Grace Doesn’t Make Sense (And That’s a Good Thing)

We’ve all heard the story of Zacchaeus and the sycamore tree. In fact, just the mention of his name is probably enough to bring the Sunday School jingle to your mind.

I’ve always enjoyed the story, but only until recently have I realized how illogical it is.

Zacchaeus was basically a 1st-century gangster. As a tax collector, he would’ve spent most of his time taking money from the Jewish people to turn over to the Roman government.

Not surprisingly, tax collectors like Zacchaeus were despised as traitors (working for the Roman Empire, not for their Jewish community), and often known as being corrupt and self-serving.

What’s amazing, and illogical, is what happens when Jesus (the King of the Jewish community) sees Zacchaeus in a tree. Jesus doesn’t lecture him on his wrongdoings. He doesn’t chastise him for his mistakes. He doesn’t even issue a sermon on selflessness.

Instead, Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5)

Why would Jesus drop what He’s doing to go dine with someone like Zacchaeus? Why would he do it so publicly and at the risk of being ridiculed and misunderstood?

It doesn’t make sense. But what I’ve discovered is that grace doesn’t make sense — and that’s a good thing.

You can’t understand grace using logic because at its essence grace is illogical.

Why else would a perfect God take the place of a murderous rebel like Barabbas and suffer a torturous death on a cross?

Why else would He die for a 17-year-old high schooler living with pride, selfishness, and a porn addiction?

Why else would He die for a 34-year-old alcoholic who left his wife and kids and has nothing else to live for?

It doesn’t make sense, but that’s what grace is and that’s what grace does. Grace is why Jesus likens our Father in heaven like a sheep herder who’s willing to leave the 99 in order to search for the one sheep that’s missing.

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:12-14

Logically speaking, it doesn’t make sense.

But grace always does that.

Grace always goes too far, always reaches for the unreachable, always forgives the unforgivable, always loves the unlovable. Grace does that because grace is a person — and His name is Jesus.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Hi Tyler – It’s not just grace that doesn’t make sense. From a human standpoint, the entire Bible is illogical. In its essence, it’s God-centered, not man-centered, which is an obstacle for non-believers, and one that even trips up believers. Then there’s vicarious redemption. It makes no sense at all from a human perspective.

    In a Sunday school class my wife and I were in a few years ago, we did a long study on the book Parables From the Backside by J. Ellsworth Kalas. It focused on the less noticed side messages in biblical parables. For example, it looked at the parable of the Prodigal Son from the standpoint of the “good son”, who felt cheated by his father. Turns out, he wasn’t the saint we might think – which describes us all.

    We all like to believe in the good guy/bad guy narrative, that there are good people and bad people. Turns out we’re all bad people – hence the need for salvation at all. A lot of people don’t like to think of themselves as bad people, but it’s true. As C.S. Lewis said, “we’re all snow-covered dung.”

    The point is, from a human standpoint, the Bible is completely counter-intuitive. It’s not just grace. I’m now of the opinion that faith itself is a miracle, a gift from God, and evidence of His grace and mercy. If you believe even a little bit, you’ve been touched by God (Matthew 16:17, John 20:29), and you’re the beneficiary of a miracle. That should never be under-estimated.

    • Loved reading your comment, Kevin. And I just googled the book you mentioned — definitely going to have to put that on my growing “to-read” list. Thanks for your perspective; I always enjoy it!

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