“The whole message of the gospel is introduced by this word ‘grace’. Grace means that in spite of everything I have been saying about man, God still looks upon him with favour. You will not understand the meaning of this word ‘grace’ unless you accept fully what I have been saying about man in sin. It is failure to do the latter that explains why the modern conception of grace is so superficial and inadequate. It is because man has an inadequate conception of sin that he has an inadequate conception of the grace of God. If you want to measure grace you must measure the depths of sin. Grace is that which tells man that in spite of all that is so true of him God looks upon him with favour. It is utterly unmerited, it is entirely undeserved; but this is the message of ‘Grace be unto you.’ It is an unmerited and undeserved action by God, a condescending love. When man in sin deserved nothing but to be blotted out of existence God looked on him in grace and mercy and dealt with him accordingly.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) pp. 40, 41
“Again, That little that a saint hath, he hath it from the special love and favour of God; he hath it from a reconciled God, Prov. 15:17. Now, a little from special love is better than a great deal from a general providence. A penny from a reconciled God is better than a pound from a bountiful God; a shilling from God as a father is a better estate than an hundred from God as a creator. The kiss that a king gave to one in the story, was a greater gift than the golden cup that he gave to another; a little, with the kisses of God’s mouth, is better than all the gold of Ophir, Cant. 1:2. A drop of mercy from special love is better than a sea of mercy from common bounty. Look, as one draught of clear, sweet spring water is more pleasing, satisfying, and delightful to the palate than a sea of brackish salt water, so one draught out of the fountain of special grace is more pleasing, satisfying, and delightful to a gracious soul than a, whole sea of mercy from spring of common grace: and therefore do not wonder when you see a Christian sit down contented with a little.” —Thomas Brooks, An Ark for All God’s Noah’s
“God chastises our carcasses to heal our consciences; he afflicts our bodies to save our souls; he gives us gall and wormwood here, that the pleasures that be at his right hand may be more sweet hereafter; here he lays us upon a bed of thorns, that we may look and long more for that easy bed of down,—his bosom in heaven.
As there is a curse wrapped up in the best things he gives the wicked, so there is a blessing wrapped up in the worst things he brings upon his own, Ps. 25:10, Deut. 26:16. As there is a curse wrapped up in a wicked man’s health, so there is a blessing wrapped up in a godly man’s sickness; as there is a curse wrapped up in a wicked man’s strength, so there is a blessing wrapped up in a godly man’s weakness; as there is a curse wrapped up in a wicked man’s wealth, so there is a blessing wrapped up in a godly man’s wants; as there is a curse wrapped up in a wicked man’s honour, so there is a blessing wrapped up in a godly man’s reproach; as there is a curse wrapped up in all a wicked man’s mercies, so there is a blessing wrapped up in all a godly man’s crosses, losses, and changes: and why then should he not sit mute and silent before the Lord?” —Thomas Brooks, The Mute Christian under the Smarting Rod
“Though no man shall be rewarded for his works, yet God will at last measure out happiness and blessedness to his people according to their service, faithfulness, diligence, and work in this world, Rom. 2:5–7. Grace is glory in the bud, and glory is grace at the full; glory is nothing else but a bright constellation of graces; happiness nothing but the quintessence of holiness. Grace and glory differ non specie, sed gradu, in degree, not in kind, as the learned speak. Grace and glory differ very little; the one is the seed, the other is the flower; grace is glory militant, and glory is grace triumphant, and a man may as well plead for equal degrees of grace in this world, as he may plead for equal degrees of glory in the other world. Surly the more grace here, there more glory hereafter.” —Thomas Brooks, Apples of Gold
“Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” —Galatians 1:1-5
In his letter to the Galatians Paul gives his typically untypical greeting untypically. Still with me?
“Grace and peace” are the standard fare of verbal appetizers to Pauline entrées. But Paul’s typical greeting is untypical. The normal Roman way of expressing epistolatory salutations was the word chairō, meaning “rejoice,” often limply “trans-interpretated” into English as “greetings.” It is used in two letters mentioned in Acts (Acts 15:23, 23:26), and James uses it in his (James 1:1). Paul, however, uses the related but distinct word, charis, and always marries it with “peace.”
This is a distinctly Christian greeting that draws deeply on the Old Testament. John Stott writes,
“Paul sends the Galatians a message of grace and peace, as in all his Epistles. But these are no formal and meaningless terms. Although ‘grace’ and ‘peace’ are common monosyllables, they are pregnant with theological substance. In fact, they summarize Paul’s gospel of salvation. The nature of salvation is peace, or reconciliation—peace with God, peace with men, peace within. The source of salvation is grace. God’s free favour, irrespective of any human merit or works, His loving-kindness to the undeserving. And this grace and peace flow from the Father and the Son together.”
Paul didn’t say “grace and peace” the way we say “Hello!” For Paul to say these words, Jesus had to give Himself for our sins.
The saints need rich ways to greet, bless, and speak to one another. There is nothing wrong with using the customary greetings of our day, James did, but we have the opportunity to communicate so much more. I’m afraid greetings and ways of addressing and speaking to one another like this have largely disappeared because in our childhood experience they were either a rote formality where the gospel depths underneath them were not celebrated and/or because the church didn’t want to look weird. We were told not to load our seeker services with language foreign to unbelievers. I’m glad Paul didn’t have these concerns.
When we fail to call one another saints, it’s just yet another way we fail to be the saints—those set apart by the gospel. When we fail to greet one another with “grace and peace,” we fail to enjoy God’s grace and peace as deeply and communally as we should.
But how is it that Paul gives this typically untypical greeting untypically? By all of the modifying phrases he attaches to it. Only in Romans do we see Paul elaborate so, but whereas in Romans he appears enraptured, in Galatians he is enraged. Why? Because the gospel that is the source of this grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ is being threatened in a most severe way.
Paul viciously defends this grace and peace for there is no other. If you don’t have peace with God, you do not have peace. You may have a delusion, but you do not have peace. What peace can one have when they abide under the wrath of God Almighty (John 3:36)? The only place you can find refuge from God is in God. If you would have peace with God, you must find grace from God; and there is grace from God only as it is grace from the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins.
May we not only greet one another with these precious blood bought words, may we fight to do so.
One of the best introductions to the little book of Jonah is given by a fictional preacher, “Father Maple,” of what is hailed by many as the great American Novel, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
“Beloved shipmates, clinch the last verse of the first chapter of Jonah—‘And God had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.’ Shipmates, this book, containing only four chapters—four yarns—is one of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the Scriptures. Yet what depths of the soul does Jonah’s deep sea-line sound! what a pregnant lesson to us is this prophet! What a noble thing is that canticle in the fish’s belly! How billow-like and boisterously grand! We feel the floods surging over us; we sound with him to the kelpy bottom of the waters; sea-weed and all the slime of the sea is about us! But what is this lesson that the book of Jonah teaches? Shipmates, it is a two-stranded lesson; a lesson to us all as sinful men, and a lesson to me as a pilot of the living God. As sinful men, it is a lesson to us all, because it is a story of the sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly awakened fears, the swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and finally the deliverance and joy of Jonah.”
Though immersed in nautical terms, though that novel centers on a whale, Father Maple gets closer than many to the true message of the book. Maple was a former whaler and knows more of what Jonah is about than we landlubbers who are preoccupied with the great fish.
Father Maple said Jonah teaches a two-stranded lesson. The first lesson concerns the sin and repentance of Jonah. The second he later says is “to preach the truth in the face of falsehood.”
Still, Father Maple misses the greatest point of this little book. Greater than Jonah’s sin and greater than Nineveh’s repentance is God’s mercy. God’s grace makes blue whales look smaller than the krill they feast on. God’s grace is so great, a multitude of blue whale-size sinners can swim and live in it.
G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “Men have been looking so hard at the great fish that they have failed to see the great God.” The most astounding thing that happens in this book isn’t that God appoints a fish to swallow Jonah, but that he appoints His grace to swallow sinners. This is a whale of a tale, a big fish story—and it is true. God’s grace really is that big.
“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation (Exodus 34:6–7 ESV).’”
What Moses sees on Sinai is a revelation of God’s name (Exodus 33:19, 34:5, 6), His goodness (Exodus 33:19), and God’s ways (Exodus 33:13; cf. Psalm 103:7–8). Moses gets a glimpse into the very heart of God and what he see is this, Yahweh is a God of mercy and justice. As you read through Exodus, is this not the epic glory you are overwhelmed with? In Exodus, the immeasurable mercy and fierce wrath of Yahweh sweep over one like a colossal tidal wave.
Some would think this a contradiction. How could a just God be merciful? At best this is only a paradox, though I don’t think it even rises to that level of perplexity. For there to be grace there must be justice or grace doesn’t mean grace. Grace presumes justice. Justice must be a necessary given for grace to have opportunity to exist. Only in an atmosphere of justice does any species of grace thrive.
By grace some take God to be an indifferent, impersonal fountain of rainbow bubbles. Indifference isn’t love and only a loving God can be gracious. Also, if God loves, this means he hates, for love hates that which is opposed to the object of its love.
What really bothers people about this passage is nothing they take it to mean of grace, but what they understand it to say about justice. Which is to say, they don’t like true grace, for grace presumes not only judgment, but guilt. But for those who have really seen God, what stuns them is His mercy. His wrath, though awesome as a river of blood to behold, is expected in its coming. It is grace that surprises and amazes. If you see God, your posture isn’t one of protest, but of petition. In the light of God’s glory Moses cried out for mercy and grace. It is not astounding that at the revelation of the Holy One so many bow. What is astounding, is that so often, for those He sets His love on, there is something in the beholding that leads them to believe that mercy is something they may cry out for.
As one ponders the cross of Christ, it is clear that there can be no contradiction between grace and justice, for there we see the fullest revelation of both. The glorious harmony of grace and justice that rang out from the cross ever reverberates through all creation and will forever resound to the glory of the crucified Christ.
Give God’s law a fair shake and I believe you’ll be struck with the fairness of it. A cursory glance looking for barbarisms and inconsistencies won’t suffice. That’s not fair. Study it. Generally our society agrees that law takes some of that. I don’t want to argue for this here, rather, I want you to be struck with where you see this in the Bible.
After God’s mighty redemption of His people He gives them these laws of justice. After grace, justice. After mercy, righteous judgment. Grace isn’t allergic to justice. Mercy isn’t polarized against righteousness. Remember that the salvation of God’s people came by judgment. Justice fell on Egypt that Israel might go free. But this wasn’t justice enough. The death penalty hung over Israel’s head as well. If they were to go free, redemption must be paid. A lamb must bleed. There will be blood: bloody justice and bloody grace. The only reason any get grace, is because God upheld justice.
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21–26).”
God compromises no justice in His grace, and His grace instills justice into His people. We who are saved by grace should seek justice. When one son harms another, a good parent punishes the guilty not only because they love the innocent, but because they love the offender. We should lovingly seek for justice to be done in society by the proper authorities, all while declaring the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel of Christ who shed his blood in payment for the eternal death penalty that stood over our heads. May God’s redemption make us people of righteousness.
Murder isn’t far from any of us. We’ve got blood on our hands.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire (Matthew 5:21–22 ESV).”
“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3:15 ESV).”
When Peter preached to the crowds on Pentecost He spoke of “Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2:26 ESV).” It is highly unlikely that this is the exact crowd that cried out “Crucify Him!” but that cry expressed every rebel sinner’s heart. Later the church would pray, “truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel (Acts 4:27 ESV).” The cross isn’t about ethnic hatred for God’s Messiah, but human hatred.
The first murder was committed by the first son of Adam. As weeds and thorns now find ready root in cursed soil, so anger finds fertile ground in fallen man’s heart to bud in the fruit of murder. Cain slew his brother Abel. God told Abel “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground (Genesis 4:10 ESV).” The blood of the murdered cried out against the murderer.
The cross expresses every son of Adam’s heart towards One more innocent than Abel. But the blood of Christ instead of calling out for our condemnation, speaks for our justification. Hebrews tells us that we have come “to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24 ESV).” With Jesus, the blood of the murdered cries out for the murderers. We are given life by His death; pardon in His bearing our condemnation. O what horrid sin, O what unfathomable grace: the blood on our hands has been sprinkled on our hearts.
Why is this story here? “Well, it happened,” one retorts. Indeed, but the Biblical authors are selective. We’re never told everything, so why are we told of this event? Why is it given such attention? I believe this story primarily does three things. It compares, it contrasts, and it transitions.
It compares Moses and Israel, showing how they are similar.
It contrasts Amalek and Jethro, showing how they are different.
It transitions us to Sinai.
But to heighten and emphasize this, let me ask again, why is this story here? Often in the Scripture we find that events are arranged generally in a chronological way, but also, immediately in a theological way. As you read through the Gospels you will sometimes find a different order of events. The intent of the gospels isn’t to tell you the exact historical chronology, but to reveal the theological truth the episodes teach us about Christ. Generally, in the big scope, things are presented chronologically: Jesus’ birth, then His ministry, then His crucifixion, then His resurrection. But immediately, the arrangement is theological. This is often the case in all the Bible.
In Deuteronomy 1:8–19 there’s a very similar account to this one. Similar, I believe, because it recalls the same instance. There we have an account that complements this one, looking at it from a different perspective and tells us when exactly this takes place chronologically. When you read the context before and after, notably Deuteronomy 1:6, 19, it’s clear this happens as Israel readies to depart from Sinai. So, in Exodus, why here now? To compare Moses and Israel at this point, to contrast Amalek and Jethro, and to transition to Sinai.
Moses’ exile is a mini-exodus. Moses departs Exodus with Pharaoh wanting kill him. He was a sojourner in a foreign land, Egypt, but God brought him the place of his father’s wanderings to dwell among distant cousins. He comes to Horeb where he sins against God’s commands. Finally compliant to journey where God commands, he first returns to the mountain to be reunited with Aaron.
Now again, at Horeb, there is a reunion with family. Israel too has been delivered from the sword of Pharaoh. Having sojourned in Egypt, they’re traveling to the place promised to them, but first they come to Horeb, where they too will disobey the God who reveals Himself in fire.
Moses and Israel are compared. Amalek and Jethro are contrasted. The nations oppose Israel, but they also are grafted in. Amalek came and fought (17:8); Jethro came and inquired of Moses’ welfare (18:5–7). In 17:9 Joshua chooses men to fight, in 18:25, upon Jethro’s advice, men are chosen to judge. Previously Moses sat with the staff of God in his hand (17:12), now he sits in judgment (18:13). In both instances Moses does this all day and needs help. The parallels draw out the contrast. Amalek does not fear God (Deuteronomy 25:17). Jethro rejoices (18:9), blesses (18:10), and glorifies Yahweh (18:11). Then he offers sacrifices to God and has a covenant meal with Moses, Aaron, and the elders (18:12).
This compare and contrast sets up a a transition to Sinai. Jethro’s good advice helps Moses apply the law of God. But as this law is applied, don’t miss this, this mountain is surrounded by grace. We’re reminded of the grace shown to Moses, and to Israel, and we see a Gentile graciously grafted into the olive tree of Israel in the shadow of Sinai. Jethro’s wisdom helps the law be applied so that God’s people go to their place in peace (18:23). For the redeemed of God, His law is surrounded by grace.