Christ, Our Righteousness, Part 16
Before we get into Hebrews 10, there are a few other things I wanted to say about the Prodigal Son, his life, his apostasy, and his return (Luke 15:11-32), since we’ve been using that parable as a foundation for at least some of what we’ve been discussing here in this series. Let’s take a look a few things before we move onto Hebrews 10.
There are at least three phases to the Prodigal Son’s life as revealed by our Lord in Luke 15. What I’d like you to do is note these phases and then look at them from different perspectives, first as though you saw the son move from one phase to the next and second, as though you only see him in a particular phase without being connected to other phases. Can you try to do that? In other words, I’ll ask you to view parts of his life as though you were watching him move from one phase to the next, as though on a timeline, then I’ll ask you to view parts of his life as whole pieces but not necessarily connected to other parts of his life, as though you simply met him during one phase and had no knowledge of previous (or future) phases.
The Prodigal Son was born into his father’s family. Because of this, he became – by virtue of that birth – a true blood son of his father. He was raised in that home and enjoyed the privileges of being a son in a home whose father was reasonably well off and could afford to have servants who worked in his fields and took care of household chores. It is clear though that the Prodigal Son began to chaff under the rigors and stresses of being part of that household. He began to rebel in his heart.
Chances are that if you saw the Prodigal at this first phase of his life, you might generally think that he was an obedient son, someone who probably loved his father and did what a son should do. Unless you knew the son well enough or were around the family for any real length of time, you might not sense the underlying current of animosity the Prodigal held in his heart for his father.
In other words, for all intents and purposes, things may have looked good on the outside to the casual observer. People might even say that the Prodigal was a “devoted” son who never complained. Like many of us, we tend to portray ourselves one way in public, while in private, our true thoughts and actions tend to rise to the surface. Certain cultures such as the one described by our Lord here, kept a great many things under the surface. It’s kind of like how we might respond to the question, “Hi, how are you?” with “I’m fine, thank you. And you?” This is for general consumption between people who are either strangers or don’t really know each other that well. Propriety forces people to respond in a way that makes others feel at ease. We “go through the motions” for the sake of decorum and public expectations.
Watching the Prodigal from a distance might incline us to believe that he loved his father and worked hard for him. So when we learned that he ultimately treated his father so rudely, making the demands he made, and simply walking away from his father (apostatizing), we might be a bit shocked. However, at least some might also be inclined to start gossiping about it, with things like, “I knew something was wrong! The son never seemed really friendly to me and one time I caught him giving his father the evil eye!” Hindsight is 20/20 and we’re all experts in that, aren’t we? We should mind our own business or at least begin to pray earnestly for that situation, but generally speaking, many of us like to gossip and act as though we “knew” all along that something wasn’t right. While it makes us feel better, more “knowing,” it’s still called pride, the same pride by the way, that caused the Prodigal to break off fellowship with his father.
So the Prodigal moves away, squanders his money, and lives an uproariously sinful lifestyle of wanton debauchery. All of it at his father’s expense (literally), whose only “sin” was loving his son and actually expecting him to be part of the family business.
Let’s say you saw him move from this first phase, when he lived at home and worked for his father, to the second phase, where he moved away from his father to live as he truly wanted to live. If you saw him going from phase 1 to phase 2, you would be tempted to think one of three ways:
- the son was not truly a son in the first place, but merely a “professing” son,
- the son had apostatized and “lost” his sonship by breaking off fellowship with his father, or
- the son failed through back-sliding – he cast off his upbringing and though he was still his father’s son was not living to bring “glory” to his father
By the way, you might be tempted to think this same thing applies to the religious leaders of whom Jesus excoriated because they thought that simply having an ancestral connection to Abraham was good enough for salvation, in spite of the fact that their lives held no meaning and bore no resemblance to Abraham’s faith in God. This Prodigal Son is different. He was directly raised by the father who instilled within him qualities and scruples. Moreover, there was direct accountability from the Prodigal Son to the father that was completely absent in the lives of the religious leaders of Israel during Jesus’ day. They were their own highest authority in spite of their alleged submission to God.
Imagine seeing the Prodigal at various stages of life. If you happened to befriend him or be introduced to him during his backslidden, wild days, you would not think of him as a man with scruples. He wasted his time, money, and effort on worthless things. If you knew only that part of his life, there would be nothing that would make you think he had come from a family of means and with a good upbringing. There would be no evidence of that. At least all pretense was gone now and he could be honest with himself. That was actually a good starting point for him and honesty did its work.
If you had learned of this same young man in the first phase of his life – as a son who appeared to be dedicated to his father’s world – and then saw him cast that off and literally walk away from it, you would be tempted to think that though he lived on his father’s ranch and worked for him, he had clearly not ever really considered himself to be part of that family. Maybe he was only a hired hand in actuality? Who knows.
If you had seen this same young Prodigal as he either moved from phase 2 to phase 3 or you learned of him after he had moved into phase 3 following his humiliation in phase 2, you might be tempted to think that this was the most loving son a father could ever have wished to have! Such devotion.
A person who goes through what our Prodigal Son went through learned the true meaning of love after he learned how arrogant he had been. He understood that actual love – not the feeling or emotion of what we call love, but love that is willing to die for another – was built on something extremely solid, immovable. In his case, he learned that his father’s love for him was built on sacrifice and an absolute willingness to forgive. It reminds us of Jesus’ words in Luke 7:47.
Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven, thus she loved much; but the one who is forgiven little loves little.
The woman referenced in the above verse understood what it meant to be forgiven. She actually understood how sinful she had been and the volume of sin that God had forgiven.
Jesus is saying that those who truly understand how much they have been forgiven are truly able to love and love honestly (without judging) from the depths of their being. The rest of us? Not so much. We only think we know what love means but when push comes to shove, I bet you’re like me in thinking, “Lord, I’m so glad I have never murdered anyone or stole anything or (fill-in-the-blank)!” We tend to downplay our own failures, faults, and sins, as though God didn’t really have to forgive us all that much. But look. Here is love in response to sin.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him, (Luke 15:20b).
I would highly recommend that you read this one verse repeatedly. Get a handle on it. Absorb it. Ask God to open your eyes to the depth of its meaning. Please notice that the father who was still a long distance from his son did several things.
- he saw his son (which meant he had been looking for his son’s return)
- he was filled with compassion (which meant he wanted nothing more than to have fellowship with his son)
- he ran to his son (which means he could not wait to hold his son again)
- he threw his arms around his son (which means he wanted to hold him close and never let him go)
- he kissed his son (which means he adored his son, this same son who had treated him so terribly)
Obviously, we know that the father in this parable represents God the Father to us. It is difficult for us to imagine, much less comprehend, that God loves us this much. I can’t appreciate it. Can you? I don’t love like that. Do you?
When I see other Christians acting sinfully, I want to smack them. I want to berate them. I want to remind them that they are dragging the Name of Jesus through the mud! Yet, this father couldn’t have cared less about that. He was desperate to run to his son who was returning to him.
The son had sunk so low – and humility had done its work – that he was ultimately willing to plead with his father to allow him to return as a slave, in exchange for a warm bed and three square meals a day. He didn’t care how hard he would work either. He didn’t care about anything else.
His father would have none of it. He threw caution to the wind, ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. That son would never leave his father again. That son was his father’s forever. That son would never get over how much his father loved him. Love conquered and the Prodigal Son was now his father’s son, forever.
Christian, we need to be very careful. Please…I implore you…take it from me. It is so easy to criticize, so easy to attack, so easy to become haughty to other Christians and people in general. All of that is born of pride within ourselves though we try to make ourselves think that we are just “defending” God’s honor. You know what? God can take care of His own honor. We need to stop judging others, regardless of how we like to pretend we’re not.
As Christians, we need to be people who encourage, not people who judge. We need to come alongside other Christians and learn how we can help build them up, not tear them down. God is more than capable of perfectly chastising those who are truly His. For those who continue to resist His chastisement, He reserves the right to remove them from this life, for their own sake and His glory.
I fully realize that Paul got a bit heated at times in his writings. But Paul was an apostle and was endowed with the type of authority that goes with that position. Paul is no better than you or me. In Christ, we are all equal. However, Paul had greater authority than you and me put together and we should understand that was the vantage point from which he wrote.
As a Christian, it is incumbent upon me to love others as God loves me. I will never measure up to that in this life, but in Christ, I can begin to adopt His character by submitting to Him. It seems to me the only people in the New Testament who were put off by Jesus were the religious leaders (though there were a few other exceptions as well). The rest – the average person – could not get enough of Him. He must have been thoroughly loving indeed.
How about us – you and me? Do we forgive as God forgives us? Do we love as God loves us? So we’re clear, I’m not talking about loving so much that we feel we can never say anything lovingly remonstrative to another Christian. However, it is clear to me that when I do say something to someone else, it had better be done in a loving way, the way that brings glory to God without puffing myself up. If I cannot do that, then I had best say nothing until I can emulate Jesus more accurately.
I used to think that Lot was such a “carnal Christian,” yet positionally, it is clear from Scripture that he was considered righteous (2 Peter 2:7). He was also a humble man, though prone (like all of us) to terrible sinful behavior). Consider how he addresses the men of Sodom who wanted to rape the angelic messengers, from Genesis 19:7.
“I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly.”
He was pleading with the men to avoid doing what they planned to do. But, he referred to them as brothers. In other words, Lot came alongside the men and begged them to reconsider what they were trying to do. He actually associated himself with them, something we could certainly do more of, can’t we? In spite of Lot’s pleading however, the men refused to listen. Though Lot condemned their actions, he did not condemn the individuals. I don’t get the sense that Lot was angry, but heart-broken and very afraid of what would happen should the men continue to push their agenda. We have no right to condemn anyone without condemning ourselves. It is God who justifies people (Romans 8:33) and only God who can also condemn people. We can judge actions or words, but not people.
Wouldn’t it be nice to learn what the Prodigal Son learned without having to go through the things he went through? We’re all different. Some people can increasingly submit to God bit by bit, giving Him more of themselves so that He, in turn, can fill them with more of Him. Others have to do it the “hard” way. The hard way is when God has to take measures to use outside forces to reshape us so that we will submit to Him willingly. In either case, the results are often the same.
God has a strong hand in this process as we learn from Psalm 32:3-4.
When I refused to confess my sin,
my whole body wasted away,
while I groaned in pain all day long.
For day and night you tormented me;
you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer.
The writer of this Psalm acknowledges that God was the One who “tormented” him and “tried to destroy” him. God brought His convicting power upon the sinner and verse 5 tells us the result.
Then I confessed my sin;
I no longer covered up my wrongdoing.
I said, “I will confess my rebellious acts to the Lord.”
And then you forgave my sins. (Selah)
God wants to get each one of us to that point and we can go the easy or hard way. Some get there rather easily, while others get there through much sorrow, sadness, and turmoil. Where are you in your walk with the Lord today, right now? Forget the other guy. Where are you?
We’ll be back with Hebrews 10 next time. Thanks for your patience.
Entry filed under: christianity, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation. Tags: lot, luke 15 the prodigal son, prodigal, prodigal son.