Rejoice at the return of the lost — Luke 15-17

I’ve long considered the power of books to be the wonderful opportunity to sit down with someone who really has something to say. Sit down at Socrates’ feet or listen to an expert who has extensively researched a great man’s life; it’s a chance to learn from the best and brightest that our human race has produced. And it is so also true with regard to the Scriptures: we sit at the feet of God-inspired men — prophets, apostles, psalmists, wise men — revealing things too wonderful for men to have dreamt up, and even, in light of our reading of the Gospel of Luke, we can walk with and listen to the Savior! I hope you are grasping the privilege of reading God’s word, especially the Gospels. Speaking of which, let’s sit at at the feet of Jesus again…

Aren’t you glad, when the lost is found? — Luke 15

The practices of the Pharisees in regard to the publicans and sinners resulted in the sinful remaining sinful and the “righteous” fooling themselves that they were getting more righteous. It was simply not done to associate with anyone who was unclean, who had violated the traditions, who had morally disgraced themselves, or were occupied in a despised job. And anyone like Jesus, who professed to teach and follow God’s law, who DID associate with them were quickly either corrected or socially ostracized — you see this lots of times in the Gospels. But Jesus’ whole purpose was to seek and to save the lost, and so to try to teach the religious leaders to change their attitudes He told three stories about lost things: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and most poignantly of all, a lost boy. The main point was that rather than sulking over the forgiveness of the sinful (like the grudge-holding brother), they needed to be rejoicing with God and embracing them back to the family. But forgiveness is just hard for some, so I think Jesus also provides a little lesson in it that we need to pay close attention to.

Sometimes, we confuse the words “forgive” with “forget”. It’s easy to do because we use them as a phrase a lot of times — “forgive and forget”. The problem is that when someone has really offended us, it’s difficult to forget. I think that this is why some folks are heard to say things like, “I know I should forgive but I just don’t think I can EVER forgive them.” I hope what they mean is that they don’t think that they’ll ever be able to forget it. And this may actually be truth, since one of the things that will burn memory into your mind is intense emotion. But I’d like you to notice what Jesus tells us in this story of the lost son. When the son returns in repentance (that’s what the lost son’s prepared speech is all about), the Father goes out to meet him (very unusual for a middle eastern father), he throws his arms around the boy, he commands his servants to bring a ring for his finger, shoes for his feet, a cloak for his back, and kill the fatted calf for a celebration of the return of — wait for it — his son. Has the father forgotten what the boy did; what offense he had aimed at his father asking for an inheritance before his father’s death; what shame (a very serious matter in middle eastern culture) had befallen the family because of this boy’s behavior? Absolutely not! God’s the only one who has the ability to forget at will. But look at what the father’s doing; he’s treating him (upon his repentance) as if it had never happened. That’s what forgiveness is, and that’s what mends broken relationships: treating the offender as if it had never happened. I may not be able to forget, but I can treat the other person like it never happened — just like I can treat my enemies in a loving fashion without having warm, close feeling for him. Think about this one; it’ll help you obey the Lord’s command and save your soul.

Using our money to “make friends in high places” — Luke 16:1-13

This is a very misunderstood parable. We know that Jesus isn’t suggesting that we should be unrighteous, but He is commending the unrighteous steward. No need to fret too much about it; the point is found in v. 9 — Luke 16:9 ““And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” It’s connected to Jesus’ teaching elsewhere: Matthew 6:19, 20 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.” Use your possessions here on earth wisely, righteously, and generously and the Lord will reward you a little like banking it all in Heaven.

A message to five brothers — Luke 16:19ff

The religious leaders to whom Jesus told the previous parable (going all the way back to Luke 15:1,2) weren’t crazy about his point about using our possessions generously, so they scoffed at Him. In response Jesus told a story. This story is sometimes called a parable but there are hints that this is a real story — the name of the poor man, for example, Lazarus.

Now this story has a lot of really great pieces of information in it about the afterlife. It is, in fact, the one keyhole that we’ve been given into the afterlife apart from the simple fact that we know there is a Sheol/Hades that contains the dead (which is not, by the way, the same thing as Hell). In this story we learn that there is something like a judgment (probably something like a judgment of guilt or innocence to be followed later with a sentencing judgment at the end of time) and appropriate places for the unsaved and the saved. The rich man, who had been hoarding his riches, failing to share, and let a poor and ill man starve to death on his very doorstep, found himself after death in the unsaved and tortuous section of Hades. At the end of the story, he begged Abraham to send Lazarus back to the world of the living from the dead to tell them not to do the same things that he did and end up where he was.

I think this is a significant teaching in the Scripture, especially for those who may be worried that beloved relatives may be lost. Here’s the truth from the world of the dead: whether your loved one is saved or not there’s one thing that they want YOU to do, obey the Lord. Misguided loyalty to go to torment will bring an unsaved relative or friend NO COMFORT; while a saved relative or friend would beg you, if he could, to obey the Lord and join him in paradise.

We have done only that which we ought to have done — Luke 17:10

Salvation is by grace, period. One of the essential problems with a salvation by works approach to getting rid of sin is that it is founded on the foolish notion that good works are a little like “extra credit” you used to ask for in school to bring your grades up. This parable of Jesus teaches us that all those good deeds that you’ve done weren’t extra credit at all — they were things that you were expected to do. That’s why we need Jesus and His grace — there is no extra credit, period. When we have done EVERYTHING we should say that we are still unworthy, because we’ve only done that which we ought to have done.

“What do you say?” — Luke 17:11-19

Remember your mom asking you that question? She was trying to teach you some good manners that as a “taker”, a child, you didn’t exactly get. Now that we’re older and are more on the “giver” side of the equation, we know how important those expressions of gratitude are to the giver.  Now this is not to say that God needs our thanks. Oh, it’s certainly nice and we owe it to Him; but I’d suggest that we NEED to thank God for all His gifts more for US than for Him. WE need to remember who provides, who the real giver is — that’s its not us.

See you tomorrow, Lord willing.

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About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the church of Christ in Manchester NH where I've worked since the 1970's. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, the Lord's church, and Gander Brook Christian Camp.
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