The Prodigal Father (aka The Prodigal Son parable) Luke 15:11-32

Centuries ago someone came up with the title The Prodigal Son. As a result, much of its original meaning was lost in translation. The parable is not about the son! Most of us don’t need to be reminded of our rebelliousness; our fathers probably even have photographic evidence to prove it. Instead, Jesus gives us a vivid picture of our Heavenly Father and his extravagant love for us.

Luke 15 has three parables with a similar plot: a precious object (a sheep, coin, and son) is lost, the concerned party searches for and finds it, and all are invited to rejoice. Jesus uses these three parables in response to the accusation: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (15:2) Jesus in fact affirms that He welcomes sinners and associates with them and He invites and even commands us to do the same!

Our story begins with the youngest son telling the father, Give me my share of the estate.” He doesn’t ask; he just tells his father to give him what he would get upon his father’s death. In effect, the son is saying, “I wish you were dead!” Isn’t that what we are saying to Jesus every time we sin? And yet Jesus died for us anyway.

Without a word of protest, the father gave his son about a third of his property, though he certainly must have known that his son would waste it all. It was rare in those days for people to receive their inheritance prior to their father’s death, but the father was willing to waste his money on his beloved son.

The son went far away and spent it all quickly on parties, prostitutes, and booze (15:13, 30). When the money was gone and his entourage had left him, he found himself alone, eying the slop that he was feeding pigs. As Darrell Bock points out, “this was the most dishonorable work for a Jew, since pigs were unclean animals” (BECNT, 1996, p.1311). “Coming to his senses,” he reasoned that he would become a hired servant for his father instead of a hired servant for a stranger. For the lost son, the moment of repentance was when he determined I will arise and go to my father (15:18). Though the word “repentance” is not used in this parable, it is an obvious theme throughout the chapter as Jesus explains that we should rejoice as those in heaven “over one sinner who repents” (15:7,10).

The son rehearsed what he would say to his father and memorized it. He acknowledged his sin and prepared a confession. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” (Luke 15:18-19)

While most fathers would have disowned such a son and left him for dead, the Father was looking out for him every day to come home. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (15:20) Notice the Father takes the initiative and runs out to him. Even before the son speaks, the Father forgives him and passionately displays his love for him (literally “he fell on his neck”). For the Father, the son’s return is enough to bring reconciliation and wholeness to their relationship.

Unaffected, the son begins his rehearsed speech, but before he finishes, his father starts making plans for a celebratory feast. In today’s terms, the Father arranged for him to be dressed in a tuxedo, fancy shoes, and given a ring signifying his status as a son again. He even killed the cow that they fattened up to eat for only special occasions. For the father, this was a time for extravagant celebration.

The older brother refuses to join the party and protests his father’s lavish treatment of his youngest. As a firstborn son, I can relate to him. Where’s the justice? You spoiled him rotten! He caused you nothing but pain and misery and this is how you repay him? Where’s my fat cow?

The father gently reassures him that he is loved, he will always be with him, and “everything I have is yours” (15:31). The father is basically telling him that if he wanted a fatted calf or anything else, all he had to do is ask. Just as the father gave freely and even wastefully to the younger son, he was sure to give his older son everything he had. Once again, the father seeks reconciliation as he “pleads” with him to join with the family and workers at the banquet table.

The story abruptly ends without any indication of what the eldest son decided to do. Will he join his brother at the table or continue to shun him, effectively making him the lost son? Jesus wants his audience to think about how we are like the older son. Are we shunning those who ask for forgiveness from us? Are we proclaiming ourselves righteous and yet refusing to associate with “sinners”? Are we going to continue to act like the older son or start acting like the Father?

Webster defines “prodigal” as “one who spends money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.” In this parable, the lost son is certainly prodigal, but so is the father! He wastefully gives his son his inheritance, lavishes his son with love and forgiveness upon his return, and spends wildly on a party to celebrate his return. In fact, he goes so far as to say “we had to celebrate” or literally, “it was necessary to celebrate,” an indication that Jesus is not giving a suggestion to us to associate and eat with sinners, but He is giving us a vivid demonstration that we should follow. Will you be like the younger son who spends your money, time, and efforts pursuing “the life”? Will you be like the older son who judges sinners from a distance rather than helping them find their way home? Or will you be like the Prodigal Father, loving unceasingly and spending your time searching for reconciliation and “wasting” your efforts and even money to see people reconciled with each other and God?

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Knowledge is Power: Understanding the Gifts of the Spirit (I Corinthians 12)

Right now there is someone reading this blog wearing Spiderman pajamas and bunny slippers and eating a snack consisting of pretzels, nacho cheese, popcorn, and chocolate syrup. Sound plausible? Maybe. But what if I was exactly right? What if my description was so exact that the person described dropped his nachocolate popcoretzel on his lap in awe of this revelation? Other than observing the three second rule, this person would probably read everything I said afterwards as God’s truth. This is the purpose of the spiritual gift called The Message of Knowledge.

1 Corinthians 12:7-8 “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit”

These are the first of nine gifts of the Spirit listed in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. The list is not exhaustive (there are other lists in his letters) and it is difficult to define them because Paul does not describe them. Some of the gifts go hand in hand with each other as is the case with The Message of Knowledge and The Message of Wisdom.

The Corinthians’ thirst for knowledge was insatiable. By listing these two manifestations first, Paul was making it clear that real knowledge and wisdom only comes from God. This gift is not general knowledge, but supernatural knowledge that also “builds up the church” (I Corinthians 14:12) and causes unbelievers to exclaim “God is really among you!” (14:25).

The message of knowledge is not to be confused with human efforts to obtain knowledge. If someone discovers it by googling it, gossip, or figuring it out from available physical or verbal cues, then it is not a Message of Knowledge. Gordon Fee defines it as “factual information that could not otherwise have been known without the Spirit’s aid.” (NICNT, 1987, p.593) Jesus models this gift in John 4:18 when He tells the Samaritan woman, “The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” Jesus had just arrived in town so he couldn’t have gotten such information from her fellow townspeople. The woman’s hands were full with a water jar so she couldn’t have been carrying five wedding albums. Other than by the Holy Spirit’s aid, Jesus could not have known about her husbands. Rather than judging her, Jesus shows Himself to her as The Messiah using a message of knowledge.

In the same way, God manifests (or shows) Himself to us. Though they are often referred to as gifts, notice Paul calls each of the nine “manifestations” of the spirit. In other words, God uses each of these to show Himself more clearly and prove that He is indeed “really among you.” God does this in spectacular fashion or else it would only be a “manifestation” to a select few.

The timing of the message is key. If I tell you that your brother was in a car accident, but that happened ten years ago, then it is not relevant information. God is always relevant! Anthony Thiselton proclaims that it is “for such a moment” (NIGTC, 2000, p. 943). In other words, God speaks a message of knowledge when it is most needed to get the listener’s attention and help them in their need. That is where I believe the Message of Wisdom comes into play. Jesus didn’t merely tell the woman at the well that she had five husbands; He pointed her to Himself, the only One who could give her a new life free from shame. The message of knowledge (the revelation of her five husbands) got her attention and helped show her He was a prophet (John 4:19); the message of wisdom (the revelation that He is the Messiah in 4:26) got her heart and helped show her that He is the “Savior of the world” (4:42).

Knowledge is given upmost importance in today’s culture as well. Al Gore’s invention of the internet helped make obtaining information convenient and accessible to most people inAmerica. (I know Al Gore did not invent the internet; he only invented Global Warming.)

Now many of us have Ipads, Iphones, and I­­­­­­singingtelegrams to get instant news, gossip, and information about anything our hearts desire. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with having those things, but often we use them first to obtain knowledge rather than praying and listening for an answer from God. Whether during conversations, sermons, or even reading a blog, if we open our ears I believe that God will give us a message of knowledge and wisdom when we need it most.

Now get those Spiderman pajamas into the washing machine before the stain sets in.

Born to die, Raised so we can live: The humanity of Jesus

 Click on the picture and get ready to laugh!

I might risk a stoning by saying this, but it needs to be said if we are ever going to learn how to truly live. The miracles of Jesus were not born out of His divinity; the miracles of Jesus came out of His true humanity. Too often we ascribe Jesus’ actions and abilities to His divinity. When we read that Jesus healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, lived without sin, and raised the dead, it is easy to say, “Of course he could do that; he’s God.” Yet when we read that He wept, was moved with compassion, and loved even those who wanted to kill Him, we often believe these to be proofs of His humanity. What if it isn’t so black and white? What if Jesus came not merely to die, but to show us how to live?

God is omnipresent (everywhere), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omniscient (all-knowing). These are attributes or privileges exclusive to God. If you had any of those characteristics, you would be God. When God the Son became a human being over 2000 years ago, he made huge sacrifices. This is often called The Humiliation of Christ. No, there was no one beside His manger heckling him and trying to humiliate Him. The Humiliation of Christ is about Jesus becoming humble by giving up His rights and privileges as God and becoming a weak, ignorant, and finite man. He chose not to be everywhere; instead He placed Himself in time and space. He chose not to be all-powerful; instead, He was weak and vulnerable. He chose not to be all-knowing; at times He didn’t even know where He would sleep and what He would eat that night. Jesus demonstrated humility for us.

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a slave, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8)

On the night of His birth, He was no longer everywhere, but sleeping in a trough in a cave in Bethlehem. He was no longer all-powerful, but needed to be swaddled just to keep warm. He was no longer all-knowing, but needed to “be filled with wisdom.” (Luke 2:40) He was fully human.

I am not saying Jesus was not fully God. I am saying He gave up His divine attributes so He could be fully human. At any moment in His life, Jesus could have taken back His privileges as God, but if He chose to do so, He would not be fully human any longer. As He was being arrested in Gethsemane, Jesus told the disciples to put away their swords, explaining, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53)

Jesus’ divinity is also found in His temptations. Can any of us turn stones to bread? Or command angels? Yet Satan tempted Jesus with these things because he knew Jesus could do them if He chose to let go of His humanity and take back His divine attributes. Because He had access to divine attributes, Jesus was fully God. The fact that He chose to limit Himself proves not that He was only partly God; if anything it proves He was fully God because only God could put limits on Himself.

The fact that Jesus remained human to the bitter end – even enduring a humiliating death on the cross – is all the more remarkable considering that He did this without the benefit of His divine powers. I suspect that if I was in the same position, I’d be calling the Heaven Hotline the first time I got a paper cut and, in between sobs, saying “Daddy, send your angels to take me back home. I got a scroll cut and it hurts like hell.” Jesus endured human suffering for our sake.

Jesus died for us, but many of us don’t understand that Jesus lived for us too. He lived as an example for us of how we should live. Most people stand in awe of what Jesus did, but rather than standing in awe, open-mouthed in a puddle of our own drool doing nothing, Jesus challenged us to live a full, abundant life in Him (John 10:10) and live as he lived, doing what He did. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12) How can we do greater things than raise the dead?  There are two possibilities:

1. After Jesus paved the way of salvation for all of us with His death and resurrection, He went “to the Father,” going back to heaven. Then He sent the Holy Spirit as described in Acts 2, who worked through the apostles to convert 3000 people in one day. That is the greatest work of all. Healing the body and raising the dead is great; saving souls from eternal damnation is greater. When we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us to bring salvation to others, we are doing even greater things than Jesus who had to die to make salvation even possible.

2. Jesus was one man who influenced one small region in a much less-populated world than today. Since there are more of us spread out to the ends of the earth with over 7 billion people, we are now able to do exponentially more things for God. In other words, the works are not greater; they are just greater in number with millions of Christians now doing the work as the body of Christ.

My point is this: Jesus did many great works on earth, but He did so as a man of God rather than as the Son of God. If we truly believe that Jesus was fully human, we can also believe that we will do greater things as His disciples because the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead lives inside of us today. If we become dependent on the Holy Spirit as He was, we will become more fully human ourselves. Then the world can be changed one loved person at a time. Jesus died so that we might live; Jesus lived so that we might live by His example.

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” ― G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World

If we would just be so bold as to pray for healing and help the hurting, we might truly see greater things as the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead raised, the lost found. And as He makes us more human, we might find that we once were naked, blind, deaf, dead, and lost ourselves, but for the grace of God. Go in that grace and serve humanity.