The Obedient God: Something from Jesus’ Childhood that Might Surprise You

Hidden away in Luke’s comments about Jesus as a boy is a nugget you should not miss: Luke tells the story of the Obedient God.

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them…” (Luke 2:49-51 NIV)

Yesterday we talked about this passage from Luke, which gives us pretty much everything we know about the years between Jesus’ childhood and manhood. Here are a few final thoughts on Jesus as a boy… Remember, this is God with skin on, the Son of God, the Messiah who has been foretold. Surely he was no average twelve-year-old…

obedient

Have you ever wondered: What was he like? How did he exercise his power? Was he gifted physically the way he was gifted spiritually? If he was alive today, surely he’d be an NFL quarterback, right? There is so little in Scripture to go on about Jesus’ boyhood, and it’s tempting to try to reconstruct some things, but it is always important to let Scripture be Scripture, and allow the story to speak for itself. Luke 2:52 says that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” He was growing in a balanced way; and the Bible basically says that his development was apparently fairly normal.

obedient

I love the fact that Luke points out how Jesus grew in four dimensions: mentally, physically, spiritually and socially. He wasn’t some spiritual nerd who didn’t live in the real world, but there was a balance in his growth that encompassed intelligence, strength, and his relationship with both God and men. That’s probably a good template for goal-setting when we start jotting down those New Year’s resolutions…

As for this story, the fact that he slipped away and stayed at the temple caught both Mary and Joseph a bit by surprise. I’m sure he was normally very obedient, and this was new behavior. Jesus was exploring some independence at age 12, and apparently knew an impressive amount of Scripture and was able to teach about the principles it contained. He knew enough, according to Luke, to astonish learned men.

Since his own parents were surprised by what he was saying about doing his Father’s business, it makes sense to assume that this was not behavior they were yet accustomed to.

The Son of God was leaving boyhood behind, and stepping out onto a larger stage. He knew who his Father was, and was already connected to his mission. Those are all pretty impressive qualities to exhibit at only twelve. Luke’s short account of twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple makes it clear that Jesus was destined for greater things; but that last phrase in verse 49 about how he treated his parents kinda sneaks up on you. “He was obedient to them.” Apparently even the King of Kings obeyed his mom and dad. Young people take note: If God with skin on obeyed his parents, so should you.

The Obedient God

Our culture loves the shallow things,
And all the toys celebrity brings:
The bling, the cars, the diamond rings,
The cash register when it cha-chings!
But Jesus grew up mentally,
And physically, and socially.
He also grew up spiritually,
In ways you could and could not see.
You’d think that Jesus had it made,
The power of God in man displayed–
And yet the hand that Jesus played
Was this: the Son of God obeyed.
He didn’t try to take command,
He didn’t overplay his hand,
But followed what His Father planned:
Obey. Be humble. Understand
That life in all its parts can be much greater than the sum;
And greatness doesn’t celebrate before its hour is come.
The key to life is not what is expedient,
But this: know what God wants, and be obedient.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Mary Treasured Jesus in her Heart. God Treasures You the Same Way

Out of the several accounts of the life of Jesus, only Luke offers us this quick observation: Mary treasured Jesus. That’s a logical thing to say about how a mother would feel about her child, but it speaks volumes about Mary and Jesus. It also might speak volumes about YOU. After twelve-year-old Jesus had been left behind in Jerusalem and was found teaching in the temple, Luke offers us our only glimpse of his childhood and development:

“Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:51-52 NIV)

It’s a little intriguing to think about Jesus as a boy, and we can speculate about what he must have been like. Comedians have always joked that it must have been tough being Jesus’ sibling, since you would always hear, “Why can’t you be like Jesus? HE behaves!”

treasured

In the Apocryphal gospel of Thomas the boy Jesus is depicted as performing some whimsical miracles, which is probably why that book stayed apocryphal and didn’t become part of the Canon. But in point of fact, not much is written about the boy Jesus, except for Luke’s anecdote about Jesus staying behind at the temple at age 12 while his parents headed back to Galilee. It doesn’t tell us everything, but even this brief account reveals a few things that are interesting to me.

Luke reminds us that Jesus grew in four ways: wisdom (mentally); stature (physically); in favor with God (spiritually); and in favor with man (socially). This well-rounded growth indicated a life balance that all of us should consider while making those New Year’s Resolutions. It also indicates that Jesus was developing into a young man who was preparing to fulfill his mission.

Jesus (at aged twelve) was obviously gifted as a teacher and amazed the scribes and rabbis in the temple. In his interaction with them and his parents, he seems to demonstrate a poise and maturity beyond his years; but most of his amazing qualities were kept fairly private.  Luke says that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart”, even if they weren’t vividly evident to others who were there.

If you are a mom or dad, aunt or uncle, or friend of the family, perhaps you have spent time around a toddler or a small child. Think of being amazed at their development. Think of being overwhelmed by little things they do, from imitating you to discovering something with wide-eyed wonder… When you have a toddler in the house, you don’t need to watch tv! All of the cuteness you can stand is right there in front of you!

treasured children

What things have you observed in little ones and treasured in your heart? Mary knew all of those things about Jesus and she treasured them. But don’t miss this: since we are made in our Father’s image, it stands to reason that God feels the same way about us; He watches our development, he sees us grow from spiritual babes into spiritual toddlers, and he treasures us in his heart. Have you ever equated how your Heavenly Father feels about you with the way you cherish an infant, or laugh out loud at a toddler’s antics?

I bet He takes the same delight in you, and is just as interested in your growth and development. Your picture is in His wallet; your crude but well-meaning artwork is on His refrigerator. God loves us not just for who we are but also for who we will become as we trust Him to help us navigate our path in a complex and fallen world. Certainly He enjoys our growth the same way we love seeing our children and grandchildren grow.

Luke says that Jesus grew in four dimensions: mentally, physically, spiritually and socially. Like you, Jesus grew up in the real world. Like you, he was treasured, appreciated, and loved. That’s probably a good thing to remember as we head into the New Year. Treasure those things in your heart, and grow.

Treasured

Mary watched as Jesus grew, and marveled at the things he knew;
From the humble manger’s start, she treasured Jesus in her heart,
Like any mother’s heart would do. Did you know someone treasures you?
One who loves to watch you grow, desires to teach you all they know,
One who loves with all His might, and watches you with great delight!
He loves you now, and every minute; His wallet has your picture in it!
He adores your every move, and offers you a Father’s love.
By every way it can be measured, understand this: You. Are. Treasured

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Grow the Church. It’s Something We Have to Do in Order to Grow the Church

Is the Church supposed to grow? Today’s church seems to be different from the one mentioned here: “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they [the church] were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47 NASB)

The first days of the Book of Acts must have been exciting. There was a new Spirit at work on planet earth. The small group of believers had started to grow. A movement had begun that literally changed the world. Social barriers were being broken down, habits were being changed, and transformation was taking place. Believers enjoyed a sense of unity and fellowship that no repression or persecution could break, that no apathy or boredom could diminish.

Tell me, has there been a movement in your life that changed your world? Among the first-century believers, people put their money where their mouth is, practicing what was preached and committing the two most personal items they had: time and resources. The new church had started to grow. Relationships provided a basis for loving evangelism, and spending time together daily provided a platform for organic growth. They went deeper in order to get wider.

grow

As a result, Luke says that “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Is the Lord adding folks to your church day by day? Are you and your church being transformed by love? In our modern world, there are marketing plans and efforts made to get folks to come on Sunday by promoting celebrities or hooking up to what’s hot in culture—but surprisingly, with all of our marketing sophistication, church attendance is actually down.

It’s a little awkward talking about growing numbers, 1) because most churches today aren’t growing numerically, and 2) because numerical growth is truly not the end game. Maybe we need to grow the church internally before we worry about growing the church externally. The focus of the early church was not on larger numbers but on being together, breaking bread, sharing gladness and sincerity, and praising God together. Growth was a by-product of unity and gladness.

There’s an old joke about a man who was marooned on a desert island. When he was found, rescuers discovered three huts on the island. Curious, they asked the man about them. “Oh, the first one is where I live”, he said. “The middle one is where I go to church. And the one of the right is where I USED to go to church.” Sadly, that joke has legs because believers have forgotten what church is for. Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship.

What Luke describes is still the blueprint for the church: be of one mind. Enjoy mealtimes and fellowship together. Be glad! Keep God in His proper place, and get along with others. It’s a simple recipe, and when believers come together to share sincerely, praising God in love and gladness, the church will grow. And since we ARE the church, it’s up to us to go deeper in order to get wider. Have dinner with somebody from church this week. Invite somebody who’s not. If you’re too busy to love somebody this week, then you’re too busy.

Acts 2
Breaking bread with one accord,
believers served before the Lord.
Christians gave the church its start
from house to house, and heart to heart.
It wasn’t how much stuff they had,
but how the Lord had made them glad!
Focus on love, and not on growth;
I think you’ll find you have them both!
Have fellowship with those who search;
unite in love, and BE the church.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Who had Faith so Powerful that it Amazed Jesus? You? Or This Guy?

I am amazed at this story in Luke about something amazing. Jesus had been asked to heal a centurion’s servant, and before he even got to the house, this happened:

“[Jesus] was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” (Luke 7:6-10, NIV)

Luke tells us about a centurion who was sympathetic to the Jews, and had apparently earned their respect (at least in part because he had built them a synagogue). His servant was deathly sick, and he heard about Jesus and sent elders from the synagogue to ask him to consider healing the servant. Luke describes how the centurion acknowledged Jesus’ power, had faith in His ability to heal, and how Jesus then healed the servant from far away, a fairly astonishing event.

The gospels tell us over and over that Jesus did things that were amazing, and that people were astonished by him. Have you ever been amazed by Jesus? Consider what Matthew 7:28 said about him. “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching”.

In Luke 5:8-9, he gets this reaction: “Simon Peter…fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken…” I’m sure professional fishermen had large catches before, but apparently Jesus helped them to accomplish something remarkable.

Again, in Mark 6:51, the disciples were desperately caught in a deadly storm when Jesus “climbed into the boat with them, and the wind just died down. They were completely amazed…” We pretty much expect Jesus to affect people in that way, because, after all, he was God. He did amazing things.

amazed

But I love this story about the centurion not because of what Jesus DID, but because of what happened when he heard what the centurion requested: “When Jesus heard this, he was AMAZED at him.” It is one thing for us to be amazed at God; but I had never thought about what it might take for God to be amazed at ME. The Centurion. Amazed. Jesus. Let that sink in.

It is apparently possible for us to amaze the Almighty. #lifegoals #beyond adulting #wow!! If the Centurion could do it, maybe it’s possible even for folks like us!

Do you really have faith? Do you believe God enough to depend on Him without reservation? Do you trust that He has your best interests at heart, and can do what He promised even if you can’t see him? The centurion was so confident in the Lord that Jesus was amazed at his faith. Have you amazed him with YOUR faith lately?

Get up, go look in the mirror, and ask: Who has amazing faith? And say:

amazed by this guy

Jesus did amazing things that crowds turned out to see;
He healed the sick and lame, he even calmed the raging sea!
A Roman soldier asked for help, but didn’t ask for proof;
He felt unworthy asking Christ to step beneath his roof.
When Jesus heard the man’s request, he turned, the crowd to tell,
“I haven’t seen a faith like this in all of Israel!”
With that, the centurion’s servant left his sickbed, and was well!
Perhaps we all should ask with faith, and have our faith be raised;
Believing God is gracious and is worthy to be praised!
Have faith in Jesus; maybe BOTH of you will be amazed!

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Sand or Stone? What Kind of Foundation are your values built on?

It may seem obvious that a foundation should be built on bedrock instead of sand, but sand seems to be making a comeback as the foundation of choice. Here’s what Jesus said about it:

“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock.” (Luke 6:46-48, NIV)

In some recent discussions about truth, a couple of folks have dismissed the Bible and told me that it is merely a myth containing some truth, but certainly not THE truth. If I go by what I read on social and mainstream media, this seems to be a common viewpoint. To much of the world, truth is relative to every individual, so it is getting harder to find common ground. In today’s world, whether it is politics or journalism or social media, truth is built on shifting sand.

If Truth is relative, it follows that right and wrong are also relative. “What’s true for you is not necessarily true for me.” “You have no authority to tell me what to do. Right and wrong only exist in our own minds!” I understand where that thinking comes from, and it seems to have lots of momentum these days. Our culture chafes under any authority. TV commercials tell you to break the rules, not to share, or to color outside the lines. We ignore what law enforcement officials tell us to do. Lying and changing your position used to be considered a deal-breaker when running for President. Today it is pretty common, and there is little public outcry or backlash.

Relativism opens all kinds of doors. We should legalize weed because it’s no worse than alcohol, and lots of people do it. Criminals are called courageous for shooting at police. Even something as seemingly obvious as gender, we are told, is really just a matter of choice. Our moral values seem to be built on the shifting sand of public opinion.

sand not stone

But according to Jesus, there is a firm foundation to build upon. The teaching of Jesus set a different kind of standard for how we should be accountable and how we should treat one another. This passage highlights that there are two great dangers: One, don’t assume you know Jesus just because you go to church, or because you seem outwardly connected to him. He says we not only need to know what he said, but to live by it.

Second, he says that we should build our values and our goals upon what He taught. We should dig deep and stand firm. If you say you follow Jesus but don’t know everything he said, get busy. He claimed to be “The way, the truth, and the life.” If that statement is true, you owe it to yourself to re-read, revisit, and reapply.

If you don’t know what Jesus said, don’t dismiss him. At some point in your life, when the storms of difficulty break upon you, you will find yourself in need of a firm foundation. When that happens, all the shifting sand in the world won’t do you any good. Dig deep. Build. Stand.

Jesus once described two homes, both built in different places;
Each of them was built upon extremely different bases.
One was built upon the rock, the strongest substance on the block,
And when disaster tried to knock it down it just withstood the shock!
The other, built on softer stuff, foundation made of sandy fluff,
Was never really strong enough and really wasn’t very tough.
The moral here is simple: if you want your house to stand,
Build your house upon the rock, and not on shifting sand.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Persistence Pays Off: the Widow Who Wouldn’t Stop Praying

Jesus told a somewhat surprising parable about persistence. Read it and see if you agree:

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” (Luke 18:1-5, NIV)

persistence

Luke shares a significantly under-utilized parable about persistence in prayer. Do your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling sometimes? Are you ever doubtful that God answers prayer? The judge in this parable is an independent arbiter of justice who doesn’t fear God or regard men’s opinions. In other words, he rules without prejudice, and he is not swayed by religion, politics, or human influence. And yet there is a widow who has brought a case before him persistently, continually reminding the judge that she is expecting an answer. Calvin Coolidge said, ““Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”. This may have been “Silent Cal’s” most eloquent statement.

In this case, the widow’s persistence won the day because she never gave up. She received justice against her adversary because the judge grew tired of being pestered. And Jesus spoke this parable to illustrate “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart”. Say, when was the last time you petitioned God so relentlessly that He granted your request? When did you pray against all hope, begging God each morning, noon, and night? And how often do you persevere in prayer with all your heart? I know–me neither.

James (the Lord’s brother) used Elijah as an example and said, “the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man makes a huge difference.” Perhaps he knew about Elijah; perhaps he had watched his older brother get up “a great while before day” to pray, or he watched him “continue all night in prayer”. The Apostle Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.” It seems that both the Lord and those close to him were advocates of continuous, persistent prayer…

Is Jesus really saying here that we have the ability to wear God down, and to inflict our will upon Him? Not likely. So why does he tell this parable? Perhaps the widow’s persistence is simply an indicator of faith, and is an outward show of her continuous inner belief. To tie it more explicitly to Jesus’ other teachings, perhaps it shows that she has the faith of a mustard seed, and is about to move the mountain. Jesus says we should wear God out by coming before him continually. I know I don’t do that very often. I bet you don’t either. Don’t lose heart. Pray. Pray with persistence.

If you want to move that mountain, here is the place to start:
Persevere in prayer, and go to God with all your heart.
The widow showed persistence, pleading every single day;
The haughty judge relented just to make her go away.
Have the faith to be persistent, begging to be blessed:
Bring your case before the Lord, and He will do the rest.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Will the REAL Prodigal Please Stand Up? (Hint: It’s NOT the Son)

The story of the Prodigal son is fascinating for many reasons. It resonates with many of us in the way it describes the impatience and impetuousness of youth. Young adults still grow restless or rebellious and leave home. People with money still acquire shallow friends who leave them when the money runs out. A fool and his money are still soon parted. Parents still have to deal with disrespect and sibling rivalry. When you fail on your own and hit rock bottom, you still think about going home.

prodigal

The Prodigal Son 1888 John Macallan Swan 1847-1910 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1889 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01569

There are universal themes in this parable that are still alive and fresh. We find it easy to identify with these themes, but like Jesus’ audience, we are surprised by the Father’s reactions: “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ (Luke 15:23-24, NIV)

Tim Keller’s book “The Prodigal God” does an amazing job bringing this parable home to each of us. By definition a prodigal is someone who “spends money or resources freely and recklessly”; or is “wastefully extravagant”. The younger son has always been known to us as “the prodigal son” because he wasted his money on extravagant living, but the real story Jesus told was about two sons, one who was lost and then found, and one who did his duty but secretly resented it. Both sons were disrespectful and rebellious to their Father. Both sons were dysfunctional about family, wrapped up way more in the reality of me rather than the possibility of us. Is your family ever that way? Have YOU ever been that way?

As the story ends, only the younger brother found restoration, while the older brother is left waiting stubbornly in the courtyard, refusing to go in to the party. What happened next? Did the older brother ever escape self-righteousness to find love and peace? There are unanswered questions, and to me the most interesting one is, “Who is really the prodigal in this parable?” The one who shows true extravagance and lavish spending in this story is the FATHER. He spends his resources on both sons, willing to part with his entire estate to sustain one and to reclaim the other.

As he educates us about who the Father really is, Jesus teaches that 1) God is always scanning the horizon, looking for his lost children to come home; 2) the Father wants to restore his rebellious children to the family; 3) When someone has hit rock bottom, but repents and turns upward to God, He greets them not in judgment but in compassion with a hug and a kiss; 4) The Father goes all prodigal on the celebration: He brings out the best robe, his family ring, new sandals, and kills the fatted calf. He not only throws a lavish party for us but he also dresses us up with His finest stuff so that we won’t feel out of place. He clothes us in HIS righteousness and adopts us into HIS family! 5) His home is a place of joy, where it is ok to make merry and celebrate. (And it’s ok to invite other sinners to the party!)

The Prodigal Father is the God who rejoices in finding what is lost, restoring what was broken, and being extravagant with his children. If you’ve been hanging out somewhere else, it really is ok to go home. Repent. Today. Your Father is waiting for you.

A prodigal is extravagant, someone who likes to live
By spending without limit, giving all they have to give!
There was the prodigal son, who went and squandered all he had;
He spent the precious money he’d been given by his dad.
The prodigal father held a party, killed the fatted calf:
“My son is home!” The servants saw him run, and heard him laugh!
The son came home alone and spent, his walk slowed to a plod,
Humbled by his failures, beaten by the miles he’d trod;
His father’s celebration may have seemed a little odd,
But he had learned of grace by worshipping the Prodigal God.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Indignation Will Always Keep You From Enjoying the Party

Although the prodigal son squandered his inheritance, his older brother suffered from his own sin, the sin of indignation. “But he [the older son] was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him… “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:28; 31-32, NIV)

In Jesus’ parable, the older son refused to go into the party. His audience probably thought that was the logical response; even the tax collectors realized that the older son would have been bitter and angry. No one in Jesus’ audience was surprised at the older son’s indignation. He had a right to feel that way!

indignation

The listeners all probably realized that the dutiful son who stayed home was similar to the Pharisees, who practiced righteousness until it hurt. They were, however, very surprised to realize that the older son’s actions and indignation made him just as rebellious and insensitive as his younger brother. He wasn’t home because he loved his Dad; he was there because of the payoff that would come his way when his inheritance became fully his. Just as the lost son rejected his Father and left home, the older son now rejected his Father and stayed outside, angry. HIS money was being frittered away on a feast for his undeserving brother! The injustice!

What no one would have expected was how Jesus described the way (once again) the Father responded to the situation. He took the initiative and “came out” to his eldest son. He “pleaded with him”. He was willing to share all that he had, including his daily presence in relationship, and yes, including his willingness to show compassion to his lost child by throwing a party. He gave the older son the opportunity to share in the celebration, to move from callousness to compassion, and from duty to delight. The Father grieved over his older son’s indignation just as he had grieved over his rebellious son’s debauchery.

Since the oldest son represents the Pharisees, Jesus leaves him suspended in the tension of the moment, outside the party and unwilling to come in—just as the Pharisees stayed apart from Jesus, unwilling to accept him. They were wrapped up in being right. They were so busy looking down their noses at everyone that they couldn’t see love right in front of them. Perhaps you can relate. Are you busy “hating the sin and loving the sinner”? Do you feel a little superior to outlaws, addicts, the homeless, divorced people, gays, liberals. etc.? Take a cue from the Father, and reach out in love. There’s room at the party for everyone.

The younger son just had to laugh. His father killed the fatted calf
And he who had deserved it least was honored at a festive feast.
His older brother stayed away, he didn’t understand this day:
It wasn’t even somewhat funny, wasting all that time and money!
The younger brother was a fool. The elder thought it wasn’t cool
To celebrate this prodigal son–something he would not have done!
His feelings were too strong to hide, and so he waited there outside,
Allowing bitterness to reside in every thought, and to abide…
While sinners need to hear the Lord’s commandments, and to heed Him,
Some righteous folks miss God because they think that they don’t need Him…

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Wherever You’ve Been and Whatever You’ve Done, Come Home

“And he arose and came to his father’s home. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:20-24, NIV)

Let’s explore the Father’s response to the younger son, who had recklessly asked for his inheritance, and then taken off and wasted it on “riotous living.” Since his older brother later tells the Father that his younger brother “squandered your property with prostitutes” (How did he know that? Wishful thinking? Maybe what he himself would have done?), it is safe to assume that he was not a good steward of the resources he had taken.

Any good Hebrew Father would have washed his hands of such a son, spit in his direction, and that would have been that. (Which is obviously what the older son expected.) However, THIS Father, the one Jesus knows, reacts very differently to the situation. First, the Father saw him “when he was still a great way off”. This can only mean that the Father was looking for him daily, standing perhaps up on the terrace on the roof and watching the road, hoping against hope to see his son coming home.
This was a Father who loved his sons, and who missed the lost son and longed for him to return. Upon seeing him, the Father had compassion. He didn’t fixate on what the son had done wrong, and he didn’t concentrate on punishment. Instead, he was filled with love. What he did next broke all kinds of cultural rules and expectations. Rather than waiting at home for the son to come crawling back, he did something no proud Jewish man would have EVER done.

home running

He ran down the road, embraced his son, and kissed him. There’s a song by Phillips, Craig, and Dean called “When God Ran” that depicts the moment beautifully, but suffice it to say that this emotional outburst of love by the Father surprised the neighbors, the servants, and the ragged younger son coming home. The son even began to beg forgiveness with his rehearsed speech of contrition, but the Father overruled him. He said, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Wow.

Perhaps you have wandered away from God. Perhaps you have wasted or squandered His resources. Maybe you think He doesn’t appreciate your behavior, and wouldn’t welcome you back. Jesus has news for you: The Father is watching for you, anxious for your return. He is filled with compassion over anything that hurts you, and he longs for your company. Yes, you should be repentant, and it might even be a good idea for you to rehearse your speech begging for forgiveness. But don’t be surprised if the father Jesus knows runs out to meet you and embraces you before you even get the words out. Come home. You might even get invited to a party! If my Bible is right, you will be the guest of honor.

 

Hebrew Fathers didn't run. They wouldn't break their stride;
Public etiquette required that they be dignified.
Yet Jesus told a story once about a son who left,
And squandered all he had to wind up sad, alone, bereft...
Coming home, he found His Father watching from above,
Then running out to meet his son with unexpected love!
Jesus told this parable, as only Jesus can,
About the way God loves the lost, and about the time He ran!

From “When God Ran” by Benny Ray Hester and John Parenti

And then He ran to me,
He took me in His arms,
Held my head to His chest,
Said “My son’s come home again!”
Lifted my face,
Wiped the tears from my eyes,
With forgiveness in His voice He said
“Son, do you know I still love You?”
© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Bitterness Lingers On the Tongue Long After the Feast Has Begun

As Jesus told this story at Matthew’s party about the lost son, He shifted gears on his audience and changed from the foolishness of the younger son to the secret bitterness of the older one.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (Luke 15:25-30)

bitterness

Picture the scene: the feasting in Matthew’s house has paused while Jesus continues his parable about the two sons… As He tells this story, his audience leans in, shaking their heads at the foolishness of the younger son, and also at the permissiveness of the Father. The tax-collector/sinners, reflecting on their lives, wonder quietly if they could go actually choose to go back to God having wandered so far from home.

The lifelong church member/Pharisees in the group put themselves in the shoes of the older son. They keep the law. They’ve done their duty. The Pharisees imagine walking up the driveway only to hear the sounds of feasting from the house, and share the older son’s indignation over his brother’s return. They can easily relate to the bitterness expressed by the Prodigal’s big brother. They barely hide their disgust at the Father’s wimpy attitude, and they look around the room feeling somewhat superior.

Then Jesus explains more about the older son, and there is as much about him in what Jesus DIDN’T say as there is in what he said. He points out that while the older son has stayed home and done his duty, he doesn’t love the Father any more than the younger brother did. He is more concerned with the waste of resources (technically, now, HIS resources, by the way) than he is about his brother’s safe return. In fact, he is harboring bitterness against the Father that bubbles to the surface in quiet rebellion over this welcome home party.

It’s not just wild partying and blatant sin that separates us from the Father; Proud, self-sufficient superiority and bitterness can be just as destructive. Jesus’ parable illustrates that “doing your duty”, being right, and self-sufficiency are no substitute for love, forgiveness, and vulnerability. The Father loves both sons, and both are invited to celebrate. Let’s not be those Christians who stay in a holy huddle away from the party, finding community mainly in the rules they DON’T break together. If you think about it, we are all sons, and we are all sinners. Let’s find joy at the Father’s party with son and sinner alike.

The younger son returned to see them kill the fatted calf;
This younger son was happy–but not so his other half.
The older brother sulked and of this party wanted none:
His bitterness remained long after feasting had begun.
Ask yourself, when sinners prosper and you hear the news,
Could you judge those sinners? Do you think that’s what you’d choose?
Are you ever standing in the older brother’s shoes,
Critical of your Father’s grace, and anxious to accuse?
Be careful that your judgment doesn’t circle back to you…

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread