When the flight attendant intones the usage of the safety devices on the plane, he or she always says to put the oxygen mask on yourself, that way you will be conscious to help your child. If you want to help your child, you have to have oxygen first.
Many times in talking about mercy and grace, it is primarily pressed as something we ought to do towards others. There is nothing wrong with this, of course we need to show grace and mercy to others! However, to be of any use to anyone, I must FIRST believe that grace is for ME. Consider this familiar story:
1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
2 And early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them.
3 And the scribes and the Pharisees *brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the midst,
4 they *said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.
5 “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”
6 And they were saying this, testing Him, in order that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground.
7 But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
8 And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And when they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the midst.
10 And straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”
11 And she said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more.”
(John 8:1-11, NASB).
The conclusion we usually come to is that we ought not to judge, we ought not to throw stones. There is nothing wrong with this. However, there is a far more profound message here. This woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. There was no hearsay, she was really actually in the wrong. Jewish law was clear, she was to be stoned to death:
10 ‘If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
21 then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel, by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you.
22 “If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.
(Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:21, 22, NASB).
No one knows what Jesus was writing in the sand, but I’ve always thought He was writing things that showed that He knew exactly what the stone throwers were hiding, that they also should be stoned or punished. Maybe it was people’s names who the stone throwers had slept with. Maybe it was a list of addresses or places where these transgressions had occurred.
The point is, we are not only asked to identify with the stone throwers. We are the woman. Jesus defended her even though she was wrong. Jesus defended her in the face of true guilt. When Jesus drew a line in the sand, He stood on her side, not theirs. When we are accused, even when we are really guilty, Jesus still stands on our side, He still defends us.
The larger point is, this is for ME. If I can’t appropriate the love and mercy of God for myself in a deeply personal and individual way, what use am I to anyone else? We can’t minister from a place of guilt, from a feeling that if the world knew our secrets, they would stone us too. We have to know that even though the whole world rightly wants us dead, and we truly have no defense, Jesus still stands on our side and defends us. His defense is effectual. Only He loves us. Only He knows how to truly defend us. Only He has the power to wash our conscience clean.
Stop worrying about whether or not you are exhibiting grace or rightly serving others. I can tell you right now, you are terrible at it. Your grace and your mercy are weak and misinformed and inadequate, and no one wants it. Your grace is that you are holding a stone, and you get shamed into dropping it and slink away. It will happen much easier if you will let Jesus stand with you, if you will realize that He loves YOU, that He defends YOU, that He knows you are in the wrong and He still stands with you. Then you will know the release of having your defender and lover of your soul give you the life-giving freedom to go YOUR way and sin no more! For my part, if I go my way, I’m sticking with HIM! When you have tasted the incredible rush of having the One who is just and the justifier of your soul stand with you in your defense, you will rush to bring others in your excitement and freedom to drink the rich nectar of His perfect love.