Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
Have you ever wondered what sound it is that grace makes? What does grace sound like?
In Job, we see a conversation between Job and his friends. Job’s friends are a bit ridiculous. They give all sorts of terribly condescending speeches and bad advice until finally God breaks in and says “Enough!” And God has an in depth conversation with Job. It’s not really what we might always think of as being grace, but think about it. Job is having a terrible time. His friends aren’t helping. He’s having a really hard time understanding the things that are going on around him and God breaks in. God talks Job through this and in the end, Job is not just restored to his former wealth and happiness, he’s done so having learned life-changing lessons from God in the meantime. Grace for Job sounded like God’s reassurance that he’d get through and that God is always there. Grace sounded like learning some hard lessons about himself and God and his fellow humans in the pits of darkest despair.
For the blind man in Mark, grace sounded like Jesus telling the crowd to stop shooing this blind man away. “Call him here!” Jesus says. His miraculous healing wasn’t the moment when Jesus showed his grace and love. The moment that Jesus’ grace and love were revealed was the moment in which he called out to a man everyone else wanted to ignore. How sweet that sound must have been. After years of being ignored and pushed aside and told to shush, how sweet Jesus’ voice must have been.
That saved a wretch like me,
Job says in other parts of the book that he’s like a worm and he wishes he was never born. He knew the depths of despair. And that’s where he learned the most about God. That is where Job heard grace. And the blind man? He was despised by others, forgotten by society. He was told by many to stop bugging Jesus. They not only didn’t see him as being worthy of their time, they assumed he wasn’t worthy of God’s time either. And yet, he bore a witness that never could have happened if he’d been able to see in the first place.
Too often, we try to push past or ignore the hard times. We pretend we’re not in a dark place or that everything is ok when it’s anything but ok. But friends, that is part of our story. The depths, the wretchedness, they stink, they aren’t what God intended for us. . . but they are part of our story. They are part of who we are. It’s not grace that saved a wretch like that guy over there. It’s not grace that saved the grand and powerful. It’s grace that saved a wretch. . . like me. Like each of us.
I once was lost, but now am found,
God does not leave us wandering in the dark and the pain and the suffering. God does not endorse our suffering or cause it or want us to go through hard times as punishment or a lesson. It’s OK to be mad about bad stuff happening. Tell God you’re mad. And know that God hears you. Know that in that darkness, God will meet you and lead you out. Just as he led out Job from his depths of lament and despair, just as he led out the blind mad from the corners of society.
Was blind, but now I see
Bartimaeus received actual physical sight from Jesus. But that wasn’t the most important part of his healing. Notice what he did at the end of the story. He didn’t run around looking at everything with his newly functional eyes. He didn’t start a new ministry based around the memoir he wrote about being healed of his blindness. He followed Jesus.
More important than Jesus healing his physical eyes was the forgiveness and grace and spiritual healing that he found. He was healed long before his physical sight was restored. The greatest sight he saw that day, was Jesus.
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved
It seems like a strange idea that grace would teach us to fear. Why would it be gracious to teach us to fear and then just take it away? What’s the point? Why not just save us the trouble and never teach us fear? But sometimes we, like Job, need to be shaken up a little bit and reminded who is really at the helm of things. We see at the beginning of our passage from Job that he is truly shaken by God’s response to his anger and lament. In these dark times, he needed to learn the difference between healthy fear – a knowledge of our God-given place in the scheme of things – and unhealthy fear stemming from reliance on stuff and success and having. His life was then even richer than before. In the story we see that he indeed regained his physical wealth and had many more children and grandchildren, but that’s not the real wealth he’s gained. He had been freed from the prison of fear.
How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed
Bartimeus was also in a prison of fear. In his time and place, he would have been a beggar on the side of the street. He was pushed so far to the edges of everyone’s hearts and minds that they told him to shush when he cried out to Jesus for healing. But he knew. He understood how precious that grace was when Jesus called out and told the people to send him over. He threw down his cloak! As a blind beggar, that was probably his only possession. And yet, seeming to know that nothing was the same after hearing grace call out, that his old life was over and a new one was starting, that nothing could compare in beauty or worth to hearing the voice of Jesus call out to him, he tossed that cloak on the ground as though it didn’t matter. He tossed everything he had on the ground and ran to follow Jesus – even before his physical sight was restored.
Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come,
Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.
The book of Job ends after this on a pretty happy note. Job is restored to his former prosperity. But he’s never promised that nothing else hard will happen in his life. We know that overall, things looked up from there, but it would be crazy to assume that things were all roses from that point on. It’s entirely possible and even likely that what we see in Job was the darkest time in his life, but just as the hymn says, grace has brought me through the dark times, the fear, the difficult circumstances, and grace will keep leading home. We’re not through it until we’re finally home with God.
We don’t see an ending to Bartimeus’ story either. He follows Jesus and we never hear of him again. It’s probably safe to assume that was the climax of his life – the time where everything turned around for him, but it’s also safe to assume that even after he was miraculously healed and was ushered into the light by the Savior Jesus, life went on. We know that things weren’t easy for any of the disciples, especially after Jesus’ death.
But just as grace has seen us through in the past, grace will see us home.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no
less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.
As we prepare for All Saints’ Day this next week, we remember all of the loved ones who have gone before us and will come after us. We remember the promise that one day we will join them in the choirs in heaven and will praise God forever. We will join Job and Bartimeus, all those who have walked this journey with grace just as we have: all those who have followed the sweet, sweet sound of grace calling.
My friends, grace is calling each one of us. In spite of what others may say to quiet our response, grace is calling. In the grace of Jesus we are offered healing and sight, direction and comfort. We are given a hand up from the pits of despair and are led home. Amazing grace, how sweet that sound.