive a denarius (an acceptable day’s wage). All the workers who came after that, however, the landowner only agreed to pay them what was right. This illustrates to us that there are two different ways of interacting with God; either on a contractual/transactional basis (we work and God pays), or in a relationship of trust and grace. For those vineyard workers who simply trusted the landowner, they received generosity beyond their expectation!  However, for those workers who saw the relationship with the landowner as contractual, the landowner gave them just what they agreed to, and no more.

I think each of us has the opportunity of choosing to see our relationship with God in one of two ways. Either we are in a transactional relationship with God by which we effectively “bind” His hand (in other words we think that God is obligated to compensate us for what we’ve done); or we are in a relationship of faith and trust with God in which case He surprises us by His generous grace.  I believe that in this parable, Jesus is encouraging us toward the latter.

Transformed by Grace

So how do we respond to this grace, once we recognize that God has given us what the apostle John refers to as “grace upon grace”?

 John 1:16 “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

Grace changes the way we see the world, doesn’t it?  It transforms us!  As transformed Christians we now celebrate when God is gracious to others instead of being envious of them. We are more willing to extend others grace when we ourselves are wronged. But mostly, we are moved to tell the world of the good news of God’s grace. The apostle Paul was so changed by his encounter with God’s grace that as he was nearing the end of his ministry he said this:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. – Acts 20:24

This is the marching orders of the church – that you and I would finish the race testifying to the good news of God’s grace! Who is God calling you to be gracious to? Who is God calling you to introduce to the amazing grace of God?  May it be so, for our good and for God’s glory. 

Prayer: Father in heaven we thank you that you are gracious to us even though we do not deserve it. Help us to see others the way that you see them. Cause us to not only tell them of your grace, but to be conduits of your love and grace as we encounter them. In your name we pray. Amen.

You can listen/view the sermon “Scandal of Grace” in which I cover this topic in more detail, HERE.