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John 1:16

For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.

The grace of God has come unto us. We are no longer slaves under the law. The Law kills while grace gives life. Grace begets grace.

I hope you were able to see Les Miserables while it was in the theaters. It was a very moving drama based on the struggle of common French people painted on the backdrop of the French Revolution. There are extremely strong Christian themes in the movie. For me it was an incredibly poignant demonstration of the effect of grace and law upon the human condition.

The principle character is Jean Valjean. The picture opens with him as a prisoner at very hard labor. He was enslaved for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread because his sister’s child was starving. We visit him upon the day of his parole and are introduced to another central character, that of Javert. Javert represents the law. He is very strict and codified. He knows the letter of the law and does his best to live by it. He is ruthless and without mercy and this proves to be his undoing.

Valjean is a character of great turmoil and the audience follows him through this turmoil as he tries to determine right from wrong in a complex and changing society. He is taken in by a priest and is shown great kindness and mercy. But the hardness of prison life has changed Valjean into a criminal so in the dark of the night he arises from his bed and stealing the silver service and other items of value slinks away into the night. He is caught though, and the police drag him back to the church and present him to the priest. They say to the priest that this man, Valjean, insists that the priest gave him these articles. What is the priest’s response? What would our response be? The priest told the constabulary that yes, he did give those items to Valjean but he asks Valjean, “Why did you forget these?” wherein he goes to the table and picks up two enormous silver candle stands and puts them in Valjean’s arms. Now that, my friends, is the love of God. That man of God showed the grace and the love of God that Jesus came to bring to us. That simple act of grace changed Valjean forever. It transformed him from a criminal to a man of principle. He went to a new town and made a life for himself, became the mayor of that town and tasked himself with helping others. He became a man of much compassion in the very image of Christ himself.

But then who appears but our arch villain Javert. Principally, though, Javert is not a man of evil. He is just a man who does not know the love of God. He does not understand that Jesus’ life brought forgiveness and mercy to a world of sinners. He begins to suspect that the mayor is actually prisoner 24601 who has skipped out on the terms of his parole. Then when he believes that he has accused Valjean wrongly he gives his life into Valjean’s hands. He doesn’t beg for mercy. He wouldn’t because he knows nothing of the mercy of God. Twice, three times Valjean has Javert’s life in his hands. Valjean, however, is a man who has come under grace and appreciates the God of lovingkindness so each time he extends mercy to Javert. In the end the conflict within Javert becomes insurmountable. He is the beneficiary of mercy and grace but he cannot allow it to transform him. He is rigidly and dogmatically legalistic even in the face of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus. Unable to resolve the conflict, he commits suicide.

The law kills. Grace gives and breeds life. Valjean who was shown mercy became a person of great grace, compassion and kindness. He extended himself to help others even at great personal risk. His life honored the kindness of God which was visited upon him by the priest. The priest had Valjean’s life in his hands even as Valjean would later hold Javert’s in his. And like the priest, Valjean shows mercy.

The message of grace, which I truly believe is the message of the age, is not a message of promiscuity and permissiveness. It is a message of love through which we all seek to return the gift bestowed upon us. Grace does not accentuate or condone sin. It pardons it so that we might be renewed into the image of our beloved Jesus. I hope you will deeply consider the presence of both grace and legalism in your life. It is by grace that we have been saved. Even the Javerts of the world are saved only by grace. Perhaps as we accept the grace and mercy that Jesus died to give us we can not only be transformed ourselves but we can also extend that same mercy to others.

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