Saturday, June 30, 2007
'the way the Gospels have been arranged in our Bibles provides the perfect example of how the same story can be told in different ways. Some critics of scripture have argued that the differences between the Gospels are contradictions. Nothing could be further from the truth. The four Gospels are simply similar to your local nightly news. The first three Gospels are like local network television affiliates for ABC, NBC and CBS, which generally report the same stories with some variation in eyewitness account and details. This explains why roughly 60% of the first three Gospels give the same information. John, on the other hand is more like one of the national cable newcasts, such as CNN, which have news storiees rarely found on the local news, this explains why roughly 90% of John is unique to his account.'
Now, i know thats hardly groundbreaking truth, but i still think it's very helpful to think about. If you were making up a story, wouldn't you make sure all four accounts were in total agreement?
Friday, June 29, 2007
I woke up this morning with an acute sense of how much i need grace, with how much i need the Lord, with how much of a sinner i am, but how graceful God is. Knowing that His grace was new each morning was has got me out of bed this morning, and pretty much could be the banner over my whole year. Maybe at Relay 1 i thought by this time that i would have more or less defeated sin in my life...i knew that there was no 'other level' of holiness but at the same time, i sort of hoped i'd get there.
Charles Simeon said something like if it wasn't for the ballast of the sin in his life he would be so elated by the truth of the Gospel, and if it wasn't for the truth of the Gospel he would be sunk by the weight of His sin. I can only agree. Relay really is grace school. You learn, and hear and proclaim the Gospel every day. What a priviledge that's been. How completly down to the grace of God is that? Totally. Everyone says this about Relay, but i really have learnt about grace this year...that there is a God outside of me who is there, who is bigger, and more powerful and more important than me. And is Holy Holy Holy. And thats very comforting. And very scary. Which is why i need to go back to the cross again and again and again to see Christ dying for my sin, giving me a way to the Father, being my perfect substitute. And i need Him, and i need to do that more than ever.
Tonight i was reminded of God's faithfulness and my closed heart. Two years ago, when i was on RUCU committee we sat down and dreamt. We dreamt of a time when RUCU would meet in the G10 lecture theatre, the biggest on campus. We prayed that it would be full of Bible based Christ loving Christians. And i don't know about the other eight guys on committee, but i'd more or less forgotten about it, and i'd certainly stopped praying for it. Then i read this:
'a few years ago the exec prayed in faith that cu would move into palmer g10. that means, being BIG. and not only that, but that it would be filled with *someone tell me the exact words?! something something worshipping, mature Christians...?* and guess where cu will be from october? palmer g10. 400 seats, and those returning won't even fill half of it. big challenge. big, BIG, faithful, promise-fulfilling God.'
So it's happened. It's not full, it'll be a big job to fill it...and a job i look forward to helping out with as i work for Reading Family Church next year. And i look forward to relying on God, and learning more about Him and going to the Cross everyday for grace and strength and joy. Thats where i've been more than any other place this year, and thats where i want to spend my future...
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Rob Bell seems like a good bloke. He's got cool glasses, seems to love Jesus as far as you can tell from ten minute videos and clealry believes in what he's doing. I think we'd get on very well together. I watched three videos, rain, noise and kickball, i'm not sure how many there are altogether, a dozen or so? And heres the good stuff about them...
They are cool. There's no getting away from that. Rob is easy to listen to, they are well produced, slick and use good music. If i wanted to show a non Christian friend that Christians could be worldy cool, this is where i'm taking them. The three i saw were easy to watch, funny at times, thought provoking and sort of engaging. Engaging in that they are easy to listen to...although that might be a criticism as we'll come to later. I actually enjoyed 'Rain' and 'Noise' on this level. 'Rain' was comforting and heart warming...he obviously loves his son very much. The use of every day life experiences as analogies was cool, and helped me get into what he was saying a bit.
There is a large 'but' coming sadly. They didn't really say much. Ten minutes is a long time to take in saying 'God will protect you' (rain) or 'God knows best' (kickball) or 'we need to listen to God' (noise). Thats really all that came out of those three, and that comes to nearly thirty minutes of tape. The use of scripture was patchy at best, although not often used out of context, just sometimes. He often used scripture to prove his point, rather than the other way round.
In the three that i watched, and i accept it may be different in others, i don't think he said 'Jesus' once. Now, since Jesus is who makes us Christians, thats a fairly big oversight. He's who i need to know about, and relate to, as nice as it was, i didn't need to know about what happens when Rob Bell goes shopping, or hangs out with his son. Not that there's anything bad about those stories...but less of you please Rob, and more, much more of Jesus. Linked to this, i guess it's pretty obvious that if you don't talk about Jesus you won't talk about the cross. Come on man, it's the Gospel that saves us, and strengthens us. Thats all we need to know. It's not the bridge to something better, it's all there is. Tell your church, and my students the Gospel please! Maybe he does in the other ones but not doing it in three is fairly serious in my view.
I guess my biggest problem with Nooma, along with the lack of the Gospel, or any meat, is that i'm not really sure what they' re for. Are they supposed to replace Bible exposition at churches? or studies on small groups? No thank you. Are they supposed to be evangelistic? No thank you. Are they supposed to appeal to people who are disaffected by church? Who are tired of religion? Well maybe. But in that case they should really be more focused on the cross, although, to be fair, if you were hurting and unsure of where God is in a messed up world, they might get you on the right path. Might. And it's not like Rob is spewing heresy...he just doen't say much of anything. And it's all dressed up in good camera work and music.
So, i guess thats my main point about Nooma. They're not all bad, they're just not very good. Possibly indicative of the loose atitude towards doctine and Bible teaching in this generation. They don't really say much, or serve any purpose that i can think of that isn't already served by the Bible. It's worrying that so many people think they're great, although, to be fair, maybe the others are...but i wouldn't hold my breath on that. I guess it's a good thing that someone is trying to reach out to people that are turned off by the church, but i really don't think this is the best way to do it... So lets do it better ways, with God's Words, and Gods Gospel.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
If Spurgeon was the underground aquifer bringing down the nutrients of earlier generations to those after him, then it was this generation of preachers--many of them anti-Calvinists--who, ironically, were the aquifers who brought us all Spurgeon. And friends, if you keep being told to buy Spurgeon, eventually you'll probably read Spurgeon. And if you read Spurgeon, you'll never be able to believe the charge that all Calvinists are Hyper-Calvinists, and that Calvinists can't do missions and evangelism.
Adrian Warnock continues with Terry Virgo:
Some people say now we have Epistles we don't need apostles. Although we firmly embrace the authority of the Scriptures, we believe that a local church is built on people and on relationships. We need not only pastors and teachers, but also properly functioning apostles, prophets and evangelists, all rooted in local churches and serving translocally.
Tech Monkey wants us to read about Edwards:
I relearned a truth from the life of Jonathan Edwards. That the Christian life is one of emotion, of joy, of getting to know God better each day. It is neither a life of dead formalism or excessive emotionalism that removes the focus from God and to the personal, subjective, experience.
And, about the same time that i had finally given up on her and deleted her from my blogroll, Anna Hopkins was writing this:
Firstly, let me state that a CU is NOT a church, it is a mission team. Churches can’t get onto campus, so the only way to spread the Gospel there is through the students who already attend the university. Christian unions are not a church, in fact it is crucial that all the Christians who attend the CU meetings are firmly rooted in a local church, where they receive sound biblical teaching and can grow in their faith.
There are many reasons i am encouraged by this photo, of, right to left, me and Annie (RUCU Chairman/Woman 2005), Tom and Kat (RUCU Chairman/Woman 2006) and Matt and Katie (RUCU Chairman/Woman 2007).
These are five of the most wise and gracious brothers and sisters i know. It's been is great to serve them, whether from the front or not. I consider it a real priviledge to be part of the 'chain of chairs' at RUCU.
I'm encouraged by it because of what it teaches me about the Gospel. That God continues to work though His Word even when i'm not around to see it. I love how Tom and Kat and Matt and Katie have picked up the baton in Reading, stayed faithful to the Gospel, and have kept RUCU going from strength to strength (with a little help of course!). I love that i got to be part of it, and that people have been gracious enough to have me back around since i left Reading.
But right now, as i come to the end of Relay, it encourages me because it reminds me that i'm not the be all and end all. That after me will come someone else who loves the Gospel and will do a better job, then again, then again. One of the many things i've learnt on Relay this year is the security and the joy of knowing that God is there, and that He is bigger, more powerful and more important than i am. And that He is faithful. This photo reminds me of that, and it makes me glad.
Monday, June 25, 2007
'...as i get older i want to tell everyone who will listen: 'i am so glad for the penal substitutionary death of Jesus, no hope without it'
...it was with His own will and His own love mirroring the Father's therefore that He took the place of human sinners exposed to divine judgement and laid down His life as a sacrifice for them, entering fully into the state and experience of death that was due to them. The He rose to death to reign by the Fathers appointment in the Kingdom of God. From His throne He sent the Spirit to enduce faith in Himself, and in the saving work He has done...
Since this was all planned by the holy Three in their eternal solidarity of mutual love, and since the Father's central purpose in it was and it the glorify and exalt the Son as Head and savior of a new humanity. smartypant's notions like 'divine child abuse' as a comment on the cross, are supremely silly, and as irrelevant and wrong as they possibly could be...
What is stated above is clearly revealed in God's own witness to Himself in the Bible and so must be given the status of non-negotiable fact...
Penal substitution therefore, will not be focused properly until it is recognised that God's redemptive love must not be conceived, misconcieved rather, as somehow replacing God's retributive justice, as if the Creator-Judge simply decided to let bygones be bygones. The measure of God's holy love for us is that 'while we were still sinners Christ died for us', and that 'He...did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all' (Romans 5:8; 8:32)
For all that i love about newfrontiers, we're not perfect ( as much as anything in a couple of months i'll be working for them!), and possibly the only thing that concerns me about newfrontiers is their lack of 'statement of faith' type confessionality. I love how relational they are, but the Gospel is worth intentionally protecting and proclaiming...thats why i love documents like UCCF's doctrinal basis, it displays and protects and holds us accountable to the Gospel. Adrian has mentioned here (on the comments) that there is more to come on this. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the interview...
Friday, June 22, 2007
David Conn is probably the best football writer in the country. This article in today's Guardian is spot on as normal. Pretty stomach churning to see Shiniwatra, a deposed former Thai PM buying Manchester City for over £80M, the day after Scarborough went out of business for the want of 'just' £250,000.
Books and Books
I'm shortly headed slightly north and lots west to Ledbury for the fourth time this year for RUCUs 80th aniiversary houseparty, to run the bookstall. I love good books, which is why this offer excites me very much. If you've never read any Piper before can i recommend starting with 'Desiring God', then 'God is the Gospel', then 'Don't waste your life'. $5 is only about £2 so even with the postage it'll be worth it.
One more thing
This morning i read Piper's brief biography of William Wilberforce. I'll leave with the last two paragraphs:
From the beginning of his Christian life in 1785 until he died in 1833 Wilberforce lived off the "great doctrines of the gospel," especially the doctrine of justification by faith alone based on the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. This is where he fed his joy. And the joy of the Lord became his strength (Nehemiah 8:10). And in this strength he pressed on in the cause of abolishing the slave trade until he had the victory.
Therefore, in all zeal for racial harmony and the rebuilding of white evangelical and black culture let us not forget these lessons: Never minimize the central place of God-centered, Christ-exalting doctrine; labor to be indomitably joyful in all that God is for us in Christ by trusting his great finished work; and never be idle in doing good – that men may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
Thursday, June 21, 2007
We often wonder what to pray for. Well, here Jesus gives us a pattern or a template of what a prayer should look like. Prayer, as Jesus saw it wasn't just aking God for things, or silent meditation, or doing Godly deeds, it was words, communication, adoration, confession and supplication. How gracious of our King to teach us how to ask for good things.
The prayer first deals with God's honour. 'hallowed be your name.' This is a personal prayer for holiness and a prayer for missionary activity all over the world. Hallowed be your name is to be the call of evangelists as they reach out where worship isn't...hallowed be your name is to be the cry and banner over our lives. God wants to be honoured all over the world. His kingdom is coming in Christ, as we need to prepare for thatm and prepare others for that. The Lords prayer seems to be linked in with a passage in Ezekiel. This part in particular to Ezekiel 36:22-25. We must call on God to save His people for His names sake.
This takes us to Ezekiel 37:24. God's kingdom will come and has come in Christ. Jesus will herald to completion of the coming King. Our prayers are to be kingdom prayers. They are to herald and communicate and strengthen the coming Kingdom. How?
It will come by God's will being done by God's people. In Ezekiel 36 God's will ws not being done in God's physical earthly kingdom. And so the people were punished. They were taken from the land. But, in verse 26, God will return His people to His land. His people will ultimately have the joy and life of obeying God. Then God will be glorified. We pray for 'Heaven on earth' when we pray for God's will to be done. God's will be honoured in His kingdom by obediance to Him. This is a Kingdom prayer.
Another translation of this verse would be, 'give us our bread of the coming day'. This is God's provision in God's kingdom. It's easy to ignore or forget this part of the prayer. Too easy to think that it's Tesco that provides for our need, not the Lord. But it is God who controls the trade routes, God who sends the rain on the harvest, God who continues to do those things. And we need to pray He would continue to. Ezekiel 36:29-30 teaches us to pray for the God of the grain to provide grain for the coming day.
This is the most neccesary blessing of the Kingdom. We need to be forgiven of our sin before we can even contemplate to come into to throneroom of the King, Ezekiel 37:23 and Jeremiah 31:33-34 build on these promises. God will remember our sins no more, Jesus will be hung on a cross in our place, and we will be imputed with His righteousness. Good news! There shall be a day where we no longer sin because of and for the glory of God, and the way we will get there is because God will no longer hold our sins against us anymore. And we of course must forgive others. This is not works, this is the common sense overflow of what we have been given and forgiven. How can we presume to live in a kingdom of forgiveness if we ourselves are not forgiving.
We need God's help to persevere in the face of temptation and difficulty. This verse is not to say that God will lead us into temptation unless we ask Him not to. Carson puts this as 'expressing the opposite by negating the contrary'. God will not lead us into temptation, but by His grace He will lead us out when we are tempted.
The Lord's prayer is about God. It's aimed at magifying God's honour, in God's kingdom by obediance to God's will by His people. In the kingdom will be provision for God's people, their forgiveness of sin and their deliverence from temptation. This is a template and a model of prayer. Our prayers must be to Jesus and through Jesus and for the glory of God in Jesus. We must be soaked in the purposes of God in our prayers, knowing that this is for our benefit.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Yesterday i went to Oxford, and saw the Matyr's memorial there. This impressive stone structure more or less in the middle of the city commemeorates the lives of Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, who were burned alive for the Gospel in 1555 and 1556. Paul wrote a series on them recently which is well worth reading. But i've just got a couple of reflections on visiting.
- Just over four hundred years ago people IN THIS COUNTRY were being burnt for the Gospel. I'm somewhere between hardly being able to believe this and wondering how far we are from it happening again.
- The actual place where it happened is marked with an X in the road, just round the corner from the memorial. What a glorious witness this was to the all surpassing worth of Christ.
- I was really slightly overcome when i read the inscription on the plaque. It felt like something of a pilgrimige which is obviously deeply ironic given what these men died for. It made me sad that kids were able to clamber all over it, but glad that anyone could wonder up and read the inscription.
- Where are the men like these from my generation whom God will raise up to give up everything, even thier lives, for the Gospel?
Saturday, June 16, 2007
And this can take such a wide range of expressions. From the obvious like sexual immorality, to the less obvious like the clothes we wear or the compliments we fish for, to the individual things that cause us to stumble, like what we do in our spare time, what we watch on tv or see at the cinema. And that's different for everyone in the details, but the basic facts are the same for everyone. It looks good, so we do it.
So the battle we need to fight against sin is the battle to prefer something else. Something better. To teach ourselves and believe that there is something better out there. And praise the Lord there is. His name is Jesus. The greatest and most ultimate relaity there is. People, pretty much from the day He started to minister wanted to put Jesus in a box. But it was for Him and through Him that the world was made. How do you out Him into a box? How do you sanitise Jesus? You can't. But anyway, back to the point of this, how do we choose Jesus over sin? How do we convince ourselves and remember that Jesus is better and that sin is awful?
The answer from Proverbs 5 seems to be look at the long game. Proverbs 5 was the last talk that Mo gave at Relay 3, and this is all from his handout (except anything thats wrong, which is me) It looks good, but it isn't seems to be the message from verses 1-6. It looks like fun, it might feel like fun at the time, but it's bitter in the end. Sin always leads towards death, it calls us and tempts us to do what we want without pondering the path of life, without paying any regard to the Lord. Sin makes us all gods in our own little worlds. Here the father is pleading with his son not to chase after the forbidden woman, She looks good, but she'll kill you. And God pleads with us, choose life, choose my Son...choose Jesus.
In verses 7-14 the father tells the son to not eveb nearly do it. Don't even go near her door. Don't bring shame and dishonour on yourself by going to her door. Stay well away. How often after we have consciously sinned do we think to ourselves ro tell God that 'i only meant to go so far'...don't even go that far. How east it is to waste our labours on sin. It's a thin tightrope over the fires of hell. And how close we come to that tightrope, how often i dance on that toghtrope every day. How blase to get about sin...our consciences's get cut off, our fire for the Gospel gets dulled, our neccesary burden for the lost eased, but not in a good way. Sin is stupid. Stupid to let all that we've learnt of God, and all that we know of God and waste it. Adultery, whether spiritual or physical is cruel and merciless. Sin is a harsh master. Come to Jesus whose yoke is easy, and burden light.
The father finishes by exorting the son to enjoy the wife that God has given him. Enjoy what God has given you. If it's singleness, enjoy being single and don't waste it, use your singleness to glorify God. If it's marriage, then be married to the glory of God. Be satisfied in God, be satisfied in what God has given you. Don't be chronically ungreatful, drink deeply from your own well, because what Jesus has given you is enough. How do we do this though? When that rush of adrenaline goes through your blood and you visit that website, buy too much, say too much, don't say enough, when you try and elevate yourself abouve your peers, when you fail to trust in God for everything? What do you do then?
Fear the Lord. Thats the way to life. His paths are best.
Guard your heart. Don't entertain sin in your heart, go to the cross, tell yourself that God has given you enough to drink. Isn't God a gracious God in doing that?
Trust God. God is trustworthy. There is none like Him. He is good, and He is soveriegn. His promises are staggering. His commitment to His own glory is the best news in the world. Ask Him and trust Him to satisfy your heart for His name's sake.
This is pure Christian hedonism. Choose whats better. Follow Jesus' commands. Don't listen to the world. That way is death. Jesus is life. Glorify God with your body, with your soul and with your life, because that is the way to life, and peace and satisfaction. Prepare yourself for an eternity enjoying Jesus in Heaven. Get ready for that, and shine brightly in the world.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Two things really stood out for me from this book, and the first of those is 'the fear of the Lord'. I remember when i first heard this expression, used to describe Christians years ago i didn't really like it. We don't fear the Lord, i thought, we love Him, we worship Him and we are in relationship with Him. What sort of relationship, i thought, had fear at the centre of it. As it turns out, a right and good one in this context.
This is not, of course, fear in the cowering in the corner sort of way. Yes the Lord is that terrible, and when He comes some will call for rocks to crush their brains rather than face His judgement (Rev 16:6). But not those who love Him. And yet we are still called to fear Him. Proverbs 1:7 says that 'the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom'. So according to Soloman you can't know anything in a really, Biblically wise way without fearing the Lord. Proverbs also exhorts us to 'get wisdom' (Proverbs 4:5)...so clearly fearing the Lord is a major part of our faith. But what does it mean?
Fearing the Lord is an attitude to God. It's an attitude that persues God in place of other things, that has God at the centre of ones affections and desires. It's an attitude to evil in our hearts and in the world. Proverbs 8:13 says that fear of the Lord is the hatred of evil. The fear of the Lord is an attitude to ourselves, it is intruction in wisdom and humility as Proverbs 15:33 says.
Fear of the Lord manifests itself in that we don't envy sinners, or ignore God, or fear people. Instead we honour and respect and love the Lord in all situations and in all relationships all the time. We fear the Lord because it is good for us to do so. It will help us to live properly and mulitply our lives (9:10-12), the fear of the Lord is a secure fortress. How amazing that fearing the Lord is good for us! It really shouldn't surprise us that following Biblical commands would make us happy, but it still kind of does! When we deal with the Lord, we deal with ultimates and eternals, we must deal rightly with these things.
So the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the fear of the Lord seems to be, to cut a long story short and put it into classic evangelical language; 'living with Jesus as the Lord of your whole life'. And thats wisdom. Wisdom is honouring and rejoicing and serving Jesus as King in every area of life all the time. And that's totally borne out by Soloman's experiece in Ecclesiastes 1. He's built more, got more, slept around more and worked more than anyone probably before or since. And his conclusion? Vapour, meaninglessness. Because he wasn't living with the fear of the Lord at the centre of His life. He was living with Jesus as King of all that he did. And that, and that alone is the way to life, because thats how the universe is set up. It's bound to be the way to wisdom if all of creation is set up to display the massive value and worth of Jesus Christ. Now on one level that's a massive massive calling, and no one can do it. But on the other hand, how liberating to know that we can be 'wise' in all of life. That we can serve God in all of life. In our work and our rest and our play, there is nothing outside of God's sphere. What good news that whether you're a pastor or a dentist or a speech therapist or a bus driver, you can live wisely by fearing the Lord in that situation. You can honour God in every area of life. There is no division between secular and sacred, it's all about Jesus!
Monday, June 11, 2007
Don't waste your life probably changed my life, there is power and freedom in the knowledge that your life and your meaning is outside of you. That Jesus is more valuable than we can imagine, that seeing and savouring and fearing Him in all of life is the way to life.
I was thinking today about the 'Jesus can be your best friend' sort of apologetics talks. Now, Jesus is the greatest friend someone can ever have, obviously, but lets not sanitise Him so that's all He becomes. Unbeliveing people in my generation, for the most part, don't want to know about another friend, they want to know why everything hurts and nothing means anything anymore. They want to understand why life i such a mess in so many ways and places. There's got to be more to life than going out, getting wasted, losing your phone and putting the photos on Facebook hasn't there? Hasn't there? God has written eternity on our hearts, and nothing else except knowing Him, knowing His value and His glory and His joy will do. Nothing else.
So lets stop selling people short in evangelism. Let's stop diminishing the value of Christ in our presentations of Him. In Christ and through Christ is life. That's it. No other way. Let's be honest to that.
Friday, June 08, 2007
fellowship group 11
thuRsday night...the dancing...the fire...the singing...the sheet of paper and everything on it...fEaring the LORD...landing parties...the garden centre...the 3 minutes...Mo...the keyboard...the songs...the sunshine...prayer ceLl...'he's getting married tomorrow'...sin is worse that God...God is bigger and better than Ed...Paul Huxley is bad...group therapy...wanting to bleed the Bible...UCCF...Emma Brewster...Quinta...sold out...homestarters...being a wAcko...being a relay worker...having relay worker chums...peter's song...chris's song...matt's song...crooksY's song...lets keep lighting the light...see you on staff in a couple of years...
Sunday, June 03, 2007
I spoke to a JW in Princes Risboro' yesterday. And he pretty much explained the gospel to me perfectly, even making the glory and enjoyment of God the end and centre of it, rather than me. Which got me to thinking how important it is to get to the bottom of what people say and think. It was only when we talked about what we meant by 'Son of God' that we got to disagreeing. He said that talking to me was 'encouraging' which is pretty much the opposite of what i was after for once. But it did at least make me think about how important it is to find out what people mean when they use words, and to make sure we know what we mean, and other people know what we mean when we explain the Gospel.
teenage angst has paid off well
Nearly a week after the end of my 365 i can happily report that it has had a positive affect on me. nearly every day this week i've seen something or been somewhere and thought 'that could be today's 365'. which is nice. To have a mind trained to look out for the good, the pleasant, the cool in life is definately a good thing. So whether its been flowers in the field, or fit lunches, or good chats, or plans that involve eggs, i'm glad that the little owl project is continuing mentally, f not actually.
the grande finale
I'm back off to Quinta tomorrow for Relay 3. Time has gone very quickly since the last time i was there for Relay 1 and Forum. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone again and hearing stories of God's work and grace in everyone else. see you next week!
Saturday, June 02, 2007
[this is one of three talks from Luke that i was meant to be doing at a Portsmouth CU lads day away today, which didn't happen for a few reasons. but i thought i'd stick it up here anyway. it's probably not the finished article, although i might just be saying that as a disclaimer!]
The parable of the prodigal son is probably one of the best known in the new testament. It gives us an encouragement to remember when friends or family members of our are struggling in their relationships with God, and real hope for their future. One of the things I love about Luke’s Gospel is how he arranges his material. I think it’s probably always a good question to ask when reading any of the Gospels, or indeed, any of the Bible, ‘why does it say this after its said that’ but particularly in Luke, and particularly here. The parable of the prodigal son comes at the end of a series of three parables told by Jesus the first two of which talk about Heaven’s joy at our salvation. The sheep goes missing, and is found, and, verse 7, there is joy in heaven over those who repent. The woman goes looking for her lost coin, and, verse 10, God expresses joy over sinners who repent. See how valuable repentant sinners are to God and to Heaven. The Shepard has a hundred sheep, and rejoices when he finds the lost one, the woman has ten coins, but rejoices when she finds the final one. God values all of us, all our of salvations. There is more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who need no repentance. I think in this story of the prodigal there are two things to be found that will apply to every Christian at some time in their lives. There is encouragement for those who feel far from Christ, those who feel like after the things they have done there’s no way Jesus would ever call them ‘brother’ no way they can ever call God ‘Father’ again. And a real challenge to people who are mature Christians. People who think that they have a relationship with God that no one else can share, that no one else deserves. Christians who have fallen into the easy but deadly trap of thinking that we are to work for God to keep our relationships with Him. A mistake that all of us make to one degree or another. And we need to keep in mind the people listening to this parable as well. The people who were grumbling against Jesus, who were angry with him for receiving and eating with sinners. What joy there was in Heaven for the sinners who repented and who came to Jesus…but what anger the Pharisees had against Jesus for letting receiving them. If the first two parables were aimed at the sinners who repented, this parable is certainly aimed at the Pharisees who were angry about that.
So let’s turn to the encouragement, To the first half of this parable. The first son, the younger son is tired of living at home, tired of what he perceives to be the boredom of the same fields, the same cattle, the same servants every day. He wants to live, he wants to bright lights, the women, the glamour, the buzz of the city in his ears. So he goes to his father, who one must conject he had little respect for, and asks for his half of the inheritance early. We can only guess about how the father felt at this request from his youngest son…the request that was basically along the lines of ‘dad, I wish you were dead so I could have your money and live my own life…how about we pretend you are dead so I can have you money?’ Rebellion against our Father is a hurtful, needless selfish thing. But the father in this story divides up his property between his sons. And then, verse 13, the youngest son heads off into the high life with the money. At this point Jesus’ listener’s were probably wondering where Jesus was taking this story and what the point of it was. The was the first time the person lost could be held directly to blame for his lostness…you can’t really blame a sheep or a coin for getting lost…but a young man who plans his escape, that you can certainly pin on him. So the son goes off and pursues his dream and what happens, well look at verse 13 ‘he squandered his property on reckless living. And a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need’. For the first time in his life, this young man has nothing, and no one turn to. For the first time he feels pangs in his stomach that don’t look like being quenched any time soon, and maybe for the first time he wishes, even just momentarily that he was with his father. Jesus here paints for us so clearly, so accurately what it’s like when we turn our backs on Him. We look out and we see drug and alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, and we see little but enjoyment on the faces of those who are involved in it. And we dive in. And what is it except a land of empty promises and dissatisfaction. There’s no suggestion here that the son tried to squander his property, but that’s what happened anyway. And suddenly, away from his father there is a barren wasteland, a joyless expanse of existence, with very little actual living to be done. This is what it’s like to turn from the Father. This is our reward. Desolation and famine.
But the son doesn’t give up just yet. He’s a man, he’s got his pride. So, verse fifteen, he hired himself out to one of the citizens in that country, who sent him out into his fields to feed pigs. What an offensive picture for the Pharisees listening. Feeding pigs! Surely there’s no way back for this son now, surely now his life will be one slow decline into death. It can’t get any lower than serving a pig. I love verse seventeen here. ‘but when he came to himself’. It’s like he’s waking up after a coma, like the sun is rising in his mind for the first time… He came to himself. He realised that not only are the pigs eating better than him, but, more relevantly, so are the people who serve in his father’s house. So look at verse 18 with me, the son thinks ‘I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him ‘father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called one of your sons, treat me as one of your hired servants’ Now, we’ll come to this slightly odd and inaccurate picture of paternal mastery in a moment, but let’s linger first on what brought him to this decision in the first place.
He came to himself. He came to himself! Coming to the Father, coming back to God, repenting and believing in Jesus is coming to yourself. It’s finding the fullness of your identity, as we’ll see in a moment in this parable, it’s being who you were created to be. It is coming to yourself. It is admitting that Jesus knows you, and what you need better than you do. Don’t ever ever think of Christianity as something that squashes the life and individuality out of you. It makes you who you are.
Now lets look at the reaction of the father when he sees his son returning…and remember verse 2, some people listening to Jesus are grumbling that he receives sinners, and probably upset that Jesus suggests that there is joy in Heaven over sinners repenting. Look at the father in this parable. Look at the joy he has in his son returning. Now we can imagine what was going through the son’s head as he came neared home. As we can see in verse nineteen, he had already decided that he was no longer worthy to be his father’s son, and that he would be happy with the role of a servant, so we can guess his state of mind was not that positive. But what is the father’s reaction? Look at verse 20 with me: his father saw him, and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him. What a picture this is of grace, of mercy and of love. The father in this story is a dignified landowner, he doesn’t run anywhere…until he sees his son coming home. He hugs his son, he kisses his son. I love the detail that Jesus goes into here. He didn’t have to say either of those things did he? He could have just said that his father was pleased to see him. But no. The father runs towards him, kisses him and embraces him. What a wonderful picture of the joy of Heaven when a sinner repents, what a wonderful explanation of what was meant in verses seven and ten. This is the joy of heaven when a sinner repents, when a wayward son returns home. Still the son is fearful of his father, and doesn’t understand the father son relationship as his dad does, and he moves into his pre-prepared speech, look at verse 21, ‘father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son’…but verse 22 sees the father almost cut him off mid flow. Robes and shoes and a ring are bought to replace to no doubt filthy rags that he was living in, and a fattened calf is killed the celebrate the prodigal’s return.
Can you see the joy and love and grace that God has towards us, towards those who would come to themselves and come to Him? If you struggle with feeling loved then just delight and rest in this picture of who God is and how he receives sinners… but it’s here that I marvel at Luke’s organisation skills. Given the examples that have gone before of the lost being found, as the father says in verse 24, you’d expect verse 25 to say something along the lines of ‘for I tell you there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents…’ but it doesn’t say that does it? Jesus keeps talking and it’s this that makes me wonder who the focus of this parable is, and who Jesus is talking to. If he’d left it at verse 24 then we would know that Jesus was still addressing the weeping sinner rather than the grumbling Pharisee…but as we examine the reaction of the older son, and the action of the father toward that, I think we begin to see that the Pharisee is the focus, and the challenge is on the long time Christian, the Christian who doesn’t feel like rejoicing when people are saved.
Look with me at verse 25: now the older son was in the field and as he came near the house he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked him what these things meant. And the servant said to him ‘your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound. But he was angry and refused to go in, and his father came out and entreated him’. You see, this son is not happy that his father has received back his son, as the Pharisees are angry with Jesus for receiving sinners and eating with them. He doesn’t seem at all pleased that his brother…his brother is back more or less from the dead, he’s certainly not pleased that there’s a party going on the celebrate his return. Surely his brother should be made to pay for what he’s done? So he refuses to go in. we’ve all been in family gatherings at one time or another where one person threatens to ruin it for everyone. Look again at the grace of the father, who come out from the party to talk with his son…and I think these last three verses are more or less the key to the whole parable.
Look at the end of verse 28: his father came out and entreated him. He tried to persuade him in, to love him in. presumably he could have just ordered him inside and been totally within his rights to do so. But the response of the elder son here tells us so much about the Pharisees, and about why Jesus told this parable. Verse 29: look, these many years I have served you and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him’. Notice two things about what the older son says here. He says he has ‘served’ his father and never disobeyed him. Just like the younger son he has totally mistaken the father son relationship for a master servant relationship. This father doesn’t want or need another servant! He wants a son. No wonder this son is so upset if he thinks he has to earn his way into his father’s good books.
Then look at how the older son refers to the younger son… look at verse 30, ‘this son of yours’ is how he describes his brother. His brother who had returned home. Can you imagine a less gracious way of describing him? What is this son’s problem?
Then we come back to the father. Now, what would yours or my reactions be in this situation? I think I’d say something like ‘you followed all my commands? Well here’s a command: get inside’. That certainly would make the father come across as more manly, more powerful, more the sort of man that the Pharisees would respect. But what does he do instead? Look at verse 31 and 32 ‘And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'" What a gracious response. The father loves this boy so much… ‘son’ he calls him, or ‘child’. Perhaps at this moment Jesus would have looked into the eyes of one of the Pharisees listening to Him. This is a sentence so overrun with grace, overrun with the feelings that the father has for his son, these feelings that, it has to be said, do seem more or less unreciprocated. The older son is always with the father, everything the father has the son has. Oh that the son would just realise that, and live in the relationship that his father wants him to rather than being so convinced that he must work to earn favour, that he must be better because he is holier in his own view. If only he would see the relationship he could have, and not be blinded by pride. This is where the Pharisees were, and no wonder they hated the fact that Jesus received and ate with sinners, just as the older son hated the fact that his father has received the younger son home with such joy.
And this is the challenge for all of us. How often do we make the mistake of the older son. That we must serve God, that we must do enough to make him happy and keep him off our backs? But God is our Father and Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers… Isaiah 64:4 From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear ,no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him…what a God we have who acts for those who wait for Him. And what does Paul say about working for God’s approval? Acts 17:25 says: nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And this is the relationship with the father that both sons in the story and the Pharisees misunderstood. We don’t work for God, we wait for Him, we delight in Him, we love Him. Remember again the picture of this gracious father that was painted in verses 20-24. This is the God we worship.
So be encouraged and be challenged. Be encouraged that God is our Father. No matter where we return to Him from, He is our Father, and is not interested in our service or work…there’s no service or work that we can do for Him that He couldn’t do without us. And be challenged. Be challenged about how you feel when people get saved and are adopted into God’s family. Be challenged about whether you feel you are owed more by God because you’ve ‘done the time’ more than anyone else. Be challenged as to whether you think of God as your loving heavenly Father, or a demanding master that’s never really happy with you. The parable doesn’t have an ending, we don’t know whether the older son was humbled enough by his father’s grace to listen to him, and be his son and come indoors. In our arrogance and hard heartedness we need to hear this message. We need to be shocked by the behaviour of the Pharisee but at the same time humbled that it’s in us. We need to keep our eyes on the Father in this story, the father who was overjoyed to have the prodigal return home, the father who wanted his son to be his son, and nothing more. We need to be men, and be trusting children of God.