Friday, March 31, 2017

a far country, part 2

The Word for today:
Luke 16
mark this:  Luke 15:13 --
Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living.
(Yesterday, in part 1, we introduced the parable of the prodigal son. Today we hope to leave you with an appreciation for the story's depths of meaning--and a desire to dig ever deeper.)
We've been told that the prodigal son is about repentance. It is about repentance, but it's about so much more.
The parable has no bottom. You can keep digging and digging and you'll never stop discovering new truth, new meaning, new inspiration.
Today, in no discernible order, we offer a collage of snippets, just a few different "takes" on the story. We hope you'll skim through them, and linger over a few.   And we hope they whet your appetite for more…
"The Other Brother"
The Bible is a story. It's not history or philosophy or a manual for self-improvement.
It's not about creation, it's about the Creator.
It's not about redemption, it's about the Redeemer.
It's not about forgiveness, it's about the Forgiver.
The Bible isn't about salvation; it's about the Savior.
Even the Parable of the Good Samaritan is about a Samaritan half-breed--his mother a Jew, his father unknown--from Nazareth of Galilee.
Even the Parable of the Prodigal Son isn't about the younger brother who went when he should have stayed, or about the older brother who stayed when he should have gone. It's about an Other Brother--who went to a far country to search for his lost brothers and sisters so he could bring them back home.
At its deepest level, the Parable of the Prodigal Son is not about the characters in the story, but about the storyteller--Jesus. At its deepest level, the Word of God, even when it might not say so, is about the Author.
"I will arise and go to my Father…"
The story of the prodigal son is not how a sinner becomes a son, but how a son becomes a sinner.
All the way along, he was always a son. This is a story of a child of God who sins and finds his way back to His Father. The boy was a son when he left home, and he was a son in the far country.
"falling from grace"
The fall from grace only happens to a born-again child of God who descends into a legalistic, works-based relationship to God. Those fallen from grace remain saved, but miserable--powerless, joyless, unfruitful. The elder son in the parable of the prodigal son is an example of a person fallen from grace (Luke 15:25-32). The ringing indictment of Galatians 3:1--"O foolish Galatians..."--is Paul sounding an urgent alarm to believers who are reverting to their works instead of faith in God's finished work on the cross.
"Jesus, the prodigal son"
On the cross, the Son missed His Dad, and wondered what had become of Him. He'd never been away before. It was dark, and Jesus was lost, untethered, disoriented. Our sin upon Him, he was the lost son in the far country, with no direction home.
"A Man After God's Own Heart"
In all of Scripture, only King David is designated by God as "a man after My own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22).
Why David? Given the evidence of his life, how can he be singled out as a man after God's own heart?
It seems that the answer lies in the meaning of the word 'after.'  After' indicates direction, and not necessarily proximity. 'After' shows the direction of a heart, and not necessarily that heart's current proximity to God's standards.
The Bible's account of King David's life shows us how things might not be as they appear to our sight. When God had chosen young David to be king, the prophet Samuel mentioned that David's older brother looked the way we think a king should look. But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance, for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7)
In the Gospel of Luke, a young man took his inheritance to a far country and wasted it all on a reckless and sinful life. When he had sunk as low as a Jewish man could--feeding pigs as a hired hand--he got back up and sought after his father's forgiveness.
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you.
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (15:18, 20)
The prodigal son was "yet at a distance," but the father saw the direction of his heart.
"I'm such a laggard, I don't even know if I am a child of God"
You'll know by your direction, the tendency of the heart. A child of God is a man/woman after God's own heart, on his/her way from Egypt to the New Jerusalem. There might even be nonbelievers, children of the devil, who apparently are closer to Jerusalem than you are. But they're traveling from Jericho to Egypt, and you will pass, going in opposite directions, along the way. A child of God might even gather everything together, and take his journey into a far country, even Egypt, and there waste his substance with riotous living (Luke 15:13). But he will hate it there, and one day will come to his senses and say, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you..." (Luke 15:18)
the elder brother:
"clothed in his own righteousness, did he ever return?"
The prodigal son is a man after God's own heart. He is seeking Him out. Though he comes from a far country, he is tending towards God.
The elder son--saved but out of fellowship with the Father--stands inert.
God sees the tendency, the direction, of the heart. This is why David is the Bible's illustration of a man after God's own heart. Some now far away are after God's own heart.
'After' indicates a direction; it does not necessarily indicate a proximity.
David fell under the weight of his sin, and he got back up.
Jesus Christ fell under the weight of my sin, and He got back up.
The prodigal son fell and he got back up:
"I will arise and go to my father." (Luke 15:18 KJV)
The elder son, clothed in his own righteousness, was unaware of his own fall from grace. Self-satisfied, he felt no need to repent.  We are not told whether he ever got back up.
Does the Bible Contradict Itself?
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them,
then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives,
and they shall say to the elders of his city, 'This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.'
Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
There was a man who had two sons.
And the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.” And he divided his property between them.
Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.
But when he came to himself, he said,
“I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son...’”
And he arose and came to his father. 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 15:11-20)
Why isn’t the son in the book of Luke punished, as the book of Deuteronomy demands?
This apparent contradiction is no contradiction at all to the student of the entire word of God. The passage from Deuteronomy comes from the Law. The law is what we deserve. The passage from Luke is an example of God’s grace. Grace is what we don’t deserve.
The purpose of the law is to lead us to God’s grace. You can see the law at work in the life of the Prodigal Son. The son tells the Father that he does not deserve to be called his son. The boy is right. So we see that the law is right. And it is for our good.
The Good News is that God has a Way back home! Jesus took upon Himself the demands of the law for all those who look to Him for their salvation. That's what Jesus meant when He said, “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.”  Jesus paid it all.
So God’s law in Deuteronomy is fulfilled to the last letter. And His love is showered upon us, just as the story of the Prodigal Son describes. There is no contradiction in the Bible, or in the character of God.
The seeming contradictions--between God's Law and His Grace, between the prodigal boy in Deuteronomy and the prodigal boy in Luke--are reconciled at the cross of Jesus Christ, when God combined uncompromising wrath against sin with unconditional forgiveness.
There at the cross, in a display of the entire spectrum of His character, we by faith see the ultimate miracle of the universe, which renders all else pale.
By faith in Christ make the cross your very own miracle, and you'll see your stern, unwavering Father sprinting down the road to welcome you home, at last.
"the hidden prodigal son"
The God of Heaven is also concerned about those who have lost their spiritual passion. In Hollywood, the return of the prodigal son would have been the end of the play and the curtain would have fallen. But the real point of Jesus' parable doesn't begin until verse 25. Looking back at Luke 15:1, we see that Jesus' parables are prompted by the Pharisees who were questioning him about associating with tax collectors and others they would consider to be "low-lifes." These were the professional religious people who criticized Jesus for these associations.
The second half of the parable is about the older brother who didn't rejoice at his brother's homecoming but rather complained. We see from his story that he was in the father's house but wasn't pursuing the father's heart. People would probably think him to be a model citizen; however, the internal condition of his heart had drifted from the heart of his father, thereby making him a hidden prodigal son. I think that one of the biggest problems with the church today is not the people who are far from God but those who are 50% to 70% committed; those whose internal hearts have drifted from the heart of the Father-- those practicing religiosity. Their hearts do not beat with the Father's primary concern. Matthew 15:7 says--
 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me."
He warns of those going through the motions of  Cultural Christianity.
We need to ask the Lord to work in us, to realign our priorities with His priorities, to abide by the Great Commandment--to love Him with everything we have and to love others as ourselves. If we are not pursuing the Father's heart we need to ask that He change us. The prodigal, far from home, comes to the Father by way of the cross and the hidden prodigal must do the same. There we ask the Lord to change us and make us passionate followers of the Lord Jesus Christ-- who help, not hinder or hold back, the work of others so that the body of believers have the maximum impact possible for eternity.  (1)
(1)  The final section ("the hidden prodigal son") of today's article was excerpted from sermon notes which I found tucked inside a seldom-used Bible.  The date, place, and speaker were not recorded,  but when I get to my Father's house, I'll ask around and amend this footnote.

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