Monday, November 20, 2017

The True Older Brother

Part 2 of Two Lost Sons

Text: Luke 15:11-32




And [the servant] said to [the older son], “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 (Luke 15:27-28b). 


No One Searched for the Lost Son

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables : the parable of the lost sheep (vv. 4-7), the parable of the lost coin (vv. 8-10), and the parable of the lost son (vv. 11-32).

In the first two parables, someone searches for what’s lost. The shepherd searches until he finds the lost sheep. The woman searches until she finds the lost coin. So when we get to the third parable, we expect someone to search for the lost son. But no one does. Who should have searched for the lost son?


Lost Sons and Daughters

Humanity is like the lost son. Like a rebellious child, humanity has turned its back on God and gone its own way. In the beginning, though, it was different. The first man and women enjoyed a perfect relationship with God. But when sin entered the world, humanity’s relationship with God was broken. We need for that broken relationship to be restored. We need to be reconciled to God.

The prodigal son thought that he would find happiness in a place far away from his father. Instead, he ended up in a pigsty. Many people think that living for themselves will make them happy. But whether we realize it or not, what we really long for is to go back to what we had in the beginning: an enjoyment of the presence of God.


Jesus, the True Older Brother

Who should have searched for the lost son? The older brother. But he didn’t go searching for his brother because he didn’t care about him. Jesus is the true older brother who was willing to do whatever it took to bring us back to God. He once said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He left heaven and came to earth to bring us back to God.

When the older brother discovers that his father had welcomed back the younger brother and is celebrating his return with a great feast, he’s furious. The cost! He said to his father, “This son of yours doesn’t deserve this!” Unlike the older brother, Jesus disregarded the cost to bring us back to God.
[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8). 
Forgiveness is free for us to receive, but it was incredibly costly to Jesus. We enjoy the feast because Jesus took the cup of wrath.


My Brother's Keeper

Do you remember the story of the first two brothers? The older brother Cain murdered the younger brother Abel. When God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?”, he answered, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9).

The truth is, we are to be our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper. We are to show concern for the welfare of others. We are to be like Jesus, the true older brother, not like the prodigal son’s older brother.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Father's Love

Part 1 of Two Lost Sons

Text: Luke 15:11-32




But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him (Luke 15:20). 


A Story About a Father's Two Sons

In the Gospels, Jesus tells many stories. One of his most popular stories is the story of the Prodigal Son. The title is a bit misleading because it’s not a story about just one son; it’s a story about two sons. And it’s also a story about a father whose heart is full of love for his sons.

In the story, the younger son is a rebellious son who leaves home and breaks his father’s heart. The older son remains home and appears to be the good son, but he also breaks his father’s heart.


The Story's Purpose

Why did Jesus tell this story? [1] To answer this question, we need to go back to the first three verses of Luke 15.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 
So he told them this parable…. [2]
The story was told to the Pharisees and scribes—religious leaders. The Pharisees and scribes had “grumbled” because the tax collectors and sinners were “drawing near” to Jesus, and he was welcoming them—even eating with them.

The tax collectors and sinners were non-religious people. They were like the younger brother. The Pharisees and scribes were self-righteous people. They were like the older brother who angrily complained when his father—who represents God—had welcomed back the rebellious son.

The purpose of the story of the Prodigal Son is to teach two truths: First, God welcomes all repentant sinners. What happened when the younger son returned home? “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embrace him and kissed him” (v. 20). Tim Keller writes, “It’s not the repentance that causes the father’s love, but rather the reverse. The father’s lavish affection makes the son’s expression of remorse far easier.” [3]

Second, some people who think they’re on the “inside” are actually on the “outside.” On a different occasion, Jesus said to some other religious leaders, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matt. 21:31). The religious leaders thought they were on the “inside,” but they were actually on the “outside.” When the story ends, it’s the younger son who’s inside the father’s house, not the older son (v. 28). Both sons are invited into the feast, but only the younger son enters. The older son’s pride keeps him out. “Good” people don’t go to heaven. Only repentant sinners go to heaven.


The Prodigal God

Tim Keller’s book on the story of the Prodigal Son has an unusual title: The Prodigal God. Here’s Keller’s explanation of the title:
The word “prodigal” does not mean “wayward” but, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, “recklessly spendthrift.” It means to spend until you have nothing left. This terms is therefore as appropriate for describing the father in the story as his younger son. The father’s welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to “reckon” or count his sin against him or demand payment. This response offended the elder brother and most likely the local community. 
In this story the father represents the Heavenly Father Jesus knew so well. St. Paul writes: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses” (2 Corinthians 5:19—American Standard Version). Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, his children. [4]
How did God the Father make reconciliation possible through Christ? Second Corinthians 5 goes on to day, “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). God sent his own Son into a “far country” to die so that we could be reconciled to him. God was willing to endure the sorrow of losing his own Son so that he could know the joy of welcoming us back home.


Imitate the Father

Many churchgoers are like the older brother—like the Pharisees and scribes. They see themselves as better than other people, more deserving of a place in God’s family. We are to be like the father—like God. We are to have compassionate hearts.

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[1] The stories of Jesus are called “parables.” A parable is a fictional story told to teach a truth.
[2] Jesus told three parables: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son. In each parable, something is lost. And in each parable, there is joy when what was lost is finally found.
[3] Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God, 74.
[4] Ibid., xiv-xv.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Priority of the Gospel

Part 8 of The Gospel Gone Viral

Text: Acts 20:17-38




“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (20:28). 


What Matters Most?

What should matter most to a church?

In Acts 20:17-38, Paul speaks to the elders of the church of Ephesus. The elders are the leaders of a church. In verse 28, we find two responsibilities of an elder: (1) to oversee the church (“in which the Holy Spirit as made you overseers”) and (2) to care [1] for (i.e., shepherd ) the church (“care for the church of God”). [2]

In 1 Peter 5, the apostle Peter addresses another group of elders, and he mentions the same two elder responsibilities:
So I exhort the elders among you…: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (vv. 1-4). 
If elders are to effectively shepherd and oversee the church, they need to know the correct answer to the question “What should matter most to a church?”


The Gospel

The thing that should matter most to the church is the gospel. Why? There is nothing people need more than the gospel.

  • Paul describes the gospel as “the gospel of the grace of God” (v. 24). Since we are saved by grace, God deserves all the glory for our salvation.
  • The gospel tells us that we matter to God. Jesus “obtained [the church of God] with his own blood” (v. 28).
  • People accept the gospel (and are saved) by repenting (i.e., turning from sin) and believing (i.e., turning to Jesus): “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 21). Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. 
  • The gospel is not just for the beginning of the Christian life. Believing in the gospel is sort of like learning the alphabet. That’s the first thing you learn when you go to school, and knowing the alphabet is something that’s incredibly helpful throughout your whole life. We don’t forget about the alphabet once we finish grade 1. And we shouldn’t forget about the gospel after we put our faith in Christ. The gospel inspires us to do the right thing. For example, Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” 

What We Need to Do with the Gospel

Since there is nothing people need more than the gospel, we must do two things. First, we must proclaim the gospel. Paul says, “I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (vv. 26-27). Why would we “shrink” from declaring “the whole counsel of God”? Because parts of it offend people. They don’t want to hear the reason why they need the gospel: they are sinners who deserve condemnation, not salvation.

Second, we must preserve the gospel. Paul warns them, “After my departure fierce wolves will coming in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away disciples after them” (vv. 29-30). “Be alert” (v. 31), Paul says. People who want to draw a church away from the gospel could come from outside the church (v. 29) or inside the church (v. 30).


What Are We if We Don't Have the Gospel?

As we saw in verse 28, one of the responsibilities of church elders is to provide pastoral care. When we think of pastoral care, what do we normally thing of? The best way to care for the flock is to make sure the church doesn’t lose the gospel because all of the comfort and encouragement we have to share is based on the gospel.

What is a church if it doesn’t have the gospel? It’s merely a charity that does good deeds. But the gospel changes lives. There is nothing people need more than the gospel, so we must (1) proclaim it and (2) preserve it.

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[1] To “care” for the church means to “shepherd” the church, which is called “the flock” (v. 28; 1 Peter 5:2).
[2] In the New Testament, elder, pastor, and overseer are three titles for the same office.