Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Amazing Grace

In Amazing Grace (2006) William Wilberforce (friend
of John Newton) used the song for the abolition of
Written almost 250 years ago, Amazing Grace has been recorded by artists such as Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, Elvis Presley, Leann Rhymes, Dolly Parton and many more. It's maybe one of the most famous songs in the English language and is regularly sang at church services today.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but ow am found,
Was blind but now I see.
But it's not often that we sit back and think about what songs are actually saying, what they mean to us.

Amazing Grace that saved a Wretch Like Me

You can define grace as something given that you don't deserve.  A wretch may well need that grace to have anything, they are undeserving. Indeed John Newton, the writer of these lyrics, worked on slave ships, captained slave ships and was known for being the most profane shipmate around. We hear of wretches in the news all the time; thieves, sexual violence, murderers.

The Bible says that there is an objective moral standard but not one person lives up to it. In fact every single person is a wretch (Romans 3:23). We aren't good enough, in fact we are evil. The moral standard is listed including not lying, not stealing, not being angry, looking out for others before ourselves.

Naturally, we don't follow that standard. Just have a look at how a small child acts as they grow up.  They don't need to be taught how to lie and steal to get their own way.  And because God is right and God is just he has to deal with this evil. We wouldn't want God to let people get away with it, would we?

Naturally we are heading for the judgement of God, being removed from His presence and all the life-giving power we benefit from today. It's only by amazing grace, being saved from this judgement even though we don't deserve it, that we can have any hope. But surely that just lets people get away with evil?

No. This is where Jesus comes into it! He has paid for what we should have paid by dying on the cross. His death gives us a way out, a way to be free from evil. Whatever we have done against others, against God, we can be forgiven for through Jesus

There's a story of a man who had murdered someone, their blood all over his shirt. The village mob is chasing after him to make him pay for it with his life so he hides in a house nearby. Inside is a friend of his who takes his shirt and puts it on himself, giving himself up and taking his punishment. That's a simple illustration of what Jesus has done in dying in our place so we can be forgiven.

But it's more than that.

I once was lost but now am found

Often it can feel like we have no purpose. Like there's no meaning to life. Like we come from insignificance and go to insignificance.  We're floating along not knowing where we are or where we're going.

Jesus told the story of a shepherd with 100 sheep. One went missing and he spent all his energy to find this sheep, protect it and bring it back to the fold with great rejoicing. (Luke 15:3-7)

Jesus is the shepherd. When we feel we don't know where we are going, Jesus has put all his energy into finding us, making it possible for us to have a fulfilling life of significance, knowing God and having a hope of something after it.  And he loves to do it!

Was blind but now I see

Sometimes we can't see the point in life. Can't see where to go. Jesus uses blindness and being in darkness to illustrate this and says he is the light. (John 8:12). He has shone into the world to show people the way to God, the way to a fulfilled life and something after.

This song is the personal story of John Newton and that of Christians through the years since: Jesus offers amazing grace to us, that we don't deserve. Through his death in our place, he offers forgiveness for how we treat others and treat God. He offers a fulfilling life, a meaning, a purpose. He offers a way to truly know God, the Creator of the universe.

He proved that what did was true because he didn't stay dead, he rose from the grave. All the religious leaders, wise men, political leaders, celebrities through history, you can visit the grave of. Except for Jesus. There's something different and special about him. God promises that those who acknowledge Jesus, what he has done, and live for him can know God and have the benefit of all he has offered.

I wrote this short evangelistic talk when asked to speak at an Acoustic Night for the University of Lincoln Christian Union.