Today’s reading: Luke 14-16.
“How big is God’s heart for lost persons?”
“Every parent is at some time the father of the unreturned prodigal, with nothing to do but keep his house open to hope.” – John Ciardi
“I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen
Jesus hammers home a lesson about saving the lost with three successive parables. The Pharisees are listening all the while, and are the ones who most need to learn the lesson. Pretend you are a Pharisee as you listen to these stories, especially the story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father.
The Lost Sheep. The lost sheep who is found is the sinner who repents. Though he is only one out of a hundred souls, heaven rejoices at his salvation.
The Lost Coin. The lost coin is also the sinner who repents. God strives to regain the lost person as earnestly as the poor woman who searches for one of her few precious coins. God and the angels celebrate the salvation of the repentant sinner.
The Prodigal Son and the Loving Father. Traditionally the prodigal son gets all the attention in this parable. His redemption from depravity gives preachers a story to inspire all lost persons to hope in God’s grace. Next comes the loving father, God himself, who didn’t stop looking for his son from the moment the boy ran away. He shamelessly runs to the boy as soon as he appears, and proclaims a feast before his son can finish his confession. This is how big a heart God has for lost persons.
Then there is the older brother. Remember the Pharisees? The brother is their kind of man. He’s the legalist, the one who has always done what was expected of him.
“But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” Luke 15:28-32
Jesus is telling the religious leaders that everything God has is theirs, but it’s time for them to celebrate the salvation of all who are entering the kingdom because of Christ. Instead they keep condemning the lost, even though God has shown his love for them by sending his own son to save them. At the moment that God swings open the doors to heaven, they foolishly try to shut them.
We should be like God, with just as big a heart for the lost, but we fall short in many ways.
- We lack faith in Jesus’ story and don’t believe that God cares for the lost as much as we have been told.
- We think God has it taken care of and doesn’t need our help.
- We give up because it isn’t easy.
- We look down on the lost because they don’t measure up to our standard.
I want you to think about someone who is very dear to you. Imagine that you were in danger of losing them. Wouldn’t you do everything to rescue them? That’s how much God wants to rescue sinners, and it’s how much he wants us to celebrate their salvation. There were two prodigals in Jesus’ parable. One was the son who was prodigal in his excessive debauchery, but the other was God who was prodigal in his exceeding love. We should all be God’s kind of prodigal.
Image by Matthew Kirkland on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0