The prayer time also focused on grace, as did the Scripture reading. Sure enough, when the Pastor began his message, it too centered on grace, which he began by defining as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. It was about this time, as I was reflecting on his words, that God drove home the power of grace to me.
To understand what happened next, you must understand that I was never personally a smoker. Having grown up in a home where both my parents smoked, I grew to detest the smell of cigarettes. People who do smoke are very often desensitized to the smell of smoke they carry on their person.
In fact, many former smokers will tell you that they failed to realize how much they reeked of cigarette smoke when they did smoke. One such individual once told me that, having quit smoking, he could now smell a cigarette or a smoker from a hundred feet or more away from him.
As an individual forced to endure second-hand smoke for nearly two decades, I can relate to his assertion. I, too, find that I am extremely sensitive to the odor of cigarettes. Little wonder then that when a man came in late to the above mentioned worship service and sat down one seat over from my wife and me, I was taken aback by the strong smell of cigarettes upon him.
It was obvious that he had enjoyed more than one cigarette in route to church, and also that he had very likely finished one off just before coming into the sanctuary. I will readily admit that I was slightly annoyed that I would have to sit through the remainder of the service having to smell the offensive odor he extruded with each exhalation of breath.
Nor was I alone. As we were seated on the back row, I could not help but notice that more than one person seated ahead of us ever so slightly glanced over his or her shoulder, as if in a subtle attempt to discover the source of the unpleasant aroma.
It was about this time that I witnessed the very personification of grace. As I said above, the man in question seated himself one seat over from my wife and me. The seat between us was occupied by an elderly gentleman. There is no doubt that he too was all but overcome by the stench.
After about two or three minutes, he quietly reached into his pocket and pulled out a little box of breath mints. He placed a couple in his mouth, then plainly offered breath mints to my wife, myself, and another individual or two before finally offering them to the man in question. Needless to say, we all took them, as did the man on the end of the row.
Now, I will admit that I could well have bad breath. Many people do. But to my knowledge, I have never knowingly been accused of it. My wife certainly doesn’t have it. Nor did I sense what the infamous television commercial calls “chronic halitosis” being emitted from anyone else around us.
The truth is that I knew in my heart exactly what the old man knew. He knew that he, himself, was not the source of the offensive smell. He knew that those seated to his left and to his front were not the source either. Above all, he knew who was the true source – the man seated to his right.
But rather than confront the man, judge the man, and/or condemn the man, he found a way to show that man grace. Even though he, himself, needed no breath mint, he still took one first. He then offered one to all of those around him. And most important of all, He then offered one to the man who truly needed it!
As time passed, and as the smell dissipated, I reflected on what I had just witnessed. And I soon saw a picture of what God had done for me in Christ Jesus. He, Himself, was not guilty of the offense of sin. Yet He was sensitive to the plight of those who were. And yet, rather than confront and condemn them (actions He was no doubt entitled to undertake if He so desired), He chose to find a way to extend grace.
He did this by the process of redemption, wherein He allowed Himself, though completely innocent, to bear the assumption of guilt first, in order that He might then offer the grace needed by the rest of us to cleanse us of our guilt!
I hope I will never forget this simple, but powerful, illustration of grace. And I hope I will never forget what god has done for me in Jesus Christ. For, as the Bible says, “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”
Amen and amen!
SCRIPTURE SOURCE: https://biblehub.com/2_corinthians/5-21.htm.