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Jesus: Our Everlasting


Joy: The Joy of the Father in Restoring the Lost

Wednesday, December 20 | by Jon Dooley

Today's Reading

Luke 15:11-32

Stories provide a powerful way of communicating lessons. In Luke 15, Jesus told three stories in response to the Pharisees' criticism about his dining with sinners. Each of the stories emphasized God’s heart of compassion for the lost, but the third story (Luke 15:11-32) also addressed the hearts of the Pharisees. In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller emphasized that Jesus used the parable of the two sons "to show them [the Pharisees] their blindness, narrowness, and self-righteousness and how these things are destroying both their own souls and the lives of the people around them."

Jesus created a story that would go against the respectable norms of the Pharisees. The behavior of the younger son was extremely disrespectful since he desired to rid himself of his father’s leadership and demanded his inheritance before his father’s death. He then not only wasted all the money on a sinful lifestyle but also worked with pigs—a dishonorable occupation for a Jew. Jesus invalidated much of their worldview by having the father accept the disgraced, rebellious son with overwhelming mercy. Keller added it may have shocked Pharisees to hear Jesus say the family patriarch not only embraced the wayward son but ran to meet him!

Jesus invalidated much of the their worldview by having the father accept the disgraced, rebellious son with overwhelming mercy. … the family patriarch not only embraced the wayward son but ran to meet him!

The Pharisees surely recognized themselves as the obedient elder brother. Yet Jesus did not praise the elder brother’s obedience but drew attention to his self-righteous and bitter heart. However, just as he did with the younger son, the father again ignored cultural norms and pursued his elder son. He tenderly pleaded with his son to join the celebration of repentance.

Consider how this story speaks to us today. Is it possible that, at times, we can be both sons? In The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen vulnerably admitted that even as a minister, the promises of the world still drew him away, "I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found." Larry Osborne warned Christians against religious legalism in Accidental Pharisees, "None of us live a truly righteous life. Even the best of us—even those at the front of the following Jesus line—fall far short of the righteousness needed to stand before our God. That’s what makes grace so amazing."

Nouwen further suggested that the parable of the two sons should provide a sweet reminder for Christians of the Son who provides the way to the Father.

And what of Jesus himself, the Word of God who became flesh, dwelt for nine months in Mary’s womb, and came into this world as a little child worshipped by shepherds from close by and by wise men from far away?... He left the house of his heavenly Father, came to a foreign country, gave away all that he had, and returned through the cross to his Father’s home. All of this he did, not as a rebellious son, but as the obedient son, sent out to bring home all the lost children of God…There is no journey to God outside of the journey that Jesus made.

The story of the two sons should not only remind us all of our need for a savior but also of Christ’s sacrifice, which enables us to return to the Father. And just as Christ offered the Pharisees the chance to join in the celebration of God’s Kingdom restoring the lost, the same chance is offered to us now. Nouwen encouraged, "God not only offers forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing but wants to lift up these gifts as a source of joy for all who witness them. … God does not want to keep his joy to himself. He wants everyone to share in it."

This Christmas, may we celebrate God’s great gifts for all who return to share in the joy of the Father.

Jon Dooley serves as the Assistant Vice President for International Affairs at Dallas Baptist University.

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