One thing that constantly shocks me is the overwhelming number of times in these Biblical accounts that people are with Jesus, but don’t see Jesus; hear Jesus, but don’t understand Jesus; spend time with Jesus, but don’t know Jesus.
Two of Jesus’ followers are walking along the road. Sad, confused, lost. They are talking together – mourning, processing, rehashing. All. The. Things.
A man joins them. It is Jesus, but they don’t recognize Him. It’s the person they previously followed and are now in deep discussion about. Why don’t they see Him? Why don’t they know Him? We are told their eyes are kept from recognizing Him. How does this happen?
Jesus asks about their conversation, noting their sad countenance. He must have fought hard the urge to laugh as they asked Him if He was the only one in Jerusalem who did not know what had happened these last few days.
Oh, He knew.
Jesus probes further…pulling their hearts and thoughts into words. He knows what we are feeling and thinking. He wants us to speak it to Him.
Here is what they know: this person was named Jesus, He was a prophet, He was mighty in deed and word, He promised to redeem Israel, He was delivered by the chief priests, He was brutally crucified, and He has been gone going on three days now.
Here is what they heard: some women among their group of followers said the tomb was empty and an angel said Jesus was alive.
Here is what they hope: Jesus is who He promised, and He is alive as the angel has said.
It is a doubtful hope. They are sad and disappointed. Jesus diagnoses their core problem: they believed in their head, but not in their heart.
Jesus starts to continue further, but the men insist He stay and eat with them. They don’t know who He is, but there is something about Him they can’t quite put their finger on. They want to remain in His presence; they want Him to stay.
Jesus never pushes Himself on anyone but is always willing to come when invited.
Settled in to eat, their guest – the stranger that met them on the road – breaks bread. I wonder if their eyes grow wide as they see His nail scared hands in full view. He says a familiar blessing. Their eyes are opened! In the simple breaking of bread and thanksgiving.
They see! It is Jesus. And He vanishes…
Their hearts are likely pounding out of their chest as they check under every surface and behind every door. Where has He gone? I imagine them talking over each other sharing how their hearts burned as He spoke Scriptures to them. Jinx.
Onward to tell the others. This good news must be shared!
While still breathlessly talking one hundred miles an hour with the other followers they ultimately reunite with, Jesus Himself appears among them.
“Peace to you!” He says. The room could use a little peace to break through the fear, anxiety, anger, and uncertainty heavily looming over the room. They are startled and frightened; troubled and full of doubt.
He wants them to be certain of His presence. To examine His body. His hands and feet. He eats with them. He reminds them of the promises and prophesies in Scripture fulfilled in Him. Nothing they haven’t heard before, but suddenly rich with life and light.
“You are witnesses of these things,” He tells them. “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high,” He continues.
He walks with them…
…leading them to the outskirts of Jerusalem, as far as Bethany.
The hands that three days earlier were raised, secured by nails to a cross, are now raised high in praise. The raised hands of suffering now raised hands of blessing and victory. There was a price paid for this blessing. The most expensive free gift we will receive.
With their own eyes, they see Him carried up to heaven. And it is transformational...
No longer hiding in fear and self-pity they worship and return to Jerusalem with great joy. They continually go to the temple – the headquarters of the persecutors of Jesus – and bless God.
God, open our hearts and minds. We don’t want to believe in our head while doubting in our heart. We want to SEE You; to KNOW You. Move us from what we know and what we have heard and what we hope to a CONVICTION and ASSURANCE that makes us bold and brave to worship You and make You known.
On the cross, Jesus is flanked by two criminals. One on either side. Both broken, bloody, beaten, breathing their last breath.
Though excruciating to even speak, one spends the last moments of his life hurling insults at Jesus. Sarcastic. Demeaning. Cruel.
Jesus is silent.
Peter has denied Him. Three times. Most of His followers have fled. As He assumes our sin, He is temporarily separated from God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” he cries out.
God had to look away from sin. But He didn’t leave His Son alone. I believe God has given Jesus a precious gift during the last moments of His life in the flesh. Something so treasured by Jesus. A man of true faith. A sinner confessing and asking for mercy.
“There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)
The criminal on His right has a holy, righteous fear of God, despite his unlawful behavior. With his last breaths, he admits he is a sinner deserving of the punishment he was getting, unlike Jesus who had done nothing wrong. Perhaps he caught a glimpse of Jesus speaking or healing one day on the mountainside. In this devastating and final moment on the cross with nails in his hands and feet, he knew there was hope to be found in Jesus. He asks for mercy and remembrance.
This time Jesus isn’t silent.
“Truly I say to you, today, you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus answers.
Today. When his last breath escapes him. Immediately. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord for a believer. (2 Corinthians 5:8)
He will be with Jesus. WITH HIM. This criminal likely lived a life of rejection, but he is about to be with Jesus.
In paradise. The temptation, the sin, the rough circles he ran with, the rejection, the fear, the constant looking over his shoulder…will be no more. He is about to be in paradise.
This man had a radically different heart condition, responding with a radically different cry to Jesus, resulting in a radically different new home.
This is the loudest battle cry of salvation by grace alone, through faith.
Grace upon grace.
Remember me, Jesus, when you come into your kingdom.
One of the holiest days – Passover – is drawing near and instead of engaging in prayerful preparation, the chief priests and scribes are wracking their brains over how they can put Jesus to death. Their obsession.
But they were afraid. Not a fear of God and His judgment, but a fear of people. They couldn’t risk the public uproar if they arrested Him among the crowds that were always surrounding Him. God knows, they have tried and tried and tried unsuccessfully to deceitfully trap Him. But to no avail. He is too smart for that.
They needed another plan. They needed to know where He retreated; where He went in private. They needed to do it then and there. But how?
To their pleasant surprise, in walks Judas. One of the twelve who Jesus hand-selected after prayer and fasting to be His disciple. One of the twelve who camped with Him, ate with Him, listened to Him teach, watched Him heal…for three years!
“High offices in the church do not preserve the holders of them from great blindness and sin,” says J.C. Ryle. This is crystal clear in observing the religious leaders in Jesus’ time.
And to these religious leaders, Judas looked like a committed follower of Jesus from the outside. But here he is. Offering to betray Jesus for only thirty pieces of silver. They couldn’t have orchestrated a better plan.
Why Judas? We are told Satan enters Judas. But don’t let that fool you into thinking Judas was an innocent bystander. We know from John’s gospel that this same Judas was a lover of money and helped himself regularly to the moneybag. Perhaps Judas rationalized that he had been betrayed by Jesus. He signed up to be part of a political superpower, not a humility and service gig. He loved money and power and prestige more than he loved Jesus.
John Piper notes, “Satan has power where sinful passions hold sway.”
Deception and greed opened a door in the heart of Judas, and Satan capitalized on it. “The devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
George Morrison says, “not only did Judas sell Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, but he also sold himself.”
Sin will destroy us, but God’s plan will never be destroyed. The cross meant to kill is our victory.
It is a powerful reminder not to be deceived by how something appears on the outside. But even more importantly, a reminder to check our heart and motives frequently. To do whatever it takes to keep that door of our heart slammed shut from Satan slithering his way through.
“Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it.” (2 Corinthians 13:5 MSG)
I admire people who are so eloquent. Words flow gracefully off their lips. They never stumble and speak so clearly and effortlessly.
I am NOT this type of person. My head is full of words, but something happens between my head and my mouth. I love to write, but not so much speaking aloud. So I miss opportunities to share words God ordained for me to speak to specific people in specific situations.
A route I often walk passes in front of a hospital on the river by my house. Because of the beautiful setting, many hospital visitors step outside for fresh air and a view of the sun glistening on the the water. Some are sitting with their heads hung low. Some are taking a smoke break. Some are staring off into the horizon. Many naturally look worn out and distressed. Heavy eyes and heavy hearts as they visit loved ones in need of any manner of medical care. I quietly pray as I walk by. Countless times God has nudged me to stop and ask someone if I can pray for them. But I have never done it. Not once. My fear of saying the wrong thing keeps me from saying anything. And I miss out. Someone in need misses out on a word God has for them. Ugh.
Promises like this one in Luke that, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom,” are powerful. These words come on the heels of Jesus telling of persecution that will come; delivering of His followers to the synagogues, prisons, and before kings and governors. Jesus tells them THIS will be their opportunity to bear witness.
In our daily lives we likely aren’t persecuted or brought before powerful leaders in public squares, but we do have our own “court rooms” to bear witness…our friend circles, our work places, our dorm rooms, the classroom, the playing field, the mom’s group, even crossing paths with strangers in front of a hospital while on a walk. We are given many opportunities to bear witness, or even just to provide a word of prayer and encouragement.
Jesus tells them, “Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer.”
Because words don’t easily come out of my mouth, I am an over-preparer if I do have to speak. These words of Jesus, while comforting, on the one hand, are frightening on the other. Why? It requires giving up control (as if I even had any!); giving up worry and anxiety about how I will sound and be received…basically, it rubs against my ego and pride.
It isn’t a call to be unprepared or uneducated in the Word – quite the contrary. It is a call to be armed with truth and faith, but not with fear or anxiety over how the truths will come out of our mouth. To let the Holy Spirit bring to mind what needs to be said. John Piper says, “The words of Christ are the raw materials that the Holy Spirit works with as he teaches us what to say.” It isn’t fearful rehearsing, but rather lifelong preparation. Perfectly scripted human preparation is greatly inferior to divine inspiration.
I flipped through many accounts of faithful people who allowed the Spirit to speak through them. Acts is full of examples, and the powerful words of the Spirit continue today. A common theme is that allowing the Spirit to give us words doesn’t mean we won’t fumble those words, wish we had said something better after the fact, or not put our foot in our mouth. It also doesn’t guarantee human success or the outcome we desire. Because it isn’t about us and how we look; it is about God working in us for the recipient and His glory.
Today I am praying for courage to release my fear, pride, and insecurities over speaking and allow the Holy Spirit to bring words and wisdom to my mouth when He calls me to speak. And then to rest in the fact that God uses it all – however awkward and ineloquent – for His sweet purposes and plans.
The Jewish elites are dying to catch Jesus in something – anything – but He continues to leave them baffled and speechless instead. Public opinion keeps them from going after Him directly, so they scheme some more.
At last…the perfect plan, they think. Let’s drag politics into it, they devise. Ooohhhh, and taxes…that’ll surely not end well, they plot.
“Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” they ask Jesus, following some manipulative & mocking complementary words.
If He says to pay the taxes, they reason they can twist it to show He is denying God’s authority over the Jews. The people will lose it, they predict, desiring to be done with this nuisance disrupting their power and authority.
Or, if He says not to pay, Rome will lose it and see Jesus as a troublesome rebel, they foresee. Either way, we win, they think. A plan that can’t go wrong.
Jesus obviously sees right through their question and motives (heck, at this point, you don’t even have to be the Son of God to see it).
“Whose image and inscription does it have?” Jesus asks as He holds a denarius in His hands…the hands that will soon be pierced by the same Government pictured on the coin.
“Caesar’s,” they reply.
“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…” Jesus responds.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. “…and to God the things that are God’s,” He concludes.
What are they to even do with this? Everything is God’s. Everything. Caesar may have his picture on a man-made coin along with a rule and right to taxes and submission for a time, but his power is limited. Pay the tax but know there is a higher ruling authority under which everything and everyone submits.
David Guzik paraphrases, “Give the coin to Caesar, but give your life to God.”
It isn’t about two realms – secular vs. sacred; church vs. state; Caesar vs. God. God is over ALL things.
Whose image is imprinted on you? Now go, give to Him what is His.
One thing that is so clear as I read through the Gospels is the steady refrain that things aren’t always what they seem.
The first are last and the last are first. The King of kings comes wrapped in humility, not political might. Blessed are the poor, mourning, meek, hungry, persecuted.
The ones who appear righteous, moral, and most devout – the ones armed with the most Scriptural knowledge – are the ones who consistently miss Jesus. And the ones looked down on, uneducated, the outcasts, the sinners are the ones who experience radical life changes through their encounters with Jesus.
Those who should be the most overjoyed coming face to face with the long-awaited Messiah are the ones digging in their heels protecting who they are, what they have built for themselves, and their social status…all in the name of God. Conversely, the ones thought most unclean, unrighteous, unworthy by society are the ones unashamedly running to Jesus, and as a result, rejoicing in healing and wholeness.
On this day in Jericho, while the religious leaders were seeking to trap Jesus, the extremely wealthy, despised chief tax collector scurries ahead of the crowd and climbs a tree for a mere chance to see Jesus as He passes by. But Jesus doesn’t simply pass by. Jesus stops. He stops under the branches of the tree, looks up, and calls him by name.
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today,” Jesus says.
The crowd grumbles. How dare this teacher associate with such a disgraceful human being, they mutter among themselves and aloud.
But Zacchaeus is overjoyed. Yes, come to my house! Dinner it is!
We don’t know what was said over that dinner, but we know that Zacchaeus’ life was radically changed as a result of this encounter.
His entire adult life Zacchaeus likely heard from the Jewish religious crowd that he was a sinner, that he needed to repent, that he needed to stop extorting the Jewish people, that he needed to give to the poor. While all of this is true, it had no impact on his life.
But Jesus looking up at him from the bottom of that tree, noticing him, loving him at that moment, insisting He dine at his house, engaging with him…THIS forever changed his life.
“Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” Zacchaeus is a transformed man with renewed priorities.
Love for Jesus is the greatest motivation for change. Far more than legalism, guilt, lectures, or manipulation.
May we not be fooled by what we see. Things aren’t always what they seem indeed. No one is too far gone for Jesus to stop, look up at, engage with, and radically change. In fact, they are the most likely to get His attention. May love be a mighty force for change in our lives and the lives of those we love.
You’ve been planning for this day for years. You knew it was coming. So hard you have worked to do the right thing; to clean things up; to cover all of your past mistakes. You have notebooks full of church attendance records, volunteer hours logged, recommendations from prominent friends, mission trip pictures, service awards, and of course that adorable picture of your sponsored child from Uganda. You could barely lug all of the evidence into the courtroom. In your head, you rehearse the litany of good deeds you wracked your brain to remember while preparing for this day. Sure, you slipped up here and there, but overall, you think the good outweighs the bad. So many people are in much worse shape, you remind yourself.
“What is the basis for your not guilty plea?” You are startled back into reality upon hearing the judge’s voice.
You fumble through the piles of evidence you brought in and slowly, methodically begin making your case. A good, solid case. What feels like hours go by as you submit into evidence everything you could think of. This is your life story.
“I’m sorry,” the judge says. “It’s just not enough. You have done a lot of good in your life, but you are still guilty of much. Condemned!” he announces.
You are escorted to an adjacent seat as the next person in your group shuffles to the bench. You stare at him in amazement. He has nothing with hem. Not one shred of evidence to share with the judge. He is a mess. It doesn’t look like he even brushed his hair for this big day.
“What is the basis for your not guilty plea?” The same question is asked of this man.
“Him,” the man points to the corner of the room. His eyes shift downward as he continues, “I am guilty of so much. But in the name of this holy and righteous man who has already paid my penalty, I plead for mercy.”
You squint to see who he is pointing to. Slowly the man walks forward and into focus. You recognize Him. Jesus.
Jesus walks over to the disheveled man; His hands scared from the penalty He has paid for this man. He wraps His arms around the man’s shoulder. His eyes are glowing. His smile lights of the room. Pure joy.
“Not guilty!” the judge shouts as he bangs his gavel on the desk.
A celebration erupts. You even hear the sound of what sounds like multitudes singing, though you can’t tell where it is coming from. Jesus and the man embrace.
If we approach God with anything other than the righteousness of Jesus, we are condemned as guilty. No amount of righteousness through our own works – even that obtained through prayer, devotion, service, or God’s power working in us – will save us. It is only through Jesus. We stand before God with Jesus alone as the basis for our righteousness.
And because of this amazing grace, we do good while we are here in the earthy kingdom of God awaiting our judgment day. It is an output of our salvation, not an input to earn it.
God, let us never forget that it is Christ alone we want to look to as the justification for our salvation. And thank You for this; for the gift of Jesus, because You knew we could never do it on our own. May we live our lives full of good works as a result of what you have done and will do for us, but never as an attempt to earn righteousness on our own.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” The first human question recorded in the Bible (Genesis 4:9)
Sin is solely a personal and individual decision.
Or is it?
Eve took the bite of the fruit with Adam standing right next to her. Her partner. Her husband. Why didn’t he stop her? And not only did he not stop her, he grabbed the fruit from Eve’s extended hand and also took a bite.
While we don’t make another persons’ decision for them to sin, our influence is more significant than we may think. And Jesus takes this very seriously. On the heels of the story of the rich man and Lazarus – the finality of judgment and eternity – Jesus is stern about causing another to stumble.
We live in a fallen world. Yes, temptations to sin will surely come, Jesus acknowledges this. But woe to the one through whom they come.
“Pay attention to yourselves!” Jesus says.
Temptations are everywhere; don’t add to it. Don’t make it even harder on others.
Do we encourage those lies? Do we cause another to gossip? Do we drag friends into our sinful endeavors? Do we jump on the comparison and criticizing bandwagon when a friend confides about a disagreement with another? Do we promote books, movies, music that inspire sinful behavior, all tacitly condoning it? Are we a stumbling block to those weaker in certain areas?
Jesus says don’t do it! In fact, He says it would be better to have a huge weight hung around your neck and be cast in the sea (ummm…not fun!) than to be the cause of temptation that leads to a brother or sister in Christ sinning.
“Pay attention to yourselves!” Jesus says.
And this spills into our reaction to fellow Christians sinning. The Pharisees took sin very seriously. They sought it out. And then they shunned, disowned, and even stoned the offender.
Jesus has another plan…to seek repentance and restoration; wholeness. If a brother sins against us and repents, we are to forgive them. Not ask questions, retaliate, seek proof of repentance, or any other condition. We are to forgive. And if they do it again and again and again – even in the same day – Jesus says to forgive them if they repent.
Hard words. So hard the apostles next say to Jesus, “Increase our faith!”
“If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and plated in the sea,’ and it would obey you,” Jesus answers.
Even little faith in a big God is what we need. We don’t need to muster up more faith. We need to have our faith fully planted in the right place.
Mustard seed faith and the power of a BIG God can help us resist temptation, encourage our fellow brothers and sisters to resist as well, and to forgive when everything in us is fighting it.
“Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things which may build up another.” (Romans 14:19)
What if there is something right in front of you that you may be missing? Something that if you miss will leave you not only with sadness and regret, but eternal and excruciating suffering. Would you change course? Would you encourage your loved ones to do the same?
While it is a gift to be given a grace period – time to reflect and change course -- and not always inflicted with immediate consequences for our mistakes (or outright and intentional wrongdoings), it can leave us complacent; with a sense that they aren’t really that big of a deal. It can make us falsely believe those consequences will never come; that we will always have more time.
In the single parable where a character is named, Jesus essentially pleads with us to not get complacent. This is personal.
We are introduced to an unnamed rich man. He lives comfortably. He dresses stylishly. He is never without a good meal. This man isn’t named, but if we are honest, we could be this man. We many not feel rich, but in the view of the world’s population, if we have clothes, meals and a place to live, we are rich. This is personal.
Next, we meet Lazarus. He has nothing. He is ill; covered in sores left unattended over many years of suffering. He is poor, hungry, hoping for mere scraps as he sits at the gates of the rich man’s home. We know this person too. We see him all around us, even when we try to avoid him.
Both men die.
From the torment of hell, the rich man looks up and sees someone standing with Abraham. He looks familiar but different. He looks like the man that was always outside his home. But it couldn’t be. He looks healthy, clean, happy, peaceful. But it’s him; it is Lazarus, the man that constantly begged at the gates of his home.
“Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame,” the rich man desperately cries out.
“Child, remember that you in your lifetime received good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish,” Abraham replies compassionately, but directly.
Perhaps the rich man thinks back to words he heard but never took to heart. Words like…
“Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” (Proverbs 28:27)… “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42) …“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Deuteronomy 15:11) …“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)…“Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” (Proverbs 21:13)… "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)
The rich man’s thoughts are interrupted as Abraham continues, “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.”
The rich man is flooded with emotions, his life flashing before his eyes. He missed it. He heard the warnings, but he didn’t HEAR the warnings. “What if…,” he thinks as he trembles with fear and anxiety over the reality of an eternal future in this hell hole.
“Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment,” the rich man pleads. If I can’t save myself, maybe I can save my family, he thinks.
“They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them,” Abraham responds.
“No, father Abraham…,” the rich man cries. He knows he had the same and did nothing to change.
“…but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent,” the rich man continues.
“If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead,” Abraham says. Jesus came from the dead, and still many refuse to believe.
This is a HARD story to read. The reality of an eternity of damnation. The reality of a time when our actions can no longer be reversed.
And we all know that we can’t save ourselves…it is only faith in the work of the blood and resurrection of Jesus. But that doesn’t mean we do nothing. Our faith; our gratitude for the salvation paid for us, should produce good works. There are things we are compelled to do when we recognize what was done freely for us. We can never say we were never told these things.
It isn’t money, riches, resources that save us, but it is these things that are the most likely to trip us up. Let’s not learn our lesson too late. Let’s not try to reach our loved ones too late.
God, I pray that we take Your words to heart and never become complacent in Your grace and mercy. In your power alone, we cry out for help.
The Pharisees and scribes -- doing everything they can to avoid the unclean, sick, sinners -- are up to their usual grumbling about Jesus receiving and eating with just these people. Time for another parable, boys…
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the other ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”
My first thought? ME! That’s, who! Why would you leave 99 all alone in the open field to search for the one who stubbornly wandered off? It’s a numbers game. Stick with the 99. (Thank goodness God is God, and I am not.)
But Jesus continues, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Similarly, Jesus tells of a woman that rejoiced after finding her one lost coin.
Sheep. Coins. Blank stares. “Still not with me?”Jesus may be thinking. Ok, let’s bring it a bit closer to home. He continues with another parable…
A man’s younger son asked for his share of the inheritance, leaves home, and ultimately squanders it all, starving in a pig pen. He longs to go home to his father. He rehearses his speech in his head as begins the long, shameful walk back home. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” Over and over he practices what he will say. He knows it is a long shot. He has brought disgrace on his family. He imagines his father just seething with anger when he learns how badly he had screwed up his life and wasted all his father had given him.
You probably know the story…his father is waiting for him. His father runs to him. His father gives him the best robe, a ring, shoes, and kills the best calf for a feast. His son was dead and is now alive; was lost and now is found. Party time!
But that isn’t the end of the story. Back home the older son is the one seething with anger, refusing to go to the celebration for his brother. To his father, “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!” Bitter. Entitled. Indignant. He storms off.
The father responds, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours….your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
We don’t know the joy of being found unless we first know we are lost. The older brother didn’t know how lost he was.
We don’t go to the doctor if we don’t know we are sick. The Pharisees thought they were quite healthy.
This is a recurring theme from Jesus. In Luke 5 Jesus says, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Are the Pharisees righteous because they practically live at the synagogue? Is the older brother righteous because he stayed home and worked for his dad? They certainly think so.
If we think we can earn righteousness, Jesus isn’t for us. Jesus can only save a sinner who knows he is a sinner. This is a big deal.
Do you know you are a sinner? Do you know you need a holy doctor? Do you know you need a Savior? If we don’t know we need Him, we won’t earnestly seek Him.
I teach an 8th grade New Testament class of boys and girls that are in loving, Christian homes. They know the Bible stories. They memorize scripture. They go – even teach – Sunday school. But do they REALLY know they are sinners who need a Savior? Do I? It is a hard thing to grasp as an adult, much less a teen. It is easy to tag along to church, youth group, Bible studies, trying to do the “right” things without ever realizing we are dead in our sins and only Jesus can make us alive. But this is the Gospel.
I pray my kids, my students, my friends, my family, YOU & I recognize how lost and sick we are without Jesus. We are the wandering sheep about to get devoured by a hungry wolf; the lost coin full of value, but useless under the couch; the younger son lavished with priceless gifts squandering away on temporal things; the older son back home working hard to earn favor; the Pharisees going through the religious motions, content in self-righteousness.
God, let us never forget why your Son had to come and die. Thank you that once we recognize how lost and sick we are, you RUN to us. You are there all along WAITING for us. You REJOICE over us. And as the Church – your representatives – help us create an environment welcoming those who are sick, lost, and seeking sinners. Let us not become a country club for the spiritual elite who think they are quite well, but instead a hospital for the lost and sick. May we always follow your example of receiving, eating, worshiping with them, and most importantly pointing them to You.
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