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#408 - "Scandal of Grace" by Hillsong United
Kevin Davis chats with Joel Houston about the deep meaning behind the latest from the Zion album.

Posted: April 02, 2013 | By: KevinDavis_NRT
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Though the music of Sydney, Australia's Hillsong Church has impacted the global Church for over a decade, it has only been in recent years that the their youth worship team Hillsong UNITED has exploded. Their passionate lyrics and fresh brand of modern rock helped catapult them to top-selling status and earned the group the Gospel Music Association's International Award as well as Dove Award nominations for "Group of the Year" and "Praise and Worship Album." Amidst the growing zeal for the Aussie group, Hillsong United released their latest album, Zion
Hillsong UNITED is known for such worldwide worship anthems as "Shout To The Lord," "Mighty To Save," "From The Inside Out," "The Stand," "Hosanna," "Desert Song," and many more modern worship anthems sung by tens of millions every week in worship services around the world.

I eagerly await each new Hillsong UNITED release and Zion is truly stellar. In my opinion, Hillsong has managed to release their newest best album with each release since Mighty To Save. I had the great opportunity to interview Hillsong UNITED member Joel Houston about the song "Scandal of Grace."
Please describe the message of the song "Scandal of Grace" and Zion.
Matt Crocker and I co-wrote the song "Scandal of Grace" together. The song was one of the last songs in the writing process for the album. I had a conversation earlier in the year with some friends of mine talking about God. One of my friends had some questions about Jesus and the validity of the Gospel. In the midst of the conversation, another friend said, "Mate, it doesn't make sense; it's a scandal of grace." It just stuck with me.

Matt and I were writing this song, and working around the lyrics and that theme raised its head. Fleshing it out, this message displays the overall picture of the album. I came across a Scripture in Romans: "I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever puts their trust in Him will not perish."

Obviously that Cornerstone is Jesus. It should be no surprise to us that the hardest thing to wrap our heads around is the most powerful gift that comes from Jesus, the gift of grace. I just love the twist of "scandal of grace" as it pertains to a concept we sing about a lot, like "Amazing Grace." Many anthems have been written on the subject over the years, and this kind of turns it on its head a little bit the same way that God turned religion and culture on its head the moment Jesus came to Earth and died for the sins of all mankind.

Jesus' message was scandalous from day one, that's why He ended up on the Cross. To this day, the message of grace is scandalous because it rages against conventional wisdom. We live in a culture where you do the crime, you do the time. The message of Jesus is you do the crime, and He pays the ultimate price so that we can live a life not only set free from our sin, but enabled by His grace to play a part in His incredible plan and purpose and bring His Kingdom to earth, here and now. That's the message of Zion.
Please tell me about any Bible verses that you used to write the song.

Romans 9:33: "As it is written: 'Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.'"
...Philippians 3:7-11: "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead."
...1 Corinthians 15:54-55: "So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?'"
...and 2 Thessalonians 1:12: "Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with Him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ."
What do you consider to be the takeaway message of the song and album?
The key lyric in the chorus is "oh to be like You." That's an impossible statement if not for the grace of God. It's only by the grace of God that we dare to share in His glory. Zion. It's an interesting word, with several meanings and connotations. We read about it, sing about it and even wonder where it is. In Biblical terms it is the hill on which the city of David was built and perhaps where the Ecclesiastical meaning of the highest place, or Heaven, comes from. Zion is precious to the heart of God and it's essentially what Jesus came to establish – Heaven on Earth. God is birthing His kingdom in us and through us here on earth and that is exemplified through what Jesus is about: mercy, love, forgiveness, generosity, justice--all of those things--and that's how we are called to live our lives. We get the chance to be a part of building God's kingdom here on earth. 
The whole point of this album is the realization that God is doing His thing, and He has already done it, He is establishing His Church, and it's through us. The album was birthed out of our cry: God I want to be a part of what it is you're doing, if that means write a song, we'll do our best to write the best songs we can. If it means serving the poor and those who are hurting, then we're going to do it better than we've ever done it before. If it means just being a great son or daughter, brother or sister, mum or dad--wherever it is we find ourselves--then let's do that better than we've ever done it before. 
Grace, what have You done?
Murdered for me on that cross
Accused in absence of wrong
My sin washed away in Your blood
Too much to make sense of it all
I know that Your love breaks my fall
The scandal of grace, You died in my place 
So my soul will live
Oh to be like You 
(To) Give all I have just to know You 
Jesus, there's no One besides You 
Forever the Hope in my heart
Death, where is your sting? 
Your power is as dead as my sin 
The cross has taught me to live
In mercy, my heart now to sing
The day and its trouble shall come
I know that Your strength is enough 
The scandal of grace, You died in my place 
So my soul will live
And it's all because of You, Jesus 
It's all because of You, Jesus 
It's all because of Your love 
And my soul will live
Oh to be like You 
(To) Give all I have just to know You 
Jesus, there's no One besides You
One of my greatest desires as I sing along with this song is to truly put all of my hope in Jesus. He is the only One who can fulfill all of our hopes and knows what we need much better than we do. An amazing expression of faith recorded in the Book of Acts is the martyrdom of Stephen. He understood our calling to put all hope in Jesus and truly understood and lived and died believing: "It's all because of You, Jesus." What a selfless sacrifice in the Name of our Savior Jesus who paid the ultimate price for our sins.
"Scandal of Grace" has really held a deep challenge for me personally. There's a line that says: "Jesus, there's no One besides You." Sometimes it seems easier to put our hope in other people or things. For me, whether that's my family or the enjoyable things I experience in life its easy to put hope in these things. But God calls us and desires for us to put all our hope in Him because everything else will let us down. I've been really drawn into worship by this song and at the same time very much challenged by it.
We often feel ashamed and unworthy of God's perfect Love, but that's the point. We aren't worthy and God still wants all of us and loves us deeply. This entire album is about giving and accepting love. Zion is one of the top worship albums of the year. 
We sometimes put up a wall between us and God and He just wants us to come home to Him. Many of us feel that we're not worthy of being near God and that He's using a checklist to determine our worthiness. That's not the Gospel. The Good News of the Gospel, which this song perfectly portrays, is that God accepts us no matter what we've done. As the song says, "The scandal of grace / You died in my place / So my soul will live." What a wonderful, encouraging Truth. That's the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
This song is a great way to thank Jesus for the undeserved gift of grace which we celebrate at Easter. Grace could stand for God's Riches At Christ's Expense. "He became sin Who knew no sin, that we might become His righteousness." As we celebrate the Resurrection of our King, you can sing this song to Jesus and know that He died just to save us. Don't be sad or feel guilty, but accept Jesus and celebrate that Jesus is alive, He rose again! Amen!
(You can watch the lyrics video here.)

NRT Lead Contributor Kevin Davis is a longtime fan of Christian music, an avid music collector and credits the message of Christian music for leading him to Christ. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three daughters.

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