The Epiphany of Grace
I remember being in the mall and noticing a few people gathered around a display, staring deeply into pictures comprised of nothing but thousands of dots. I later learned these images are called autostereograms. Every so often, someone would shout, “I see it!” I joined the group … and I saw nothing. I felt like I was in an Emperor’s New Clothes situation. I was tempted to chime in from sheer peer pressure.
“Um …yes! I see it too … the … horse.”
“It’s not a horse, it’s a dog.”
“Uh .. ya … that’s what I meant. A dog as big as a horse.”
Historically speaking, the 1st Sunday of new year is regarded on the church calendar as the Sunday of the Epiphany. Epiphany is from the Greek, meaning “to reveal”. Specifically, the church would reflect on Matthew 2, the passage where God revealed Christ to a handful of pagans who didn’t deserve the grace of Jesus – the Magi from the East. Christ’s incarnation was God connecting the dots for a massive reveal: He had come into a fallen humanity – not to condemn us, but to save us.
Christ’s birth provoked two significantly different reactions: the Magi worshipped at Christ’s throne and Herod would stop at nothing to defended his.
The Magi were pagan astrologers. In other words, they were unlikely worshippers. And thanks to God’s grace – so are we. The Magi said, “we have come to worship Him.” Worship is what happens when the scales fall from our eyes and we see that we have been offered the scandalous, undeserved gift of God’s grace.
Worship goes far beyond singing. It is living to the glory of something else – and whatever that “else” is – that thing we centre our lives on, is the object of our worship. So, like the Magi, we are unlikely worshippers, who find rest and renewal in the Lord of grace, bend our knee to the King of grace and live to the glory of His grace.
Once you find the image in an autostereogram you can return to it and continually find it. That’s what the gospel of grace was like for Susan and I. We had been in church our whole lives, but trying to understand the Bible felt a little like staring into a mess of dots. We weren’t sure how it all connected.
If you asked me what the unifying theme of Scripture was ten years ago, I would have said Jesus – but if you examined the subject of my old sermons, they rarely landed on Jesus and rarely directed the listener to marvel at Jesus. I didn’t preach Christ crucified so much as I preached Christian improved.
My understanding of Christian disciplines never orbited around the grace of Jesus. I never grasped that Christian obedience was from the freedom of already having God’s blessing because it was always presented to me as the mechanism for leveraging God to get His blessing.
Susan and I lived our lives on a treadmill of religious performance, so hearing about the grace of Jesus was like seeing an image emerge from thousands of dots – the wonder of God’s grace was a game-changing epiphany.
When Susan and I came to the understanding that being justified by grace means “Christ paid it all – full stop”, that understanding did not bring our Christian disciplines to a full stop. God’s grace didn’t lead us into complacency about prayer, God’s grace lead us into a newfound rest in prayer. We didn’t toss aside the Scriptures, God’s grace was now the lens that opened them. When we started down the path to church planting back in 2012, God’s grace was the compelling force that moved the members of our team to sacrifice their time, talents and finances to establish KW Redeemer. God’s grace is not like opium, sedating the church, it is like smelling salts – awakening the church.
The gospel is not good news that wears out and becomes old news. Our need for God’s grace is constant therefore our need for the good news of the gospel is constant.
There is no shortage of sin in our thoughts, our words and our actions where His forgiving grace is not needed. There is no shortage of trials and circumstances where His empowering grace would not be welcomed. Everyone who walked through the doors of their churches last Sunday will need God’s grace again this Sunday – and every day in between.
The gospel is endlessly interesting, endlessly rich, endlessly relevant.
Matthew 2 was God’s big reveal on His grace for the nations. This epiphany, given to pagan Magi, showcases the heart of the gospel: a loving King willing to leave the comfort of His throne to suffer, die and rise again in order to offer His saving grace to unlikely worshippers – which is all of us.