Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sabbath Sermon - Dangerous Amazing Grace (2 Kings 5:19-27)

Let me introduce to you 4 men:

Fritz Saukel - Nazi Head of Labour and Supply, described as the greatest and cruellest slave driver since Pharaoh, who worked millions of slave labourers to death without mercy.

Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel - Chief of the Supreme Command of the Armed forces. His unquestioning obedience to Hitler led to his being responsible for more deaths than anyone could count.

Wilhelm Frick - Minister of the Interior, a vicious hard-line Nazi who title covered up his reign of terror.

Joachim von Ribbentrop - Hitler's Foreign Minister, who had greeted King George VI with a "Heil Hitler".

Each man was on trial at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. Each man was found guilty of the most horrendous crimes against mankind. Each man was sentenced to be hanged.

As Ribbentrop was asked for his last words by the executioner, he said, "I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins." And he turned to the Christian who had been assigned to be chaplain to the condemned men and said, "I'll see you again."

Saukel the slave driver, and Keitel the head of armed forces made similar statements, and Frick the man who terrorised hundreds of thousands informed the chaplain that he too had come to faith in Christ.

The chaplain was a man called Henry Gerecke, who wrote, "I have had many years experience as a prison chaplain and I do not believe that I am easily deluded by phoney reformations at the eleventh hour."

It would seem that these conversion were genuine.

And these men, despite their hands being red with the blood of millions are going to be in Heaven, and your very nice neighbour who would do anything to help you, and who is the picture of decency and moral integrity is going to Hell.

That is the shocking nature of the gospel. It cuts both ways. It is so wonderful and powerful that if a mass murderer accepts it, they will be saved. But it is so important and precious that the most decent person cannot get to Heaven without it.

The Gospel is a sword that cuts both ways. It cut Naaman free from his idolatry and pride, but it also cut Gehazi out of the people of God. With Naaman we see the transforming power of the gospel, but now with Gehazi we see the exposing power of the gospel.

It is amazing grace, but it is dangerous amazing grace.

And we learn a great truth and two very important warnings

God IS too easy on us!
Gehazi was right in v20

After Naaman had travelled some distance, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, "My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the LORD lives, I will run after him and get something from him."

Let me remind you of the story… Naaman had his sins forgiven and his leprosy washed away, Elisha wouldn't allow him to give him anything.

Gehazi is outraged because it is outrageous! And although Gehazi is a wicked and greedy man he still makes a profound statement here. Of course he doesn't react in a right way to what he says, but nevertheless it is still true.

Think about it for a moment. God is far too easy on us. Every day for all of your life you have disappointed and disobeyed God. One sin is enough to see you cast out of his presence. But we haven't just sinned once, we have sinned many times each day in what we have thought, in what we haven't thought that we should have thought, in what we have said and what we haven't said, in what we have done and what we haven't done. So there's an absolute bear minimum of 6 sins per day. That's over 2000 per year. Take your age and multiply it by 2 and add the word "Thousand" at the end. If you are 10 that's 20,000 sins, if you're 25 that's 50,000, if you're 40 that's 80,000, if you're 75 that's 150,000. And those numbers are the based on the ridiculous idea that we only sin once in each of these areas each day. They're far too small. So before the perfect holy God is the vast mountain of your personal sin.

And then add to that the fact that for those of you who are Christians - your sins are against knowledge - you should know better. Your sins committed each day as a Christian are in a sense even worse, even more of a slap in the face to God. And given that it is worse to know the truth and reject the truth than to be a filthy pervert, according to Jesus is Matthew 11:22 - many of us knew the gospel and rejected it for years before coming to Jesus.

And we need to remember that each sin is a personal offence against God. It is a personal insult to him.

And what does he do when you come seeking forgiveness for this vast mountain of wrong? What does he require of you?

To come and repent. To say and be sorry. And to believe what he says about himself

And for that he removes all the guilt and all the punishment that was waiting for us. Gehazi was right! God is far too easy on us!

It was his complaint - it should be a source of unending wonder for us.

Think of what we get - we get eternal life. At most we follow him for a few short years, and he gives us eternal life! The reward is vastly out of proportion to the service. And all the more when we realise that those who turn to Christ at the end of their lives receive the same eternal life! So it's not as if we earn the eternal life by following.

We who are dust get to live in eternity forever - we who are an offence and a stench to the nostrils of God - that's ridiculous, wonderfully ridiculous. Gehazi spoke the truth, but he didn't see the wonder of it.

Those of us who are Christians need to take this opportunity and stop to wonder at the greatness of God's grace. It is utterly stunning. He could ask the world of us, and it still wouldn't be enough to pay for one sin. Yet all he asks of us is that we repent and believe. Turn away from our sin and trust him.

God has been far too easy on us. It is a magnificent, wonderful, soul-enriching truth.

And that explains what happens in this passage. Since his grace is such a magnificent and amazing act

God will not tolerate his grace being distorted
That's main thrust of this section.

Elisha has laboured with Naaman to make the point that God's salvation costs nothing. It is just as free to Naaman as it is to any Israelite. That's the whole point of him refusing Naaman grateful reward. He knows that when Naaman arrives in Damascus, people will ask the obvious question, "What happened to you?" He wants Naaman's answer to be, "The God of Israel saved me, he made me clean." "How much did it cost?" "Nothing the God of Israel saves people for free."

Gehazi is livid that Elisha has taken nothing from Naaman. Gehazi is determined to make Naaman pay. It doesn't matter to him that Elisha has been trying to teach Naaman a very important biblical truth.

And so he goes off after Naaman who this made up story about two prophets arriving in great need. And of course Naaman gives him the money and the clothing, he's so thankful for his new life, and his new salvation that he'd do anything for God, and for God's people.

And in a moment Gehazi undoes all that Elisha had taught in v16. In a moment he distorts the grace of God.

Now we may think that we would never do that.

But if we found yourself thinking about the Nazi war criminals, "That's not fair, they should be made to pay" then you need to watch because you are in danger of making the mistake Gehazi made.

The grace that is amazing is also dangerous. It is dangerous if we forget that we didn't deserve it either.

The simple truth is none of us deserves anything from God. The Gospel is monumentally unfair. It is unfair to God - that he should have to pay for something he didn't do so that we could get something that was never ours.

We need to watch when we find ourselves being judgmental about others - because we are guilty too. We should be made to pay.

How can we do it?

We do it when we meet someone who has problems - say an alcoholic - and we make them feel as if they are sub-standard, as if they have to work even harder than the rest of us to be accepted by God. When we look down our noses at them, as if they aren't really whom the church is for. We're saying like Gehazi, "It isn't enough that you come to God, we want more from you."

We distort God's grace every time we add anything to the gospel.

You've got to be a Christian and wear the right clothes
You've got to be a Christian and come from the same background as us
You've got to be a Christian and be the same colour of skin as us
You've got to be a Christian and not done anything really terrible in your past.

Have you ever done that - assigned someone to a second class Christianity because you find out that they did something awful before they became a Christian? Or because they have been divorced? Or because they married someone who isn't a Christian? Or because they don't have the same theology as you? Or because they don't have the same pedigree in the church that you have?

That is a despicable thing. And that is what Gehazi was doing. And God does not tolerate people who add to his grace. We see what happened Gehazi, and similar will happen to anyone who adds to God's grace, and has higher requirements of others than God has.

No matter what background a person has - all God requires is repentance and faith. And you are a child of God, equal with every other child of God. There are no second class citizens of Heaven.

And pride has no place in the believers life. The only thing a Christian can say is "That could have been me."

Let me apply this in two specific ways

When God starts bringing people into this church - he'll bring all sorts. And when he does that we must be ready to welcome them and integrate them, displaying to them the amazing truth of God's grace - that even if you are a Nazi murderer, or a child abductor (like Naaman), you are now my brother or sister in Christ, and if God doesn't hold your past against you, then I certainly am not. And whether they become brothers and sisters in Christ or not, they need to see God's willingness to accept mirrored in us.

The other application is this - just as we must not distort God's grace with regard to others, so we must not distort it with regard to ourselves. There are some Christians who are immensely hard on themselves, they look at who they are and they feel that they couldn't possibly be accepted by God. They feel that they are some sort of second class Christian. We're not to do that to ourselves. God has said that we are his children, and we must not distort that grace.

God's grace is utterly amazing. We are all undeserving, and he makes any repentant sinner a son or daughter with all the rights and privileges of a son of God. We must not distort something so wondrous, for God does not treat lightly those who slander him or distort his grace.

And the second warning is this:

God will not tolerate those who ignore his grace
In this chapter we see that you can be amongst the godly and be ungodly yourself. You can have experienced all sorts of blessings, like Gehazi - he had seen countless miracles, he had heard countless sermons, he had lived in close proximity to a very godly man. Yet he was far from God.

And that is a solemn truth, you can be far from God while at the same time being very close to God's people. You can attend church, live in a home with other Christians, your closest friends can be Christians, and you still be far from God. You can have seen and heard about God's grace and ignore it.

And you may even fool many people. I'm sure the other prophets didn't suspect Gehazi of being anything other than a full-bodied believer. I'm sure that the woman at Shunem, or the widow thought Gehazi was a cert for being a believer.

But God was not fooled. And we see that he made it clear to Elisha that Gehazi was a deceiver (v26).

But Elisha said to him, "Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants?

Not only did God see what Gehazi had done when no-one was looking, but he knew exactly what he planned to spend the money on. And he revealed all of this to Elisha.

This is a great New Testament warning - Look how close you can be to the kingdom of God and yet not be in it. We see it with Judas, with Simon the Sorcerer, with Ananias and Sapphira. You can sit as Gehazi did, comfortable in the church for a long time, but God will weed you out. And he will replace you wqith ythsoe you currently look down your nose at.

Do you see what has happened in this chapter?

We started with Naaman the Syrian, the leper, and Gehazi the Israelite. Now we end with Naaman, the true Israelite, and Gehazi with his heart set on the things of Syria, the leper. There has been a complete reversal.
The Israelite receives the curse, and the pagan receives the blessing. And the story that started with an unconverted pagan and a professing believer, ends with the roles changed, and Naaman professing faith, and Gehazi condemned.

God will not tolerate those who ignore his grace. He will deal with you. And if there are people in this congregation who are ungodly amongst the godly, he will remove you. Your place is no more indispensable than Gehazi's was. God will provide a Naaman to sit in your seat.

So here is the warning - If you continue to ignore God's grace and your heart isn't set on the things of God, then you will find that God's heart is not set on you. God may say to some of you, perhaps some of you young people, perhaps some of you older people, "Enough is enough, you have sat in that pew long enough, I am going to take my grace to those who have never heard of it." And I tell you this, when you see people starting to come into this church from outside, from this community you will know that God is passing over you if you have not responded.


Some of us need to go home today and marvel that God has dealt so easy with us.
Some of us need to go home today and repent of wrong attitudes and superior feelings
Some need to need to go home today and repent of ignoring God's grace.

God's grace is amazing, but the grace that is amazing is also dangerous if we distort or ignore it.

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