Three weeks ago, as we entered 2024, I brought a message from the 20th chapter of the Book of Acts, specifically verses 17-24. The text gives us St Luke’s account of Paul’s message to the Ephesian clergy. Here is part of what he told them:
“I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:17-24)
We’ve spent the last two weeks looking at some of the elements of the ‘gospel of God's grace’ – such as His unchangeable holiness, His forgiveness, His defeat of Death itself and why He does not give us what we deserve for our sins – which is eternal death.
I want to conclude this series today by looking today at only three more aspects of God's grace: His grace to spare us from the wrath He will inflict on all humanity at the Judgment Seat of Christ; His grace that results in the reconciliation of ourselves with His utter holiness; and finally, He grace that has moved Him to prepare for us an eternal dwelling.
First, it is His grace that will spare every faithful Christian from His wrath of eternal Judgment resulting in an eternity in the Lake of Fire.
I need to say that again as clearly and as unequivocally as I can: If you are a child of God through your faith in the sacrificial atonement Jesus purchased and SECURED for us with His death and resurrection, then you will NEVER experience even a moment of God's wrath that He brings on a humanity that has rejected His salvation.
Why not? Because God spent His wrath in full on Jesus. No wonder Jesus cried out from the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). It was at that moment that Jesus BECAME sin – your sin and my sin. It was at that moment that Jesus experienced the rejection of the Father – the rejection that you and I now will never, ever experience.
It was on that cross that Jesus fulfilled for all who call to Him as Lord the prophecy of Isaiah 53: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all . . .Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin . . . the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.”
Listen: The IS a final Judgment for the wicked. And those whom God judges to be damned will spend eternity in that Lake of Fire – regardless of what some theologians, clergy, and people in the pews might like to think otherwise. And as to the Judgment Seat, here are only a few warnings to humanity:
John the Baptizer warned the hypocritical clergy coming to him for baptism: (Matthew 3:7-10) “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance . . . The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
And St Paul warned the Christians at Corinth: 2 Corinthians 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ . . .”
But on the other hand, listen for a few moments to a few texts in which God PROMISES that the Christian will be spared God's wrath: (John 3:36) “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
(Romans 5:8-9) “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:9-10) “For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.”
The gospel of God's grace – the good news of God's grace – informs us that the Christian has nothing to fear from God's wrath because through Christ, He has reconciled the Christian to Himself.
The New Testament defines reconciliation as the restoration of harmony between people who are at enmity with each other. I’ve preached on this subject of reconciliation in recent weeks, and I do it again now for both emphasis AND reminder of what our merciful and gracious God – who is ALSO a Righteous Judge – what He did on Calvary to execute His justice against the sinner while at the same time embrace that sinner in His mercy.
First, this reminder: Our sins put us at enmity with God. Our sins create an irreconcilable barrier between us and the Holy God. He tells us through Isaiah 59:2 – “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” And through James 4:4 “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
But because God CHERISHES you and me, He provided for the execution of His sinless Son to be our sacrificial atonement – to take our place as our substitute. If we will believe in that atonement with obedient faith, the unbridgeable gap would be bridged, and the obedient follower of Christ would have everlasting life. We become RECONCILED with our Creator. We are placed now and forever in a state of harmony.
Listen to Romans 5:1, 8-10 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
Is it any wonder the hymn writer cried out in worship: My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!— My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
And finally for this point, listen to Ephesians 2:1-6 – “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world . . . and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
Listen, please. We must remember that ALL Christians are each a ‘temple of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 6:19). And with that truth in mind, we must also know that we cannot be at any more harmony with Christ, then to have his Unchangeable, Immutable, Pure, and Perfect Holy Spirit living inside of us.
If that does not demonstrate the faithful Christian’s harmony with our God, then nothing can demonstrate that joining of sinner-saved-by-grace and our Holy Creator. And again, this harmony is not provided to us because WE deserve that harmony. It is given us ONLY because of God's grace that restores our relationship through the sacrificial death of His son Jesus.
But we have to now move on for the sake of time to the next feature of the gospel of the grace of God. That is: He is preparing a place in heaven for the believer.
We must make no mistake about this point: The unbeliever is marching toward the grave. He knows he cannot escape it. He or she might delay the inevitable with modern medicine or technology – but they still know they are marching inexorably toward the grave.
The Christian, on the other hand, is marching inevitably and inexorably AWAY from the grave. Listen to the apostle Paul (Romans 6:3-5): “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.”
The Christian – and ONLY the Christian – has already been buried with Christ. As a consequence, we are now, every day, moving further and further from the grave and closer and closer to our eternal, resurrected life.
Let me reiterate that point and remind us of the points already addressed: Because the Christian has escaped God's wrath because Jesus substituted Himself for us on that cross to receive the wrath WE deserve; And because God has placed the Christian in complete harmony with Himself through obedient faith in Christ, THEREFORE, God is – right now – preparing a home for each of His blood-bought children.
Listen to this familiar text from John 14:1-3, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
I used to think of that verse as referring to the Lord’s call for the entire Church to meet Him in the clouds – as St Paul described it in 1 Thessalonians 4.
I’m not sure why I thought of it that way, because while it IS true that one day – soon, I hope – the Trumpet of 1 Thessalonians 4 will sound, and the dead and the living will be all caught up together to be forever with the Lord – while THAT is certainly true, it is EQUALLY true that Jesus is preparing an individual home for individuals whom He can call at any moment of any day – including today.
This promise of the gospel of God's grace in preparing a place for us in heaven is directed (as with each of the components of God's grace) only at the faithful Christian. These features of the gospel of God's grace do not apply to the persistent and willful sinner who lives in unbelief of the gospel.
For them there is only one destiny after their death toward which they are all moving. God has included Revelation chapters 19 and 20, which solemnly warn of the Lake of Fire – God has included those chapters not only to warn the unbeliever of his terrible destiny, BUT to also PLEAD with the unbeliever to avoid that destiny by repenting of sins and obeying the gospel of God's grace. I know I’m about to preach to the proverbial choir, but the choir – AND I, as well – needs to hear this again and again, as do those outside the church:
Notice God's appeal to ancient Israel: (Ezekiel 18:30-32) “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. 31 Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.”
Peter, speaking to the very religious clergy and laity on the Day of Pentecost, when they asked him what they should do, he responded:
“Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:38-40)
Indeed, the first recorded words of Jesus in Mark’s gospel were: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
As every faithful follower of Christ knows, ‘repentance’ is not a one-time action. It MUST be a daily, ongoing humbling of ourselves before our holy God. As He tells us through St Jonh’s pen: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)
The gospel of God's grace is so very much more expansive than I have been able to adequately describe in the messages of the last three weeks. We have looked only very briefly at His unchangeable holiness, His forgiveness, and His defeat of Death itself. Today we also looked at His grace which has spared us FOEREVER from the wrath He will inflict on all humanity at the Judgment, and at His grace which has reconciled Himself with sinners. And finally – and only for the sake of time – we looked at His grace which moves Him to prepare for us an eternal dwelling.
I close this message with this word: ALL the features of the gospel of God's grace are applicable ONLY to those who are His children through their obedient faith in Christ. How, one might ask, do we become God's children? Repent. Be baptized. Live a holy lifestyle in accordance with His commandments.
I chose this song sung by Josh Groban to close today’s message. The lyrics are applicable to everyone in this sanctuary. Here are some of the lyrics:
I have been blind, unwilling
To see the true love you're giving
I have ignored every blessing
I'm on my knees confessing
I have been wrong about you
I thought I was strong without you
For so long, nothing could move me
For so long, nothing could change me
Now I feel myself surrender
Each time I see your face
I am captured by your beauty
Your unassuming grace
And I feel my heart is turning falling into place
I can't hide it now, hear my confession