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Entries in Parable (7)

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

Thursday
Apr162015

A Heart For That Which Is Lost-Part I

Today we will pick back up in the Gospel of Luke 15:1-10.

This chapter has three parables that are in response to a complaint by the Pharisees regarding the fact that Jesus allowed sinners to be around him.  They were not wrong that these people were sinners.  However they were wrong in understanding how God wants us to interact with them.

Now it is never easy to be told that you are damaged goods.  Whether you are being rejected by others in a relationship, or being looked over by those who are looking for skills and abilities, or even a certain genetic makeup, there will always be those who are not acceptable in the eyes of others.  This creates a natural division between the haves and the have nots, the pure and the damaged.  Yet, the message in the Bible makes all of these distinctions moot.  God says that all mankind (yes even Mother Theresa) have been damaged by sin and are in need of healing.

In our passage today we will look at the first two parables that give parallel pictures of God’s heart for the sin-damaged soul.

Jesus Did Not Despise And Reject Sinners

When Jesus taught, it was not just religious people who showed up to listen to him.  Many people who had long quit following the Laws of Moses, AKA “sinners,” also came to hear him.  This was not normal.  When religious teachers were teaching, generally only the devout would come to listen to them.  Sinners tend to avoid environments where they are reminded that they are sinners.  The Pharisees obviously expected Jesus to run them off or have them removed.  But, instead Jesus let them listen and even ate meals with them.

Notice that many sinners were drawn to Jesus.  He was different.  Instead of rubbing their sins in their face and pushing them away, he spoke the truth in love and invited them in.  His teaching promoted righteousness as the heart of God for mankind rather than the disqualification of the sinner.  Now don’t get me wrong.  Jesus was in some ways stricter than the Pharisees.  Imagine being in the crowd the day he says that to even think with lust toward a woman was committing the sin of adultery.  The shock of such a statement blasted past any pretense and moral superiority and stripped all as bare and naked, lacking any real righteousness with which to clothe themselves.

So how do we explain the approach of Jesus who did not compromise truth, yet wanted sinners to come to him?  The reality is that sinners need to know their true situation.  God is just and will judge everyone, even those self-righteous types who outwardly look devout but inwardly are full of every kind of sin.  Yet, Jesus knew that God was trying to draw people towards Him, not push them away.  They really wouldn’t come to hear Jesus if God wasn’t working on their heart already.  And, they wouldn’t stick around long if they wouldn’t accept the truth.  Yes, we can point to the popularity of Jesus and castigate the Church today.  However, to be intellectually honest, we must recognize that the multitudes of sinners did not stay with Jesus for long.  The closer he came to the cross the less people who decided to stick with him.  In fact, his disciples basically fell away and later had to repent of their doubt.  Jesus wasn’t trying to control how people responded and force them in a mold.  The truth would either draw them in or push them out.  It is their choice.  Judas becomes a perfect picture of this.  We never see Jesus pushing him away.  But in the end the reality of who Jesus was and the truth that he taught caused Judas to betray Jesus.  We should not change the message of Christ to draw people.  Rather we need to change our attitude of trying to control the response of others.  In such an environment of freedom, the Spirit of God is free to work on the hearts of men.  Some will believe and many will walk away.

In each of the parables Jesus will emphasize that the friends of God will rejoice when a sinner repents.  Thus he turns the complaining of the religious leaders back on their own heads.  Their spirit of offense and anger at his interactions with sinners was itself proof that they were not true friends of God.  Otherwise they would be rejoicing in what Jesus was doing (and they would have been doing it themselves).   The truth is that they are lost sinners themselves in need of hearing the truth and repenting.

A Lost Sheep & A Lost Coin

Although these three parables (#3 is the Prodigal Son) underline the same spiritual message there are some contrasts worth noting.  We have three very different characters that represent the heart of God: a shepherd, a woman, and a father.  Some have pointed out that this is most likely to emphasize the work of Christ, who is the Good Shepherd, the woman with the lamp, who is the Church aided by the Holy Spirit of Truth, and the father, who represents God the Father.  This demonstrates how all are working together to accomplish the same goal.  Secondly we have three very different lost things: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son.  Again we can see three different facets of how mankind is “lost” from God.  A sheep is a living being but has no understanding.  It wanders out of ignorance is dear to the shepherd as that which is a creature.  However, in others ways we see the lost coin represents the immense value that each person who is lost has to God.  The person has value, but they are separated from him and may spend an eternity stuck between floor boards.  Lastly, the most tender picture is that mankind is like a wayward son that has turned its back on a loving father and squandered everything that he has supplied for them.  In each we hear the same echo: yet, God loves them and wants them back.  Do you believe that today?  God loves each sinner and desires greatly to have them back to himself.

Thus the reality in these parables is that sinners really are lost from God.  The term “lost” summons a picture of hopelessness and despair; and on our own that is very true.  But Jesus does not share it as a pejorative in order to put us down.  Rather, it is a statement of why he is working so hard to reach sinners.  Lostness has nothing to do with intellectual ability, or genetic material.  It is a description of our separateness from God and His ways.  Sinners are lost because they are not walking in fellowship and harmony with God.  As such, they are in dangerous territory and subject to great harm like a sheep that has run off from the shepherd.  Sinners are also a great value that is squandered in the darkness and hopelessness of life, like a coin that has fallen into a crack only to be forgotten.

Yet, in both cases, the lost thing is not forgotten.  It is not expendable to the shepherd or the woman.  Yes, the shepherd has 99 other sheep and the woman has 9 other coins.  But God will not let it go.  He will go out after that which is lost and seek to reclaim it.  He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and have eternal life.  What in the world is God doing right now?  God is seeking throughout this world for lost sheep that He can bring back into His fold.  Every one of us enters life innocent of sin and yet quickly we turn to paths other than God’s.  Yet, God diligently goes out after each of us in order to bring us in.  No, we are not lost to Him in the sense that He doesn’t know where we are.  Rather, we are lost to Him in the sense that there are barriers that keep us from Him.  Those barriers are our desire for sin, but also our wounds, feelings, and twisted ideas.  Those barriers are all the lies that we have come to believe about the world and about ourselves.  So God is seeking us in that He is trying to break through those barriers and draw our hearts towards Him.

Each of these parables ends with great rejoicing when the object is found.  Even just one sinner repenting is enough to cause God and all the angels of heaven to rejoice.  Though we cannot see it and may even doubt it, we have the world of Jesus himself saying so.  Notice that the goal is not to get sinners to hang out with Jesus.  The goal is to bring them to repentance.  We can eat all the meals we want with those who are still lost but if we never give them the message of truth, they will not know their need of repentance.  If they do hear the truth they will feel the polarizing affects of it.  Truth forces us to face reality and make a decision.  Jesus is happy that sinners are coming to Him, but he is also sad that so many will eventually walk away and cling to their sins instead of embracing the truth.  His true joy is when we repent.  To repent is to reject our way of life and our “truths,” and then to turn towards the way of Jesus.  He is the Truth, and the Life and the Way to peace with the Father. 

It is not our job to force the choice.  Part of seeking is finding the words and the issues that will speak to the heart of the lost person.  We have to learn how to discern the hurts and wounds that serve as barriers between them and God.  However, in the end their choice is between them and God.  God pleads through us to them, but ultimately it is He who pleads.  Why do we get so uptight when people don’t respond as we want?  Perhaps if we did not take so personal the slowness of response and even flat out rejection of the message, our spirit would much more pure and much more alluring.  Yet, some believers do not seem to care about the lostness of others.  If we really understood how much joy it brings our Lord, we would be more patient and persistent in our attempts to help Him find the lost and make them “found.”  Ask God to place His Spirit upon you  and light up your life in such a way that sinners will see your good works and glorify the Father in heaven.

Heart For That Which is Lost audio