Saturday, July 19, 2008

Divine 2x4

Do you ever get the feeling that God is trying to subtly get your attention on something by smacking you across the face with a divine two by four? Those times when the same topic comes up several times in rapid succession, and you get the feeling that maybe there's something God wants you to learn right now, and you can't move on until you do? Several weeks ago, my awesome hot wife and I were talking Bible, and somehow it got to Luke 15. That week I had an out-of-town job, and while waiting at the airport as my return flight kept getting pushed back, I went into a bookstore and started reading John MacArthur's A Tale of Two Sons, and exposition of Luke 15. That weekend we went to church to discover that the sermon was on Luke 15. So brilliant man that I am, I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, there was something in there I needed to get hammered into my skull.

And that seems like a good place to kick off this shiny new blog, while it still has that new-blog smell.

Turn with me in your Bibles or interwebs to Luke 15. Jesus has been in public ministry "preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people", proclaiming the message "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mat. 4:23, 17). His message is one of repentance, forgiveness, and a call to radical discipleship. Contrary to the Pharisaical message that we are accepted by God on the basis of our good obedience (and the "sinners" are in such debt they might as well give up), Jesus was preaching the gospel - that we are all unworthy sinners, but in his incredible grace God has provided forgiveness, demanding repentance from our sin and embrace of the Son.

So we see that the "tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to him". 'Sinners' refers to your general low-lifes; your drunks, prostitutes, and the like. Tax collectors were so low, they aspired to someday be considered sinners. These were the people who sold out their Jewish heritage and aligned themselves with the foreign conquerors, who used the threat of Roman force to extort money from their neighbors. They weren't exactly the most popular folk in Israel. And these were the people who, more than any other, were clamoring to get near to Jesus.

Now why would that be? Perhaps they had been so beaten down by the Pharisees and the reigning religious paradigm that they had given up hope. They knew they were such wretched sinners that they could never make themselves acceptable to God. So when Jesus came preaching the gospel, it gave them hope. Hope that they could be forgiven, accepted by God not of their own accord, but out of God's grace and mercy. For those who had been convicted of the depth of their sin (and make no mistake, there were plenty of tax collectors and sinners who could self-justify and couldn't care less about being forgiven, just as there are today), the gospel was the power of God unto salvation. The hope of forgiveness brought repentance and a joyful embrace of the Son. And when the religious leaders saw all these sinners, the lowest of the low, repenting of their sin and returning to God with such joy and enthusiasm, their response was...


Uh, yeah. Resentment. The Pharisees looked on this outpouring of grace, the forgiveness of sinners, the repentance of tax collectors, and they couldn't have been angrier. They began to grumble and complain, and try to discredit Jesus and his ministry. So Jesus told a series of three parables aimed at showing how ludicrous and evil their way of thinking was, each with the themes of loss, recovery, and joy. The final one, the Prodigal Son, adds another element: the resentful self-righteous brother. Next time, we'll look at the first two parables to see what Jesus has to say about heaven's reaction to the repentant sinner.

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