Have you ever really thought about how crazy your salvation is? You may have never thought of it in those terms, but truly, your redemption and rescue from eternal damnation is a jarring truth, one that should spawn tears of joy and shouts of praise. It’s baffling that such a salvation is proffered for those who are bona fide criminals. What a wonder that such a redemption would be established for vile delinquents such as we are; that he who was perfectly holy came to live among thieves and reprobates; that the Creator of the universe came down to be apart of his creation in order to deliver it from the mess it had put itself in; that Jesus gave up his rightful place as the Prince of Life, Light, and Glory to die between two felons in the most humiliating fashion known to man — all for your soul and mine! This is crazy!
But such is the truth of the gospel, that even as man was fleeing from God’s sight, he pursued them with his love and grace. As we hid ourselves him (Gen. 3:8), he sought to restore us. As man retreated from the Father, the Son gave chase all the way to the cross — the place where worlds and lives are turned upside down.
In Acts 17, Paul and Silas are in Thessalonica, ministering and preaching the gospel. (Acts 17:1–3) And through their witness, a “great many” (Acts 17:4) saw their great need of Christ and were thus converted by a powerful moving of the Holy Spirit, as Paul says, the “gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” (1 Thess. 1:5) These newly-converted Thessalonians were immediately struck with great affliction, however, as there quickly arose great opposition to this revival. Motivated by a zealous hatred and envy of the Paul and Silas’s success, those that rejected the “gospel of God” brought great trouble upon the Thessalonian Christians, attempting to persuade them of the absurdity of the doctrines they had just received. (Acts 17:3–8)
A riot ensued, incited by the Jewish unbelievers, which culminated in the rioters dragging the fresh Christian leaders before the Roman governors and indicting them with insurrection against Caesar, compelling the missionaries to flee the city prematurely. (Acts 17:10) This proves, no less, that the devil will do his best to trample on any advancement of the gospel. At the first glimmering of hope and grace abounding in the soul, our great Adversary, the devil, pounces and seeks to crush hope and extinguish grace. Nevertheless, despite all his efforts in causing questions and uncertainty to arise in the church, the Thessalonian believers received the true gospel of grace and “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” (1 Thess. 1:7) The good news of great grace through the risen Christ pervaded in the people of Thessalonica, as the reports quickly spread of their repentance and conversion. (1 Thess. 1:8–9)
This shows us, clearly, the illimitable power of grace. It literally changes lives, communities, countries — even the world. Grace capsizes our reason and logic. Grace flips all our preconceived notions about how life works on their head. It declares that “the way to grow rich is to become poor — the path to honour lies through shame — to enjoy rest we must plunge into a sea of troubles — peace is only to be enjoyed in a state of war — who would live must die — and who would gain must part with all that men hold most dear.” (Guthrie, 16–17) The reach of grace is infectious; it’s capacity overflows; it’s limits are boundless. Even in “much affliction” (1 Thess. 1:6), the gospel graces us with “the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:7), causing us to see the suffering of our Savior and the perfection of his work for us. (Acts 17:2–3)
The gospel turns our world upside down. “These men who have turned the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6) Jesus’s gospel of inexhaustible, inexpressible grace doesn’t follow our intrinsic reasonings; it’s not beautiful; it’s not clean; it’s messy and violent. Through the bloodshed of Christ on the cross, our eternal felicity was secured. By dying on the cross, then resurrecting three days later (1 Cor. 15:1-4), Jesus transforms what was meant as an instrument of pain into a redeeming paradox. The cross of Christ is a conundrum. “It is life, yet it is death,” writes Horatius Bonar. “It is honour, yet it is shame. It is wisdom, but also foolishness. It is both gain and loss; both pardon and condemnation; both strength and weakness; both joy and sorrow . . . It is grace, yet it is righteousness; it is law, yet it is deliverance from law; it is Christ’s humiliation, yet it is Christ’s exaltation.” (140–41)
This doesn’t make sense to us; the gospel is illogical, in terms of human comprehension. The very idea of grace is odd and perplexing, flying in the face of how we think the world should work. Unmerited favor isn’t natural; unconditional love isn’t normal. The gospel frustrates us because it disregards our understanding of it and is at odds with our finite affinity for fairness and propriety. It negates our ingrained sense of fairness and rebuts all our human notions of control and reciprocity. It disregards our merits and accomplishments, whatever they may be and however important we think they are. At the core of grace lies the unconditional acceptance and unmerited favor of the undeserving, unholy, and unlovely by an unsolicited, unsought giver. The Lord Jesus takes “upon himself our poverty, to give us his riches; laid our weakness upon himself, to stablish us in his strength; become mortal, to make us immortal; come down unto the earth, to advance us up to heaven; and become the Son of man with us, to make us the children of God with himself.” (Paleario, 112–13)
Through his Son, he takes for his own what is rightfully ours (sin and death) and gives us liberally what belongs to him (righteousness and favor). It’s this that changes people: the glorious gospel of the blessed God — radically and remarkably, it transforms slaves into kings, fugitives into sons, takers into givers, sinners into saints. Regardless of your background, age, or condition, God is the great transformer of lives. Indeed, by turning everything upside down, everything gets placed right side up.
Horatius Bonar, Family Sermons (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1954).
Thomas Guthrie, The Parables: Read in the Light of Present Day (London: Alexander Strahan, 1867).
Aonio Paleario, The Benefit of Christ’s Death, edited by John Ayer (Boston: Gould & Lincoln, 1860).