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Entries in Parable (8)

Tuesday
Apr232019

Empty Promises

Mark 12:1-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 21, 2019.

Today is Easter Sunday and therefore we are going to look at another passage further ahead in Mark than we currently are in our exposition of this Gospel.  Next Sunday we will be back on course.

Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, celebrates the day that our Lord Jesus conquered sin and death.  It is easy to scoff at such things.  However, the amount of evidence regarding both his death (he did not merely swoon) and his resurrection is overwhelming (over 500 people testified to multiple accounts with many people at the same event).

We can hide behind the sophistication of modern man.  Yet, we still find ourselves in the same place as those in the first century or even two millennia before that.  We are still fallen people who are extremely broken inside and who need a savior.

Today we celebrate the reality that God has a plan to save us, and Jesus Christ is the man He has given to us to lead us to salvation.

The parable that we are going to look at this morning is one that Jesus told in the temple compound during the last week of his life.  This parable gives us a metaphor to help us understand just what was going on when Jesus was crucified and yet later raised from the dead.

Understanding the Parable

In verses 1-8, Jesus tells a parable that presses the issue of his coming execution.  The public is not aware that the leaders have decided to execute Jesus when they can, but Jesus does.  In this parable the metaphor has a biblical precedent from Isaiah 5.  There Isaiah tells a parable in which he states that Israel is the vineyard of God.  He even speaks of a tower for defense and a winepress.  This sets up an easy identification for the hearers, but also for us.

Let’s walk through the parable and identify each element.  First, we see that the man who owns the vineyard clearly represents God and, as we stated earlier, the vineyard represents Israel.  It would be better to use the phrase, the people of God, because this puts a better image in our mind.  It is not about a nation, but about a people who belong to God and are in relationship with Him.   The next element is the vinedressers, which are also translated as farmers or tenant farmers.  The Greek word that is used literally means worker of the earth and is where we get the name George.  The are the leaders of Israel who are supposed to ensure that the people of God are fruitful in their lives.  Technically, this means both the political and religious leaders, but it is told during his last week while he is in the temple.  So, it seems that the religious leaders are taking the brunt of the teaching- this is most likely due to the fact that the political leadership had long been separated from Israel with Herod (not from the tribe of Judah) receiving his position as king from Caesar.  I would quibble with the word tenant farmer, not because it ruins the parable, but because the emphasis is not on the fact that they are getting paid.  It is on the fact that their job is to oversee the vineyard and make sure it is fruitful for God.  They had taken their offices under the guise of performing the purposes of the Lord, and yet, too often these became empty promises that were not fulfilled.  They superficially performed the purposes of the Lord while all along serving their own interests.

Next, in our parable we see that the man sends servants at the appropriate time to get evidence of how fruitful the vineyard is.  These servants have been with the man and are the special or extra-ordinary teachers that God sent from time to time known as the prophets.  The leaders of Israel were also servants of God, but they represent those who spend their time in the vineyard all the time.  They are the day to day servants of God.  The prophets would come at special times with a special mission.  They would give direction and corrective instructions from the Lord so that Israel could be fruitful.  In light of the spiritual nature of the parable, the fruit that God is looking for is evidence that the people are growing in their trust of God and living according to His Word.  The very Scripture that the religious leaders took care to copy and memorize testified that the prophets were generally abused and often put to death by the political and religious leaders of Israel.  Thus, as God sent his prophets to help make Israel fruitful, they would abuse them and kill them.  Yet, later they would give lip-service to them.

This leads to the man deciding to send his beloved son.  Of course, this represents Jesus.  The parable presents it as a hopeful attempt to turn things around.  However, in many other places we are told that Jesus was sent knowing that he would be abused, executed, and excommunicated (i.e. thrown out of the vineyard).  Thus, the leaders would kill the Son and leave their promise to tend to the people of God for God’s purposes unfulfilled.

As the parable ends, we are left asking if it was really as bad as the parable shows.  Somewhere along the line, the leaders had lost sight that this nation belonged to God literally.  They existed for His purposes, not theirs.  They had edged God out by pushing Him high into the heavens, but using the system for their own ends.  When Jesus arrived on the scene, they could only see that Jesus would inflame the hopes of the people that He was Messiah.  Rome would then come in and quash it, while holding the religious leaders responsible for letting it happen.  They would lose their authority and that couldn’t happen in their minds.

Lest we seem too hard on the Israelite people, let’s use the parable as a set of glasses for our times.  If we look at our times religiously, we must confess that the leaders of the Church of Jesus have often fallen into the same mentality as those of Israel did.  We give lip service to God and His purposes, but we abuse and kill those prophetic voices that He sends from time to time.  O sure, there are real heretics that must be faced and rejected, but not everyone labeled a heretic throughout the Church’s history were so.  Our leaders have too often hijacked the people of God and their devotion to Him for their own ends and purposes. 

What if we look at our times nationally (the United States of America, or insert your nation here)?  Are not our leaders leading us in a way that serves their own purposes and do they not lack any care for what the God of heaven thinks?  Sure, there are anomalies, but the majority give God lip service at the best.  Was it not God who supernaturally enabled us to break free from the political tyranny of King George III.  Side note, it is interesting that George’s name has the root used in our parable.  He was King Vinedresser, but had come to think the vines were all for him and his pleasure.  The testimony of our forefathers is that we succeeded by God’s help, period.  Has not the Lord of America come looking, from time to time, for godly fruit by sending special, prophetic voices, only to be cast aside and ignored?  Are we not, as a society, killing the Word of God as we cast it aside and live for our own purposes?  Also, this begs the question.  Do you not know that your own life is itself a vineyard of which God has put you in charge in order that it be fruitful for His purposes?  His ways lead to life, but ours continually lead to ever more creative expressions of death.

God still has a plan that cannot be thwarted

The parable does get rather dark and foreboding.  Jesus in verse 9 asks the question.  What will the owner of the vineyard do?  They are going to be removed and destroyed.  Ultimately, they will not succeed in their attempt to use God’s people for their own ends.  They will be removed and God’s purposes will continue unthwarted. 

The religious and political leaders would do exactly what this parable says.  They would reject Jesus, abuse him, execute him, and then excommunicate him.  This is why the book of Hebrews makes such a big deal about Jesus being crucified outside of the city gates.  This ancient sign of extreme banishment (extreme in that they also killed the person) was the ultimate rejection.  Hebrews 13:12-14 says, “Therefore, Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.  Therefore, let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”  We are in danger of losing the eternal for the sake of holding on to the temporary at all times.  Is it not better to surrender that which you cannot keep in order to receive that which you cannot lose?  You can and should trust God.  His plan is not thwarted, and cannot be thwarted, whether by man or spiritual powers in the heavenlies.

Jesus would be rejected and killed, but this would not extinguish the fact that He is the key component to God’s plan.  In verses 10-11, Jesus reminds the leaders of Psalm 118:22-23.  There the psalmist uses the imagery of building the temple of God.  In such building projects, the stones would be fashioned at a remote quarry and then arrive at the building site with some mark explaining its place in the structure.  The builders are the leaders of God’s people who are supposed to have the skill and knowledge to take the stone and put it in the proper place.  The psalmist speaks of a stone that arrives, but the builders reject it and cast it aside.  However, the God of heaven overrules them and uses it as the most important stone of all, the key foundation stone.  These leaders were rejecting the most important part of God’s plan, and He would intervene so that Christ would indeed be what He was sent to be.

Though our parable is challenging the earthly human leaders, there is another layer to this whole thing.  We forget that Jesus is very aware of the evil, spiritual forces around him.  Just as many of his sayings slighted the religious leaders who overheard them, so too they also slight the spiritual powers in rebellion to God.  This parable is no different.  There were spiritual powers who had been put in charge of the nations after the Tower of Babel incident.  These powers had abused their delegated authority and twisted the peoples’ hearts with false religion that lifted the rebellious spiritual powers up as gods.  They too were complicit in the execution of the Son of God and therefore fall under the same judgment given here.  In fact, the spiritual component makes even more sense than the human.  The religious leaders never looked at Jesus as the Son of God who must be killed so that they can inherit those who belong to God.  However, this makes perfect sense of the spiritual powers.  They knew exactly who Jesus was and apparently believed that they could kill Jesus and seize mankind for themselves.

Nearly 40 years after the death of Jesus, after a time of his disciples warning the nation of Israel of the coming destruction and God’s plan of escape, the Roman legions destroyed the city and dismantled the temple stone by stone.  The people of God, who clung to Christ, went to the world with this rejected stone that had now become the chief stone, not just of Israel, but of the whole world.  If you wonder what in the world God is doing then I would put it this way.  He is offering anyone who will an opportunity to be a part of His people, and to participate in a kingdom that will come into existence at the Second Coming of Jesus.  He is not as enamored with our buildings, institutions, and plans, as much as we are.  He is more interested in you, that you are bearing the fruit of faith, the fruit of trusting His Word and living for Jesus in this dark world.

This brings us to the reality that the promises of God are counterbalanced with the promises of the world and those spiritual powers behind it.  This world promises us better things if we will cast Jesus aside and pursue pleasure, or wealth, or fame and accomplishment.  All of these things still leave you feeling empty in the end.  Why?  They do so because we were not created to be satisfied with temporary and material things.  We are trying to stuff small temporary things into an enormous eternal space that is as vast as the universe.  You cannot fill it with the temporary.  Only God can fill that space.  Only a relationship with Him can fulfill the promise of peace and joy.

Over time the philosophies of the world have turned away from God and religion, and towards man.  We must do it.  No God will do it for us.  These are the mantras of humanistic materialism.  Sadly, too many Christians practically do the same thing by pushing God as far up into the heavens as they can.  He doesn’t intervene.  He expects us to do it for ourselves.  Such philosophies have no real basis for upholding good values.  We can pretend that love is a good value, but if we have a philosophy that states humanity is an accident and there is no absolute truth, then why is love good?  Is life precious?  Without God, we only find the precious nature of life ground out of us on every side.  Hopelessness and despair continue to reign from shore to shore and we have no peace because we have rejected the Prince of Peace.

You may feel like God has not kept His promises to humanity, but remember.  He is the God of the resurrection.  Jesus did not back away from the last step to the cross out of fear and lack of faith in His Father.  He showed us that if we would live for God all the way through our death, without turning back, then He will exalt us in due time.  There is a day when the people of God from every generation will be resurrected in the same way that Jesus was, almost 2,000 years ago.  I hope that you have made the choice to be apart of that day because the promises of God will never fail!

God will keep His promises to us.  If you have waffled on trusting Christ then do it today.  If you have been partially trusting Christ, yet basically floating aimlessly, then choose to fully trust Him today.  If you have been trusting Jesus, then don’t let this world rob you of your victory.  Jesus overcame this world by His faith in the Father, and therefore, He is given a place above every other name.  Through Him, you too can overcome and take your place at His side as the Father brings a fulfillment to every word that He ever gave us.  Jesus rose up from the g rave because He is greater than death.  Those who trust Him cannot be destroyed by death, but only made stronger!

Empty Promises Audio

Tuesday
Jun302015

In God We Trust

June 28, 2015-Luke 18:9-30. 

This sermon was preached by Pastor Nick Hauenstein.  The following is only a summary of it.  Please click the audio link at the end of the article to listen.

Today we are going to look at 3 stories: Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector, Jesus with the children, and the story of the rich man.  Although these are three very different stories the same spiritual issues lie at the heart of them all.  Thus, Jesus helps us to see through varying circumstances that our approach to God is critical.  If we approach trusting ourselves we will not be successful.  But, if we approach trusting Him then we will.

Parable: The Pharisee & The Tax Collector

Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee who is in the temple praying at the same time a tax collector is doing the same.  He basically gives us a look at what each of them prays and commentary on why one is acceptable and the other isn’t.

First we have the Pharisee.  He spends a lot of time thanking God that he is righteous and not like that rotten tax collector.  This begs the question, how righteous is this Pharisee?  Well he fasted twice a week, which is way more than the Law of Moses required and most people want to do.  Next he tithed on everything he had even down to the spices he acquired.  He had a very meticulous and exacting ability to do what the Law of Moses required.  No one would question his righteousness by the measures of that day. 

Now this is compared to the tax collector who won’t even look up to heaven.  He admits he is a sinner and cries out for mercy from God.  Notice that his posture before God is very different.  He makes no claim upon God.  He has nothing to offer God and makes no negotiation.  Now Jesus explains to us that the Pharisee was not justified by God, but the tax collector was.  In the society of that day, this statement would have radically blown the minds of the people.  Why would God justify the tax collector over the top of the Pharisee?  His answer is this: those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  So God is not looking for pompous people who come before him reciting their spiritual resume, and believe they are acceptable.  Rather, he is looking for people who know that they are not acceptable and ask for mercy.  If you had the choice, who would you choose to represent you in court, yourself or a famous lawyer like Johnnie Cochran?  Only Jesus can make us righteous.  Thus it is a dangerous thing to try and justify yourself in front of the only one who can make you righteous.  The apostle Paul points this out in Romans 3:9-10.  Just as this Pharisee was not more righteous than the tax collector, so the Jews were no more righteous than the Gentiles.  No one is righteous, not even one!   Let’s move to the next story.

Jesus Blesses The Children

This is not a parable.  It is a life event that Jesus uses much like a parable.  Parents were bringing their children to Jesus hoping to have him bless them.  The disciples were annoyed by this and were telling the parents to leave.  We can only guess at what is in their minds.  In the first century children were the least and the last.  There was a high infant mortality rate and so each child is more of a problem that might never come to maturity.  Why bother Jesus with children who may not survive to adulthood when there are others who are adults?  I know that we can come up with reasons, but that is more a result of the teaching of Jesus than it is our own goodness.  Jesus rebukes his disciples and tells them to let the kids come to him.  Why?  The answer is that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.  In fact, if you don’t receive the Kingdom of Heaven like a child, you can never enter it.  This had to drop the jaws of everyone listening.  Think about that last parable.  The tax collector didn’t approach as one who had proven his place and warranted something from Jesus.  He approached as a child who had nothing to offer and yet begged for mercy.  A child does not receive out of their own merit, but out of the mercy of adults.  Anyone who is justified is a person who sees themselves as a child before God, rather than an adult who has merited favors from Him.  Now let’s look at the last story.

The Rich Man

A religious leader approached Jesus and asks him, “Good teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?”  Most likely this is a test question to see what theology Jesus has and from there to know how to attack him.  Yet, Jesus stops him with a question back at him.  Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God.  Now clearly we can talk about the goodness of people in relation to others who are not so good.  But Jesus goes to the heart of the matter.  Do not compare yourself to others.  Compare yourself to God and in that case none of us are good.  This is important because it is at the heart of the religious leader’s problem.  He does not approach God like a child who has nothing to offer.  His problem is that he believes he has an abundance of goodness to offer God.

Jesus then goes on to answer the main question by listing 5 of the 10 commandments.  Do these.  The religious leader responds with the statement that he has done all of these things since he was a child.  Of course he does not recognize the trap he has fallen into.  Jesus purposefully leaves off coveting because he knows that this is part of the man’s real problem.  Jesus tells the man that he is missing one thing: sell your possessions, give the money to the poor, and come follow me.  It says that the religious leader went away sad because he was very rich.  The implication is that he can’t obey the command Jesus has given him.  His heart is too attached to the wealth he had amassed to approach Jesus with the right posture.  He wants to hold on to all his wealth and be acceptable to God, even though his heart was full of coveting.  Jesus then states that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to be saved.  But, with God all things are possible.

Now there were not an abundance of rich people like this man.  So when they marvel at the words of Jesus, they do so because they saw his riches as proof that he was acceptable to God.  Yet, Jesus is saying that these are the very things he has to give up to be acceptable.  His “resume” was the best of the best.  He was a rich man and not a poor child.  He was a Jew and not a gentile, a male and not a female, obedient to the law and not disobedient.  Yet, it is all about exalting himself before God.  Look at how great I am, God!  Surely you want me on your team.  But, God will humble those who exalt themselves, and He is looking for people who know they don’t deserve a spot in His family.  Know this, you cannot buy your way into heaven, nor can you merit it by any number of good deeds.  This kind of goodness cannot be achieved by any man, no matter how great the distance between him and other men.  In reality, acceptance by God must always be preceded by surrender of those things that are in the way.  The rich man must sell his possessions.  The fishermen must leave their nets.  The tax collector must leave his booth.  And they all must then follow Jesus as those who have nothing to offer him but themselves- and that of little value.  This necessity of surrender in order to follow cannot be avoided because we will not follow Jesus without tossing them aside.  In fact we will be like a slave chained to a wall; unable to obey the command to follow.

In verses 23-25, Jesus then brings the point home to his listeners.  What is it that firmly attaches you to this world and keeps you from following Jesus?  This is no easy command that everyone must sell all their possessions in order to follow Jesus.  No it is something much harder than that.  He is asking you to surrender precisely what your flesh doesn’t want to surrender.  To obtain the things you want in life, you often lose your soul.  But to gain your soul, you will have to give up those things that have become idols between you and God.  Jesus is asking you to let it go and come follow him.

This causes Peter to pipe up and declare that he and the other disciples have given up their homes (and livelihood for that matter) in order to follow Jesus.  Jesus then recognizes this and declares that anyone who gives up something to follow Jesus will be repaid many times over in this life and will also have eternal life.  Now Jesus is not promoting a doctrine of “Give $1 and God will give you $100.”  He is saying that you will be repaid, but it will be something different.  The person who gives $1 in order to get $100 is now in a worse condition.  He is using God to get what he really wants, money.  This is not only idolatry, but it is using God pursue that love.  If you lose money to follow Christ, He promises to take care of all your needs.  If you lose family to follow Him then you will receive multitudes of brothers and sisters in the Church.   Yes, you are paid back, and it will be more than you had, but it will be different than your flesh would hope.  You have to choose between the desires of your flesh and Jesus.  You can’t have both.

Let’s bring this to a close.  Christianity is a religion that stresses the inability of man to justify himself.  We are justified by the grace of God through our faith in Him and Him alone.  Paul points this out in Philippians 3:5-9.  He lists his resume in the flesh and then says that he counts it all as rubbish in order to have Christ.  Next to Jesus all my goodness is like filthy rags.  So, which will I chose?  Will I cling to my own righteousness and insist on being accepted (exalting myself)?  Or, will I let go of it and cling to the righteousness of Jesus?  This same issue is explained in Ephesians 2:8-10.  No one will be able to stand before God and boast in themselves. They will only be accepted by the grace of God and through faith in His Son, Jesus.  Salvation is not a reward because of the good things we have done.  It is a gift to those who believe Jesus so that they can then do good things in His name.

May God enable us to let go of the things we take pride in and accept His grace.  We can sophisticate ourselves in our religion to the point that we have excluded ourselves from the very God we claim to love.  Eternal life has never been achieved by anyone.  It is offered to those who can offer nothing in return; those who see themselves as merely a child.  Thus the simple prayer of a child says simply, “I did it.  I liked it.  I am a sinner and beg your forgiveness.”  No negotiation; only surrender.  Let us hear what Jesus is telling us today and surrender everything that can stand in our way to following Him.

 

 

In God We Trust Audio

Saturday
May232015

For Want Of A Better Life

May 17, 2015- Luke 16:19-31

Today we will be looking at the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  This parable is meant to be the “other side” of the parable of the shrewd manager at the beginning of the chapter.  That is, the first parable emphasizes that believers should be shrewd in how they manage their wealth and possessions.  However, this parable emphasizes the dire consequences of not listening to the wisdom of Jesus.  Thus, as Jesus warned in the earlier parable that the “sons of light” were not very wise, here we see a “son of light” living out that very foolishness.  It is also important to recognize that Lazarus is himself an Israelite.  Thus there is not a racial element to this parable. 

A Great Contrast In This Life

The story opens up by giving us the extreme contrast in these two men’s lives.  They are the extremes of their society:  one very rich and the other very poor.  The rich man is full of abundance in every way.  He knows no need nor lives in want of anything.   He also wears the finest of clothing.  Now there were several words for a poor person in those days.  One emphasized a person who lived from paycheck to paycheck and from day to day.  They had some means of income but were hard pressed in keeping the essentials of their lives covered.  The word for this poor man is used of a person who has no ability to make an income.  This person has been reduced to begging for the kindness of others in order to live.  Thus this person is not just poor.  He has had something happen in his life to where he cannot care for himself and lives completely at the mercy of others.  The rich man is full of abundance, but Lazarus is full of sores.  Whatever these sores were they had incapacitated him.  This contrast of being full can be extended to their life as a whole.  The rich man is full of all that is good in life and Lazarus seems to have all that is bad and difficult.

Lastly we can look at the statement in verse 19 that the rich man “lived sumptuously” everyday (or lived in luxury).  The phrase is literally “was made glad splendidly every day.”  Yet, the poor man longed for just the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.  It doesn’t seem likely that Lazarus was given any crumbs since this detail is not mentioned.  Someone had put Lazarus at his gate because they knew he could afford to help Lazarus out.  But the story Jesus tells clearly paints a picture of the rich man ignoring Lazarus.  In fact the lack of compassion and help from the rich man is contrasted with the dogs that would come and lick his sores.  Lazarus could not afford medical attention, but it is only dogs who “treat” his sores.

A Great Contrast In The Afterlife

It matters not how soon it was between their deaths.  But in the story we quickly transition from this life to the afterlife.  We have seen how things were in this life.  But how will things be when their soul goes into the hereafter?  Many reject the idea of an afterlife.  But the Bible is clear that after this life we will have to give an account for how we have lived.  Those who have honored God in their life will fare well, but those who have not honored God in their life will fare poorly.

There are two very different destinations involved.  Now some Bible scholars tell us to not take the details given as truth about the afterlife.  Their logic goes something like this.  A parable is only intended to express a simple spiritual truth.  Thus to pour more meaning into the smaller elements of the story is to force it to teach more than Jesus intended.  I can appreciate that and believe that it is true.  However, what they neglect to recognize is this; parables are always true to life stories.  They may not be about a specific situation but they are in general true to life pictures of a spiritual truth.  Take this further as we think about the parable of the soils.  No one tries to argue that it is going too far when someone speculates that first century Israelites must have been involved in and knew much about agriculture.  Even though agriculture is not the spiritual message of the parable, Jesus uses a true to life picture about agriculture in order to hammer home a spiritual message.  The parable here today happens to be about the afterlife.  Of course no one can go check it out and come back to verify this.  Yet, Jesus tells a story that is true to life regarding the afterlife, and we have no reason to doubt this.  This is not an Aesop’s fable that is never meant to be taken as real.  It is a warning of very real things.

One destination is that of Abraham’s bosom and the other is the flames of Hades.  Let’s first deal with the term Hades.  Hades was the underworld where the dead went when they died.  The Hebrews adopted it as roughly synonymous with their word “Sheol,” which simply meant the grave (not so much the hole the body was placed in, but rather the holding place of the spirit).  Now using the word Hades does not mean that every Greek idea about Hades was correct.  Technically Abraham’s bosom would be a part of Sheol or Hades.  The story clearly represents two experiences in the afterlife that are as different as the two lives the rich man and Lazarus had in this life.  Abraham’s bosom was the place where those approved of God went.   Abraham is named not because he created it, but rather he represents those who respond in faith to God.  There is no real mention of what the conditions are except by contrast of what the rich man is experiencing.  The rich man ends up in the flames of Hades because he live was not approved by God.  Regardless of what you think about this parable one thing is clear, there is a good to gain and a bad to avoid in the afterlife and you would do well to heed this truth.

Lazarus is in a place of comfort that he was denied throughout his earthly life, whereas the rich man is tormented.  There are flames and he thirsts terribly.  It is interesting that this torment parallels the torment that Lazarus endured in his earthly life.  We should be careful of pushing the description of the flames of Hades too far.  This is a spiritual place and the rich man is only a spirit.  He suffers something that is like what a flame is to the earthly person.  He also suffers what is like thirst to an earthly person.  Whatever this torment is exactly, it is clear that we are shown comfort and torment as two very different destinations. 

The rich man has now become a poor man in the afterlife and is found begging for merely a drop of water.  Yet, Lazarus is in no such need and we do not see him asking for anything.  We can see the desperation in the ex-rich man as he reduces himself to asking for Lazarus to touch his finger to his tongue with a drop of water.  This is something he would never have conceived of asking for in his previous life and corresponds with the “crumbs from the table” that Lazarus longed for.  Thus we see the two destinations are one of no need and the other of great need.

Lastly we are told that there is no possibility of help from the righteous.  One of the sad things in this story is that Lazarus would have no doubt helped the man if he could.  The righteous are of the type that they will help others even when they have been evil to them.  But by God’s decree a separation has been put in place so that the wicked souls of men may receive no comfort from the righteous.  Notice that this life is the time for helping others and changing our condition and fate.  But in the afterlife we are receiving justice from god and thus may not be helped.  You can say that this is unfair and you couldn’t serve a God who would do such a thing.  Yet, ask yourself, what am I doing about my condition in eternity now?  Jesus is warning his listeners to take this life seriously.  How you life in this life will determine your destination in the life to come.

How Can People’s Minds Be Changed?

At this point the discussion changes because the rich man realizes the finality of his situation.  And yet, there are others who are still living on earth.  They don’t realize how serious their life is in light of the afterlife.  The rich man realizes that they need to be warned or they will end up where he is.  But how can that be done?  Particularly he has 5 brothers whom he knows are living much like he did.  They are not living for God and by His commands.  Most likely they are just as rich as he and just as stingy toward the hurting.  He comes up with a plan to send Lazarus back from the dead in order to warn them.  Now an interesting point to note here is that Jesus actually did resurrect a man named Lazarus from the dead.  We do not know for sure if this parable was told before or after the resurrection event.  Either way, Jesus is either hinting towards what he was going to do, or pointing out that what had been done was not going to change people’s minds.

Abraham is not really in a position to send Lazarus back.  Only God has the power of resurrection.  However, he does tell the rich man that “Moses and the prophets” are enough.  If they won’t believe that then they won’t believe a man coming back from the dead.  Now the Old Testament has all the required warnings of what is to come and the justice of God that looms over those who do not take Him seriously.  It even has the shock value of amazing signs and wonders accompanying it to get people’s attention.  Even today, we can say that God’s Word has been made even more powerful with the perfect testimony of Jesus and his own death and resurrection.  Those who want an amazing miracle today in order to believe do not recognize the fickle nature of the hearts of men.  The declarations of the prophets are enough.  Those who reject that will not change their minds by any great miracles.

Now the rich man envisions that if someone came back to life and told the story of what they saw there, it would be enough to convince people.  However, it can be difficult to take a person’s word as absolutely true.  Perhaps your dying mind only conjured up those images and somehow you survived thinking they were real.  Perhaps you are a charlatan who is only trying to get attention and sell books.  We have seen recently that some accounts of experiencing the afterlife were later confessed to being completely made up.  Thus the situation itself is unverifiable.  If we don’t want to believe something we will always find a way to dismiss evidence to the contrary.  Abraham says that if they won’t accept Moses and the prophets they won’t accept the testimony of someone who came back from the dead.  What are the excuses we often lay before God today?  We often say that God should do something more spectacular or clearer to prove Himself.  Always, we place ourselves in command and tell God to jump through our hoops and then we will believe.  Yet, have you ever considered that you are not being completely honest?  It is easy to say, yet God says back that you have received all you need in order to believe.  Anything more will not make a difference to your heart.

The wonderful thing to note in this parable is that God in His grace has given us the best of both.  He has given us His Word along with spectacular signs and wonders.  In it we can hear the truth and be drawn to honor God with our lives.  Yet, His Son Jesus has come back from the dead.  Notice, though, that Jesus does not come back from the dead and testify what He saw there.  Jesus actually does the opposite.  Throughout his life he taught the truths of heaven and then predicted that he would be killed and come back to life.  Thus with Jesus the resurrection becomes proof that he knew what he was talking about.  No one today who verifiably “dies on the table” and then comes back can claim this.  Thus God has given us more than what we need in order to believe.  So do you?  If you want a better destination than the rich man in this parable, then you had better learn to use the blessings in your life in order to help the hurting.  God is merciful to those who are merciful and merciless to those who are merciless.

Better Life audio

Tuesday
May052015

A Heart For That Which Is Lost-Part II

Luke 15:11-32

Last week we saw two quick parables about God’s heart for those who are lost from Him.  The images then were a lost sheep and a lost coin.  Today our image is going to be a son who is often called the prodigal son, which refers to the fact that he “wastes” his inheritance.  But in reality this parable should be called the parable of the lost son because the emphasis of all three of these parables is that something is lost and needs to be found. 

If you are skeptical of Christianity and the message of the Bible, I would ask you to at least hear out this one message.  In this story Jesus gives us a glimpse into God’s heart for all of mankind.

A Son Is Lost

In verses 11-16 we see the story of a young man who is tired of being in his father’s house.  It is a common story for a young man to chafe under the roof of his parents, and even m ore common is man’s chafing under the administration of God, our Father in heaven.  Throughout this story the actions are illustrating spiritual realities between God and man.

In the story the young man commits a series of very insulting actions toward his father.  First, he asks for his inheritance early.  This action would come across as wishing that your father were dead.  I would rather have the stuff my father is going to give me than to have him.  Now it is not uncommon for an inheritance to be divvied out early, but it would always be at the direction of the father.  Thus the second insult is regarding the father’s wisdom as to when the inheritance should be handed out.  So how is it that we take hold of our inheritance from God before the proper time in order to do with it as we wish?  When we ignore God’s instructions regarding what we have (our body, wealth, time, health, etc…) and then do with it whatever we wish, we are doing the same thing to God that this young man did to his father.

So the young man liquidates his inheritance and goes off to a far country.  This is the third insult.  The son separates himself as far as he can from his father and family.  All by itself it would not be an insult.  But in the context of the actions of the young man it becomes another expression of rejection.  There had already been a separation between the father and son emotionally, but now a large distance is put between them as a barrier to ever fixing this relational problem.  This is true of us with God as well.  We not only neglect relationship with God, but we often put up large barriers that keep God at a distance.  The places and people we hang out and the places we never go, often become shackles that keep us from ever connecting with God.

Although the son doesn’t realize it, the maturity of the Father’s life and decisions is part of what bothers him.  The son wants to live life more.  He doesn’t want to be restricted in his activities and unhampered by the boring things that his father has given him to do.  However, the very inheritance that he takes is the product of his father’s wisdom and maturity.  It is the blood, sweat, and tears of his father put in monetary form.  In the spiritual sense, the temptations of this life call us to cast off the boundaries that God has placed on us and to “enjoy life.”  We want to eat, drink, and be merry at the expense of the work that God has given us to do.  This is an immature mentality that does not produce good things.  Rather it squanders good things.  This lost son is known as the prodigal son because his immature decision making wastes every good thing that he ever had in his life starting with his father and family.  Those who take this path walk away from God and yet take all that he ever supplied for them.  Instead of walking in wisdom they squander all the good that God has given until it is both wasted and ruined.  You will eventually squander all that you have: money, body, mind; and you will be left with nothing to show for it in the end, nothing but spiritual emptiness that is. So the young man became penniless through living the fast and furious, high-life.

Of course this would be the exact wrong time for a severe famine to strike the area, but that is exactly what happens.  Although we often pray for God to help us escape difficult times and difficult things, they have often been the very grace of God to bring people to the point where they can see their need of Him.  As long as he had money and was spending it, the young man never lacked for people to party with him.  But now that he is broke and difficult, economic times have struck, he is alone and in great need.  The young man is so desperate that he takes a job that every Jew hearing this story would have cringed at: feeding pigs.  Spiritually, we can often let desperate times push us into worse and worse decisions, until we end up in a mess that is near impossible for us to fix.  It appears to me that Satan uses these things to herd lost people into prisons of their own making.  Even if they get to a point where they would want to return to their father, they have burnt so many bridges behind them that they won’t be able to make it back.

Perhaps the saddest line of this whole parable is this, “and no one gave him anything.”  Of course they didn’t owe him anything and times were difficult for everyone.  But when a person is in dire need and has nothing to eat, it is easy for those who have no connections to them to ignore it.  And, those who may have partied for you in the past tend to separate from you.   You might wonder why they do it, in that moment.  But it is the kind of decision that immaturity makes.  The destitute person has nothing to offer.  Only a mature and wise person will help such a one, and this young man had separated himself from such people.  It is here that the real truth hammers into the head of this lost son.  He had embraced the cold decision to separate from his father for the fires of passion in a far country.  But now that he has burned out in rapid form he is on the receiving end of others doing the same to him.  They too embrace the cold decision to leave him destitute for the sake of warming and feeding themselves.  Without God this world quickly becomes a cold hard place where people tend to connect with you only as long as they are getting something out of you.  Yet, in the end their care for you does not go beneath the surface.  Many have taken the path of the immediate decision for their own passions, only to find that no one cares for them in this place they have ended up.

A Son Repents

In verses 17-19 the story takes another turn.  The son repents of what he has done.  Now the word repent in this passage literally means to change your mind.  It is also associated with another word that means to regret something after the fact.  Thus repentance is not just an intellectual change of mind, but an emotional one as well.  Another concept that comes out is that of turning.  The young man has been going in a direction that is taking him farther, and farther away from his father.  But here we see him sorrowfully changing his mind.  Filled with remorse and regret he begins to turn away from those previous decisions and actions and begins to turn back towards his father.  He no longer sees hope further down the road of his way, but rather looks back to his father as the only hope for him now.  Have you reached that point regarding your Father in heaven?  This is true repentance on display for us to see.  When we truly repent we turn away from our decisions and actions in disgust and turn towards God in hope.

It is at this point that the young man comes to his senses, or as the passage says, “he came to himself.”  Until now he couldn’t see himself for what he really was.  He was blinded by his desire and his ignorance.  But now he sees his true condition.  But, the truth can set us free, if we will recognize it and embrace it.  It is not easy to embrace truth.  Much like embracing a cactus, it pierces our skin and causes pain.  Yet, unlike embracing a cactus, the truth can lead us in the direction of hope, wisdom, freedom and especially love.  The rebukes of life are those effects of our poor choices and the added problem of adverse circumstances that we didn’t cause.  This perfect storm mixes together and binds us to a miserable state.  But the question is, do we really see ourselves in that moment, or do we ignore it and press on the same old way?  Like a person banging their head against the wall, we can persist in the same direction in the face of evidence that it is destroying us.  Only the Spirit of God can truly help a lost person to come to their senses and mercifully He works on each person.  However, even then, when those glimpses come, we can choose to ignore it.  The Bible calls this hardening your heart.  When does a heart become so hard that nothing, not even Truth, can break through?  This is something that cannot be answered, but must be recognized.

In this moment of seeing the truth, the young man recognizes that the only path out is to humble himself and return to his father.  This is a plan born out of desperation and yet also the understanding that his father is different than those who surround him now.  Perhaps I can go back and be a slave in my father’s house.  He knows he doesn’t deserve even that, yet, it is worth a shot.  The worst that can happen is that he will be rejected and in the same condition he is in now.  These two key points are necessary to true repentance: humbling and returning.  When we can strip ourselves of all the ways of thinking, reasons, philosophies, and lusts that led us away from God in the first place, then we are able to come back to Him for help.

The young man also comes back without demand and with an attitude of unworthiness.  If we approach God with demands then we are not truly repentant.  The person who repents takes full responsibility for their choices and the effects of them.  They are asking for help rather than demanding it.  At times they are hoping against hope for help, that’s how desperate they are.  Do not be so quick to pump up the self-esteem of a person who is coming to Christ.  Yes, God loves them and yes, He will definitely restore them to the status of a son.  But it will have been over the top of my sin.  When we diminish our sin we are at the same time diminishing the greatness of God’s love and mercy towards us.  If my sin was no big deal then God’s grace is not a big deal.  If I only owe a penny to my friend, it is no big deal when he says to forget about paying it back.  But if I owed him $100,000 and he forgave the loan, I would be indebted to him immensely.

A Father And Son Are Reunited

In verses 20-32 we have the fun part of the story.  The son goes back and is received by his father.  It is interesting that the father runs out to meet his son.  It is as if to say that if we will take steps back towards God, He will come out to meet us and bring us all the way back home.  God is looking for any movement in our life back towards Him.  He isn’t waiting for us to prove ourselves.  Rather, He runs to us quickly in order to help us come all the way.

It is also important to notice the compassion of the father.  God has a great deal of compassion for sinners who repent and turn back towards Him.  Of course, He had compassion before, but it was internal.  The lost person’s heart is separated from God and wants nothing from Him.  But, when the lost heart turns back towards God, His compassion can now flow towards them.  Now that the son’s heart has changed, God can act in a way that would not have been received before.  If the father had showed up while the son was partying he would not have been received.  If he had shown up too soon, when the son was working as a feeder of pigs, the son might have willfully stayed there eating pig slop.  But at just the right time, the father runs out to his son.  This is God’s way with us.

Next the Father throws a celebration for his son.  God doesn’t just bring us back into the home.  He celebrates.  We cannot fathom the heights to which the heart of God ascends when a sinner repents, or I should say when we repent.  We should ponder long the reality of what is being shown here.  God does not just require repentance; He throws a party when we do it.

The father also blesses his son as if he was a favorite son.  He gives him the best robe, a ring, and sandals (and most likely a bath).  This is a picture of the lavish love that God pours out upon those who turn to Him.  He will not hear of us serving only as a slave.  He will not leave us in our filthy stained condition.  But, rather, He will lavish upon us those things that we do not deserve.  Believers have the privilege to delight in the robe of the righteousness of Christ, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  We can walk in the authority of His favored Son, Jesus.  We also have a future with the Father that we had thrown away.

It is at this moment that the beautiful story hits a snag.  The older brother is offended.  He hears what is going on and refuses to go into the celebration.  He begins to separate himself from the path of his father’s choice.  Up to now he has followed his father’s wisdom, but this is too much.  At that moment, he too becomes a son who is in jeopardy of becoming a lost son.  Whether he goes off to a far country or not, he does not want to join with his father.  His complaint that he never got to celebrate with his friends is flimsy.  First of all the lost brother most likely doesn’t have any “friends” at the celebration, only the father and his servants.  Second of all, the celebration is offset by the grieving that went on before.  Imagine that the celebration is like 100 happy points all in one day.  The older son can only see that he never got 100 happy points all in one day.  This isn’t fair is it?  The reality is that the day the younger son left the father experienced something like a 1,000,000 sad points.  Every day since his leaving the father had grieved with sadness over the loss of his son.  Now the 100 happy points seem small.  Now let’s continue with these happy points.  Imagine that one normal day with his elder son was like 10 happy points.  How many days had they dwelt together with no real sad points to think of and 10 happy points racking up: 10 per day, 70 per week, 300 per month, 3,652 per year.  It is so easy to discount the happiness of “normal.”   It may not be a festival celebration, but the simple meals that we have together, day after day, are not a drudgery when we love each other.

Ultimately being lost is a matter of the heart.  We have all been lost children of God.  His heart yearned for the return of each of us.  He has planned a great celebration and feast for those who return to Him.  In all of this we see God’s heart for each person who has been found and for those who are still out there squandering their inheritance.  When you first get saved you are the younger brother.  But over time our hearts can become entitled and we can become derisive towards those who turn back to God after us.  Beware of such a heart because it is a lost heart as well.

The Lost Son audio