Everyone wants justice for other people. We all want the job of dishing out instant karma to all the bad people in the world. I was gonna show some videos of instant karma in action—there’s a bunch of really good ones: a guy goes to kick a dog, loses his balance, falls and busts his head on the curb. Another guy is teasing a pit-bull by kicking the metal fence that the dog is behind—he thinks it’s so funny getting the dog all worked up—until the pit-bull grabs him and chomps down. He pulls away, loses his shoe and takes off his sock to discover some new holes in the top of his foot. A burglar is caught on a security camera trying to break into someone’s house by throwing a big rock at a window, but it bounces off the shatterproof glass and knocks him unconscious instead. There’s so many good ones, and they’re all too disturbing to watch in church. But they’re so satisfying—because we love to watch people get what’s coming to them.
Until we’re the one who’s got it coming. We don’t want justice when we’re the one who’s guilty. We want mercy. We want to get away with it.
Karma is the way the world works. You reap what you sow. If you do bad things, put negativity out there all the time, talk bad about people, hurt people—you’re asking for it, it’s gonna come back around and get you. It’s something that everyone knows, right? You reap what you sow. Your sins will find you out. People get what’s coming to them. There are whole religions built around this idea. It’s the way the world works, right?
It’s not how Christianity works, though. It’s not the gospel. Karma is the way the world works, but it’s not the way God works in the world through Jesus.
We’re in this series called Overwhelmed. Bad things happen in our lives and it doesn’t take much to overwhelm us. Jesus says the thing to do is to come to Him and He’ll give us rest—but sometimes we don’t want to come to Jesus. We don’t feel like it. Like, when we think He’s mad at us, when we’re guilty and ashamed. Or when we’re mad at Him because He didn’t answer our prayer the way we wanted Him to. I’m hoping today’s message will help us when we’re feeling like this. I think it’s important for us to understand the difference between the way the world works and the way God works in the world. The difference between mercy and grace. And the difference between what God has promised us and what He hasn’t.
Prayer: Father in heaven, we are too easily overwhelmed. We are too quick to get discouraged when things don’t go the way we want. We’re too quick to doubt Your goodness when bad things happen. Open our eyes to see Your grace. Open our hearts to feel Your mercy. Draw us to Jesus today and give us the rest and peace that He’s promised for all who come to Him. AMEN
We want justice for other people. We want mercy for ourselves. Mercy is when we don’t reap what we have sown. Mercy is when we get away with it.
King David heard about a rich man who had many lambs and cattle but took the only lamb a poor man had, a little lamb that was kept in the house as a family pet—the rich man took it and killed it and served it at a dinner party. David was outraged, said the evil lamb stealing sociopath ought to be put to death!
Then the prophet Nathan told David the man was him.
King David had cheated on his harem of wives with another man’s only wife, then he had the man killed in a desperate attempt to get away with it. The prophet let David know God was also outraged.
David wanted to punish the guy who took the pet lamb from the poor family—but when he found out that the story was about him, to illustrate what he had done wrong—well, then he prayed this prayer:
Psalm 51:1-2 A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
Hmm. Changed his tune pretty fast, didn’t he? I think we all do the same thing. We demand justice for everyone else but beg for mercy when we get caught.
The good news for us is that mercy is being offered to us. The good news is that God loves us so much that it’s His idea to offer us mercy even before we ask for it.
Ephesians 2:4-10 says,
“because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions.”
Even before we can ask for Him to “blot out our transgressions and cleanse us from our sin.” He has to offer us mercy before we ask for it because we were dead. Dead people don’t ask for anything. Dead is dead. God takes the initiative and shows us mercy because He is rich in mercy. Mercy is when we don’t reap what we sow. Mercy is when we get away with it.
When we pray, “Lord have mercy on me, a poor sinner” we’re saying, “God, I know I’ve done wrong, I know I’m guilty, I don’t deny it—but I’m asking that You don’t punish me according to my sins. I’m asking that you let me get away with them. That You forgive me.” We’re asking for a lot.
Mercy isn’t the way the world works, but it is the way Jesus works in the world. God is rich in mercy, He makes us alive in Christ—He says it’s by grace that we’ve been saved. Grace.
Grace is when we don’t sow but we reap anyway. Grace is a lazy farmer who doesn’t plant anything, doesn’t tend the field, and has a bumper crop at harvest time anyway. Grace actually offends us. Grace is when everyone gets an “A” even if they don’t do the work. Grace is a participation trophy. We hate grace. Grace isn’t fair. Grace is free handouts. Grace is the opposite of karma.
We talk about grace a lot. We’re saved by grace through faith. We act as if we like it. Amazing grace how sweet the sound. Your grace is enough. You’d think we knew what we were talking about—like we understand grace.
St Paul, the church planter who wrote most of the books in the New Testament, had something going on in his life that he wasn’t happy about—called it the “thorn in his flesh.” That’s where the phrase “thorn in my side” comes from. We don’t know what it actually was but he said he asked God to take it away on multiple occasions. But God didn’t take it away. This is a guy who had plenty of faith, saw miracles, and was responsible for teaching us what faith even means—but God didn’t give him what he wanted.
He talks about it in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
“To keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
My grace is all you need. But Lord, things are not going the way I want them to go. He says “His grace is enough, His power works best in weakness.” What does that even mean? It sounds like religious platitudes. “My grace is sufficient.”
Pastor Matt was texting me photos on Thursday of the flood water creeping toward his house—pretty scary. What kind of friend what I have been if I texted back, “Well, God’s grace is sufficient for you.” That’s not what he wanted to hear. Grace. Some of you have told me some really awful stories about things that have happened to you in the past—in none of those conversations would it have been cool for me to just be like, “Whatever. God’s grace is all you need. Doesn’t matter what happened to you. He likes it when you’re weak. Makes Him feel strong. Get over it already. Suck it up buttercup!”
That’s not what He’s saying.
He’s saying when you’re feeling weak and overwhelmed, when you’re powerless, broken down and weary—that’s when you’re probably ready to actually trust Him. Instead of trusting yourself. Instead of thinking you got it. That you can handle it. You don’t need any help. That’s when your faith can do you some good, when it can actually kick in.
St Paul said God wanted him to keep that thorn in his flesh so he wouldn’t get too proud. Paul had some things he was tempted to be proud of. Jesus had personally sat down with him, after the resurrection, and explained a bunch of the mysteries of Christianity to him—that kind of thing could go to a person’s head, you know? Paul said the thorn was to keep him humble. The thorn didn’t define him, he said it was a messenger of Satan.
Defined by Grace. Whatever you’ve gone through, whatever you’re going through—those things don’t have to define you. They don’t have to get the last word—not if you’re a Christian. Followers of Jesus don’t succeed or fail based on what’s happened to them. If you come to Jesus, then you’re not only NOT gonna get the punishment you deserve (which is mercy), you’re gonna get the reward, the blessing you don’t deserve (which is grace). That’s why His grace is enough. You’re gonna be okay, no matter what, because of grace. Ultimately, not only will you inherit eternal life and salvation in the next life and stand before God blameless because of Jesus at the end of time in the final resurrection— You’ll get everything good because Jesus is gonna hand it to you on a silver platter. But it also means that in this life, no matter what’s happened to you, no matter how you’ve tried to mess it up — in this life you’re gonna succeed in doing everything God saved you to do. This is grace. You can’t lose at anything that matters because of grace.
That’s how that Ephesians passage ends, the one I read earlier about God’s rich mercy. Verse 10 says you’re God’s masterpiece. That He created you as a new creation in Christ Jesus, so you can do all the good things he planned for you a long, long time ago—you’ve been part of His plan since the beginning. If you’re in Christ, and Christ is in you, then you can’t fail. Not at what God has for you to do. It’s not even fair. God’s got the whole thing rigged so you win. That’s grace.
Grace isn’t the way the world works, but it’s the way God works in the world because of Jesus. It doesn’t mean bad things aren’t gonna happen. He doesn’t promise that every little thing is gonna be alright, that we won’t have any trouble—houses are gonna flood, thorns are gonna be in our sides, we’re gonna get sick and people are gonna be jerks, that’s life on planet earth. But when it comes to what God has called you to do in this world—you can’t lose. You can’t fail. Don’t you think it’d be a good idea to stay busy doing those God things instead of whatever fool’s errands and frivolous distractions the world has you chasing?
So are you seeing it? The difference between mercy and grace? Between what God has promised us and what He hasn’t?
Grace and mercy aren’t the way the world works, but grace and mercy are how God works in the world. For Christians, those of us who trust in Jesus, we don’t get what we deserve for all the things we’ve done wrong but He shows us mercy—and we get the reward we didn’t earn just because God wants to bless us through Jesus and give it to us. He’s promised us a way through the troubles of this world, not a detour around them.
We need to remember that the next time we feel like God betrayed us because He didn’t answer our prayer the way we wanted. God alwasy answers prayer. “No” is an answer — so is “maybe later.” Whatever thorn is in your flesh, whatever you ask God to fix it right away — if He doesn’t take it away—don’t waste your troubles.
Don’t waste your cancer. Don’t waste your financial hard times. Don’t waste your grief. Don’t waste whatever trials and troubles come your way. These things are in our lives for so many reasons, most of them we’ll probably never know—Might be to keep us humble so we don’t get proud. Might be because someone’s watching us, God wants us to show them how a Christian gonna deal with something. No matter what the reason, we’re supposed to persevere, endure, keep walking by faith. Keep looking to God’s grace.
No matter what happens to us, we need to hold on to the hope that He’s taking us somewhere better. We’re not supposed to look at the things that happen to us and think it’s karma. Like God’s punishing us.
We’re supposed to point to the cross of Jesus and say, “There! That’s the Son of God reaping the punishment for all my sin and all your sin. He did that for me. He did that for you.”
That’s how God chose to work in the world. He works in the world through Jesus, who lived and died and rose from the dead so that you don’t have to get what you deserve—but you can have the life and peace He bought for you instead.
Put your hope in Jesus. Come to him all you who are tired and hurting and feeling overwhelmed—and He will give you rest. No matter what you’ve done, you’ll be shown mercy. No matter what you haven’t done, you'll be given grace, and get to ride to victory on the coat-tails of the Son of God. You’ll be part of how God is working in the world through grace and mercy. Grace for thorns, mercy for failures. Whatever is going on, whatever has happened, Jesus invites you to come to Him. Come to Jesus.
It’s a trick of the devil when you’re tempted to run from God because bad things happen—to blame Him for your troubles. When you sin, the devil wants you to be ashamed of your failures and hide from God. Don’t listen to him, don’t be mad at God or too proud to confess our sins.
If you’re overwhelmed, if your circumstances are too heavy for you to bear—Jesus says to come to Him. He has what you need. You need God’s grace and mercy so those circumstances won’t be the end of you.
2 Peter 1:2
“May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.”