Biblical Foundations 3: Grace 1 (Luke 15)
For Biblical Foundations Part 2, please click HERE.
For Biblical Foundations Part 1, please click HERE.
In this post, we will dive even more deeply into Romans 10:13 (which we began back in part 1) to continue examining the cornerstones of the Biblical foundation of this local church—WHY has God led us all HERE? WHAT is God doing in us and through us? What is HIS vision and mission for us?
In Romans 10:13 we read about the importance of being saved, of being forgiven, of crying out to Jesus for salvation.
Thus, what has been and will continue to be proclaimed here is not behavioral correction but bodily resurrection, that Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good but dead people alive. It is possible—and many churches focus on this!—to come to Jesus to learn how to live a more successful life without ever coming to Jesus to actually be made ALIVE! What a tragedy to treat Jesus as an ethical consultant and not as our eternal King! He DOES want to improve our behavior, but only after becoming our Savior. We don’t hire Jesus as “improver”, we must surrender to Jesus as Savior and re-Creator. We aren’t just enhanced by Jesus, we are exhumed by Him and brought back to life out of the grave. Re-born, not just re-programmed.
Thus God changed the names of Jacob to Israel and Saul to Paul and Simon to Peter!
New identity, new person, new name, new birth!
Not a better Jacob but a new Israel; not a better Saul but a new Paul; not a better Simon but a new Peter!
So here are some questions for all of us to ask ourselves:
Is Jesus your Savior or self-help guru?
Do you ask Him to improve you (caterpillar) or re-birth you (butterfly)?
Only butterflies go to heaven, and butterflies aren’t made through effort
but re-made through faith in Jesus’ effort on the Cross.
Do you want advice or atonement?
Do you see that without Jesus & His Cross you face execution by Jesus & His Sword?
Have you cried out to Him for bodily resurrection or just behavioral correction?
Advice or acquittal?
- Revelation says that Jesus, Who is love!, will return to earth to judge people with the Sword of His mouth (Revelation 19:11-16; Revelation 2:16; Revelation 20:11-15), to separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), those who are going to heaven and those who are going to hell. This isn’t two-Jesus’ but one Jesus.
Will you face the Savior or the Sentencer?
People with just problems call others for advice;
people on death-row cry out to the Governor for pardon.
Is Jesus your consultant or Savior?
To know where you stand with Christ you must know where you fall without Christ…
Do you go to Jesus because of arthritis in your hands, tendonitis in your elbow,
sharp pain in your sciatic nerve, or acid reflux (in a spiritual sense)?
He will eventually treat those, but first He will deal with your need for a total heart transplant,
a much more serious situation that arthritis!
By the grace of God that will be proclaimed here so that there are no people shut out of heaven’s gates though they may have improved manners; Jesus will create new men & new women here through faith in Him! He doesn’t want to improve our manners on the way to hell but wants to make us entirely new men & women on the way to heaven!
To go deeper into this verse we will turn to Luke 15:11-32: The Parable of the Prodigal (Lost) Son…in this entire chapter 15 of Luke, Jesus is teaching this very Truth—that we humans aren’t just malfunctioning, we are malevolent; we aren’t just wandering, we are LOST, we aren’t just unhealthy, we are spiritually DEAD and in need of life…
But don’t be depressed by this—it’s GOOD NEWS!
Only when God convinces us of our terrible disease
will we ask Him for His amazing cure that has 100% guaranteed results with NO remission!
The Parable of the Lost Son
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
[When does a child get an inheritance? When the parents die. This younger son acted as if his father was DEAD; that is why it was so shocking and horrific for him to ask for his inheritance while his father was still alive. This son could not have treated his father any worse. This parable is serious, ya’ll, and this parable is about all of us…]
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.
[Another pastor recently pointed this out—the younger son wasn’t just being rude or disrespectful to his Father; the younger son was severing all ties with his Father, was making a clean break with his Dad and divorcing him, living life on the son’s terms and with the son “in charge of ‘his own’ life.” Thus it says that the younger son “got together all he had and set off for a distant country,” a new culture with a new king—the son himself!—to exercise the son’s “freedom” in being independent and on his own. This parable is serious, ya’ll, and this parable is about all of us…]
14 After he had spent everything,
[Jesus offers us “life to the full” (John 10:10), but this younger son lived life to the “empty,” not the full. This younger son thought freedom was wanting to do whatever he desires, but Jesus teaches us that true freedom is desiring to do whatever Jesus wants. True freedom is not independence but a joyful dependence on God.]
there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.
[The son began to realize that sin doesn’t satisfy but only leaves us hungrier in the long-run. The younger son eventually realized he had a need that sin and money couldn’t satisfy, a thirst that selfishness couldn’t quench. This is one of the beautiful turning points in this parable, though the younger son at the time couldn’t have realized it. God in the parable was allowing the younger son to suffer the natural consequences in the short-run to help him eventually cry out to his father and avoid the consequences in the long-run. Oh how God uses short-term suffering to bless us, like the pinch of a vaccine!]
15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
[Still, the younger son tries to stay in control of his life, tries to fix his situation in his own way, according to his own “wisdom,” tries to satisfy his hunger according to his own plans; he must have thought, “It’s a crumbling kingdom, but it’s MY kingdom still!”
God in the parable doesn’t swoop down and stop the younger son’s short-term suffering but continues to allow the younger son’s decisions to play out, even painfully, for a greater good. ALL of this is God loving this younger son.
The son was still hungering for what the world could offer him: food that would leave him hungry again. By running after sin he was settling for less than his father offered him; by rummaging after slop he was STILL settling for less thank his father offered him, though in a different way of course.
Don’t we do the same everyday…settle for less than God offers us? I’m not talking about God offering us a Mac Book Pro and we settle for an Ipod Shuffle. I’m not talking about STUFF here. I’m talking about settling for ANYTHING less than a deep, intimate, personal relationship with God Himself…the JOY of the LORD which is our strength…how much MORE will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!?]
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
[Ahhh, THE turning point in this parable. The younger son “came to his senses,” the younger son was convicted, was cut to the heart, the younger son—by the grace of God!—realizes the root and cause of his current situation: himself and his sin. God has lovingly but firmly brought the younger son to this lowest valley [ROCK BOTTOM!]—realizing that ALL of this is his (the younger son’s) fault!—in order to bring the younger son to the highest peak [ROCK TOP!] of restoration to his father.
And yet the younger son CONTINUES to settle for less than his father offers him; he is still making his own plans according to his own thinking; he is content to simply go back and be a hired servant in his father’s house, when of course his father offers him all the rights and privileges of SONSHIP (if he ever truly knew his father’s character in the first place!). He is content in his mind to simply WORK for his father without the relationship of sonship.
Don’t we often do this? Even as Christians, even understanding that it is only by grace through faith that we are adopted into God’s family, don’t we sometimes without realizing it work HARD for the LORD out of obligation, out of fear, out of a sense of “if I don’t He will fire me or let me go?” Sometimes by God’s grace we work hard for Him out of the overflow of a heart of worship & gratitude filled with His joy and peace—there is NOTHING wrong with working hard for God for that reason!
But let’s ask God, “Father, why do I work hard for you? (Or why DON’T I work hard for You!?) Is it out of a heart overflowing with worship for You, or is it from a heart that is settling for less than You offer me, settling to just be a hired hand like the younger son instead of knowing You intimately and personally?” Many at the end of the their lives will be able to point to all the stuff they did for God, but if they were asked the simple question, “What is it like to BE WITH JESUS on a Tuesday?”, they wouldn’t be able to answer it, for they focused on doing for God instead of being with God. Ask Him to show you why you work hard for Him and watch Him lovingly answer you through His Word over time! 🙂
But here’s the crucial point of the son “coming to his senses”: he realizes what he has done to his father—he calls it what it is and doesn’t sugar-coat it or justify it. The younger son
didn’t have a bad month,
didn’t just wake up on the wrong side of the bed,
didn’t do this terrible thing because of how he was raised,
didn’t just make a mistake,
didn’t go through a “phase” that all sons go through,
and didn’t plan on saying to his father, “Hey Pops! My bad! Sorry about the whole wasting my inheritance thing and treating you as if you were dead. Nobody’s perfect, right!? Live & let live, right? Don’t judge, man!” 🙂
No, the son planned on saying, “I have SINNED against you…and against GOD in heaven!” THAT is the key, my friends! The son committed crimes here. To treat someone as if they are dead is killing them, just not physically (though I bet if you talked to the father his suffering went WAY deeper than emotional pain!). Look at what Jesus says about being angry and unforgiving toward other Christians—this is SERIOUS, ya’ll…and this is about all of us.
Matthew 5:21-25 NIV: Jesus said, 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister [in Christ] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ [pretend to spit] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
Thus, the son’s actions—CRIMES—had a horizontal element—his actions were a crime against his earthly father. Not just infractions but insurrection against his father!
And his actions also had a vertical element—they were direct crimes against God Himself; not just infractions but insurrection/rebellion against God! That’s the thing about sin—it has both of these elements, sin is a crime against people and first and foremost a crime against God. King David understood this from his own pig-pen…
Psalm 51:1-5 NIV:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
David, like the younger son, understood the seriousness of his crimes against God. ALL SIN is an assassination attempt against God, ALL SIN is us saying to God, “I’M in charge of my life, I’M gonna do what I want to do, I’m the boss and not You; I’M the god of my little universe so get OUT of my oval office and let me write the executive orders that I want to.”
The son also came to his senses when his “stomach was empty.” After filling his heart and mind and body with a feast of sin, the son was left hungrier and more empty than before he left his father. This is EXACTLY what sin does every time—we reach out for it thinking that it can satisfy us—and temporarily it does provide a mask/distraction for our hunger/emptiness—but it leaves us more empty and more hungry in the long-run.
When a person is sluggish and tired, they can reach for a candy bar—this will give them a sugar-rush, a quick/short-term burst of energy. But the thing about a sugar-rush is that when it wears off—and it wears off QUICKLY—it actually leaves you more tired than when you first reached out for it!
When you are severely dehydrated, saltwater looks appealing—it has the word water in it!—but drinking it actually makes you MORE thirsty. If you are dehydrated enough and drink enough saltwater, it will physically kill you. It will do the opposite of what it claims to do. The same is true of sin. It leaves you in a worse-place than you started, as the younger son found out.
He thought life was bad under the loving but clear authority of his father; the son didn’t just wake up one morning to ask for his inheritance and leave for a far-off country. The younger son had been planning this for a LONG TIME, had been fantasizing about being in charge of his life, living his own way, breaking “free” from the loving authority of his father and being his own boss—self-employed! The son had been emotionally and spiritually checked-out and gone from his father for a long time before he physically left. He thought he was leaving prison to go to freedom, but he was really leaving freedom to go to prison.
Don’t we do the same with God? Don’t we “look for love in all the wrong places” when Jesus—the Way, the Truth and the Life—desires to gather us in his arms as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but we are simply not willing!? He offers us true love that has HIM at the center, but we want lust that has US at the center.
And even for Christians, if we don’t officially divorce Jesus, don’t we settle for a legal-separation with Jesus—You stay over there and let me live my own day-to-day life on my own and I’ll give You a little time and a little money and a little song-singing each week—instead of going deep with Him, learning to obey and submit and follow Him, to truly know Him instead of just knowing a little bit about Him, for Him to truly transform us as we live in a moment-by-moment dependence on Him? This parable is about ALL OF US!
Friends, we started this sermon in Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Not improved, but made new; not corrected, but resurrected; not made into a better caterpillar but into a new BUTTERFLY! And the main way that we cry out to Jesus for such salvation is to realize, like David, Isaiah and the younger son, just how bad we really are, just how heinous and treasonous our sins are, our crimes against God Himself. THIS is why God allowed the younger son to get down as low as the pig-pen; God used the ROCK-BOTTOM of the pig-pen to help the son come to his senses and reach out for the ROCK-TOP of the father, of forgiveness, of sonship, of a restored place of blessing AND submission under the headship & leadership of the father. God brought the son low in order to raise him up; God needs to do the same for us.
If we think our sins as mistakes, if we think they carry a $500 or $1,000 fine against God, then we will only be mildly thankful and moderately excited at best over Jesus’ offer to pay our fine through His death on the Cross. We will then get to Jesus when we have time as soon as we are done with other things. Christ simply won’t take priority; we may even try to pay off that fine in installments through our good deeds to bypass the temporary humiliation of submitting to Jesus in guilt and confession and surrender…
But if we see our sins as crimes against a holy and righteous God that carry a fine of $100 trillion that we will have to pay off for all eternity through suffering and torment (indeed that we will NEVER be able to pay off), then we will fly to Jesus for His great salvation, we won’t wait til we get around to Him we will make time to run to Jesus in faith, to drop to our knees in worship. When we see our sin from God’s perspective, then we are ready not just to thank God or give Him a fist-bump but rather to WORSHIP Him for His paying off our debt. This is one of the biggest reasons why Christianity is boring for so many; we have forgotten how bad we are without Christ…His love & grace aren’t as awesome when we view our sin as anything other than awful…and so we must be VERY careful of pastors who only want to constantly encourage us and focus on God’s love for us without ever telling us–as the Bible clearly does!–how wretched and terrible we are without Jesus…(Romans 3:9-20). I’m not saying we should bring this up more than God does in the Bible, but we shouldn’t bring it up less than He does either…
And so many pastors mean well but mislead many by constantly trying to encourage us and make us feel good and leave the worship service with a smile by never highlighting God’s wrath, the terribleness of our sin, the Judgment of God, hell, etc. They get us to focus on the tendinitis in our elbows (behaviors that need improvement) and not the heart-transplant that we need (total re-birth through faith in Jesus Christ). By trying to make it bright and sunny all the time we never notice the twinkling stars of God’s grace and love–stars, though always in the sky, can only be seen against the black canvas of night. God’s grace and love can only truly be seen and appreciated against the blackness of our sinful hearts…
The younger son realized this and it made him ready to repent, ready to take responsibility for his sins and accept his punishment and not make any more excuses…he began going back to his father to do just this, but of course, the father in his grace and mercy has other ideas than punishment for his son!!!!!!!
“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.
[The father didn’t throw his fists at his younger son, he threw his arms around him! THIS is how God treats us when we take the slightest step towards Him in acceptance of our guilt and in a humble request for mercy and grace! The father RAN toward his younger son, and so does God the Father when the Holy Spirit convicts us of our terrible sinfulness and enables us to turn toward God the Son–Jesus!–to cry out for salvation!]
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick!
[The father interrupts his son and commands his servants to get the party started QUICKLY! The father spent NO TIME rubbing his son’s nose in his sins but saw that his son was thoroughly sorry; the father acted quickly to distinguish the son as separate from all the servants—the hired men didn’t have a robe, a ring or sandals because they weren’t SONS (even though the father did treat the hired people well!]! God too distinguishes us His children from those who have not received Jesus as Savior & Lord, not because we are more loved than they but because we are forgiven, adopted, and being made new. It’s all grace, but because of grace there is a distinction between the children of God and those who are not.
Do we ACT like children of God or do we try to act like non-CHristians? Do we wear our robes and rings and sandals humbly to show others what Jesus offers them, or do we keep them in our closet and wear the clothes of the culture?
We don’t help non-Christians receive Jesus by saying, “Hey! I’m just like you!” but by saying,
“Look! Jesus is re-making me just like Him…and He can do the same for you!”]
Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
[Not “this son of mine has finally learned some manners, has improved his behavior”; that’s NOT why the father is celebrating! He is celebrating because the son was literally DEAD and now he is ALIVE! He was LOST and now he is FOUND! THIS is the issue we all face with our sin apart from Jesus—we are dead without Him.]
Oh loved ones, there’s so much more to this amazing parable, but let’s stop here for the time being: this passage is absolutely foundational to this local church—by God’s grace, those who enter here will learn that we cry out to Jesus first for salvation & forgiveness & new life…that is the most pressing issue we face…and that God often must first help us “come to our senses” by showing us that we have in fact not just made mistakes but sins, that we have committed terrible crimes of treason against God Himself…that our soul is black as midnight but His Son Jesus is the Northstar to guide us Home where it is bright as noon forevermore!
Oh the great reunion and celebration that happens for us, like the younger son, when God brings us low to come to our senses so that we can then come to our Savior & be lifted high!
Bring a royal robe, a royal ring, and royal sandals!
Another person has surrendered to Jesus for adoption and new life,
another person was dead and is ALIVE, was lost and is FOUND,
was orphaned and is now a SON or DAUGHTER of God Himself!
WE MUST CELEBRATE, now and forever more…amen…