The story of the “prodigal son” was told by Jesus to address the self-righteous attitudes of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus was not only telling about how God’s love reaches to those who live wild extravagant lives apart from the Father’s presence. He was mostly addressing the concepts contained in the reactions of the older brother, for this represents the religious leaders who were opposing Jesus.
The two brothers represent two ways of trying to find life. The younger brother represents those that try many things to fill a void in their lives because they think there is something better than living in partnership with God. They try to find life by being bad. The older brother represents those who are trying to find the Father’s love by being good. “I have never done anything like this, and yet you never killed the fatted calf for me!” the older brother proclaims. Essentially, the stay-at-home son was saying, “I have done everything right and you owe me!”
Here is where we really begin to wrestle with reality. So many of us who have been “Christians” our whole lives have determined to be good and, thereby, find favor with God. We actually think God owes us something. We may never say we have a faith based on works, but in reality, we very well may. If we commit to Jesus, read our Bibles, go to church, serve, give, don’t drink too much and treat others with respect, the Father must be terribly pleased with me. Now–He owes me what He promised.
How easy it is to find a formula into which we think God should fit. In the process, we lose the heart of God, the passion of God, the determination of God to reach a lost world…because we don’t have the Father’s heart. We only have a lifestyle that, in the end, will get us what WE want.
We can barely comprehend a fraction of God’s passion when it comes to reaching the lost. Luke 15 parts the veil of misunderstanding to help us grasp some initial insights into how steady God’s heart beats for sinners. When the religious elites of that day scoffed at Jesus’ associations with tax gatherers and despicable sinners, Jesus told them stories that would help them visualize the reality of God’s perspective. By telling the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son, Jesus is essentially saying, “Even though we tend to think staying separated is the way to be holy, finding the lost is how we become the most like God.” We cannot pretend to be righteous by simply learning, doing good things, developing “purity” from the world, and disciplining ourselves for righteousness. Righteous living means we are acting upon the passions of God — finding the lost and bringing them to safety. Of course, there is so much more to righteousness than seeking the lost, but the “much more” means very little if we are overlooking the MAJOR concern of our Heavenly Father.
I suspect that many Christians have lost the edge. We have drifted into a routine of Churchianity rather than pressing into a life-style of biblical Christianity. The true faith we find in the Bible is rarely routine and always presses us beyond our comfort zones. We tend to rationalize things away in numerous ways — the early church was breaking new ground, it was a difficult era, we now live in a civilized culture, etc. Rationalize away…and miss what it truly means to follow Jesus.
We have fallacies we live like “me time”. We think that church is only for believers. No way. It’s never been meant to be that way. From the very beginning, non-believers were enlightened and brought face-to-face with their sin when believers were caught up in authentic worship. That’s what was happening in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit filled them. When we’re together (Sundays especially), we need to always engage in authentic worship, learn transformational biblical truths, and prepare ourselves for impacting our world. But we do that in a way that ALWAYS keeps the unsaved visitor in mind. Why? Because God’s heart beats for the lost. He never forgets. There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine that need no repentance.
And when we always keep the lost people as our passion, God’s favor rests on us. It is the means by which we will experience true spiritual growth, authentic worship, and profound kingdom impact.
We have an evangelistic God…
For the next few weeks, I will be writing a few thoughts and insights about prodigals — all taken primarily from the Luke 15. This is also the theme of my Sunday teaching for the next five weeks. I think you’ll be challenged, as I have, from the profound truths in the Word and it’s relevance for your life.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law were not happy with Jesus. He was actually associating with “tax gatherers and notorious sinners”! They were disgusted that anyone who even claims to be a teacher of the law or a representative of God would taint himself with such scum. In response to their criticism, Jesus tells three simple stories with unforgettable truths.
Jesus first tells the story of the lost sheep. “Wouldn’t the shepherd leave the ninety nine to find the one lost sheep?” Jesus queries. And then Jesus proclaims that when the lost sheep was found, there is great celebration. “In the same way, there is MORE joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” Don’t miss this profound concept: The Heavenly Father is on a passionate search, with all of Heaven waiting, for the lost to be found. It is their burning zeal to see the lost found and sinners forgiven. The point is not at all that God doesn’t care for those that are already righteous…it’s that the nature of God is to keep seeking for the lost, broken, hurting, confused, hopeless and helpless. This is revealing the very nature of God’s heart! He’s thrilled for all of those that are righteous, but His passion is for those that still have not experienced that. We have an evangelistic God.
The second story is about the lost coin, that when found, is the source of a wonderful celebration as well. Jesus then makes a very similar statement as He does in the previous story — “In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”
Every person matters. God is on a search. We have an evangelistic God.
For today, we won’t get into the last story, the one known as The Prodigal Son. The challenge is already before us. If my heart is to beat for the same things as God’s heart, how am I doing? Am I passionate about those still lost? Do I get giddy with excitement when sinners are converted? This is not theoretical now — most believers would say they have a heart for the lost. Here’s the question: Does this passion for the lost have you? Are you gripped by it and infused with energy by it? Do you naturally seek those “lost sheep” still outside of the fold? Or are you somewhat ambivalent about those still wandering in the darkeness?
Here’s my observation of Christians from my 27 years of pastoral ministry: Very few Christ-followers are gripped with the same passions that grip God’s heart. We are very agreeable to God’s passion, but we have our own. We are often more concerned with what pleases us. We tend to long for things that suit our needs or meet our expectations. We seem to move to an oasis of comfort rather than a field of challenge. We tend to walk by a predictable rhythm of life rather than a blind risk-taking faith. We are often more intent on making sure we’re happy ourselves rather than making sure we’re doing EVERYTHING we can to reach those still missing from the fold.
That’s just my observation. It’s troubling to me. I think it’s troubling to our Heavenly Father too. I’m hoping God will do a transformational thing in ALL of us through Prodigals.
Come Lord. Give us a heart that beats just like Yours. Please…