When I think of grace, I can’t help but reflect back on my Dad’s Ford LTD. When I was in High School my Dad allowed me to drive his car. On more than one occasion, that led to my Dad extending grace to me.
It was winter; I was a new driver. We had a two-car, attached garage at the side of our house. The approach to the garage was a slight incline. On this occasion, the driveway was icy and snow-packed. The garage doors were on the side of the house and not the front, so I had to make a turn to line up the car with the opening. I was trying to be cautious, because I was still not confident about threading that big car through that “narrow” opening, so I was going slow. The front wheels of the car bumped onto the cement floor of the garage; then I paused. Big mistake. I applied a little too much gas to get the car up the incline, the rear-wheel drive tires spun on the ice and the car slid sideways into the frame of the garage. Not knowing what to do, I gunned it and forced the car into the garage, scraping the side of the car as I went. The scrape is probably still on the doorframe. I know my Dad was not happy, but he extended grace to me. He didn’t yell. He didn’t take the car keys away. He did instruct me on how to best put the car in the garage.
On another occasion, I was driving the Ford down the freeway at about 60 miles an hour. It had been raining and there were large puddles on the road. I had a friend riding with me and we were listening to the radio, and probably singing along. I hit one of those large puddles and the car began to hydroplane. Before I knew it, the car was in a spin and out of control. We left the pavement and plummeted into the grassy area in the middle of the highway. We did several complete revolutions before we came to a stop. My friend told me afterward that he saw the cement culvert fly by his window and was sure we were going to hit it and flip. I was so shaken up that my friend had to drive us the rest of the way to our destination. When we arrived, I sheepishly found my Dad and told him what had happened. The first thing that he said was, “are you OK?” Then he suggested that we look at the car. In the parking lot, my Dad broke out laughing. The car looked like someone had spray-painted it with grass. Again, my Dad didn’t yell or take my keys away.
I am so thankful that I have a Heavenly Father who is even more gracious than my Dad. He has entrusted me with a piece of His creation. He cares about it very much. He also cares about me. Almost every day I do something that mars that creation. My Heavenly Father has the right to punish me, but instead He extends grace.
The Psalmist captured the heart of God’s grace in Psalm 103. The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children-- with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.
My Dad realized that I had already learned a hard lesson from my mishaps with his car. He didn’t need to scold me. My Heavenly Father knows that when I mess up, what I need is compassion, not condemnation.
As Jesus came to the end of His journey on earth, He met with His disciples for one last Passover meal. John tells us, in John 13, that Jesus taught them an important lesson about service and about forgiveness. Jesus took the role of a servant and washed the disciples’ feet. This had to be an embarrassing time for them, but not for Jesus. When He came to Peter, Peter objected. Here is the interchange that took place.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." "Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." John 13:6-10 (NIV)
What I want to focus on is when Jesus says, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.” Jesus was not talking about being physically clean; he was talking about being spiritually clean. Once we have received Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are clean in God’s sight. But every day we encounter the filth of the world, just like walking on the dusty, dirty roads of Palestine. So daily we need to come back to Christ and, figuratively, have our feet washed. This is not an issue of salvation, but an issue of fellowship.
In Jesus day, when a guest came to a person’s house for a meal they would have their feet washed as they entered the house. It would be very rude for them to recline at the table with dirty feet. So it is with us. Every day Jesus invites us to dine at His table. We need to make sure that we come with clean feet.
The story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is a powerful example of the grace of God. Jesus did for them what they were unwilling to do for one another. In a similar way, Jesus is always ready to wash our feet, if we will submit to His love and grace.