After 35 years of pastoral ministry it has become abundantly clear to me that human nature and the Church world are profoundly confused about the issue of God's grace. It is surprising to see how many people think our behavior, beliefs and good works are going to gain us a place in heaven one day. There seems to be a growing proliferation of these human works based beliefs, sects and cults growing all around us. As a result, the number of people that clearly understand that God's love and salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ is a wonderful gift of pure grace alone is a small remnant of people today.
This issue of God's grace in Christ alone versus human merit has always been an issue in the Bible from the beginning. The Bible starts off teaching this truth with the story of Cain and Abel. The Bible tells us in Genesis 4:3-7 that Cain and Abel approached God with two very different attitudes and offerings.
In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?
This first story in the Bible, after the Fall of Creation, is central to the entire story of God's grace to us in Christ alone. The Lord is teaching us here that only the Lord can decide what acceptable worship is really all about. That decision couldn' t be left in our hands. Cain wanted to worship the Lord his way through his offering. However, his brother Abel brought a better offering that was an early picture of Christ's blood sacrifice for our sin. This basic story lays the foundation that all true worship would have to be made through what the Lord did for us by shedding His blood for sin on the cross. Sadly, much of Biblical and Church history has been an attempt to substitute human merit and good works in place of God's gift of amazing grace. But when we try to use our religious efforts as a substitution for God's free and amazing grace in Christ, we miss the entire goal of the Bible. We end up destroying the Lord Jesus Christ's finished work on the Cross and the gracious love it represents.
This spiritual battle between God's amazing grace and our misguided human efforts at redemption were expounded upon by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians. The heart of Paul's letter is written to correct false teaching that people are saved and redeemed by a combination of God's grace and their human efforts, not God's grace alone. The letter to the Galatians was put into the New Testament by the Lord to stop this human proclivity to try and contribute to God's work of love through the Lord Jesus alone. And yet, the Book of Galatians is still not understood by large numbers of people in the Church world to this very day. Paul is so strong on this message of God's grace alone that he uses powerful threats of living under God's curse to correct it as we hear in Galatians 1:6-9,
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God's curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God's curse!
Later in his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul describes that there are only two kinds of attitudes in the world, like Cain and Abel, when it comes to how people respond to God's grace. Paul connects his description of these attitudes to two well-known women in the Bible and their children. Paul tells the church that Sarah is the mother of Isaac, a child legally born as a son of God's promise to Abraham and Sarah. On the other hand, the human attempt by Abraham to fulfill God's promise through Hagar and her son Ishmael was illegitimate because it ignored God's promises and work, instead trying to replace it with human effort. Paul uses Sarah and Isaac, versus Hagar and Ishmael to explain God's grace in a clear way. Paul reminds us that God's promises of salvation and redemption are a free gift of grace given by God alone and not connected to anything we do. This powerful argument is reflected in Galatians 4:25-26 where Paul says,
Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.
Paul tells the Church that God's grace is connected to the eternal city of Jerusalem, where our Lord Jesus Christ died for our sin and gloriously rose again from the dead so that we might be freely redeemed. Paul uses an allegory to connect the city of Jerusalem to every true believer that is living by and in God's grace and calls Jerusalem our true mother. In other words, grace comes from the Cross and is always forever connected to Jerusalem, a place of spiritual birth or motherhood to God's people throughout the ages. Jerusalem forever becomes a spiritual mother to God's people that live by grace and not by human efforts.
Now the wonderful truth about Jerusalem being a picture of our spiritual mother and God's amazing grace is that it is clearly connected to our human understanding of motherhood as well. Every human mother is a picture of God's grace the moment a child is born. No child ever does anything to be born. All children are born by grace alone. Children are always conceived and born by the work of their parents, especially mothers. It is the mother that carries the child and does the hard work of labor and delivery for the child to be born. All children ever do is just receive their mother's gift of life freely. No child ever creates their life or contributes to their birth in any way. And so it turns out that birth, motherhood and Mother's Day celebrations are all designed to teach us the Gospel message of God's free grace to us in the Lord Jesus Christ.
So it turns out that motherhood and Mother's Day were designed by the Lord and put into our DNA to show the story of amazing grace, love and freedom that are the foundations of all physical and spiritual life. When we look at our mothers and think about how we were born, the Lord wants us to be directed to Him and all that He did for us. It was our Lord, not just our moms that suffered and bled for us to be born and experience new life. It was our mother that first showed us what a relationships were all about. It was our moms that first told us they loved us and provided for all our needs. It was our Lord Jesus Christ that first embraced us through His sacrificial love on the cross. It was ultimately our Lord who has taught us, provided for us and showed us our real purpose in life. Yes, it is all about the Lord Jesus Christ and His amazing grace that allowed Jerusalem to be our gracious mother and home through His love.
So on this Mother's Day weekend may each of us extend our love to all of our mothers everywhere. May we thank our moms for their lives of love and service to us as a preeminent witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, Jerusalem is our spiritual mother and THE place where amazing grace forgave our sin and freely gave us eternal life. Jerusalem is our home and the place where we will live one day with our wonderful and gracious Lord forever. Amen.