Riches of Grace

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:27, 1 Corinthians 15:10
This broadcast considers how Jesus looked at people. What does Christ think of human beings when He looks at them? How does He judge individuals? What people see is not what Christ sees. The Lords looks deeper and sees what people can become.
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I read recently of a business executive who made contact with people daily through interviews in his office. This man demanded from the company a long office with his desk located at the very end of the room. As people came in to talk with him, he looked them over and sized them up mentally before beginning the interview. As they walked across the room and took their seat he had already judged them and made his decision. We do so quickly judge and classify people by their looks, their walks and their attitudes.

Today, we want to think about the looks of Jesus. After all He sees the same people we do. But what does He think of them? How does He judge individuals? I am thankful to say that He doesn't do it as we do it. In Ephesians, Paul writes that Christ does things "according to the riches of His grace" or His glory. My friends, the riches of Christ can change things around considerably. God looks upon the heart and not merely the outward appearances. In 1 Corinthians 1:27, we read: "But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty." That text is so true friends. Just think about the men whom God has used to shape the world. I don't understand why He selected His disciples as He did. He passed by the great scholars of His time and went down to the seashore to find fishermen. I don't understand how He could have seen any promise at all in those humble men who were chosen to be His disciples. After all, His message was to be a world-wide message. It was to reach men in all languages of the earth. Why didn't He select those who were scholars in the Greek and Hebrew languages and who were linguistically inclined. He passed them by to call men from the very lowest levels of society.

I can imagine one morning in the little fishing village of Bethesda, the fishermen had come back from their nightly toil and were engaged in the work of mending nets. Among those who toiled that morning was a hard-headed, brawny individual who never dreamed that he was living in the day that would change his entire life. Perhaps he was humming some village folk song that day as he mended his nets, not realizing that something would happen that day which would bring his name to the lips of millions of people. He was just an obscure fisherman when Jesus passed by and looked at him. But what did Christ see that day? Not the man that Peter was, but the man he might become by the grace of God. He saw the real fisherman underneath who would stand up to thunder forth the gospel and bring thousands to the cross of Christ. He saw not the smelly nets of the crude seaman, but looked at what He saw underneath. Others were repulsed by this diamond in the rough. But Jesus saw the possibilities of development in the life of this impulsive fisherman. By the way, my friends, that's the reason a lot of us are not still dragging the old smelly nets of sin about with us. Jesus passed by and saw us and loved us. He saw us not as we were. He saw us not as others saw us, but the glorious possibilities of what we might become. Oh, the riches of His grace.

I wish we could know the full story of Peter. First of all, I wonder why he was so willing to follow immediately. There must have been something strangely irresistible about the Galilean who called him to be a disciple. When He said "Follow Me," Peter gladly laid down his expensive nets and equipment to become an itinerant disciple of Christ. Then the months and the years passed by as Peter's life was shaped up into a masterpiece of character. It took a long time because this man was arrogant and impulsive. I'm reminded of the time Michelangelo walked down the streets of Rome and saw a piece of cracked marble lying in a corner. It had been thrown away by some erstwhile sculptor, but Michelangelo looked at it and saw something in that cold stone. He called for assistants who hauled it into his studio. He began to work upon it with chisel and mallet. Deeper and deeper into the night he continued his work. Week after week, month after month. Finally, his statue was finished...a statue of Moses. That masterpiece stood for many years in the Basilica of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. Many people believe that it is the most perfect piece of sculpture that has ever been produced. It lacks only life itself.

Well, that is what Jesus saw in Peter as He saw him that day in Bethsaida. It took a lot of pounding, a lot of hammering, to remove all of the selfishness, the pride, and the vainglory. It took blows, for example, like the night of the Transfiguration, like the night when He saw Jesus walk upon the sea, and like the denial by the fireside. But slowly Christ carved a masterpiece out of the rough material of the big fisherman.

Friends, I'm glad Jesus saw me one day when He came looking for me. Aren't you happy that He did not pass you by? He could see something promising, something beautiful, even in the most ugly. When God wanted to shake the world, what did He look for, and whom did He choose? Well, he took a black-eyed Gypsy boy in England. He took a shoe salesman in Chicago by the name of Moody. In His own day, beside Peter, He selected Sons of Thunder to be His disciples. These two men, James and John, were very angry, vengeful fellows. They became angry at the drop of a hat, and yet, Jesus called them to be His disciples. They had been given a nickname, Sons of Thunder, because of their terrible wrath. My friends, Christ knew what He was doing that day. Other people might have laughed about it, but Jesus saw what grace could accomplish in the lives of those men.

Then there is the time Jesus looked in the Bowery of wicked New York Clty. Amidst all the vice and corruption, amidst the drunken derelicts of the street, Jesus saw one who was a bit worse than most of the others. He saw a drunken piece of humanity there in the gutter, and He said, "Follow Me." Sam Hadley got up from that gutter and answered the call of the Saviour and became one of the great preachers of his time. Hundreds, yes, thousands were lead to the cross through the preaching of that man who had been raised up from the most hopeless position. No one believed it possible, but it happened. That's why I like to preach about the grace of God, it is free! And it is for all to enjoy. God has taken the worse and made the best out of it.

You know, grace is really the power of God. The miracle working power! It is not a theory or a dream. It is not a dead hope. It takes power to hew a stone block into the image of a man, but it takes even more power to form a man into the image of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:10 we read these words of Paul: "But by the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." Paul seemed to appreciate God's grace more than any other person who wrote in the Scriptures. Jesus looked one day and saw that man rushing up to Damascus with orders to kill the saints. What did He see when He saw Paul on his way to Damascus? Did He see the religious fanatic? The Pharisee bigot? Ah, no, friends, He saw an apostle of love and power. He saw what would happen to Paul after the encounter on the road to that Syrian city. From the moment of his conversion, Paul was never the same. If ever I've seen a man who knew how to be thankful for salvation, that man was Paul. Later on he was shipwrecked, imprisoned, but no matter, he was still faithful and courageous. Why? Because he had tasted of the grace of God.

Suppose you should ask Paul about that grace? What is it? What does it do? I believe Paul would answer, "It was power. Power that opened my eyes when I was blinded by that heavenly light, power that caused me to lead thousands to the cross of Jesus, power that floated a ship in a storm, that opened prison doors, that neutralized the poison of a deadly snake." Yes, Paul had talked to God. And God had said to him, "My grace is sufficient for thee." Was it truly sufficient friends? Follow it through right down to the very end. Paul never waned or wavered, he was preaching grace the day he died, when he stood before the cruel Roman Emperor, Nero. The very last words he uttered according to the Scriptures was a plea for others to accept that grace. Yes, my friends, that grace of God is the only thing that can hold a man in the face of death. A man cannot die for a shallow hope or theory, but Paul counted it joy to lay down his life for Jesus. The miracle-working power of God had made him over. The grace of God had saved him and kept him.

Yes, when Jesus looks at a man it means something, that man is likely never to be the same again. Paul was never the same, neither was Nathaniel who was under the fig tree, neither was Zaccheus after Jesus looked up at him in the sycamore tree. Salvation came home with that rich man that day. Just the day before Jesus had passed by that same street and looked down in the gutter and saw a poor blind wretch who needed help. He met that man's need. The next day He passes by and looks up and sees a rich man in a tree. He was able to meet his need also. Listen, friends, Christ can meet your need and mine, whatever it might be. Whatever your problem may be, Jesus is a friend who can help.

Yes, Peter was never the same after Jesus looked at him by Galilee. But another time Christ looked at Peter. For many days Jesus had been telling His disciples about the terrible trial that awaited Him in Jerusalem. He told them, for instance, that all men would forsake Him. Peter declared that he never would. In fact, he said, "Though all others should forsake you, Lord, I will never leave you." Of course, Jesus knew better. He said, "Peter, before the cock crows thrice you will deny me three times." But Peter was in a fighting mood when the mob came to take the master in the early morning. So he stepped forward with drawn sword and whacked off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Yes, that day there was more of Peter and less of Christ than there had been before. Then they led the Saviour off to the judgment hall of Pilate. Peter followed fearfully at a great distance. But finally he came up and stood before the fire in the courtyard of the judgment hall. He stood there wondering about the proceedings inside. A little maid passed by and said, "You're one of His disciples." Peter denied it. A second time he was accused and denied, a third time, and his lips gave way to cursing and swearing in his vehement denial. Just at that moment a door opened and Christ looked out from the hall upon the face of His disciple before the fire, and just then the crowing of the cock was heard. Peter realized instantly what he had done. His heart was broken. He saw the look of love and pity upon the face of Jesus. He went out of that courtyard to fall weeping in the garden of Gethsemane.

Have you ever wondered why Peter did that terrible thing? How could he take such words upon his lips in denying his Lord? I've often wondered just why he did it. He loved Jesus so very much, and yet he did it. But friends, listen, don't you love Him also? I love Him too. But haven't you asked yourself that question over and over again, "Why did I do that, why did I say this?" Yes, we so often do the things that we should not do.

But then it's Easter morning, the break of day. Mary Magdalene has gone to the garden to weep for her Lord. She came in the early grey hours of the first day of the week to anoint him who had delivered her from so much darkness. The glory of God had broken into her life because of the loving ministry of Jesus. But when she came, she found the tomb empty. There was no body of her Lord to be found. She was weeping her heart out, when she heard a familiar voice speak to her from the darkness. Yes, Jesus revealed Himself to her there. Then the angels appeared and said, "He is risen, He is not here." Were sweeter words ever spoken, friends? The angels said, "Go your way, tell His disciples and Peter, that He goeth before you into Galilee." "And Peter", Why did the angel specify Peter in particular after all he had done in denying His Lord?

Then Mary rushes down the street, seeking the upper room where the disciples were gathered for fear of the Jews. Weeping with joy, she climbs the stairs and bursts in upon the disciples and cries out to the disciples, "I've seen the Lord." Can't you see their amazement? "You've seen Jesus?" "Yes!" And then the story tumbles out, the story of the angels and the empty tomb. She says, "Jesus wants to see you. I've seen Him. He is risen, and He wants to meet you in Galilee." New faith springs up in the hearts of the disciples, but then perhaps Mary looks around for Peter. I'm just wondering, friends, if he might not have been way over in the corner at the end of the room with his head down in his hands. I can imagine someone saying, "Yes, Peter is down there. He's so crushed and broken because of what took place on Friday." Then Mary is rushing down to him and she cries out to him and says, "Peter, come, the Lord is risen, He wants to meet us in Galilee." Can't you just imagine the big fisherman looking up with eyes red from weeping, and saying, "No, no, Jesus will never want to see me again." Yes, there is pain. There is anguish of spirit. But then Mary answers, "Peter, you were the only one named. The angels said, ‘Tell the disciples and Peter to come and meet him there.'" Can't you see Peter's eyes opening wider and wider with wonder? The very breath of heaven seems to come over his face. He asks, "Are you sure? Are you sure they called my name?"

Then I can see Peter running, running to join the others as they made their way to the country to meet Jesus. Yes, Peter was restored, forgiven. He understood now that look of Jesus in the courtyard. It meant that he was forgiven. Dear friends, let this sink into your hearts. Christ forgave Peter because he loved him so. He will forgive you because He loves you also. Rich or poor, Christian or non-Christian, He is able to meet your needs. There is grace aplenty with God to solve every problem, to heal every wound, to bring comfort and strength in every trial. The highest place you can find is at the foot of the cross, and there's grace enough for you, for me.

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