Posts Tagged 'backslider'



THE GREATEST FAILURE OF ALL

1 Kings 11

The account of King Solomon’s death as recorded by the Chronicler belies how sad a figure the wisest man who lived became later in life—

As for the other events of Solomon’s reign, from beginning to end, are they not written in the records of Nathan the prophet, in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite and in the visions of Iddo the seer concerning Jeroboam son of Nebat? Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel forty years. Then he rested with his ancestors and was buried in the city of David his father. And Rehoboam his son succeeded him as king.

Thankfully we have the Historian’s account of King Solomon’s decline and death preserved for us in 1 Kings 11. Up to that chapter, we have a beautiful picture of how God blessed the son of David and fulfilled His promises to the King and the kingdom abundantly.

Solomon, the young man who started off so well asking only for wisdom and discernment in governing God’s people had been given divine wisdom, plus riches, power, and magnificence beyond anything his father, David, had ever dreamt of.

There is no getting around it; Solomon was blessed by God “over-the-top.” Yet, despite being the recipient of such blessings, Solomon, as foreseen by God, did exactly what he was forbidden to do. Deuteronomy 17:16—17,

The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

No matter how much a person has been blessed by God, God’s Word must never be forgotten or forsaken. God had bestowed upon Solomon the abundance of what he asked for and what he hadn’t, but Solomon, enjoying the life God had given him, failed to uphold his part of deal:

It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:19—20)

You cannot ignore your obligation to God for long without impunity. Had Solomon done his part, he would not have been led astray by what God had given him, or anything else. Instead, Solomon did precisely that which the Law forbade his doing. He took it upon himself to multiply his riches and the number of his wives and his horses. God’s promise was kept; Solomon was rich and glorious beyond any king of his day, but eventually Solomon took control away from God and the means he used to enrich himself further revealed a heart far from God and led to the dismantling of the kingdom.

Solomon is the greatest failure of all time, and his experience reminds us of Luke 12:48,

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Here was a man with everything; opportunities unlimited! But he blew it. The tragedy of Solomon’s life was not a sudden catastrophe, but the very gradual decline of his complete devotion to God.

1. Why too many wives is a bad idea, verses 1—8

As was stated, Solomon’s practice of collecting many wives ran contrary to God’s policy for Israel’s king. Unfortunately, the influence of David, his father, was greater than that of the Word of God, for women were David’s undoing, as well. Like some men collect cars, so Solomon collected women; women from all cultures and nationalities. It was on account of his wives that Solomon, in his later years, came to condone that which he repudiated early in his life: false religions and idolatry. In fact, he not only condoned such things, he participated in them.

As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. (verses 4, 5)

Incredible, is it not? How could such a “man of God” fall so far so quickly? Is it possible to get so used to God’s presence in your life and so accustomed to His blessings that you think you can get away with anything? Apparently Solomon thought so. Verse 6 says a lot:

So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.

What is truly despicable about Solomon’s condition is that he was not following the Lord “completely.” The RSV says that Solomon’s heart was not “wholly true.” In other words, his heart was divided in its loyalty to his many wives and what they wanted and his God and what He wanted. If the story of Solomon proves anything, it is that one cannot serve God with a divided heart; the essence of Christianity is that it is an all-or-nothing proposition. To be loyal to anyone or anything apart from God is to be disobedient; there is no such thing as “partial obedience” or “part marks” in being disciples of Christ’s. It took a while, but it became apparent that God was not at all happy with Solomon.

2. God’s angry words to Solomon, verses 9—13

Verse 9 is a verse nobody wants in connection with themselves: The LORD became angry with Solomon. Just because Solomon continued to prosper and the kingdom was in very good shape, all was not well. God is holy and He makes no exceptions when it comes to sin and unrighteousness. Even the most highly favored and blessed individual is not exempt from facing God’s anger. What should be noted, though, is that even though God was terribly angry with Solomon and what he did, God’s anger and message of judgment was mixed mercy.

Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. (verses 11, 12)

Solomon could not escape God’s punishment; God’s judgment on the king for straying would become evident with the splitting up of the kingdom after his death. For now, though, Solomon would have to live the knowledge that most of what he had achieved during his lifetime would not endure. That was, perhaps, the greatest punishment for him. Solomon had, pretty much, over a span of four decades done nothing of enduring value.

3. Enemies as tools of judgment, verses 14—40

The incidents involving these foreign leaders, Hadad, Rezon, and Jeroboam (an Israelite), serve to show us that God began to stir up trouble for Solomon long before his death. All three men had been around for a while, but as Solomon’s reign drew to its inevitable conclusion, they all became more of a concern.

Hadad (verses 14—22) was a member of Edom’s royal family. He was the sole survivor of a terrible massacre when David’s army slaughtered some 18,000 Edomites for an unknown reason. Hadad was able to escape to Egypt, where he married into the Egyptian royal family.

Hadad harbored strong bitterness against Israel and in particular against the House of David, and for some time after David’s death, he pestered King Solomon; what was an irritation for so long became a troublesome threat during Solomon’s later years.

Rezon was also not a big fan of David’s. He eventually seized territory to the north where he, like Hadad to the south, caused endless trouble for Israel and Solomon. Also like Hadad, the older and weaker Solomon got, the more Rezon threatened the kingdom.

Hadad and Rezon, though not the promised punishment from God, He nevertheless  raised them up to serve as constant reminders that the king of Israel owed everything he inherited from his father and achieved during his reign to the mercy, the faithfulness, and the patience of God.

Would all this have happened had Solomon been faithful to God? These enemies of Israel had always been around and likely would have been trouble regardless of how faithful Solomon was. However, God is faithful. When we are faithful to Him, He helps us face trials with a strength that is supernatural. When we faithfully serve Him, He is able to make all kinds of grace abound to us.

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

The phrase “in all things at all times” is the key. God’s grace is not dependent on our circumstances, in fact, the bleaker our circumstances, the brighter God’s grace! There is no doubt had Solomon been faithful to the Lord; he could have easily handled these enemies. But when he disobeyed God, he walked out of the shadow of divine protection and opened himself to all kinds of evil and wickedness he never experienced before.

What’s worse, Solomon’s folly sealed the fate of his kingdom, as well. It would never again reach the glorious heights it reached just a few scant years before.

And what of Solomon? He ruled for 40 years, and died on the throne. Assuming he was no more than 20 when he came to the throne, Solomon did not live a long life. Whether Solomon actually returned with his whole heart to the Lord is widely discussed by scholars; Scriptures are more or less silent on that. If Solomon is The Preacher of Ecclesiastes, as most conservative scholars believe, then it seems as though he did come back to the Lord—

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the [duty] of every human being. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14)


(c)  2010 WitzEnd

SAUL: His sad end

Saul falls on his sword1 Samuel 28

Without a doubt, King Saul is a tragic character.  Over the past few weeks, we have studied his life and tried to understand what happened to him and why he stubbornly refused to submit to God.  As always, the Bible gives us some insights; we don’t need to put Saul on the analyst’s couch to make sense of his life.  All we have to do is turn to the God’s Word.  Consider Matthew 19:16—22.

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

“Which ones?” the man inquired.

Jesus replied, ” ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

The rich young man’s response to Jesus was similar to Saul’s response to God:  he went away.  Unwilling to do what was necessary to follow Jesus, this young man simply walked away.  Saul was unwilling to be obedient to God, and so Saul simply walked away.  Neither man was sent away; they went away.   When a person turns their back on God and walks away from His Light, there is no place they can go but into the darkness, and the darkness is a cold, hard place in which to live.

It has been almost 40 years since Saul committed his very first act of willful rebellion at Gilgal, where in his impatience and fear, he offered a sacrifice that was contrary to God’s will.  That may seem like insignificant thing, the sacrifice was done correctly after all, but that act was the thin edge of the wedge, and here near the end his life, Saul’s sin was not offering a genuine sacrifice to God, but involving himself an evil, Satanic practice.  Sin will always take you farther than you wanted to go.

1.  Saul, the fearful, verse 5

When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart.

Once again the Philistines were mustering their armies to fight Israel.  David, fleeing for his life, found refuge with the Philistines and had become a kind of bodyguard to Achish, leader of the Philistines.  Now, David gave no direct pledge to help the Philistines in this battle, but it seemed that he and his band of followers had to march with the Philistine army.

Samuel, the beloved prophet of Israel, was dead.  The Spirit of God had left Saul.  To whom would Saul turn?  Because of his stubborn, rebellious heart, King Saul had no friends he could trust.  He was alone in the world.  Saul’s poor, miserable, self-confident heart began to crumble.

The last sentence of verse 3 is an explanatory note that seems out of place but necessary to set the scene for a terrible incident that will follow shortly.  At some time during King Saul’s reign, he apparently drove out all the witches and diviners from the land in keeping with the law of Moses.  Here was one incident where King Saul actually did the right thing, but to no avail, as we shall see.

Verse 5 is so telling:  he was afraid; terror filled his heart.  Apart from the grace of God, what can possibly sustain us when the hard times come?  Paul, with great inspired perception wrote—

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  (Romans 7:18)

A person without the Holy Spirit is incapable of helping themselves because there is nothing good in them!  There is not one thing in a person that can take the place of the Holy Spirit!  There is not one thing outside a person that can take the place of ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Our own wisdom, our own strength, our own resources are very poor substitutes for the presence of God.  Jesus put it best when He said—

[A]part from me you can do nothing.  (John 15:5)

You can’t even help yourself apart from Christ!

2.  Saul, the desperate, verse 6

He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.

There in another version of this incident recorded for us in 1 Chronicles 10:13—14—

Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance,  and did not inquire of the LORD. So the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.

Is this a contradiction?  John Haley, who writes about alleged discrepancies in the Bible offers a great explanation:

[I]t may be correctly remarked that Saul’s attempts at inquiry were of so unworthy a nature that it would be a misuse of language to speak of him as really inquiring of Jehovah.

Saul was desperate, but he was not sincere.  Desperation should never be equated with sincerity.  Many a confirmed, unrepentant sinner has called out to God in desperation when the circumstances warranted it, but that is not the kind of prayer God responds to.  There are times when God closes His ears to our prayers—

“Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me.” (Proverbs 1:28)

If we harbor sin in our hearts, God will not hear us when we pray.  If we live in rebellion to His revealed Word, He will not hear us when we pray.  Unconfessed sin will always muffle your prayers.

3.  Saul, the apostate, verse 11

Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” “Bring up Samuel,” he said.

With this one verse, we see Saul’s complete devolution and complete absorption into the Saul and witch at Endordarkness of his blackened soul.  In the Hebrew, his words are as emphatic as they can be.  Saul was so desperate; he would do what no Hebrew was allowed to do.  In the desperation and bitterness of his heart, Saul longed for even a brief word of advice from someone who had a relationship with God.  He had previously slaughtered all the priests of the Lord in one town, so who among those left alive in Israel would dare say a word to Saul?  So Saul, bereft of one ounce of God’s Spirit, will dance will the devil to get what he thinks he needs.

This story of the witch at Endor fascinates many.  What really happened that night?  Did she really raise Samuel’s spirit?  Did she communicate with the dead?  Theories abound, but J.B. Chapman boils them all down to just two:

First, Samuel did appear by special providence of God, and His appearing was a judgment upon the wicked king and a surprise to the witch, whose usual fakish claims were over-shadowed by this unexpected divine intervention.  Or second, this was just another unfounded claim of the witch to which the troubled heart of the king gave credence.  I think nine-tenths of the experiences of spiritism can be explained upon the basis of psychology, including telepathy, and whatever is not human about it is directly of the devil (1927).

Did Samuel really come back from the dead?  If so, then it is the only occurrence of this in the Bible.  Scripture roundly condemns the practice of necromancy in Deuteronomy 18:9—14, among other references.  In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, found in Luke 16:19—31 we learn that the rich man, who was dead, was strictly forbidden to return to the land of living and could not communicate those alive.  The apostle Paul was caught up to heaven was silenced; he was not allowed to speak of what he had seen and heard (2 Corinthians 12:2—4).

The fact is, Saul never saw Samuel that night; it was the witch, who may never have seen Samuel while he was alive, that claimed she saw a man wearing a robe, probably the kind of robe a prophet would wear.  Naturally in his desperate, apostate state, Saul would believe anything this woman said.

Saul had completely opened himself up to being deluded.  Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he had no discernment and his mind was ripe for satanic delusion.  Those who turn away from the truth will be deceived through believing a lie.

For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.  (2 Thessalonians 2:11—12)

4.  Saul, the suicide, 31:3—4

The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically. Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.”
But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it.

This chapter is repeated, in an abbreviated form, in 1 Chronicles 10:1—12, where it serves to introduce the life and times of King David.  Here, the battle rages on; it is King Saul against the Philistines.  This “last battle” of Saul went the way of every “last battle” of the one who had turned their back on God.

Saul, wounded and surrounded by the enemy, is afraid that he will be tortured by his enemies before killed, turns to his armor-bearer.  That was a very important position in the Hebrew army; David had once been Saul’s armor-bearer.  He asked his armor-bearer take his sword and run him through before the Philistines could get their hands on him.  In the last few moments of his life, this incident with the armor-bearer must have spoke volumes to the king:  Saul, once handpicked by both God and man to be Israel’s first king, full of promise and anointed with the Spirit of God, had so forsaken God, that even in his death his armor-bearer would not do what he was asked.  It is so true:  God cannot be mocked.  We reap what we sow.  Saul stubbornly refused to obey God, and now his armor-bearer refused to obey him.

Saul wanted to live his life his own way but in the end, all he achieved was dying his own way.  Again, the words of Jesus ring true—

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  (Matthew 16:25)

Saul was determined to die exactly as he lived:  on his own terms.   Eli, the wayward priest for 40 years who raised Samuel, died by falling off his chair, so also Saul, the hapless king for 40 years, died by falling on his sword.  So is the end of all who turn from God.  There is no glory in living life “your way,” on your terms.

One of the worst lies ever foisted on people is contained in the lyrics to “My Way,” a song that exalts the man who did lived life his way:

To think I did all that;
And may I say – not in a shy way,
No, oh no not me,
I did it my way.

If you try to go out and live life your way, you will end up like Saul.  If you call yourself a Christian, there is only way to live:  God’s way.  We all want to be the exception, but in truth there are no exceptions.  We all want to think that we are exempt from the God’s rules that govern “other” people, but none are exempt.

Paul Davis, wrote about living right:

I know that he gave his life for me
Set all our spirits free
So I wanna do right wanna do right
All of my life

You’ve got to do right
Yes, you’ve got to do right
And he’ll be your guiding light
But you’ve got to do right
And he’ll be your guiding light.

He’s right.  Jesus Christ will be your guiding light, if you live in obedience to Him.  Do right and live right!

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

Parables of the Lost, Part Four

prodigal01

The Lost Love, Luke 15:25—32

Previously, we read of the return of the lost son.

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! 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. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate(Luke 15:22—24)

Starting with verse 25, the whole tone of the story changes; it is this second half of the story that addresses the immediate context in which it was given. Remember why Jesus told these stories to begin with—

Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”   Then Jesus told them this parable…(15:1—3a)

He was answering the Pharisees’ comments about some of the people in the crowd listening to Jesus’ teaching.   So at the outset of this section, let’s get clear who each character in the story represents:  the lost son represents the backslider and sinner (outcasts of the Jewish faith in the eyes of the Pharisees); the elder son represents the religious Jew—Pharisees, scribes and other devout followers of Judaism.  They were the ones, according to their reckoning, who had never been led astray.

What we notice about the father is that the father’s love for the elder brother was never diminished by the return of the younger brother.  Yet it was only the father who went out to meet the returning son.  We also notice that the elder brother was as much in need of the father’s forgiveness as the younger.  We often overlook the elder brother, but there are some lessons we need to see in him.

1.  He was a worker, verse 25a

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field.

Whatever else this man was, he was not lazy!  Notice that he was working out in the field while everybody else in the house was celebrating the return of lost son.  These were not his fields, by the way.  He was tending to his father’s business.  He was so busy out there he had no idea what was going on inside his father’s house.  The elder son is a perfect picture of the diligent Christian worker, who loves his work so much, he often neglects to fellowship with the rest of his family.  He reminds us a lot of Martha—

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:39—42)

There are those who would rather work in the fields than sit and fellowship with Lord.

2.  He was faithful, verse 29b

All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.

He may have been faithful to his father and the duties assigned him, but his words betrayed the attitude of his heart.  He spoke to his father abruptly, indicated by the use of the word “Look,” and the word “slaving” hardly describes a loving relationship where he willingly did what his father asked of him.  Yes, he performed his duty, but he was self-righteous about it and viewed it as a burden; something he had to do.  Here is the Pharisee, and here is the devoted Christian who speaks and acts from a sense of duty and takes pride in himself and his good works, even if those good works proceed from heart as cold as ice.  Yes the younger brother was a sinner, but this one is a Pharisee.  It is never duty that compels one to serve Christ; it is love.

3.  He never had party thrown in his honor, verse 29

Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. (verse 29c)

When I read that sentence, I want to shout back at this man, “Did you ever ask?”

In fact, the reason why he never received this was because he never did ask for it, either in his self-complacency or perhaps he never felt like he needed it.  If he had asked, he would have received—

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  (Matthew 7:11)

It was not his father’s fault that this elder son’s service had been joyless.  John 16:24 makes it clear and puts the onus squarely on us—

Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

How many believers are like this man; struggling in their faith, martyrs for absolutely no reason?   It is honoring to Christ when others look at us and are able to make the same observation the Queen of Sheba made—

How happy your men must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!  (1 Kings 10:8)

Serving the Lord in misery is not at all honoring to Him.  In the elder son we see two great character flaws:  self-righteousness and selfishness.  These two flaws are very common, since we also saw them in the younger son, as well.

4.  He was greatly offended, verse 28

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.

How childish!  The older son refused to go into the party, but the father left the party to come out to see his other son.  Once again we see the great love of the father on display.  Just as he met his lost son, so he meets his disgruntled son.  Was there ever a more poignant illustration of the love God?  His love for one is never diminished when He loves another.

The elder son’s pride was greatly wounded when he thought about the honor being paid to his younger brother; the one who brought scandal upon the whole household; the one who deserved to be shunned, rebuked, and punished for what he did.   And here he was faithful and true, being pretty much ignored.  He lost, for a moment, the love he had:

  • For his father.  His father’s heart was overflowing with joy because his lost, wayward son had finally come home.  The elder son, now the selfish one, stubbornly refused to share his father’s joy.  How cold!  How heartless!  How much like his younger brother, who went out from father’s presence, now this son wouldn’t enter in to the father’s presence.
  • For his brother. If he loved his lost brother even a little, he would have joined in the celebration and rejoiced over his homecoming.  But his love had grown cold, for his father and his brother.  He may have worked and appeared faithful, but it was all a façade, that hid a bitter heart. 
  • For the servants. It seems that the whole household turned out for the celebration and that even the servants were part of it.  The faithful and true servant of God rejoices at what makes God rejoice for God’s heart and the true servant’s heart beat as one.  How can one claim to love God but not love his brother(s) also? 

It begs the question:  Who was the real backslider, now?

5.  He was loved by his father, verse 28b

So his father went out and pleaded with him.

We are very quick to recognize the love the father had for his prodigal son, and rightfully so.  But his love for the one with the prodigal heart is usually overlooked.   Not many  believers physically remove themselves from the Body of Christ, but there are countless believers who, like the older brother, outwardly confess Christ, never miss a service and say all the right words, but live in that “distant country” of sin and selfishness, away from God.  The father was begging his offended son to come and join him in a celebration; to be a part of a family once again.

6.  He was encouraged by his father, verses 31, 32

” ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “

His father could have—and some might say he should have—scolded his childish and offended son for his unchristian-like attitude.  Instead, he offers him an inducement he could hardly refuse:

Everything I have is yours.

Like the prodigal son, this one was not treated as he should have been treated.  His father showed him love, understanding, and most of all; he showed him the same kind of grace he showed the prodigal.  And, everything is as it was before the younger son left; the inheritance is still in place.  The father’s blessings would not be diminished because the lost one came home.

Notice how tenderly the father addresses his son:  “My son,” literally, “My child.”  But at the same time, he gently reminds him of his self-righteous attitude by saying “this brother of yours,” reminding him of what he called his brother earlier:  “this son of yours.”

Conclusion

The future of this family is left to our imagination; Jesus does not tell us what ever became of these two brothers.  Really, the story has no ending because Jesus intends for us to see ourselves in these two brothers.  Both part of the family, both estranged to varying degrees, and both in need of grace.

The great lesson of the story of the lost son is that the father represents God in all His yearning, agape love.  The lost son in his honest genuine return represents the backsliding sinner who comes to his senses and repents, longing to be restored to the fellowship he left behind.   They also represent the tax collectors and various undesirables in the crowd that irked the Pharisees but who had found in Jesus a Savior and Friend.  And finally, the older son clearly symbolized both the Pharisees and the faithful, just as the 99 sheep did and the 9 coins did.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

Parables of the Lost, Part Three

feeding the pigs

A Lost Son, Luke 15:11—24

This is the final “parable of the lost” in Luke 15.  What most people fail to notice is what Jesus said at the very beginning of the chapter—

Then Jesus told them this parable…(Luke 15:3a)

The whole chapter is essentially one parable, divided into three sections, not three separate parables.  If we understand that, then the meaning of the last parable, or the last section of the parable, becomes clear:  it shows the lengths to which God the Father will go to find and rescue that which is lost.   God, like the shepherd, seeks the lost sheep so that He may save it; like the woman He hunts for the lost coin so that He may use it, and like the father, God seeks the lost son so that He may have fellowship with him.  We learn a lot about God from this chapter of Luke, and we learn a lot about God’s marvelous plan and purpose of salvation from this chapter.

The story of the lost son is probably the most familiar of all the parables Jesus told, and it has been the trigger of salvation in many lives.  It is easily the most complex of any Biblical parable yet at the same time, it’s message is simple.  And it is also only found in Luke.

1.  A selfish son’s selfish demand, verses 11, 12

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

The first thing we notice is that in this story we are treated to the “upper class” of Jewish society.  We have already seen the “working class” in the shepherd and the “lower class” in the woman, so it is natural that Jesus should tap the upper class to make His illustration complete.

We also notice the attitude of the younger son:  he wanted free of all parental restraint.  From what follows, it is clear that this selfish son believed that if he could live on his own without his parents, he could have whatever he wanted, go wherever he wanted to go, and do whatever he wanted to do.  He thought that “freedom” would make him happy, and he believed that freedom was freedom from his father.

So right at the beginning of the story is lesson that the majority of Christians miss:  It is dishonoring to God that a Christian should seek to meet his needs his own way.

2.  A selfish son’s headstrong journey, verse 13a

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country.”

The selfish son got his inheritance prior to his father’s death, which was unusual.  According to the Mosaic Law, fully one-third of the family estate would be passed onto this son at this father’s death, but the father graciously gave his son his inheritance early, essentially making it a gift, not an inheritance, so that his son could have his own way.

What is striking about verse 13 is that the selfish son journeyed to “a distant country.”  In other words, this young man went as far away from his family as he could get; he went to a country where his father was not.  How much resentment does a son harbor in his heart to do that to his father?  His father gave his son a gift beyond measure and his son took it and went to a place as far away from his father as was humanly possible back then.  In fact, he not only left home, he “got together all he had,” meaning he burned his bridges before he left home.  He completely severed all ties with his family.

3.  A selfish son’s heedless living, verse 13b

…and there squandered his wealth in wild living.

These few words open a window into the heart of the selfish son.  Here is proof of exactly why he wanted to leave home and why he needed money to do it.  This man exchanged fellowship with his family for “wild living.”  Godet suggests there two things that pushed this man away from his family:  (1) paternal restraints—he got tired of obeying the rules and got tired of living responsibly in a familial setting, and (2)  he was attracted by the world and enjoyments it offered.  These two things conspired to lure this son away from his family.

The selfish son wasted his father’s gifts on “wild” or “riotous” living.  Here is another powerful lesson for Christians:  No believer can keep the substance of God’s gift of forgiveness—peace and joy—when they willingly forsake Him for the pleasure of sin.  It is very expensive to leave the family of God.

4.  A selfish son’s misery, verse 14—16

After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

Famines were and are very common in the near east, but in a very real sense this man’s famine was both personal and spiritual in nature.  This kind of “personal” famine will overtake any believer who strays away from God; hunger of the soul is the very worst kind of hunger because nothing but God can satiate it.  What was a spiritual reality became a physical reality and this lost son found out the voracity of this verse—

…the rebellious dwell in a dry land.  (Psalm 68:6b)

So bad was his plight that he willingly gave up the freedom he wanted so badly in exchange for scraps of food.   This is always the way sin works; if we waste the gifts and privileges that are ours we ourselves will become slaves to the things that once gave us pleasure.

His new and wonderful life took everything he had and gave him nothing in return—

no one gave him anything.

His money ran out and so, apparently, did his friends.  Having left home in search of freedom, all he found was humiliation and hunger—or rather, they found him.

5.  A selfish son’s homesickness, verse 18

I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.

Like a man awakening from a nightmare, the lost son came to his senses; pride had given way to madness, now madness had given way to homesickness.  According to verse 17, he began to remember what it was like back home.  He remembered being with his father in his father’s house and those memories were like burning coals upon his skin, pushing him back.

We see how God uses two things to prod the backslider home.  First God uses outward circumstances—the famine.  Of course, this famine was not caused by the lost son’s rebellion, but God used it to highlight his sinful condition.  Second, God often uses the memories of past blessings to make the backslider long to go back to where they belong.  The lost son not only thought about going home, he actually did; his sanity returned.

6.  A selfish son comes home, verse 20

So he got up and went to his father.  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.

Many backsliders and sinners resolve to make things right, but this man actually did what he resolved to do.  He realized that he was wrong, but he had to go home to make things right.  There is no value in the confessing of sin unless there is a turning away from that sin.  Isaiah 55:7—

Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

He started out for home cold, hungry, and lonely, and kept on going until he neared his father’s estate.  It was a long journey that took him away, and it was a long journey back, but he never gave up.  In fact, it was probably harder for him to come home than to leave, given his weakened condition, both physically and spiritually.

What is interesting about verse 20 is that given what the son thought about his father, he, in fact, greatly underestimated the depth of love his father had for him.  He thought his father pictured him as he really was:  a selfish, wretched man who was willing to throw his family over to get what he wanted.  But that is not how his father saw him—

…his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him…

What is clear, and what the lost son did not know, was that the father never lost interest in his errant son.  He saw him from a distance and did not wait for the son to get all the way home; he ran out to meet him!

In response to his father’s demonstration of love, the lost son said this—

‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  (verse 21)

But that is not what he intended to say.  Here is what he was going to say—

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.’  (verses 18, 19)

He never got that last phrase out; his father never gave him the chance to.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  (1 John 3:1a)

When his son left home, the father gave him everything he had coming to him.  By taking his inheritance in advance, the son forfeited all rights to future blessings, but by grace alone, his father took him back.  God’s grace is sufficient for any lost son who comes home.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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