There are many stories in the Bible that illustrate the grace of God, but perhaps the most striking is the story of a young man named Mephibosheth. In this story, King David is a picture of our Heavenly Father, and Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth is a picture of you and me:
“Now David said, “Is there still anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” And there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba. So when they had called him to David, the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “At your service!” Then the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, to whom I may show the kindness of God?” And Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan who is lame in his feet.” So the king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “Indeed he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, in Lo Debar.” Then King David sent and brought him out of the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo Debar.” (2 Samuel 9:1-5).
Have you ever had a reputation or a nick-name that you just couldn’t shake? That was Mephibosheth. He was “the cripple, the one who is lame in his feet.” This young man was lost, forgotten, helpless and abandoned in Lo Debar, until one day he heard the call, “The King wants to see you.” If you are familiar with the history behind this Old Testament story, you know that Mephibosheth was the grandson of Saul, David’s predecessor. Typically, when a new king would come into power, he would kill off all of the descendants of the previous king to make sure that there was no contesting of the throne. Mephibosheth heard, “The King is looking for you.” Can you imagine what he must have felt? He had no idea what to expect from this king. He couldn’t run anywhere – he was crippled – so he reluctantly decided to appear before the king. When he did, he got an unexpected, gracious reception:
“Then King David sent and brought him out of the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo Debar. Now when Mephibosheth had come to David, he fell on his face and prostrated himself. Then David said, “Mephibosheth?” And he answered, “Here is your servant!” So David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will surely show you kindness for Jonathan your father’s sake, and will restore to you all the land of Saul your grandfather; and you shall eat bread at my table continually.” Then he bowed himself, and said, “What is your servant, that you should look upon such a dead dog as I?” (2 Samuel 9:6-8).
Mephibosheth couldn’t get over seeing himself as the cripple. The dead dog. The unworthy servant. Nothing. Nobody. But the king said, “As for Mephibosheth, he shall eat at my table like one of the king’s sons.” (2 Samuel 9:11b). Invited to eat at the table of the king? He couldn’t grasp that kind of grace. Let’s consider the story of Mephibosheth, and may God grant us the ability to understand a little more about His amazing grace and unconditional love.
Before Grace: Who was Mephibosheth?
“Saul’s son Jonathan had a son named Mephibosheth, who was crippled as a child. He was five years old when Saul and Jonathan were killed at the battle of Jezreel. When news of the battle reached the capital, the child’s nurse grabbed him and fled. But she fell and dropped him as she was running, and he became crippled as a result.” (2 Samuel 4:4).
When the news came that King Saul was dead, Mephibosheth’s nurse knew immediately what that meant. “David is king, Mephibosheth’s life is in jeopardy, I need to get him out of here!” In her haste to escape with the young child, she dropped him, and broke both of his feet.
Here was a young boy born of royal blood. He was a prince, the son of a prince, the grandson of the king. I wonder if as a young boy he grew up thinking about what it would be like to one day sit on the throne. Dreams of royalty. What is it in the hearts of children that desires to role play princes and princesses? They have a sense of their eternal destiny in their hearts that knows they were born for something greater than this. Even as Mephibosheth grew up an orphan – a hopeless, helpless victim who had to beg for a living – I wonder if he didn’t dream of that life he lost. “I wasn’t born for this. I wasn’t created to go through life being broken, forgotten and alone!”
Commenting on the story of Mephibosheth, author Max Lucado writes: “If his story is beginning to sound familiar, it should. You and he have a lot in common. Weren’t you also born of royalty? And don’t you carry the wounds of a fall? And hasn’t each of us lived in fear of a king we have never seen?”[i]
There are three important principles about God’s grace that we learn from the story of this crippled orphan named Mephibosheth: Grace seeks us first, grace has the power to change us, and grace is “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.”
1. Grace seeks us first:
Many people think that the journey of faith begins with us seeking after God, but the reality is, the chase of grace begins with God. “Though the Scriptures insist on God’s initiative in the work of salvation – that by grace we are saved, that the Tremendous Lover has taken to the chase – our spirituality often starts with self, not God.”[ii] (Brennan Manning).
God came seeking us before we ever began seeking Him. Before we ever had a single thought in our hearts that there was something missing in our lives, God was looking for us. We see this in the example of King David searching for Mephibosheth: “Is there still anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness?” (verse 1). Grace began in God’s throne room, when the Father said, “Is there anyone left of the race of Adam to whom I can show kindness?” Mephibosheth was forgotten, forsaken and abandoned. His family didn’t care about him, and he ended up in Lo Debar, a name that means no pasture, a barren, desolate place. What a perfect picture of what life is like without Christ.
At the age of eighteen, I knew what it was like to live in Lo Debar. I had just graduated from high school, and this was before I had surrendered my life to the Lord. I was at an all-nighter drive-in and I sat down with one of my friends and said, “There’s something missing. There’s got to be more to life than girls, drinking and partying.” Even though I was living the so-called good life, there was still barrenness in my soul. That’s Lo Debar. But the king comes looking for us, even in our brokenness.
Jesus laid out one of the most radical concepts of grace when He said: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16a). Growing up on the playground, I was one of the kids who usually got picked last. When recess time would roll around, and it was time to pick the teams, the two biggest and strongest kids were picked to be the captains. Then would begin the painful process of choosing the teams, where those of us who were the weakest and scrawniest hoped that we wouldn’t be the last one picked this time around. “I don’t want Chris, you take him.” “No, I don’t want Chris, you can have him. I don’t want him.” If you know what it’s like to be unwanted or forgotten, then the story of Mephibosheth will encourage you.
“Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure.” (Ephesians 1:4-5, nlt).
What amazing grace! God loved us and chose us – not reluctantly, because no one else wanted us. No arm twisting. No cajoling, begging or pleading. No, God’s adopting us into His family brought Him great pleasure. God demonstrated His own love towards us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Grace tells us that even before we were seeking God, while we were lost in the stench of our sin and rebellion against God, that’s when the Father sent His son to die for our sins to be forgiven!
Why would the king look for Mephibosheth? He was a cripple, and there was absolutely nothing within this young man’s life that he could contribute to the king. When King David asked Ziba if there was anyone he could show kindness to, Ziba said, “There is still a son of Jonathan who is lame in his feet.” (verse 3). I wonder if he wasn’t trying to discourage the king from going after Mephibosheth. “There’s one person, but he’s a cripple, you don’t want to waste your time on him.” But King David would not be dissuaded. He said, “Where is he?” (verse 4).
Those words remind me of God’s first gracious words that he spoke when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden: “Where are you?” After Adam and Eve had disobeyed God by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they ran away from God and hid. But grace seeks us… first. God came looking for them. God comes looking for us in our brokenness and pain. This is Good News.
2. Grace has the power to change us:
When the king gave the call, Mephibosheth could have stayed in Lo-Debar in that barren place of brokenness. He could have said, “I don’t know what this king is going to do with my life. I don’t know this king. He could kill me for all I know.” But Mephibosheth didn’t stay where he was. He took a step of faith and responded to the king’s call. “I don’t know what will happen if I go to the king, but it can’t be much worse than this brokenness I have lived in my whole life.”
God the King has extended to us the offer of grace. He has done the hard part and paid the price for our salvation, but we have to respond to that grace.
When Mephibosheth first came to the king, he said, “What is your servant, that you should look upon such a dead dog as I?” (verse 8). He identified himself as a dead dog, broken and crippled. That was his identity, how he saw himself. This is a parallel picture to life before Christ:
“Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins. You used to live just like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passions and desires of our evil nature. We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God’s anger just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.” (Ephesians 2:1-5a, nlt).
When we realize how much God loves us, it will revolutionize our lives. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). When Jesus Christ becomes your Lord and Savior, it doesn’t matter what kind of pain, brokenness, sin, rebellion or darkness was in your life, it is all washed away. Everything becomes new. Everything changes. When I first heard the Gospel, it was good news to me. I didn’t need someone to tell me what was wrong with me – I knew that I was a sinner – I needed to know what could be right with me. That’s grace!
There is a big difference between law and grace. The law condemns us. The law tells us that we’re not good enough. The law tells us that we’ve missed the mark. But grace tells us that God loves us, accepts us, and chooses us anyway. Mephibosheth was invited to eat at the table of the king not as a servant, but as a son.
3. Grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense:
“So David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will surely show you kindness for Jonathan your father’s sake.” (verse 7b).
All of the heavenly blessings that we have been blessed with are ours only because of what Jesus did for us. Are your sins forgiven? Is your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Are you accepted in the beloved? Are you adopted into God’s family? Is God for you and not against you? Can nothing separate you from the love of God? If those things are true of you – and they are, if you’re a Christian – then it is all because of what Jesus did for us by dying on the Cross. We experience all of God’s riches – at Christ’s expense. Because Jesus came into this world, lived a perfect life, and died as our substitute on the Cross, we can be set free.
Do you know what happens when you become a Christian? God takes all of your sins (past, present and future), and puts them on Jesus on the Cross, and then He takes the righteousness of Jesus (He lived a perfect life and never sinned), and credits it to your account. “For God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are righteous, not because we have never sinned, but because of Jesus. God’s riches at Christ’s expense.
The King didn’t choose Mephibosheth because of any good qualities in him. He chose Mephibosheth because it was in His nature to be good and gracious. Sometimes we feel unworthy to receive God’s love, but we must remember it’s not about our goodness; it’s about God’s goodness. That’s what Thomas Merton meant when he said, “A saint is not someone who is good, but someone God has been good to.” What does it mean to be a Christian – a child of God? We don’t earn our salvation by good works; it is the free gift of His grace.
Does this mean then that we don’t have to live right? Paul answers that question for us: “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more kindness and forgiveness? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, nlt). Charles Spurgeon told a story once that best illustrates how we should respond to God’s grace:
“There is the story of half-a-dozen boys who had severe fathers, accustomed to beat them within an inch of their lives. Another boy was with them who was well beloved by his parents, and known to do so. These young boys met together to hold a council of war about robbing an orchard. They were all anxious to get about it except the favored youth, who did not enjoy the proposal. One of them cried out, “You need not be afraid: if our fathers catch us at this work, we shall be half-killed, but your father won’t lay a hand upon you.” The little boy answered, “And do you think because my father is kind to me, that therefore I will do wrong and grieve him? I will do nothing of the sort to my dear father. He is so good to me that I cannot vex him.”[iii]
Because God is good, let us therefore walk in holiness, not to try to get Him to love us, but because He already does love us. What should be our response to God’s grace? “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask?” (Romans 12:1, nlt).
Pastor Chris Jordan