C.S. Lewis once wrote “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” That is a great statement, and it can very convicting about our attitude and practice towards others — but it really all depends on whether we really understand those words: that “God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Our passage for this morning helps us understand what it means that God has “Grace That Is Greater Than The Inexcusable.”
I. The Incomparable Invitation
Think of the incomparable invitation that Peter, James, and John had here. Jesus is near the culmination of His earthly journey, in the last moments before He goes to the cross. He is heading to Gethsemane to pray. Verse 32 says He told most of the disciples to wait at a certain place while He went on — all but three. Verse 33 tells us that “He took with Him Peter and James and John.” These three disciples got to accompany Jesus into Gethsemane! Verse 34 says He told them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.” These three guys were brought into the “inner ring” of Jesus’ fellowship. They were invited to go in where no one else would ever have the opportunity to go: into one of the most crucial moments in all of history, as Jesus would wrestle with the horrors of the cross, and bear in His body the sins of all the world.
— No invitation like this had ever been given.
— No opportunity like this had ever been presented to anyone.
— There was perhaps no bigger moment in all of history to be a part of, than this. Of all the times and places in history where you might choose to “pull aside the curtain” and get to be there when it happened, this might be it! No one else was invited there; ONLY THESE THREE! It really was an incomparable invitation!
But you know what; the Lord has offered us all an incomparable invitation. It was not only those three disciples to whom Jesus has said, “Come with Me.” He has given us all an amazing invitation to come to Him:
— First, He has given us the invitation to come to Him in SALVATION.
God created us to know Him, and be with Him forever, but we chose to walk away from God in sin. But amazingly He still loved us, and sent Jesus to go to the cross to pay for our sins, and now He calls us to turn away from our sins and come back to Him. He has invited us to be with Him in heaven. He says to us: “In My Father’s house are many mansions … and I go to prepare a place for you.”
This is an incomparable invitation. We need to ask ourselves: do we see this as the amazing privilege that it is?
When our son Michael was in college, a nationally-known professor and writer announced that he was moving to North Greenville Baptist University where Michael was attending. I didn’t know this man really well, but we were friends on Facebook. After it was announced that this man was going to NGU, this guy sent me a message and said that he would like to get together with Michael when he got there; and maybe have him join a group of students at his house. Well, I immediately shot Michael a note, and I told him: listen, if you hear anything from this man, you respond to him; this is a great opportunity to meet and learn from someone God is really using. If he invites you to his house; you go. If he asks you to participate in a project, you do it. This is an amazing opportunity; don’t miss it!
But how much more so should we regard the invitation that GOD has given us, to meet with Him? We should consider the opportunity to know Him, and meet with Him, as THE single most important opportunity of our lives.
Think about it: Jesus is calling you to follow Him. DO NOT take that for granted. When you first disobeyed Him and sinned, that should have been the end of the story. That should have been it. We should be in hell. But amazingly He had mercy on us and paid for our sins and called us to come to Him. The problem is, so many of us have heard about this for so long, that we take it for granted. And so we begin to think things like, “Well, I’ll come to Him later”, or “I’ll come when I’m ready,” etc. DO NOT take God’s grace for granted. You have been given the incomparable opportunity to come to Jesus and follow Him. Don’t take that for granted. The Bible says “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.” (Heb. 4:7) Respond to Him NOW, and commit your life to Him, today!
And this is especially true for those of us who DO know Him. If we’ve committed ourselves to follow Jesus, we need to realize the incomparable invitation WE have been given. Do you realize that Jesus Himself wants to meet with YOU every day? Do you realize that He has invited you to talk to Him every day? We call it prayer. And He has said He will speak to you every day in His word. Think of it: GOD will talk to YOU through His word — and He will do it every day! This is the most amazing opportunity. We must not take this incomparable invitation for granted:
— We need to respond like David did in Psalm 27 when God said to him, “Seek My face” and David said, “Your face O Lord I shall seek”!
— We need to say like David did in Psalm 5:3 “In the morning O LORD You WILL hear my voice.”
— We need to respond to Him like Job did when he said: “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” (Job 23:12)
This is the most important opportunity of our lifetime: the chance to meet with God Himself every day in His word and prayer. We shouldn’t even think about missing it!
God Himself is calling us: to know Him in salvation; and to meet with Him every day in His word and prayer. This is an incomparable invitation; we’ve got to take Him up on it!
II. The Inexcusable Failure
:40 “And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him.”
I found the last phrase of this verse very striking — perhaps because I can empathize with it so much. These guys had been given this amazing opportunity to go into the “inner ring” with Jesus, but they fell asleep, not once, but three times! What could be their excuse? And it even says: “they did not know what to answer Him.”
That says SO much, doesn’t it? “They did not know what to answer Him.”
What they had done was so embarrassing; it was SUCH a letdown in light of the amazing privilege Jesus had extended to them; it was SO shameful — that they just didn’t have anything to say!
You know, there are times in life when you have messed up, but at least you might have a little bit of an excuse for it:
— maybe you can say “Well, I was sick; I wasn’t at my best …”
— Or “I didn’t get enough sleep” before I did that;
— or “that caught me off guard”
— or “that’s not really my spiritual gift;”
— Or “I messed up that one time, but that will never happen again”— or whatever. Many times we have at least some excuse.
But these guys really didn’t have any good excuses here, did they? They had the most amazing opportunity to go into Jesus’ inner circle, and pray with Him, in one of the most crucial and historic moments in all of history! You’d think: “I’d like to have been there; I’d want to be praying right there by Jesus as He was going to the cross.” What a privilege that would be!
But given that amazing opportunity, they FELL ASLEEP! And not only once, but then again. And then they did it a THIRD time! There are no excuses left then. By that time, there is nothing else to say! And that’s exactly what this verse says: “they did not know what to answer Him.” It was so bad; there was nothing left to say.
In January we read how after Job had complained to God throughout the first part of the book, that God finally appeared to him, and asked who this was who was complaining and questioning His wisdom. God said: “Where were YOU when I laid the foundations of the earth? … Have you ever in your life commanded the morning? … Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, to make an abundance of water come down? … Can you send forth lightnings that they may go? ….”.
And after he was totally humbled by the wisdom and glory of God, all Job could say was: “Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to you? I lay my hand on my mouth.” (40:4) Job was basically like Jesus’ disciples here in Mark 14: all he could do was cover his mouth with his hand. There were no excuses. He had nothing to say.
There are times like that, aren’t there, when what you’ve done is so bad, there’s nothing left to say:
— when you can’t say you didn’t know, because you did.
— when you can’t say you weren’t warned, because you were.
— when you’ve used up all your “chances”
— when you’ve used up all your “excuses”
— when there is literally NOTHING LEFT TO SAY but just to stand there in your TOTAL SHAME and humiliation.
I once pastored a guy in another state who was caught in a certain sin. He knew better; he had been warned about it; he didn’t have any excuse. And when he was caught in it, there was just nothing he could say. I vividly remember how he just hung his head in shame. Like these disciples, he just “did not know what to answer.”
And we’ve all probably felt that way at some time ourselves, haven’t we?
— How many times have you told the Lord you wouldn’t do that sin any more — but you did it again anyway?
— How many times have you said, “Now THIS week I am really going to read my Bible,” but you didn’t do it again this week?
— How many times have you said, “I am really going to be a bold witness for the Lord now” but another week went by and just like Peter, you denied the Lord three times — or maybe even more?!
How many times can you bring that same sin back to Him?
How many times will He forgive you for that?
How many “second chances” is He really going to give you?
There comes a time, when you don’t have any excuses any more, and just like His disciples you “just don’t know what to answer Him.”
In truth, this is really a picture of all of us before God:
— Romans 1 says there is no excuse for any of us.
— Romans 3:19 says God gave us His commandments “that every mouth may be closed” before God — because when we see how we’ve broken all those commands, we realize how guilty we are, and it “closes our mouths” before God — and causes us to call out for His grace and mercy.
This is one of the basic teachings of the Bible: We have ALL failed God. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In reality, the story of these disciples is the story of us all. We have all had those inexcusable failures.
But thank God, our inexcusable failures are not the end of the story!
III. The Immeasurable Grace
Jesus’ disciples were failures at what He had called them to do. They had this incomparable invitation, and just BLEW it; not once, not twice, but three times! When I read that, I couldn’t help but think: this is an inexcusable failure — especially in light of the privileged invitation that Jesus had given them. But then in the very next verse Jesus says: “The hour has come; behold the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going …”. Where were they going? Jesus was going to the cross, where He was going to die for these very “inexcusable failures” they had just committed!
See, this is exactly why Jesus came! He didn’t come into this world because He looked down from heaven and saw all of us “good” people! No, He looked down from heaven, and He saw how BAD we all were; how totally we had all failed; how inexcusably we had all sinned, and how we could never save ourselves, so He came to die on the cross and pay for our sins out of His mercy for our “inexcusable failures.”
— This is exactly what Romans 5:8 says: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet SINNERS Christ died for us.” Jesus didn’t come to die for us because we were good; He came to die for us precisely because we were hopeless sinners.
— Paul said in I Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
— In Mark 2:17 “Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
God’s word makes it very clear: Jesus came to die for us just because we are such inexcusable sinners; but His grace is infinitely greater than our sin. His disciples were “inexcusable failures” — but that is just why He came! Because although we are “inexcusable sinners”, His “immeasurable grace” is far greater than all our sin!
I truly believe that most of us have far too small a conception of just how immeasurable the grace and mercy of God really is.
Psalm 103:11-14 says: “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a Father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” God is SO understanding; SO compassionate; SO gracious towards us. As we’ve talked about before, that word “lovingkindness” basically means God’s “grace.” His grace towards us, is higher than the heavens are above the earth!
The Apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 5:20: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” In other words, however “big” your sin is — God’s grace is BIGGER!
Think of it like this: how big do you picture your sin as being?
— You might say, “Oh man, pastor, my sin is great. I feel like my sin is like this 2-story big brick building standing right in front of me, just keeping me from God.”
— Or maybe you’d say, “No, MY sin is worse than that; my sin is like a whole warehouse; a whole Wal-Mart wouldn’t hold it all.” It’s huge!
— Or maybe there’s someone here who would say, “Pastor, you don’t know what all I’ve done; if you heard it, you’d be shocked. MY sin is like the Empire State building; it’s too big; there’s just no getting over it.”
Now listen: I am not minimizing your sin. ALL of our sins are great, because our sins are committed against a holy God, who is a consuming fire. Never downplay the seriousness of your sin. It IS great. But the good news is: that although your sin is great — the Bible says grace of God is greater!
— The grace of God is higher than the heavens are above the earth
— The grace of God is wider than the biggest canyon that divides you and God
— The grace of God deeper than the deepest, darkest, sin you ever committed.
The grace of God is so great, the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 3, I pray that your eyes may be opened, and that you may be able to understand the height and the depth and the length and the breadth — he says, I pray that you will understand how great God’s love and grace towards you are:
His grace is higher than the heavens! His grace is deeper than the ocean!
I don’t think most of us really understand just how deep the ocean is. The Mariana Trench, in the Pacific Ocean, is so deep we can’t even explore it all. Its KNOWN depth is over 36,000 feet — that’s about SEVEN MILES! Seven miles deep! You could literally take anything on the surface of the earth, and cast it into the Mariana Trench, and it would be totally immersed in miles of water: you could throw a house in there, and it would be swallowed up; you could throw a Wal-Mart in there (if you could throw one!) and it wouldn’t make a dent in it. You could stand the whole Empire State Building at the bottom of the Mariana Trench and it would be entirely covered up. You could take the largest thing on the face of the whole earth: Mount Everest, and cast it into the Mariana Trench, and it would be covered up by over a mile of ocean. The ocean is vast; it is beyond what most of us can even begin to comprehend.
And the vastness of the ocean is a picture of God’s grace! His grace is immeasurable. It is higher than the heavens. It is deeper than the ocean. Picture your greatest sin — that one you feel so bad about: as big as a house; as big as a Walmart; as big as Mt. Everest — picture that sin cast into the depths of God’s grace, where it is swallowed up, and covered over, and seen no more!
I just pray for you; I pray for me; I pray for all of us here, like Paul did, that our eyes would be opened today to begin to fathom the immeasurable grace of God. Whatever your sin is; His grace is higher; His grace is wider; His grace is deeper; His grace is stronger. His grace is immeasurably greater than any of our sins!
I so love the wise, pastoral insight of Ronnie Rogers, who pastored Cheryl & I for two years while I recuperated from my sickness in Norman, Oklahoma. Some time ago he posted on Twitter, with his wise and loving pastoral insight: “A young Christian needs to be wary of judging the failures of other Christians too harshly. An older Christian needs to be careful not to judge his many failures too harshly; both minimize the grace of God.”
I love that statement: don’t minimize the grace of God. Don’t think you’re beyond His forgiveness and grace. Don’t fear that someone you know is beyond His forgiveness and grace. His grace is greater than you’ll ever understand. “Where sin abounds, grace more than abounds.” However deep that sin is, God’s grace is deeper. It is immeasurable.
When we are like those hapless disciples in Mark 14, and we “have no answer” for our “inexcusable failures” — then we need to remember what we learn here today: when we are at our worst, when we are “inexcusable failures” — that is exactly when Jesus gets up to go to the cross. When our mouths are closed in shame, and we “have no answer” for our “inexcusable failures” — then HE HIMSELF IS THE ANSWER, with a “grace that is greater than all our sin.”