Claire L. Eva, Assistant Director

General Conference Stewardship Ministries

Summary: The gospel often comes to us by surprise—we are surprised by the grace of a God Who loves and accepts us as we are. Because of Jesus’ living and dying for us, we are released and empowered to serve and love Him with a new heart and life.

Freed to love. In his classic work, Les Misèrables, Victor Hugo tells the story of Jean Valjean, a poor man who is sentenced to prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. After 19 years, Valjean is finally released. But the law declares that he must carry with him at all times, papers which reveal his status as a felon.

Before long, Jean finds refuge in the home of a bishop—Monseigneur Bienvenu. During the night Valjean creeps through the house, stealing the valuable silver cutlery he coveted while dining the evening before. Shortly after escaping the bishop’s home with the silver, Valjean is arrested by the local gendarme and, in an attempt to escape his punishment, he tells the police that the bishop gave him the silver.

Led by his doubting captors, Valjean is taken back to confront the bishop. His poor life, such as it is, is over. He faces the man he has wronged and knows he will receive his just condemnation—he will be returned to prison for the remainder of his days. His head hangs low, overwhelmed and dejected.

?This man says you gave him the silver, Father!? The crush is about to come.

?Ah! Here you are!? the priest exclaims to Jean Valjean. ?I’m glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too ? Why did you not take them??

And so marks the beginning of a new life for a man surprised by grace—undeserving, pitiable scoundrel that he knows himself to be. The bishop’s loving release breaks his pained spirit and sets him free to love as he has been loved. Jean Valjean’s life begins at that pivotal moment—by one act of unmerited grace. And that is the gospel! (See Hb 7:26, 27).

?For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich? (2 Cor 8:9).

The gospel is good news. It is the good news that Jesus Christ, God’s ?one of a kind? Son, lived and died and was raised again, for you and me. ?For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast? (Ep 2:8-9).

Adam, again? Christ came to Earth as the Second Adam. Why? Because the ?first? Adam failed utterly. Were he here to speak for himself, he would confess it resolutely! So why refer to Jesus as the ?Second Adam?? Because he came to do what our father Adam did not do—live a perfect, blameless life. But His victory was not just for Himself. It was for all men, women, and children who have ever lived or will ever live on this earth (Ro 5:12-19)! ?For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive? (1 Cor 15:21).

Before the gospel became reality to me, I feared, perhaps even recoiled, from instruction regarding the example of Christ. Let me explain. Have you a brother or sister who seemed to do everything right? He made the best grades, carried himself with confidence, and received the recognition that goes with those things? Maybe that was all right with you, really. Even though you wished some of his successes might have rubbed off on you. But let’s go a step further. How does it feel when others compare you to that sibling?

Sarah, a capable college freshman, returned to her alma mater to give an assembly address where her younger sister Jane was a student. After the presentation, the principal of the school approached Jane and said, ?Now, that is what you have to live up to!? It wasn’t the wisest thing to say. And he probably didn’t realize the impact of his words. But Jane was overwhelmed.

Words like—?You’ll never be like your father!? ?Why can’t you be like your brother?? ?Ruth wouldn’t do that!?—All have their penetrating effect. Jesus’ example without the gospel is deadly. For it shows us the beauty of a life we will never replicate (Ro 7:7-12).

But now I see. When I discovered the true good news, it was like seeing through new glasses! Everything my older Brother did for me was not only an example to follow. Previously my response was discouragement—?How can I ever emulate His perfect life?? Martin Luther declared: ?Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, His suffering and dying; mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, and suffered, and died as He did.?

What overwhelms my soul is the reality that everything Jesus did is mine!

Jesus Christ, God’s perfect Lamb, took the death of judgment upon Himself, so that we might never have to die that death! Now I can sing, ?I would be like Jesus? with new meaning and Spirit-led motivation. For His precious example—His total dependence upon the Father, His sinless, love-filled life—is my guide for growing into His likeness while I am ?complete in Him? (Col 2:9). The same robe that covers us, warms us—and through the Spirit, enables us. ?For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do? (Ep 2:10).

The only one. Our righteousness, our completeness is found in Him alone (Col 2:10). Not in some humanly devised formula that claims to make us righteous in and of ourselves. Lest we judge one another and listen to the Accuser, ?Let us remember that we are all erring human beings, struggling and toiling, failing in speech and action to represent Christ, falling and rising again, despairing and hoping? (White, E. G., ST, May 11, 1904, Bear Ye One Another’s Burdens).

Even when these ?bodies put on immortality? (1 Cor 15:53) and we are home at last, we will lay our crowns at His feet. Not so much out of humility, but from the pure joy that we knew where they belonged all the time.

When Jesus comes again, ?at that day Christ will be the Judge ? But those whose life is hid with Christ in God can say: ?I believe in him who was condemned at Pilate’s bar, and given up to the priests and rulers to be crucified. Look not upon me, a sinner, but look at my Advocate. There is nothing in me worthy of the love he manifested for me: but he gave his life for me. Behold me in Jesus. He became sin for me, that I might be made the righteousness of God in him’? (White, E. G., YI, May 31, 1900, The Price of Our Redemption).