The Wayward Son

This is such a famous chapter in the Bible. The first two stories deal with an animal and an object, whereas the last one focuses on the loss of a person.

Jesus talks about great rejoicing when the sheep and coin are located. It reminds me of a book I’ve just started reading about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, and her parents’ absolute determination to get to the bottom of what happened to her. You see a parent’s love and you think how they would rejoice the day their daughter was found. Although it’s eleven years on now, we can still pray for that outcome.

The story of the lost (or prodigal) son is rather different. He hasn’t disappeared; he’s left of his own volition, but he’s still lost to the father and to the family. We’re not told how long the son was away; only that he wasted all his money in wild living (Luke 15:13). Later when he returns, the older son tells the father: “All these years I’ve slaved for you”, which might give us a clue. The older son would have received a double portion of the inheritance on his father’s death, so the younger would have owned one-third of the estate, which could have taken several years to spend.

At around the time his money runs out, there’s a famine and the starving son is hired by a local farmer, but no one gives him anything to eat. He thinks of the hired servants at home with enough food and some to spare, so he makes his way back. He’s forfeited his rights as a son, but maybe his father will take him on as a servant.

The father clearly hadn’t lost hope, if he saw him coming from a long way off. Perhaps he was out looking for him. Perhaps he’d been scouring the neighbourhood weekly or daily since his son left, and now here he is. The father runs to meet him and organises a lavish celebration, but this son isn’t an only child; his brother’s involved too.

I must admit I do sympathise with the older son in the story. His brother’s wilfully taken their father’s money, which in that culture would have been akin to wishing him dead. He’s made no effort to contact them until the money’s all gone … Now suddenly he’s back in the fold and their father’s beside himself with joy! It doesn’t seem right, but the heart of the older son can be seen in that phrase I quoted earlier: “All these years I’ve slaved for you” (Luke 15:29). He’s slaved. He’s served resentfully, not with joy. In a sense, perhaps he’s been as wayward as his brother, inwardly if not on the outside. The father wants both sons restored to him.

In so many sermons, we’re told the older son represents the religious leaders, while the younger represents the sinner who’s dependent on God’s mercy, but I think the older son could be me sometimes. I love the thought of people coming to God and living their lives for Him, but people who call themselves Christians and wilfully go against Him? I really struggle with that. I’d like to think when someone turned and came back to God, my response would be one of happiness and joy, but what about when their past mistakes have caused hurt and mistrust? Can I risk trusting them again? Can I believe they’re genuine?

What God ultimately wants is the same as the father in that story – for everyone to be restored into relationship with Him, so I need to look at my attitude as well. I know there are times I’ve resented God for things He hasn’t done, and I’ve felt more like a slave than the daughter of a King. Perhaps it’s time to admit we’ve all been wayward in our own ways, and we’re all dependent on the mercy of God. Because of His love for us, that mercy is ours for the taking.

Advertisements

Banquet

I wrote this in 2007, inspired by Luke 14:12-24.

* * *

Don’t invite your friends to lunch or dinner, Jesus said;
They’ll return the favour, so you can be repaid:
Invite the suffering and the poor – the ones who can’t repay,
And you’ll have your reward from God at Resurrection Day.

Think about the wedding feast to share up there in heaven –
Many invitations sent, and poor excuses given:
A field; livestock; marriage – these cannot compare
To the wonder of our Saviour, who’s waiting for us there.

So the suff’ring poor come flocking in, with nothing much to give –
Nothing but their lowly spirits, broken hearts and lives:
Jesus looks at them with love; renews their troubled hearts,
And in that great and wondrous feast, they all can have a part.

But as for those invited first, who spurn God’s lovely Son,
How can they expect to taste the banquet that’s to come?
So go to Jesus; ask Him now to wash your sins away,
So you can be included in that glorious wedding day.

Jesus looks at you with love; He’ll gladly wash you clean,
And on that day your righteousness will shine for all to see:
Dressed up in your finery – linen pure and white,
You’re more than just a wedding-guest; you’re part of Jesus’ bride!

One More Chance

I never met my great grandmother, but one story about her always makes me sad. At the end of her life, when she was very ill, she would say repeatedly (in Welsh): “What have I done? What have I done?” thinking her illness some sort of punishment from God. I wish she had read Luke 13, where Jesus addresses that very thing. Some Galileans have just been murdered whilst offering sacrifices at the temple. “’Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?’ Jesus asked. ‘Is that why they suffered? Not at all! … And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No’” (Luke 13:2-5). I can imagine the progression of Jesus’ thoughts. There’s no correlation between suffering and sin, but people are so quick to put others down! And so He tells a story about a fruitless tree. The owner wants it cut down, but the gardener asks him to give it one more chance.

And straightaway, this ‘One more chance’ story is lived out. Back in Luke 6, Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, leaving His enemies enraged. Now, here’s their chance to react differently. As He’s teaching, again in a synagogue, Jesus sees a woman. Luke tells us she’s crippled by an evil spirit, and has been bent double for eighteen years. I suppose her sickness would be similar to arthritis. Jesus touches her and instantly she can stand up straight. How she praised God, Luke says, and it’s hardly surprising is it? But the synagogue leader tells the crowd they shouldn’t come for healing on the Sabbath. Perhaps Jesus would have stayed silent had he kept his grievance to himself, but turning the crowd away? Doing exactly what Jesus had talked about in chapter 11 – not entering God’s kingdom himself, and keeping others from it (Luke 11:52)? “You hypocrites!” Jesus says to those in charge. “Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?” According to Luke, Jesus’ words shamed His enemies (Luke 13:17). Good; I should think so! They had a chance to show compassion and failed – miserably.

As the chapter comes to a close and Jesus continues teaching on His way to Jerusalem, He talks about entering God’s kingdom through the narrow door. John explains this best in his gospel. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). If people try to enter heaven any other way, they’ll be denied. “He will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘But we ate and drank with You, and You taught in our streets.’ And He will reply, ‘I tell you, I don’t know you’” (Luke 13:25-27).

In a nutshell, God is the God of one-more-chance. But at the end of our earthly lives, there won’t be any more chances. To go through the narrow door, you need to know Jesus personally. For those privileged to have spent time with Him during His life on earth, eating and drinking or listening to Him in the streets, that won’t be enough; Jesus has to have come into their hearts. If you don’t think He’s come into yours, all you have to do is ask Him.

Are you Ready?

For a change, I read Luke 12 in The Voice today as well as my usual translation. Why not give it a try – see if you like it? I find it fresh and very accessible.

The word that stood out to me was priorities. There must have been frustration amongst some, stemming from the religious leaders. When Jesus implies their hypocritical words will be heard, and not to be afraid of those who can only kill the body, He’s clearly wanting us to prioritise God’s opinion over other people’s. This could help when there are problems in our close relationships because of our faith. Painful as it might sound, Jesus promises: “I have come to divide people against each other” (Luke 12:51).

When Jesus talks about the rich man (whose possessions were all he could see) and how important it is not to worry about the externals – food, drink, clothes, it’s a reminder that God will provide enough not only to survive, but to give generously. “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes” (Luke 12:33). We can prioritise giving over holding on to unnecessary clutter. And when we do, we can trust God to meet our needs. “Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and He will give you everything you need” (Luke 12:31).

Seeking God’s kingdom above all else means being ready for action. “Be dressed, ready for service, and have your lamps shining. Be like servants who are waiting for their master to come home from a wedding party. … Those servants will be blessed when he comes in and finds them still waiting, even if it is midnight or later. … So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at a time when you don’t expect Him!” (Luke 12:35-36, 38, 40). Jesus encourages us to always be about His business – doing what He asks of us. He gets us thinking about two servants – one who does the master’s bidding, and the other? He’s complacent. He thinks the master’s not coming back for a very long time, so he’ll look after number one, mistreating other servants and basically living it up as much as he likes. If the master came home unannounced, the obedient servant would get the reward.

Are you a people-pleaser or a God-pleaser? A giver or a keeper? Ready for the end when Jesus will come again, or not?

Authority

There’s a theme running through this chapter. First, Jesus teaches His followers to petition the One in authority, making requests on the basis of God’s holiness; of wanting His will done and His kingdom to come, on earth as in heaven. So if you think something would be a certain way in heaven, E.G. your body would be free of pain, you can ask for that on earth as well. This chapter says clearly: “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for” (Luke 11:9). I struggle with this, having found out last year that I’m losing my hearing. My hearing is really important to me as a blind person and people at church have prayed about it, but the situation hasn’t changed. Why not? I guess I have to keep on asking.

We move on to the source of Jesus’ authority. When He frees a mute, demon-possessed man, Jesus is accused of being in cohorts with Satan, but He explains the opposite is true. “Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. … You say I am empowered by Satan. But if Satan is divided and fighting against himself, how can his kingdom survive?” (Luke 11:17-18). The Source of Jesus’ authority is not Satan, as some of the crowd suggest, but God. Someone strong can be overpowered only if the other person is stronger.

Jesus expresses frustration that ‘This evil generation’ keep asking for a miraculous sign to prove His authority. It reminds me of where He said something similar: “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign” (Matthew 12:39). The reason people asked Jesus for proof was that their hearts were far from Him. They had plenty of proof in the words of the Old Testament and the presence of Jesus Himself. What about me when I’m doing the asking? Do I want a miracle because I’m evil and far from God in my heart, or am I asking in faith?

At the end of Luke 11, Jesus came into conflict with the religious leaders. He gave some good advice: Don’t be too concerned with the outside, but cleanse yourselves inside by giving gifts to the poor; give a tenth of your income – yes, but don’t ignore justice and love for God; don’t enslave others without lifting a finger to help them. Sadly they didn’t benefit much from His words because as He was leaving, they became hostile and wanted something to use against Him (Luke 11:53-54).

If Jesus is Lord of our lives, He’s our Master. He says as much: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (Matthew 28:18), so as people who are in Jesus, we can pray with that same authority, and be persistent in prayer. We can trust that Jesus is well able to defeat the evil one and his plans. We don’t have to ask God for any further proof to put our faith in Him. And when we see people in positions of authority acting questionably, we shouldn’t be afraid to confront them as Jesus did, even if it leads to hostility.

How are you with this teaching on authority?

Shocked

Jesus has an odd way of doing things. Here we see Him sending more people to preach, but how must they have come across? “I am sending you out as lambs among wolves. … And don’t stop to greet anyone on the road” (Luke 10:3-4). This may have been for their own safety, but can you picture them – heads down, so intent on their purpose that they’re ignoring everybody; not so much as a good-morning? That doesn’t seem likely to get them anywhere, but Jesus encourages them before they go. I’ve been encouraged too by these words: “Anyone who rejects you is rejecting Me” (Luke 10:16). If I’m talking about Jesus and someone isn’t responding well, it’s comforting to know He shares my pain.

Amazingly, this group He’s sent out get results! They come back astonished that evil spirits obey them and leave people when they use Jesus’ name, but He tells them instead to be happy their names are written in heaven, and Jesus is ‘Filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit’. I’d like to have seen that. He says a prayer that’s also found in Matthew 11: God’s hidden things from people who are wise in their own eyes, and revealed them instead to those who are childlike (Luke 10:21).

As if on cue, an expert in Jewish Law (who’s probably wise in his own estimation) puts Jesus to the test. “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks the man for his opinion, and he quotes Moses: Love God and love your neighbour, but Jesus’ definition of who a neighbour is stuns him. He tells a famous story about a man left for dead. A priest and temple-worker pass him by, but a Samaritan stops to help him. His nationality is significant and needs explanation.

You can read in 1 Kings 12 about Israel and how King David’s grandson’s poor choice caused it to split in two. The southern kingdom of Judah remained loyal to the family of David, while the north took to themselves a king named Jeroboam. God made this happen to keep a promise to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:29-39). God vowed to give him ten of the twelve tribes of Israel, but Jeroboam couldn’t quite believe it. “The kingdom will probably go back to David’s family. If the people continue going to the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, they will want to be ruled again by Rehoboam” (1 Kings 12:26-27), so he made two golden calves to put in the towns of Samaria – the northern kingdom. He told the people it was too far to Jerusalem and to worship those instead – a great sin that displeased God, so perhaps it’s no surprise that much later the king of Assyria attacked Samaria and took the Israelites captive, bringing foreigners in to replace them (2 Kings 17:24). However, the foreigners weren’t honouring God; they didn’t know how, so God sent lions in and some of them died. The king of Assyria solved this by sending an exiled priest back, to teach them Jewish customs and how to worship God.

That’s why Samaritans are despised by Jews: Their race is a mix of Jewish and Gentile (non-Jewish) people. Jews believe associating with Gentiles makes them unclean, so saying a Samaritan stopped to help him is like … well, … think of your worst enemy! The expert can’t even admit it was the Samaritan who was a neighbour to the injured man; he just says, “The one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10:37).

The chapter ends with Martha opening her home to Jesus and friends on their way to Jerusalem. As it was her home, she was probably the eldest daughter. She had a sister (Mary), and a brother (Lazarus). Mary’s at Jesus’ feet listening while Martha’s busy serving, but she’s a bit uppity. “Don’t You care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work? Tell her to help me” (Luke 10:40), but Jesus doesn’t tell her to share the load with Martha; He says instead that Mary’s made the better choice.

Aren’t you glad Jesus shocks us sometimes? Life could be dull if He didn’t.

Two Sides to Glory

This chapter begins with Jesus sending out His closest friends in spectacular fashion, giving them authority to talk about God and to heal the sick. Now although Luke wrote about events in the order they happened, sometimes reading the other gospels pads them out a bit, giving us a better understanding. Luke simply tells us that after their trip, Jesus’ friends went quietly with Him to a town called Bethsaida (Luke 9:10), but we learn from Matthew 14:10-13 that at this time, Herod (the ruler of Galilee) had John the Baptist beheaded. John’s followers told Jesus the news, and that’s why they slipped quietly away – so they could be alone; but instead, Jesus taught the huge crowd and performed a miracle, feeding over five thousand people. It’s always touched me that when He could have said to the people: “Please give Me some space,” and no one would have thought any less of Him, Jesus didn’t do that; He made Himself available. He was so compassionate that He thought of others, even in His time of grief.

In a quiet moment after the miraculous feed, Jesus talks with His friends. “Who do people say I am?” Already Herod’s heard about Jesus’ activity, and he wonders if perhaps John’s come back from the dead, but Peter gives this answer: “You are the Messiah sent from God” (Luke 9:20). What a response – declaring Jesus the most glorious person ever, but Jesus tells them to keep it quiet, because there’s another facet to glory and that’s humility – possessing glory, but being willing to give it all up. “Take up your cross daily, and follow Me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it” (Luke 9:23-24).

We go from that sobering reality check back to a mountaintop. Eight days later, Jesus is praying with Peter, James and John when His appearance changes and His clothes become dazzlingly white. Moses and Elijah suddenly join Him, also glorious in appearance, and they discuss His upcoming death. Peter, James and John aren’t party to this because they’ve fallen asleep (not the only time they’ll sleep while praying), but they wake up to see the three of them standing there in glory. Peter turns very Old-Testament and suggests they build three memorials to mark the event, but he doesn’t really know what he’s saying. God soon envelopes them in a cloud and puts him right. Jesus is His chosen Son; He’s the One they should listen to (Luke 9:35). When the cloud parts, only Jesus is with them.

They go down the mountain the following day and Jesus heals a boy with a demon in him. All this adventure! But His friends are still very human, arguing about who’ll be the greatest. Although they told no one until after His resurrection, perhaps having seen the glorified Jesus with Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John thought themselves a cut above the rest. I imagine Jesus sighing to Himself, and then teaching the same lesson all over again – humility. He talks about welcoming a little child (according to Michael Card, tradition says they were at Peter’s house in Capernaum, and it was his child Jesus used as an illustration). They’ve got to put away all their preconceptions of greatness. With Jesus, everything’s upside-down. He even cautions some of those who want to follow Him (Luke 9:57-62). Following requires complete devotion; no attachment to home or family should exceed a person’s loyalty to Him.

How much do I want the glory of God’s kingdom: Enough to be available for others, even when I’d rather be alone? Enough to give everything up if Jesus asked me to?

On the Committee

There’s one recurring theme in this chapter – the message Jesus is preaching. First, we meet some women who contribute financially in order to support His ministry. These women had been made whole and now they were giving back to Jesus.

However, just because He has the wherewithal to minister doesn’t mean responses will always be favourable. Some will hear the message and it’ll be snatched from their hearts immediately. Others will last only a short time because it hasn’t taken root. Still others hear the message, but let the worries of this life take priority over it. Goodhearted people are the ones who are fruitful, drinking in what they’ve heard and passing it on. That’s what Jesus encourages us all to do: Not to hide what He’s shown us, but to make sure it spreads to everyone else.

Jesus says whoever listens to Him will be given more understanding, then He goes even further. As His earthly family wait to talk with Him, He asserts that His true family are those who hear God’s Word and obey it. I like how it’s put in “Birth of the Church”: He’s not disparaging His family; He’s expanding the definition of family. I would go along with this. I love my biological family, and having a church-family who share my faith in God doesn’t make me love my natural family any less.

This message of Jesus suddenly becomes more practical as He calms a storm on the lake, and commands demons to leave a man. His miracles are obviously highly-regarded by some, as a synagogue leader begs Him to help with his dying daughter. Jesus is on His way to do just that when a woman touches Him and receives healing. When it becomes clear she has to confess to what she’s done, Jesus speaks to reassure her: “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace” (Luke 8:48). He also speaks to build up Jairus, who’s been told his daughter is dead: “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed” (Luke 8:50). Last but not least, He speaks life to the girl and raises her from the dead.

In a way, this reminds me of a committee: Finance; PR; ordinary members just rolling their sleeves up and doing as they’re told; those who take action – fundraisers etc, and those who always have a positive comment or word of encouragement. Which hat would you wear on Jesus’ committee?

  • Is there someone you feel led to support financially as they explore God’s call on their life?
  • Are you keen to make known what God has revealed to you?
  • Is yours a call to action? Who are you eager to help through your prayers? “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Corinthians 4:20).
  • Are you an encourager?
  • Do you long to speak life into a situation and see it turned around, as Jesus did with the dead girl? “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).
  • If you’re leaning more towards a particular one, that might just be where God has gifted you. Why not see if there are opportunities for you in that area?

    Three Things Faith Can Do

    The main characters in this chapter are two men and a woman. One man had great faith, while the other’s faltered.

    Character one: He’s an officer with a servant who’s ill. He’s not even Jewish, but he knows Jesus is, so he sends some respected members of the Jewish community to ask Him for help. “If anyone deserves Your help, he does, … for he loves the Jewish people and even built a synagogue for us,” they say (Luke 7:4-5). I love how Jesus could have given them a lecture, but doesn’t. Jesus’ help is never tied to performance or how much we deserve. He goes with them to the man’s house, but before they arrive, the officer sends some friends out with a message: Jesus doesn’t need to come in; the officer feels unworthy of this. He can just say the word, and the servant will be well. Wow! Jesus has never seen this – someone acknowledging that even without Him being present, a miracle can occur, and it does. The servant is healed.

    Character two: He’s someone we’ve met before – John the Baptist, but as we saw in chapter 3, he’s been put in prison. He sends two of his followers to ask Jesus: “Are You the One who is to come, or should we wait for someone else?” (Luke 7:18-19). John knew Jesus was the Messiah. God had given him a sign of that. He said so himself (John 1:32-33), and yet he doubted. Jesus let John’s followers witness the miracles that were taking place, and instructed them to report back to John with the message: “God blesses those who do not fall away because of Me” (Luke 7:23). John had all the evidence from reliable witnesses, which left him with a choice: Fall away from Jesus, or have faith and stay the course?

    Character three: She’s gone to the home of a Pharisee, having heard that Jesus is eating there. She’s brought with her a beautiful jar of costly perfume. In Jesus is the tangible presence of God. I think the woman must have been overwhelmed as she knelt behind Him and started to weep. Her tears washed His feet and she dried them with her hair, kissing them to show her affection and pouring out the perfume. The Pharisee is only concerned with her immorality, whereas Jesus sees how she’s surpassed His host. “When I entered your home, you didn’t offer Me water to wash the dust from My feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair” and so on. Perhaps the woman saw in Jesus the forgiveness she craved and that’s why she showed such love. He assures her of sins forgiven and then tells her: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50).

    When we place our faith in Jesus, He can bring healing, as He did for the officer’s servant. He can give us the strength to persevere, and ultimately He has salvation for us: Faith to heal, faith to stay, and faith to save. Do we have that kind of faith?

    Living the Life

    While Luke 5 was about attitude, Luke 6 is more about applying those attitudes to our own lives. Verses 1-11 are a continuation of the previous chapter and of Jesus breaking with tradition, as He challenges the Pharisees’ view of Sabbath – that one day a week where no work was permitted. His followers are picking grain to eat and the Pharisees equate this with work, so Jesus says what about David, who broke Jewish Law when he and his companions ate bread that only priests could eat (1 Samuel 21:3-6)? This must have flummoxed the Pharisees, as King David would have been someone they respected, but Jesus’ point is that He has authority even over the Sabbath.

    On another Sabbath day, the Pharisees and teachers watched Him closely in their synagogue. If Jesus healed a man with a deformed right hand, they planned to accuse Him of working on the Sabbath. Michael Card’s amazing book, “Mark: The Gospel of Passion”, has taught me that in the Jews’ evaluation of the Law (the Mishnah), they used one test to see if an exception could be made to allow work on the Sabbath: Which way preserves life? This is why Jesus asks in Luke 6:9: “Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” He then heals the man’s deformity.

    We move on to the choosing of Jesus’ inner circle – those He’ll spend the most time with, who’ll be closest to Him. First, Jesus prays; then He chooses His community; then He goes down the mountain to teach and heal.

    His teaching is a shortened version of the famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. I believe He probably gave these teachings on several occasions. “God blesses you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours” (Luke 6:20). You could think of God’s blessing as favour – knowing you’re in His good books. There are two lists – one of blessings, the other of sorrows, and some good verses to sum up Jesus’ teaching. “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for He is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). Have you ever lent money, regardless of whether or not you’ll be paid back? That’s just one way of doing good and showing kindness.

    “Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher” (Luke 6:40). I love this verse, because there’s nothing I want more than to be like Jesus.

    And when He talks about producing fruit, and the good or evil that’s within a person, He summarises with this: “What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45). It’s important, therefore, to have a good foundation. Jesus says if you’re going to call Him Lord, you need to hear His words and have them take root in your life.

    Will I do good to those who are hostile to me, or who’ve hurt me in the past? Am I eager to listen to Jesus’ words and be fully trained, so that I’ll become like Him?