There was this guy named Horace.The laughter tailed off uncomfortably partway through the story, and soon the silence thickened. The kids were very distressed by this story. When the sentence was pronounced, they were not happy. “He deserves the death sentence,” was a common complaint. But Horace was not being punished for his crimes. On the contrary, he was being rewarded. A couple kids would not rest until they found out if this story was true. The unsatisfied justice worried and outraged them. When I assured them that it was completely false, the relief on their faces was immediate.
Horace had never been an especially “good” guy. He’d been a bully at school. He stole money from his parents, from his grandmother, from the offering at church, from the Salvation Army Christmas kettle, from his best friend, from his best friend’s mother, from his brother, from the Pastor, from a visiting missionary, from a six year old kid, from the convenience store, from the grocery store, from the music store, and from the Gospel Lighthouse Bookstore. Horace stole tickets to the fair, and then he stole one of the big stuffed animal prizes. Horace’s neighbour asked Horace to feed his dog while he was on vacation. Instead, Horace stole his neighbour’s dog’s food and gave it to his own dog. Then he kicked his own dog. Then he went back to the neighbour’s house and kicked that dog too. Then he hung his neighbour’s cat up by the tail. Then he broke a window, went inside the neighbour’s house and stole some jewelry, cookies, and beer. Then he watched the wrong sort of movie on the neighbour’s tv.
That was when Horace was a kid. But now Horace was all grown up. He still stole things, because he needed money for his various “habits”. He stole from his boss. He stole from his boss’s customers. Horace had a wife and kids. He stole from them. He hit his wife. He abused his kids. Horace told his kids that he hated them. Horace beat up his wife’s parents.
One night, Horace had been drinking heavily after work and was on his way home. Horace was driving too fast, and was all over the road. Then before Horace knew what was happening, he had hit a pedestrian. The front bumper of the car snapped the pedestrian’s knees at 110 km/h. The pedestrian was launched over the hood, the pedestrian’s head was smashed on the windshield, and then the pedestrian flew 80 feet through the air before landing on the pavement.
Horace decided not to stop. He drove home, put the car in the garage and washed it. He told his wife to shut up when she asked him what he was doing. Then he shut the barn door, set the barn on fire, and went for a walk.
Two firefighters died that night fighting the blaze. A third one was horribly burned and mutilated, and spent eight months in the hospital, and had to get skin grafts and all sorts of nasty procedures. Three of his fingers were burned right off.
As for the pedestrian, she lived. But both her legs were amputated, and she never came out of her coma because of her severe head injury. She had a husband and three small children… She had also been pregnant, but the baby was lost because of her injuries.
No one figured out that Horace was at fault. The insurance company paid him for the barn and the car. Then Horace went to Niagara Falls and gambled the payment away.
When he came home, he decided he had enough of his kids and especially his wife. While she was sleeping he slit her throat. He murdered all of his children too. Then he went on the run, terrorizing and stealing wherever he went.
But Horace is finally being brought to justice. The bailiff read out all the lengthy charges against Horace. The trial was straightforward. Horace is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. The judge passes sentence:
“This court shows mercy to Horace, and does not require him to receive any punishment for his crimes.”
The judge doesn’t stop there.
“This court extends grace to Horace, and grants him a life-lease on a $2 million lakefront home, and also grants him a $10 million trust fund sufficient for all his heart’s desires.”
Mercy entails me not getting the punishment I deserve. Mercy is not just.
Grace entails me receiving good things that I did nothing to merit. Grace is not just either.
Our God is merciful and full of grace. But he is also holy and just.
21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.In my black heart, I am Horace. I am Horace to the core. But the righteous Judge has extended me mercy, and has granted me grace. He did this and satisfied justice by taking the punishment on my behalf, by becoming the substitute for me.
27Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded.
--- Romans 3:21-27a
Read that again: instead of sentencing me, the Judge satisfied justice by taking my punishment Himself. That is astonishing. Words are insufficient to communicate how boggling this is.
There is nothing for me to boast about. There is quite a bit for me to rejoice about.
Praise the Lord!