Craig Groeschel - Amazing Grace
It's my great honor today to gather with believers all over the nation, and all over the world, as we honor the sacrifice that our savior, Jesus, made for us on the cross. And we celebrate that the tomb is empty. He is not there, Christ is risen from the dead, and for that reason, today, we worship with people all over the world to give him praise. I wanna take a moment and just tell you, thank you for being here today, thank you for being an amazing church. It's hard to believe that last week, we were able to launch our 28th Life.Church location. This one was in Catoosa, Oklahoma. Can you believe that on the very first weekend, there were over 3200 people gathering in this place with 19 coming to faith in Christ.
This is not something that happens normally, we're not praying for a move of God, we're living in the middle of one, and at this very moment, happening right now, is the 29th Life.Church location. This one is in the ninth state, worshiping for the very first time in a school, gathered right now, would you please help me welcome Life.Church in Omaha, Nebraska? We love you guys. We celebrate what's happening there. We worship our God because the tomb is empty, our savior is risen. What I wanna do today, if it's okay with you, is, I planned to break the Easter rules. Is that okay with you? If it's not, I'm gonna do it anyway, 'cause I don't like following the rules. When I was back in cemetery, excuse me, when I was in seminary years ago, my preaching professor gave us very strict Easter Sunday rules for the message. My professor told us that there are a lot of people that don't normally come to church, or don't come often, many people will be new, so on Easter, you have to keep the message very, very simple, you should only use one verse, and you should always be positive. Simple, one verse, and positive.
Today, we're gonna break the Easter rules. My goal is to be very complicated, to use several verses, and to be incredibly negative on this Easter weekend. But we are going somewhere today. I wanna start with a negative. If you didn't know, whenever someone tells you, bless your heart, that's not positive. That's actually a very negative thing. Anytime someone says bless your heart, what they're really saying is, you're an idiot. That's what it means, I hope you know, that's what it means. I hate to give you negative Easter news, but that's what it means.
For example, where I office, we have several hundred people at the central location. Since the very beginning, that building was built, there've always been glass walls. We like transparency, there's glass everywhere, it's always been there, it's always been glass. The other day, a staff member walked briskly right into a glass wall, blood came spurting out of his nose. Rather than showing compassion, three different people looked at him and said, bless your heart. Just so you know, bless your heart means, you're an idiot, you're an idiot. I'll tell you my favorite bless my heart story. I was 23 years of age when I did my very first funeral. My pastor said, this is an easy one, the lady was older, she knew Jesus, it's a graveside, there'll be just a few people there, you can't mess it up. All you need to do is read a few verses of scripture, tell some stories, pray a prayer, and sing their favorite song. And so I did exactly that. I read some verses, I prayed some prayers, I told some stories, and I went down to sing their favorite song, and I asked the family, what's your favorite hymn of all hymns? And they all said, Amazing Grace.
Everybody say Amazing Grace. I got to the end of this little graveside message, maybe 20 people gathered outside beside a hole in the ground and this casket where grandma was in, and I decided to start into the song, naively assuming that if I started singing Amazing Grace, that everybody else there would join in. Bless my heart. Nobody joined in. Now, you may be wondering, Craig, are you a good singer? In case you're wondering, years ago, in grade school, when we had our choir, I was the only choir member instructed by the choir director not to actually sing at contests. My assignment was to move my lips and not let any sound come out. So during my first and only solo, singing Amazing Grace, it was going very, very badly, no one else joining in, everybody wondering why I would actually sing a solo. I closed my eyes, rededicated my life to Jesus in case I did not survive it. In the middle of my brutal solo, God is my witness, a fly flew into my mouth. You know that little, there's a dingly thing, that little dingly thing right back there, I think it's called a uvula, but that sounds like a bad word and I'd hate to use a bad word on Easter.
If I said it wrong, but of course, dingly thing, no, anyway. The fly hit that little thing and it dropped, about to right here. And I had a split second to make a very strategic decision. Do I, (A) hack a loogie and spit the fly by grandma's grave? Or do I, (B) take one for the glory of God, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? How many of you think that I spit a loogie out there? No, you know I am a true man of God, I swallowed that fly, all for the sake of the person who was now no longer there. That's why, it was horrible, I got to the very end of the funeral, I was about to get out of it, barely alive, and I came to the part where you put your hand on the casket, I've seen this in movies, you've probably seen it too, and you say, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. What comes after that part? See, I didn't know either. I'm in there, I'm committed, I can't turn back, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, my mind is racing, I can't figure out what comes after it, I thought to myself, these people are sad, it's been a difficult week, I'll say something funny. I'll lighten the mood. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, I sure hope this coffin doesn't rust.
See, I thought it was funny too, but nobody there laughed. I'm walking back to the car, and the funeral home director looks at me, and he says, first funeral? I said yes. He put his arm around me, he said, bless your heart, you ain't nothing but an idiot, you're nothing but an idiot. Would you look at the person sitting next to you and say, bless your heart? Bless your heart. Look at the other person, your second choice, and tell 'em bless your heart too. You're an idiot too. We're gonna break the Easter rules today. We're gonna be complicated, lots of verses, and we're going to be negative on this Easter. Following our negative theme, I wanna tell you about another idiot, this guy's name was John. He was born in 1725. John was a mess. He worked on a ship, and he was hated by all of his shipmates, true story. He was so wild, a raging drunk, he was violent. His nickname, believe it or not, his nickname was The Great Blasphemer. That was his nickname. He was so bad, he was known as The Great Blasphemer. His language, if you ever heard the phrase, cussed like a sailor, it was probably named after John.
In fact, his captain said, and I quote, of John, his captain said, not only did he use the worst language I've ever heard, but he created new words that exceeded the limits of verbal debauchery. That's taking it to a whole nother level. John was so hated, The Great Blasphemer, that one time, when he actually fell overboard the ship, his crew mates did not throw him life preservers, instead, they threw harpoons at the guy. That's what they did. He was so arrogant and so rebellious that his captain, one time, couldn't take any more, had The Great Blasphemer stripped down naked, flogged eight dozen times in front of 350 men. He was so furious that he decided he was gonna murder the captain and then take his own life. But before he could execute his plan, a big storm blew up, hitting the ship, everyone thought they were gonna die, and sure enough, his best friend, who was right by him, got blown off the ship, never to be seen again. He thinks his life is over, and he found himself in the moment of his greatest trial and his deepest fear crying out to God, the God that he blasphemed, he called on and said, Lord, have mercy on us all. And when he survived that brutal storm, suddenly he realized, in the moment of his greatest desperation, he actually called on the God that he had been hating.
And so he wondered, maybe is there something there? And so this guy, named John Newton, started reading scripture, and was transformed by the grace of God. And he put pen to paper and wrote the lyrics in 1772, to the hymn that we now know as Amazing Grace. So when you sing that song, what I want you to do is I want you to feel the weight of the story of a man who was known as The Great Blasphemer, who experienced the amazing grace of God and wrote these words. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I'm found, was blind but now I see. 'Twas grace, everybody say grace, 'twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed. Today we're starting a new message series, and it's called, How Sweet the Sound. And what we're gonna do over the next four weeks is we're not just going to worship to some classic hymns, but we're gonna learn the story behind the story, and talk about the theology around these classic hymns.
Today we're gonna talk about Amazing Grace. I always tell you my favorite of the series, that's next week, we're gonna look at a hymn that, the message behind it is my favorite of the four. Today what I wanna do is try to talk about the Amazing Grace, and I need to be honest with you, I feel completely inadequate to do justice to the true powerful, unfathomable amazing grace of God. So for some help, what I wanna do is I wanna go to Ephesians chapter two, and this is where Paul rambles on about grace. If you read through Ephesians 2, it's kind of funny. What you'll notice is that Paul breaks all sorts of grammatical rules. His writing in Ephesians is kind of like my preaching, he gets so excited, he'll start a sentence and he won't finish it, he'll have run-on sentences, he's so passionate that he can't even get out a complete thought, he's just putting his thoughts down on paper as fast as he can. This is how good God is. To keep it real simple, to honor my professor from years ago, I will honor one rule, is I wanna make it as simple as I can and give you three thoughts to summarize Ephesians chapter two.
If you're taking notes, you can jot this down. The first big theme that the apostle Paul shows us is this. He shows us what we were. He shows us that you were. Everybody say, you were. If you're a follower of Christ, you are not, today, what you once were. He says, you were. And then he shows us the theme of but God. Everybody say, but God. You were one thing, but God intervened. And then he shows us how God intervened, and God intervened by grace. Everybody say, by grace. You were, but God, by grace. You were one thing, but you are no longer that thing if you're in Christ, because you had a but God moment, and it's only by the grace of God, not by your power, not by your works, not by your goodness, but you were, and you are not now, because of the but God moment, you've been transformed by grace. Let's start with the you were, in Ephesians 2:1. Paul says this, as for you, you what? Let's say it out loud. He says, as for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. In other words, if you're a follower of Jesus, you've been transformed, you are not now what you once were.
Now you're forgiven, now you're new, but you were dead in your sins. In verse three, he says, all of us who lived among them at one time were gratifying the cravings of our flesh. What's he talking about? He's not talking about our skin, but this is our sinful nature. Our nature that is apart from God, you are living for the desires of your flesh, you are following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, here it is again, we were, everybody say, we were, we were by nature deserving of wrath. This doesn't sound like a real positive Easter message. If you are without Christ, you are dead in your sins, and the Bible teaches that we're actually deserving of wrath. We've been called enemies of God because of our sin nature. And I understand this is not popular. In culture today, there'd be a lot of people who'd push back and say, no, no, no, you have no right to call me a sinner. I'm not a bad person, I have a good heart, I'm not nearly as bad as everybody else, I am not a bad person.
I told you I'm gonna be a little bit negative today, I'm gonna tell you, get up in your face and say, you are a bad person and so am I. We've been born, and by nature, we're actually sinners. Because we are the sons and the daughters of sinners, all the way back to Adam and Eve when they sinned in the garden, we inherit a sin nature. By nature, we are not good, we are deserving wrath. Some of you, you're still not gonna like this. We're gonna play a little game, I'm gonna ask you to join along. You may say, I didn't wanna be here. Well you're already here, so you might as well join in the fun. Everybody play along and I'm gonna just ask you a few questions and just go ahead and participate. All of our churches, everybody. How many of you have ever told a lie? Raise your hands up and leave 'em up. Leave 'em up, leave 'em up high for a minute, just leave 'em up for a second. I want you to look around, just look around, just look around. Find anybody who does not have their hand in the air. Point at them right now, and say, you're a liar, liar, pants on fire. Just do that, if you will. Go ahead and put 'em down.
Okay, we've all told lies, right? We all have. This question's not as much fun, but I wanna just challenge you to be honest 'cause you're in church. And I'd hate for lightning to strike on Easter weekend. So how many of you, you've ever stolen something? Raise your hands, raise them up. Leave 'em up for a second, leave 'em up, leave 'em up. Okay, if your hands not up in the air right now, and you wrote a check this week with a Life.Church pen, I'm just saying, you stole something, right? All right, I told you I'd be negative. The third question, I don't want you to raise your hand, I really don't, I honestly don't. I don't want anybody getting in a fight. I don't want marriage problems on Easter. You can just, if you want to, you can give me a little, that. You raise the eyebrow, you can give me a little pinkie. Okay, just give me a pinkie. How many of you have ever lusted? I don't know, I mean, you know, whooo, praise God for that. Okay? I don't know, I'm just saying, don't raise your hand, just do whatever. If you've lusted, this is what Jesus said. Jesus said, anyone who's looked lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery in his heart.
So if you've told a lie and you've stolen something and you've lusted, what does that make you? Lemme say what you are. Makes you a lying, thieving adulterer. Welcome to Life.Church, Happy Easter. Where we're here to make you feel good about yourself, bless your heart. Right? Why am I hitting on this? We need to understand that guilt, acknowledging what we've done wrong, guilt is often the starting point for grace. In other words, if we don't see ourselves as a sinner, we'll never see our need for a savior. And the good news about Jesus is, Jesus did not come for the righteous, that's what he said. Jesus said, he came for the sinners. He didn't come for those who were healthy and had it all together, but he came for the sick. So if you wanna sit back and say you're better than everybody, just polish your halo all day long, because Jesus came for those of us who are broken, hurting, and need a spiritual cleansing and healing. He came to set sinners free.
That's why the apostle Paul says, you were, and then he says, but God. You were, but God. Think about Paul, what did Paul do? Paul may not have cussed like a sailor, but lemme tell you what Paul did. Paul took the lives of Christians. That's right. And if you're not a church person, you may not know that. But the guy who wrote almost two-thirds of the New Testament, before he was a follower of Jesus, he so hated Christians that he literally took their lives. Now, I think, it's just my opinion, that a lot of people today, we kind of put that in a, ah, yeah, that happened years ago, not that big of a deal category. This is a really, really big deal.
If you compare to what he did then to what happens now, what he did is equal to what we've seen in recent times where very evil people go and take followers of Jesus, take them to a beach right by the ocean, have them kneel down and put a cloth over their head, and say, deny Christ or you die. And if they continue to follow Christ, they take a blade and behead those who are standing by Jesus. That is exactly, exactly what Paul did, only the method was different. He would have them take stones, and tons of people would throw rocks at the followers of Christ until slowly, brutally, in agony, over how long? Hours, it would take, before they would breathe their last. That was the apostle Paul. You were dead in your transgressions and sins.
Just imagine if you could sit down with him and he tells the story of what happened to him in a conversation to you. Imagine sitting down and saying, I was the guy who killed them. I hated them. Everything about them. I was on my way to see the high priest, breathing murderous threats and strategizing how I could rid the world of these people of the way, these little Christs, these Jesus followers, when all of a sudden, light, boom, came out of the sky, and suddenly, I couldn't see. One moment, I could see, the next moment, I'm totally blind. And a voice from heaven says, Saul, Saul. Why do you persecute me? And I knew who it was, and said, who are you, Lord? And this voice sent me to a guy named Ananais, a man who should have hated me and should have feared me. But instead of cursing at me, this man loved me. Even though I deserved nothing but persecution back. And he laid hands on me and prayed for me, and when he did, something like scales fell from my eyes, and suddenly, I could see again. I was blind, but now, I could see. And by the grace of God, this man baptized me, and prophesied into my life, and told me, Paul, the one who had killed Christians, that I was called to go and declare the resurrection power of the man I used to persecute and hate. I was dead, I was the worst of the worst. I was the most brutal of the filthy sinners, but God, who is so rich in mercy.
You were, but God. And that's exactly how he described it in Ephesians 2:4. He says this, he says, but God, somebody say, but God. He says, but God, who is so rich in mercy, and loved us so much that even though we were, you were, but God. Even though we were dead, because of our sins, God gave us life. When did He do it? When He raised Christ from the dead. When did He do it? When he raised Christ from the dead. What does this mean to us today? For years and years, in the Old Testament, the people of God would gather together once a year and they would have a celebration, the Passover celebration. They would take an innocent one-year-old ewe lamb, and they would sacrifice the lamb, and they would take the blood from the lamb and they would put it on the top of their doorpost, and then some blood on each side. And when that would happen, the death angel would then come and pass over them and they would live, because they had a temporary sacrifice for their sins, the temporary sacrifice of an innocent lamb.
Fast-forward to the New Testament, who is Jesus? He is the lamb of God who was slain for the forgiveness of sins. In the Old Testament, if you can imagine taking the blood and putting it on the top of a doorpost, what would happen to some of that blood on the top? It would fall, then, to the bottom. And there you have, hundreds and hundreds of years before the cross of Jesus, in the Old Testament, a picture of that which is the cross, foreshadowing the blood that the lamb of God would give and spill for the forgiveness of sins. And there Jesus was, hanging on a cross, suffering brutally, as the creation mocked the creator with a crown of thorns and his hands and feet fastened, Jesus cried out to his Father, please forgive them, because they don't even know what they do. But God, who is rich in mercy, and loved us so much, and then he looked up into heaven and declared, telatesti, it is finished. I did everything you sent me to do. Now Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. And he breathed his last, and he gave his life, because greater love hath no man than he give his life for his friends.
And at that moment, the earth went dark, and the earth crumbled and shook, and the disciples, and all those who were followers, looked on, where is he? What's gonna happen? Where is he? Day one, day two, day three. On Sunday morning, when the women went to the tomb, they found the stone rolled away, and the angelic beings looked on and posed the question, why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here. Christ is risen from the dead. But God, who is so rich in mercy, and loved us so much, forgave our sins and changed our life when he raised Christ from the dead. Would you stand to your feet for a moment? You were, but God, by grace.
I wanna ask you to stand in honor of God's word and preparing your hearts to worship, and I wanna read to you the verses that completely changed my life, back when I was lost, and hurting, and desperate, afraid, and angry, and dead in my sins. Full-blown, all-out sinner. And in that little room, all by myself, I read, for by grace, for by grace, for by grace, you've been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, so that no one can boast. It's not by works, it's not by works, it's by grace, it's by grace, it's by grace. You were, but God, by grace. You were, but God, by grace. Not by works, but by grace. Not by religion, but by grace. Not by your human efforts, but by grace. Not by your perfection, but by grace. What about the grace of God?
One time, Jesus came across a woman who'd been caught in the act of adultery, and the law said to stone her. And all of the religious, hypocritical men said, put her to death, put her to death, put her to death. But Jesus knelt down and started writing something in the sand, and we're not sure exactly what he wrote, but many believe perhaps he wrote the sins of the men who were saying to stone her, because, one by one, from the oldest to the youngest, they started to leave town. And then Jesus knelt down before this broken and sinful woman and said, ma'am, where are your accusers? And she looked up through her tears, and she said, there are none, there are none. And then Jesus, by grace, by grace, said to her, then go your way, be free, and sin no more. You were, but God, by grace.
Jesus told about a father who had two sons. One of the sons said, dad, I want all of your stuff. I don't care about you, I want what's mine. And the son went out and did what some of you have done, and what I did, he lived sinfully, a brutally broken life, and one day, came to his senses and realized, even the father's servants have more than I have, I'll go back to his house, throw myself on his mercy. But he had no idea that the father had been waiting long and praying, hoping, that one day, his son would return. And when the father saw the son a long way off, the father ran to the son, and he took his robe and he covered the filth of the son with his very clean robe, and he said, my son was dead, but is alive again. He was lost but he is found, and by grace, the father said, kill the fatted calf. Let us throw a party because my son is not what he once was.
And Jesus on the cross hung between two criminals, two thieves. One hurled insults at him and said, you saved others, save us and save yourself. But another one, who was very, very guilty, looked on and said, Jesus, this man has done nothing wrong. And Jesus looked at this man, who could never do a good work, couldn't join a church, couldn't give an offering, couldn't be baptized, couldn't help a little woman cross the road, he looked at a man who could never do any type of religious work, who was completely guilty, and by grace, Jesus said to him, today, you will be with me in paradise. You were, but God, by grace. I wish somebody came here to help me preach and not just look on in your Easter best. I know somebody here, you were dead in your sins, you were hurting, you were broken, but you've been changed by the grace of God.
And I know there are others of you here, you're not just here just to watch an Easter service, you're here because, at this moment, you come to recognize there is something missing in your life, you are desperate for something more. Lemme tell you what it is. You're desperate for a but God moment. Because in one moment, one prayer, one savior can change everything. When you call on the name that is above every name, the name of Jesus, he hears your prayers, he forgives your sins, you're made right with God, not by your good works, but by His grace. And all of our churches, those today who say, I need His grace, I recognize I've sinned, I need His forgiveness, you are not here by accident. You are here by grace, for His grace, to experience His forgiveness. One moment, one prayer, one savior, and all your sins are forgiven and made completely new, in front of God and everybody.
Those who say, I need His grace, I turn from my sins, when you call out on Jesus, you don't become a better version of you, you become new. The old has gone, the new has come, in all of our churches, those who say, I need the grace of God, I turn from my sins, and I give my life to Him, would you lift your hands right now? Lift 'em up high, lift 'em up high. Somebody celebrate, somebody celebrate big. All of our churches, celebrate big. Would you just worship, right back over here? And right back over there, saying, yes, Jesus, lift them up and say, I need His grace, I need His grace, I need His grace, I need His grace, I need His grace. You were, but God, by grace. Would you all pray with those around you? Can you recognize we're not praying for a move of God? We're living in the middle of one. Just pray aloud right now.
Heavenly Father, I trust you to forgive me, to change me, to make me new. Jesus, be first in my life, my Lord, my savior, save me, by your grace. Fill me with your spirit so I could follow you and live for you for the rest of my life. My life is not my own. I give it to you. In Jesus' name I pray.