The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

The Angelic Proclamation

The Student’s Desk Christmas Devotion

 This will be the final devotion for 2007. Devotions will start again in Febuary 2008.

 God’s blessings to you all.

Basis for Prayer:

Isaiah 9:2-7

The people walking in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.

You have enlarged the nation

and increased their joy;

they rejoice before you

as people rejoice at the harvest,

as men rejoice

when dividing the plunder.

For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,

you have shattered

the yoke that burdens them,

the bar across their shoulders,

the rod of their oppressor.

Every warrior’s boot used in battle

and every garment rolled in blood

will be destined for burning,

will be fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty


Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace

there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne

and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

with justice and righteousness

from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty

will accomplish this.


Dear Lord, what a light you have provided in Jesus. That we who struggle with the state of this world, and the state of our hearts can come to Jesus, and know that you will accept us just as we are. Lord we look forward to the day when every authority will submit to Jesus, and how exciting it is to know that this will be permanent. As we talk about the birth of Jesus this morning, help us to understand the wonder it is that you, O God, should take on flesh and be born to a woman. It is because of your gracious deeds that we can be sure of having an eternal relationship with you. As the first visitors of Jesus marveled at the sight of him, may we also marvel with them.


Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

The Angelic Proclamation

There have been some pretty big events in history. Events that have changed our lives for the better, or for the worse. The invention of electricity, the telephone, and developments in computers have made out lives much easier. While other events such as the September 11 attacks on America six years ago has put every one on their toes.

But I want to talk about an event that’s bigger then all these events put together. I want to talk about an event that’s about a baby born in a dirty, smelly animal shelter. Doesn’t sound like much does it? I mean, how many people do you know today who were born in a dog kennel, or a chicken coop? It’s just not the place for baby’s to be born! But this birth caught the attention of the angels in heaven. Those beings who spend there time in constant praise and adoration of God paused in wonder to see what was going on in this dirty, smelly animal shelter.

What was it about this very strange birth that caught there attention? Listen to what they say to the shepherds who were camped near by – “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11). For a long, long time, people had been waiting for the Christ – God’s Saviour. Someone who would undo the effects of sin. Someone who would take every wrong that’s ever been done, including the wrongs you and I have done, and make them right. Someone that would make us right with God and be friends with him. Well guess what? He’s just been born! This is the event that would not only change history; it would change the entire universe. It would change the way God and people would relate. Is it any wonder this birth caught the attention angels in heaven!?

I want us to also notice who the angels were speaking to. The angels spoke this message to shepherds. Now let me tell you something about shepherds in Jesus’ day. They’re not like a civilised farmer we have today. These were fairly rough and ready kind of people. They lived and worked outside most of the time. When you work with animals, and are outside the whole time, you tend to smell. Their language might’ve been a bit coarse as well. And because they were looking after sheep the whole time, they were really able to go to church. Because of these things, people tended to look down on them. They weren’t particularly welcomed in town. People only dealt with shepherds when they had to. Shepherds were people who were marginalised in society.

Yet this is to whom these angels from heaven spoke their message. Why? Why would angels speak to shepherds when no one else would? Because their message was one for the marginalised. For those people who the rest of society is uncomfortable with. And if this message is for the marginalised, this message is for everyone. This message is for us here today. As surely as the angels spoke to the shepherds 2000 years ago, they speak to us today from the pages of the Bible, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

But this message isn’t only universal, it’s personal. Let’s look at how the shepherds responded to such a message. Did they sit on their hands and say “Oh well, that’s nice to know.” No! They went and investigated! Could what they just heard be true??? They wanted to know more. When they found baby Jesus just as the angels had told them, they praised God. This was a message that affected them personally. What a joy it was to them to know it was this baby Jesus who was going to make them right before God. And just as Jesus was the shepherd’s joy, so to ought Jesus be our joy. So to ought we praise God for giving us Jesus.

There have been many events that have changed the course of history. None more so then the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus has changed the way we relate to God. This is a universal message. This is a message for the marginalised. It also a personal message to each one of us. May we be ever thankful for the birth of Jesus.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

December 22, 2007 Posted by | Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A comparison of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke

Synopsis:The four accounts of Jesus life and ministry vary in their content. Some of their content can be found in all four while other parts are unique to that particular gospel. Even the content which is shared can vary in detail. The following essay examines the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke as an example of two gospels sharing information, though differing in there theological emphasis. The essay assumes the integrity of both accounts, and regards them both as legitimate accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. Overarching themes of both gospels are identified and substantiate by the content of each gospel. It is within the context of these overarching themes which the similarities and difference between the two accounts need to be considered.


A brief reading of the gospels reveals that they all address one issue – the person and ministry of Jesus. In this, a great amount of overlap can be found among the gospels, more so among the synoptics. If all four gospels are about the ministry of Jesus, the question may be posed, why have four gospels been written? Yet within the similarities of overlap, numerous differences can be found in the gospels in the way of variations in the text of individual passages, additional or abbreviated material, and reordering of events. The gospels of Matthew and Luke will be surveyed in order to observe the similarities and differences in these texts. These two gospels have been chosen due to the similarities they share.

From the seventeen parables found in Matthew and nineteen in Luke, six are held in common. From the twenty miracles found in both Matthew and Luke, thirteen are held in common.[1] Both Matthew and Luke give details on Jesus’ infancy (Matthew 1:18 – 2:23; Luke 1:5 – 2:52); the preparatory ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12; Luke 3:1-20); the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 3:13 – 4:1-11; Luke 3:21 – 4:15); Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (Matthew 4:13 – 19:1; Luke 4:16 – 9:62); and Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem, passion and ascension (Matthew 21-26; Luke 19-24). In these accounts difference can be observed in the particulars. Generally, Luke gives more details in these accounts. The greatest difference between the gospels is Luke’s coverage of Jesus’ Judean ministry which is unique to his gospel (10:1 – 18:14). To understand the reasons for these similarities and differences in Matthew and Luke and the way they have been structured, the theology and purpose of both gospels will be considered.

Gospel of Matthew

The main concern of the gospel of Matthew is to demonstrate how Jesus and his ministry are a continuation and a fulfilment of the Old Covenant. Several features of the gospel and their contribution to the main concern will be briefly considered.

1) Jesus’ Identification with David

The gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus mentioning two key figures in Israel’s heritage (1:1). The first of these figures is David. The mention of David connects Jesus to the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:1-16) as the one whom through David’s throne would be established forever. Matthew shows that the kingship of Jesus is recognised from his birth by foreigners (2:1-2, 11), and that Jesus claim to the throne is asserted by Jesus himself (12:42; 22:44), especially by his provoking actions during his final entry into Jerusalem (21:1-11). This aspect of Jesus identity is recognised and accepted several times throughout the gospel by social outcasts and general public (9:27; 12:22-23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15). Jesus’ kingship was also recognised by Roman authorities who regarded it to be such a threat, infanticide was employed to prevent the rise of a rival king (2:16). Despite the responses from Rome and the general public, the religious establishment rejected Jesus’ kingship outright (27:41-42, this could be the issue behind the lack of repentance as Jesus compares himself to Solomon 12:38-42).

2) The identification with Abraham and fulfilling the Covenant as Israel

The second key figure Matthew mentions is Abraham. The identification of Abraham links the ministry of Jesus to the Abrahamic covenant, and the promises of land, nation, and blessing (Genesis 12:1-3). Though Israel received something of the promise, what they received was lost at the time of exile, and (they) never received the fulfilment of that promise. Jesus’ inaugurates the fulfilment of the promise by becoming Israel for Israel. This is a strong theme in the gospel as Jesus and his family is forced to flee from the infanticide of Herod to return to Israel at a later time. Matthew makes the comment that this was to fulfil the Scriptures thus identifying Jesus as a second Israel (2:15, Cf. Hosea 11:1). This identification with Israel is important as consideration is given to the reconstitution of the law.

3) The Miracles of Jesus

Jesus’ identity as the ‘Son of David’ also has implications for the Kingdom of God. The Son of David was to be sent “…by God specifically to the people of Israel to bring them salvation and deliverance by healing them of their diseases.”[2] Hence four out of the nine references to the ‘Son of David’ are given in the context of healing to support this theme (Matthew 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30, 31).

The idea of Jesus being sent specifically to Israel is also stressed. As Jesus sent out his twelve disciples on mission he instructs them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6). However, though Jesus was indeed sent to Israel, as he personifies and reconstitutes Israel, he would also become a blessing to the nations fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). This appears to be the case in Jesus’ healing of the daughter of a Canaanite woman (15:21-28). Though Jesus was sent to Israel, the blessings of theocratic rule would extend beyond Israel and to the nations.

Not only does Jesus’ healing ministry have implications of Jesus’ identity, it also has implications for the Kingdom of God. Matthew understands Jesus miracles as the inauguration of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 11:2-6; 12:28). McKnight also suggests the healing ministry is also connected to atoning sacrifice. Matthew understands Jesus’ healing ministry as a fulfilment of the image of the suffering servant (Isaiah 53. Cf. Matt 8:16-17

).  However, Matthew does not apply this passage to explain Jesus’ death. Instead, there is a clear foretelling of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice as the Son of Man (20:28). It may be in this instance Matthew is using the title ‘Son of Man’ to refer to one who is authorised by God.[3] Again, these assertions add to the identity of Jesus, and his importance in salvation history.

4) Identification with Moses and Israel

          The identification with Moses implies the reconstituting of Israel by Jesus. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation (4:1-11) contains explicit allusions to the accounts of Moses. Just as Moses spent forty days and nights with God (Exodus 9:18), so Jesus now spends the same time being tempted. Unlike the original Israel that failed, Jesus does not fail thereby creating faithful Israel. The allusion continues as Jesus constitutes a new community (4:18-22) and reconstitutes the law (5-7). The reconstitution of the law, commonly known as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, is fundamental to Matthew as Jesus dismisses Jewish tradition (5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43), restoring the standard of righteousness which he will fulfil as the new Israel for Israel.

5) Rejection of the religious establishment

The gospel of Matthew stresses the uniqueness of Jesus from Roman, and the Jewish religious establishment. As already has been noted, there was enmity between the Roman authority and Jesus shortly after his birth. The recording of Jesus coming from Nazareth and beginning his ministry in Galilee (4:12-13) would not have been viewed favourably by the religious establishment as inhabitants of Jeruselem despised the region – a sentiment echoed in John’s gospel (1:46).[4] Other examples of where the religious establishment would find Matthew offensive is in the instance of Jesus’ commendation of the faith of a Roman Centurion (8:10-11), and Gentiles being counted among his followers (4:24-25). Mathew also contains teaching which is explicitly against the religious establishment (5:20; 23:13-36).

All this demonstrates that though Jesus was not part of the religious establishment or Roman authority, he was nonetheless the fulfilment of Scripture and the continuity of the Old Covenant. Nine times in the gospel the life and ministry of Jesus are said to fulfil Scripture (Matthew 1:22; 2:15; 3:15; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:54). These are included in the one-hundred and thirty plus references in the Old Testament – more than the other gospels.

Gospel of Luke

It is quite clear that Luke (the author of both the third gospel and Acts) is aware of other accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry (1:1), and he is not about to repeat the same emphasis. While Matthew’s main concern to show continuity from the Old Covenant to the person and ministry of Jesus, Luke’s main concern is to demonstrate the break away from traditional Israel, to a new covenant in Jesus and its applicability to the entirety of humanity. This is not to say Luke perceived the person and ministry of Jesus as having no connection with the Old Covenant. Though the gospel presents Jesus as distinct from the Old Covenant, it is still concerned to demonstrate the person and ministry of Jesus as a fulfilment of Scripture (2:23; 3:4; 21:22; 24:44), and in the recording of events which resemble events contained in the Old Testament. In this, Luke provides a universal presentation of the ministry of Jesus in the sense that it is not restricted to national Israel – this same theme prevails throughout Acts. The manner that Luke achieves this will be briefly considered.

1) The break from traditional Israel

The ministry of John the Baptist is contained in all four gospels, though Luke provides much more detail including the prophecies and circumstances surrounding his birth. It is the events surrounding John’s birth that are mentioned first, before the events that surround Jesus’ birth. The reasons for this are apparent when the circumstances of John’s birth are considered.

          Several key points concerning John and his parents, provide powerful allusions to several Old Testament identities through whom God performed extraordinary works which had a profound impact on the history of Israel. Luke informs his readers that Zechariah and Elizabeth were advanced in years, and Elizabeth herself was barren (1:6). John, their promised son, was “…not to drink wine or strong drink.” (1:15). It was in these and similar circumstances that Isaac (Genesis 17:15-19), Joseph (Genesis 29:31; 30:25); Samson (Judges 13:2-5, 24), and Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1, 20) were born. Hence Luke gives clues that God is about to do something different in the history of Israel. To be sure, John does not claim to be the Christ. Instead, the ministry of John was to testify to the one who was Christ (3:15). Similarly, Jesus was born of a childless woman, though not due to barrenness (1:34). Jesus confirms John’s ministry by recognising him as the last of the Law and the Prophets (16:16; 7:6-28). Hence John’s ministry serves as a transition between New and Old Covenants.

2) The universality of the Gospel

As Luke intends to demonstrate the universality of the gospels, he records a number of events not contained in the other gospels. These events involve people who would not be considered worthy.

          Luke records the people to receive the angelic proclamation of Jesus birth were shepherds (2:8-20). Shepherds were a despised class as Hendriksen remarks, “…because of the very nature of their occupation, to observe all the regulations of the Mosaic law-and especially all the man-made rules superim­posed on that law!”[5] Nonetheless, these were among the first people to learn of God’s actions and respond to them.

          Other reordering of social expectations can be found throughout the gospel such as chapter 18. In verses 9-14, Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector, exemplary of a just and unjust person, and reverses the expected outcome (v14). In verses 15-17, Jesus welcomes children who have no social status, and exemplifies them for those who would follow him (v17).[6] In verses 18-30, Jesus dialogue with a rich young ruler reveals that entry into the kingdom can not be gained by human effort,[7] and those riches, often associated with observant Jewish leaders, hampered people from entering the kingdom. Similarly, Jesus tells of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus, and again, the expected outcomes are reversed (16:8-31). Jesus also warns against the entrapments of riches and comfort (6:24-26). To be sure, Luke is not asserting that the poor and oppressed enter the kingdom while the rich people are condemned. Following shortly after Jesus dialogue with the rich young ruler is the occurrence of a tax collector who is inherently rich, and is declared to be a ‘son of Abraham’ due to his repentance. Hence Luke is merely demonstrating those who would not be considered as being in the kingdom in fact are.

          Consistent with this theme is Luke’s treatment of the religious establishment. Though Luke records sayings of Jesus critical of attributes which may be true of religious authorities, there is no direct public criticism as there is in Matthew. Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (6:17-49), which appears as an abbreviated form of Matthew’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5-7) does not contain any comparisons to the teaching of religious authorities, or ‘you’ve hear said’ statements (Matthew 5:17, 21, 27, 33, 38, 43). Luke also records Jesus as receiving hospitality from Pharisees and being able to gently teach (7:36-50), though later invitations would not be so hospitable (11:37-52). Hence Luke provides little basis to dismiss the possibility of the religious authorities from entering the kingdom of God.

All these theological themes of Luke serve to introduce Jesus’ final commission to the Disciples (24:48); which Luke will espouse in his second volume.

Both Matthew and Luke share much of the material. However, they use their material differently to establish their own purposes. It is important to consider these purposes for understanding the individual accounts and events which form each gospel.


Bauer, David R.      ‘Son of David’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Bock, Darrell L.      ‘Gospel of Luke’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Hendriksen, William        Luke. Banner of truth New Testament commentary. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1978.

Hendriksen, William        Matthew. Banner of truth New Testament commentary. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1973.

House, Wayne H.    Chronological and background charts of the New Testament, Academic Books, 1981.

Howard, Marshall, I.        ‘Son of Man’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Keeber, Craig S.      The IVP Bible background commentary, New Testament on CD-ROM. ((Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

McKnight, Scot.      ‘Gospel of Matthew’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Riesner, Rainer, D.  ‘Galilee’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

[1] Wayne H. House, Chronological and background charts of the New Testament, (Academic Books, 1981), 109-115. Totals my differ pending the definitions of ‘parable’ and ‘miracle’.[2] David R. Bauer, ‘Son of David’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 769.[3] Howard, Marshall, I. ‘Son of Man’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 776.[4] Rainer, D. Riesner, ‘Galilee’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 253.

[5] William Hendriksen, Luke. Banner of truth New Testament commentary. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1978), 149.

[6] Craig S. Keeber, The IVP Bible background commentary, New Testament on CD-ROM. ((Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992).

[7] William Hendriksen, Luke. 831.

October 24, 2007 Posted by | Essays, Gospels, New Testament, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Extensive is God’s Love?

(Luke 15)

How extensive is God’s love? What is it like? Who does it extend to? And, how does it affect our attitude towards others as Christians?

These are all interesting questions. They are questions that were raised by the Pharisees and teachers of the law – the religious officials. Not in the polite “Dear Jesus” kind of way, but by their actions. We are told in that they were muttering against Jesus because he was socialising with tax collectors and sinners, and openly welcomed welcoming them (v2 ). These two groups of people were considered to be the scum of Jewish society – human garbage.

So if Jesus was who he was claiming to be – God’s Messiah – what was he doing hanging out with tax collectors in sinners? To draw a modern parallel, I guess it would be something like Jesus going to Kings Cross, and spend the night wining and dining with drug dealers and prostitutes. What would we think of our King Jesus then? What would the response be in the Christian community? Would we question Jesus’ Messiahship? Would we doubt that Jesus is God’s son? Would we be any different from the Pharisees and teachers of the law? Would we?

In response to this self-righteous attitude, Jesus tells three parables in Luke 15 that communicate that God is a God who searches, finds, and cares for sinners. We would profit greatly from reflecting on these parables, since in these parables we find answers to the questions I’ve just raised. Though we may know the answers, we may seldom think of their implications. So let’s raise those questions again, one at a time, and have a good solid reminder.

Firstly, What is God’s love like?

The first two parables indicate that God’s love is a searching love. Looking for that which has been lost.

The first two parables are about two people of humble means. The first is about a shepherd (vv4-7) who has a mob of 100 sheep. From the commentary I read, most shepherds had a mob of sheep up to 200, and 300 was considered a large mob. So 100 sheep was quite a small mob. We are told that 1 of the 100 goes missing, so he leaves the remaining 99 sheep and searches for the missing sheep.

Similarly, in the second parable (vv8-9), we are told of a woman who has 10 coins, taken to be 10 days wages. One coin goes missing, so she turns the house up side down, cleaning and sweeping, looking for this one lost coin. The fact that the woman needs to light a lamp would suggest she has no windows in her house, indicating her humble means.

So it’s to be quite expected that the shepherd will run off and find his lost sheep, and the woman will turn the house upside down looking for a days wage. When they find what they have lost they rejoice, and savour the moment with friends.

Both these parables serve to remind us that God’s love is a searching love. This love will spare no expense for those who a lost. Just like the shepherd who left 99 sheep in the open to find the one sheep and the woman who did not stop looking, until she found her lost coin. God’s love is searching out his people.

Occasionally, I hear someone say that they’ve found God. I think to myself, “That’s interesting. I didn’t know God was lost. Where was he?”

Again, in this post-modern society, it tends to be popular just to let people find their own way to God. Yet from this passage, and others, it’s clearly not the person who looks for God. In Roman’s 3:11 we are told “there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”

Rather, it is God who puts in the hard yards, searching, calling, and bringing people, you and me, into his kingdom. When a sinner does come into God’s kingdom, heaven throws a party (v10), just as the shepherd and the woman in the parable celebrated when they found what they were searching for.

Don’t you think that’s amazing? The day you came into a personal relationship with Jesus, the day you were saved, God and all his angels threw a party. I can’t get over that! So God’s love is a searching love.

Secondly, who is this love for? How far does it extend?

I think we’re use to the idea that God loves sinners. We can handle the idea that people aren’t perfect. It’s quite normal to end up with a speeding ticket, or a copy of a friend’s CD, not that I’m advocating that behaviour. But, we can handle God’s love extending to those sorts of people.

          But what about someone who’s really fouled up? What about some who’s made a total mess of things, and their life is barely worth salvaging. The kind of people I’ve heard being referred to as a “waste of space”. Does God’s love extend to those sorts of people?

In the third parable, we meet such a person. The younger son of two (vv11-19). The parable involves a common Jewish family with uncommon circumstances. Two sons, a father, and an estate. We are told of a younger son that does everything a Jewish boy would never do. It is a parable designed to be shocking to those who heard it.

So what does this younger son do? Firstly, he demands his inheritance from his father. This is not the polite request for a loan to see out the week like young people might request today. Like today, the recipients of the inheritance didn’t get it until the person had died. So this is much more then a request for money. Loaded in this demand is the desire to terminate the relationship he has with his father, and cut himself off from the family unit. He wants for himself a life of independence. Michael Frost, an Australian preacher, interprets the words of the young son as “Dad, I wish you were dead!” While some commentators reject this interpretation, it nonetheless captures the blatant disregard for his father, and the duty owed to his family.

Just imagine, tomorrow morning while sipping your coffee, your teenage child comes in and says, “hurry up and die so I can get my inheritance!” How would you respond? Would your first response be to reach for your cheque book? Hand them the cheque saying, “There you go, have yourself a good time!” Somehow I very much doubt it.

Remarkably, this is what the father did. OK maybe they didn’t have cheque books in those days, but we are told in the same verse that he divides the property. No sooner does the son receive his inheritance than he takes off to a distant country. This moving away, I think, demonstrates two things:

1) It is a further expression of cutting ties with his family. There was no Telstra in 1stcentury Rome. No mobile phones! (Just how did a young person cope?) So being away from home, he had no means to communicate with his family. No “Hi dad, how’s it going? I saw the Colosseum today!” His family was as good as dead to him, and visa versa.

2) I think it demonstrates how he removed himself from God. Even though the text doesn’t say, I’m presuming the people who heard this parable would have imagined that this family lived in or near Jerusalem since that is where Jesus is heading when he tells this parable. And Jerusalem was where the temple was, which represented God’s presence, and Israel was God’s nation. So to remove yourself from Jerusalem, to move out of Israel, would be to remove yourself from God, to deny your religion.

Are you starting to feel the gravity of this son’s sin? But wait there’s more! As a special addition, he squanders his wealth in wild living. He indulges in what would be the 1st century equivalent of ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’, and has himself a good time. This is a young Jew behaving anything like a Jew!

So what’s he done?

He’s shown disregard for his family.

He’s shown disregard for God, and his religion.

He has indulged in sensuous living.

See, this younger son is a bit more than the sheep who got left behind isn’t he? Or the coin that slipped through the hole in the purse. He’s done his level best to offend his family and God. Anyone would be offended by this son’s behaviour. He’s really not the type you’d invite for afternoon tea. The severity of his sin is illustrated by the severity of the circumstances measured out to him:

1) He’s out of money. I can just imagine this son, going to his favourite night club, and I’m being metaphoric, and at the end of the night, he whips out his trusty credit card to pay his tab, puts it through the machine, and the message comes back “TRANSACTION DENIED. INSUFFICIENT FUNDS.” So he begs the bar tender to try again, and the same thing happens. Ever had that happen to you? It’s a horrible feeling. As a result, this son is promptly ousted by the bouncers giving him the kind advice not to come back on account of his physical well being.

2) The country he’s living in experienced a severe famine. From that we can assume food prices are going up, inflation is out of control, poverty is around every corner, and to use another metaphor, the country is going into recession.

3) From riches to rags, he’s impoverished! His independent life has become a life of dependence. The only job he could get was feeding pigs, another aspect of the parable that is meant to shock us. Pigs were regard as unclean by the Jews. If you came in contact with something that was unclean, you were made ceremoniously unclean, and had to purify yourself before God. Therefore, under no circumstances were Jews to go anywhere near pigs. So what was a young Jewish man doing feeding pigs? Further this job couldn’t even put bread on the table, as we are told “He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating,…” (v16)

This is a strong indication of how desperate his situation is. No family, no money, no property, and the only job he can get, doesn’t even provide for his own needs. He’s a young man, in an impoverished situation, in an impoverished country. Once more, he deserved it. As a Jew he couldn’t have sunk any lower.

After a while, he does a reality check, and works out he’d be better off at home than living off pig pods. I’ve never tasted one, but I can’t imagine they’d be all that satisfying. But notice how he doesn’t presume upon the grace of his father? He doesn’t think to himself, “I’ll just rock up on the front door step with a plastic bag of dirty clothes, say ‘sorry dad’ and everything will be cool”. No! He knows he’s messed up. He knows he’s burnt his bridges. He knows he can’t assume the relationship he had before with his father, at least he not on his part. He knows he has no claim on his father’s mercy. This then is a true image of repentance.

So, he resolves to hire himself out to his father as a slave, the lowest category of employment. It would be similar to putting your name down for casual work today, and hoping the phone will ring. The work and income aren’t guaranteed. Maybe they’ll call you, maybe they won’t. Such is his desperation. I can just imagine this son on his way home practicing his speech over and over and over again in his head, getting the delivery just right. Will his dad give him the job, despite everything he’s done?

As this son gets nearer to home, we are told the father saw him while he was still off in the distance, and runs to him (v20). I don’t know if this is right or wrong, but I often picture a fat man in long robs hurtling down the street unable to control his emotions – a most undignified scene indeed. But such is the love and compassion he has for his son! I can imagine the son trying to commence his well-rehearsed speech, and every time he tries to commence his speech he just gets smothered in more and more hugs and kisses.

Refusing to hear the speech, the father calls to his servants, “Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.” (vv22-23). The son didn’t get the job he was hoping for. Rather he received complete and full restoration. He was given full rights as a son. Further, the father puts on one big party. The fattened calf we read about was reserved for religious festivals such as Passover. So this is not your usual BBQ that we enjoy as Australians when friends and relatives come ‘round. It’s not as if they ran out of meat and they just happened to have a spare cow around the back. This is a big deal.

This action on the part of his father illustrates the love God has for sinners. God isn’t leaning on the front gate wondering whether or not people will come in. He is out there, working in the world pursuing sinners and bringing them into his kingdom, and every time a sinner comes into his kingdom a party erupts in heaven.

Amongst the many pages of reading I do for my studies, I found a story of a modern day lost son. After a number of years he writes to his parents saying, “I’ve messed up, I’m sorry. I’ll be passing by on such a day, if your prepared to forgive me, please hang a white handkerchief in my bedroom window. If I don’t see it, I’ll just keep going.”

So he comes around the corner, with his heart in his mouth, hoping, just hoping to see this white handkerchief. When he spots the house he finds it draped in white sheets, white towels, white pillow cases, white tea towels, any white material his parents could get their hands on! Do you think he got the idea that his parents wanted him back? Of course he did!

Again this story illustrates just how much God welcomes sinners. But God didn’t demonstrate his forgiveness by hanging out white tea towels. He demonstrated it by hanging his only Son on a Roman cross, cancelling the debt that you owe him. Do you think God wants you back in a relationship with him? You better believe it!

If you are reading this, and you haven’t experienced the love of God, and know what it is to be in relationship with him, can I say to you that God desires very much to have you back, despite anything you may have or haven’t done. I’d encourage you to find a Christian whom you can speak to, and learn what it is to live in a proper relationship with God.

          So God’s love is a searching love, and it is an extensive love.

Thirdly, for us who claim to be Christians, how should God’s love affect our lives? How should it affect our attitude toward others?

The parable continues with the focus on the older son. While the home welcoming party for the younger son continues on into the evening, the older son comes home from the days work. As he nears the house, he hears the commotion of the party. So he inquires as for the reason for the party, and is promptly told, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ (v27). The older son, far from impressed, is enraged with fury, and has it out with his father. Why? There are a few clues in the heated argument he has with his father (vv28-30). He exclaims that he’s been slaving away, and working his guts out for his father, and has never disobeyed his orders. In other words, he had a works based mentality. His relationship with his father was all about ticking boxes. It wasn’t based on love. He’s complaint is that a huge injustice has taken place, and he draws up a ledger of what the other son has done. “It’s not fair!” he’s saying. Ever heard that from your kids?

Because of his works based mentality, he’s missed the point of what it is to be in relationship with his father. Being in relationship with his father was never about ticking boxes so he could get this, that, and the other thing. Being in a relationship with his father meant being in constant relationship with him, and sharing in everything he owns and does. The father reminds him that he need not have worked for anything because everything that belonged to the father was there for his enjoyment. But because he is so pre-occupied with his own concerns and his works based mentality, we find the father having to coerce his son to be involved in what he is doing, and to celebrate the return of his brother.

Our relationship with God is simular. We are not to slip into a works based mentality – “if I’ll do this, then God will do that.” We are in constant fellowship with God, not just for an hour on Sunday. We have been given his creation to enjoy. Most importantly, we are to take part in God’s activity in the world.

Similar to the older son, we too can be so pre-occupied with our own concerns, we can miss the point of what it means to be a Christian. God longs for us to be involved in what he is doing. He’s already at work in the world, and he’s calling us to the party!

For as long as I can remember, I have been trying to prove to myself, and the rest of the world, that I am not disabled. Yet somehow reality keeps dictating otherwise. In the 10 years or so since high school, I really had very little to do with disabled people. So you might well imagine the last thing I wanted to do was walk into a room full of disabled people. Yet I knew God was at work amongst disabled people. And I believed, and still believe that God is inviting me to the party. Before I could answer the invitation, I had a real mountain of pride and apprehension to climb over.

God longs for each of us to be involved in what he is doing. This doesn’t necessarily mean uprooting your life and going to Bible College, though for some, it may mean this. It might mean simply sharing a cup of coffee with a non-Christian, or offering a listening ear to a struggling Christian. While for others, it may mean going to Kings Cross, and witnessing to drug dealers and prostitutes. Our Church is involved in many different ministries, and it may be worthwhile for you to pray about them, and discuss your involvement with an elder. A list of just some of the ministries can be found on the inside cover of The Sentinel under Elders Ministry Oversights.

Finally, we’re not told what the son does. We’re left in standing in the older son’s shoes. What we he do? Will he stand hard and fast to his legalistic ways, or will he rejoice with his father?

          What will you do? Will you remain pre-occupied with your own concerns? Or will you join in God’s party?

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

October 6, 2007 Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment