The Prodigal Father

anak-yang-hilang-pulangIn Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells us a story about two sons who really knew little about their father’s love for them. One just wants to give vent to his lower nature and sin to whatever depths he can, the other elder son is also a stranger to his father’s love and thinks that he can please his father by keeping rules. The story is more about the father of the two than about the boys themselves. The father is a picture of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and all who call upon Him. He is the prodigal Father. Now before you throw me an electronic stone, let me explain by saying that the word “prodigal” is not mentioned in the text and actually means:

Rashly or wastefully extravagant:” as in prodigal expenditures on unneeded weaponry; a prodigal life. Giving or given in abundance; lavish or profuse: prodigal praise.” [1]

Yes, the younger son was wastefully extravagant, but the father was even more so with his grace, mercy and acceptance of his son back from the distant country. Let’s look at the parable with that view in our mind, the father’s lavish kindness toward his lost son. When the younger son comes to himself and decides to return to his father, he makes up his speech and turns in the direction of home:

20And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate (Luke 15:20-24).

We are told that the son had gone to a distant country (v.13). Certainly there was no need in Israel for pigs, so he was probably amongst Gentiles (non Jews) in an adjacent country. Wherever he was, we can figure out that he was several miles from home. The father in this story is a picture of the Father who loves each of us. He also was a long way from home, waiting, looking for his son. We are told that as soon as the son turned for home, there was the father, a long way from home (v.20). There was no anger within the father; the immediate emotion within the father even before he got up to his son, was compassion. Dictionary.com says that compassion is: Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. As soon as the father saw his son he ran to him. The father has been in pain for his son while he has been away from home.

Upon the son’s turning toward home, this father is so ready to forgive that he does not even give the young man a chance to speak his words. This is a father in great love with his son. He runs to him. No self-respecting aged father runs in the Middle East. But here we see the father is unrestrained in kissing his son.  The English King James Version says, “he fell on his neck, and kissed him.” There is no thought about the stench of the pigs that still hangs on the boy. He is just so pleased to see him! The Greek tense says that he threw his arms around him and kissed him again and again and again. The father expressed his kindness before the son expressed his repentance. This speaks of God’s kindness and His readiness to be reconciled to those that have been apart from His love. Finally, the young man, in the midst of sobs, I’m sure, manages to get out part of his speech that he had prepared. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father cuts him off, and speaks to his servants to bring some things.

They were told to bring the “best robe.” There is a double emphasis here in the Greek text, the robe, that principal robe. We are not talking about a coat here; this robe speaks of the son being restored to a place of honor. It speaks to us of a robe of righteousness that covers over our pigsty of sin. The ring speaks of authority and power of attorney. In that day, rings were used to sign official documents.  Often the ring had an impression on it that, when pushed into hot wax, was the official seal of the family. Pharoah gave Joseph such a ring when he was elevated to second in command of Egypt, after interpreting Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:42). We too are given authority by our God to do the works of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). The son was given shoes. No slave ever wore shoes, and the father would not let his son go barefoot. He was a son, not a slave.  Our feet are shod with the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). We have been made sons of God. The servants were told to kill the calf that had been fattened ready for this day. This father had been slowly fattening the calf that he may celebrate when his son would come home. These were all gifts of grace lavished on the slave returning home to be restored to sonship.

Keith Thomas

[1] Dictionary.com

The God Who Graciously Stoops

5da0d8f2262b553cb19f33a20683e82eThe Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

The Great Creator God, who made all things, is a God of grace. It was His plan from the very beginning of the ages to bring forth a bride for His Son, the Lord Jesus. This bride is composed of all who are born-again of the Spirit, and who bow the knee to receive God’s gift of a complete pardon for rebellion and a life of sin. When one considers our rebellious and sinful nature and our corrupt hearts before God, this is wonderful grace. To understand the full meaning of grace, we need to turn to its usage in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word chen means “to bend or stoop.” It has the idea of “condescending favor,” the kind of favor that a King has for one of his people.

Queen Victoria of England, when she was a girl and had just become queen, was asked to sign a death warrant for a person who, by court martial, had been condemned to death. It is said that she said to the Duke who brought her the warrant, “Cannot you find any reason why this man should be pardoned?” The Duke said, “No, it was a very great offense; he ought to be punished.” “But was he a good soldier?” The Duke said he was a shamefully bad soldier, and had always been noted as a bad soldier. “Well, cannot you invent for me any reason?” “Well,” he said, “I have every reason to believe from testimony that he was a good man, although a bad soldier.” “That will do,” she said, and she wrote across the warrant, “pardoned”—not because the man deserved it—but because she wanted a reason for having mercy.[1]

God has stooped down to you and me in grace and mercy bestowing His wonderful favor upon us, writing across our warrant, “pardoned.” This He did not do grudgingly, but lavishly and joyfully. It was what He purposed in His heart to do! That which we couldn’t do, that which was impossible for us, He has accomplished in Christ. This is self-sacrificing love, agape love. Justice demanded that the soul that sins must die, but God in His love for us came in the person of His Son, Jesus, to take our place, to die our death instead of us, to taste death for every man. “Jesus…by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).

Allow me to say something very important and let it sink into your soul: there is not one thing that you could do to make God love you more, and there is not one thing that you could do that could make Him love you less. Read that again and let it sink in. Paul the apostle, before he was converted, was complicit in the murder of Stephen. Also, he attacked Christians and thought He was doing God a favor. Do you think that offended the Holy Spirit? I cannot think of anything worse. Yet, while he was self-righteous and persecuting God’s saints, God the Father had mercy and extended grace to him while he was a murderer. He did not wait for Paul to clean himself up before He had mercy on him. God gave him a new heart! Don’t think that there is anything too terrible for God to look at or to forgive. Don’t think for a moment that there is any sin that could possibly hold you back from experiencing the grace of God. Let His grace break through to you, wherever you are, be aware of His favor upon you right now!

Keith Thomas

[1] Charles Spurgeon, Human Depravity and Divine Mercy, http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols10-12/chs615.pdf

“Do Whatever He Tells You!”

filling-it-to-the-brimHis mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

God spoke to sister Chang of Henan Province, China, to do something that made no earthly sense at all. He told her to go and preach the gospel on the steps outside of the local police station. Such an action may lead to arrest even in Western nations, and in communist China it is a sure way to invite severe punishment. But the more sister Chang prayed about it, the more clearly the inner voice of God continued to tell her to do it. Finally, she saw no option but to obey God. Standing on the top step outside the police station, she boldly proclaimed the gospel to astonished onlookers.

Within a few minutes several officers dragged her inside and placed her under arrest. To the human eye her obedience looked foolish, but God can see things that we can’t. Sister Chang was sentenced without a trial and sent to the local women’s prison, where she was placed alongside thousands of spiritually lost souls. She boldly and lovingly proclaimed the gospel to her fellow prisoners. The light of the gospel spread like wildfire. Within just three months, 800 women believed in Jesus! The entire atmosphere of the prison changed, and new sounds of praise and worship were heard echoing down the prison hallways and in the courtyard. The prison director was greatly impressed at the change in the atmosphere and was able to trace it to the preaching of sister Chang.

He brought her into his office and said, “You have made my job easy! There is no more fighting between the prisoners and the women have become gentle and obedient. We need more people like you working here. From today, we have decided to let you go free. We want to give you a full-time job here in the prison, and we will pay you 3,000 yuan per month” (about US$ 375, a fortune in rural Henan province). He continued, “we will also give you a car and your own driver, and will find you comfortable housing.”  Sister Chang briefly considered the offer, and then replied, “Twenty years ago I became a disciple of Jesus Christ and he has been wonderful to me. I don’t believe your offer of a car, driver and salary is in line with what Jesus wants to do with my life, and I belong to Him. All I want to do is to preach the good news.” Despite her rejection of his offer, the director released her from prison that day, and she continued her ministry for the Lord. It always pays to do what the Lord tells you to do. Don’t argue, don’t fight about it, and don’t try to work out all the details with your mind. Just do it. That is the one mark of a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

From the book, Back to Jerusalem, by Paul Hattaway, published by Piquant, Carlisle, UK.

Waiting For God

waiting_for_godEverything that Jesus did was one of modeling to us about how to live a Christ-centered life, even His waiting on the Lord’s timing. He lived a life of dependence on the Father. Sometimes it is hard to wait for God to move. We can be so eager to go and do God’s work that we can go without God. Moses, for instance, acted outside of God’s timing to help the Israelites in Egypt before he was ready, and had to spend forty years as a shepherd in the Desert of Midian before the Lord called him to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt (Act 7:23-30). There are things that God wants to do in us before He can use us. A.W. Tozer once said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” I think that is so for nations too. The Chinese people have had to go through many trials and persecution until the kairos time, the defining moment has arrived for them to now send many missionaries to other nations, such as the Back to Jerusalem vision of going with the gospel to all the nations to the south and west of China bringing the gospel back to Jerusalem. Sometimes, just waiting on God’s timing can be painful. The worst thing that can happen to a man or woman of God is to be sent out in ministry before they are ready and prepared by God. There are many that have shipwrecked their faith because of going before God’s work had been done in them. We are to take the beam out of our own eye, before we can take the sliver out of someone else’s eye (Matthew 7:5). We have a picture of the making of a man or woman of God found in Isaiah 49:

1Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. 2He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. 3He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor” (Isaiah 49:1-3).

Notice the work of God in shaping the man or woman of God. First of all, there is a calling on his life. From the womb God has been at work, calling him [or her] by name. One of the most important things that has to be shaped by God is a man’s word. A man’s tongue is to become a sharp sword that is to be Spirit led and empowered of God. There is no room for coarse language or deceitful lips. Old habits of speech are put behind us now that we walk with the Lord. The picture that is used is that of the making of an arrow. It has to be made pliable in the hands of the arrow maker, and straightened on a rack. The process requires being polished which speaks of being rubbed the wrong way, and heat applied to the character before it can ever be used. Then the hardest part of the transformative work of God is to be placed in the quiver (A quiver is a leather bag used for carrying arrows on the back of the archer). The hardest part of being shaped and made effective is the period of time of waiting for the Master to put you into His bow to be fired at the time of His choosing. God wants to use all of His people, but more fruit comes from a life that is disciplined and brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. We are to walk in step with Him and not do our own thing, going out under our own power. Take the time to wait upon the Lord:

Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see [it] (Psalm 37:34).

Keith Thomas

God Has Come to Help His People

resurrection-funeral-death-barrett-christ-166563-wallpaper11Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out–the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” 14Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. 16They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people” (Luke 7:11-16).

Widows and orphans have always been people that God has given special care and compassion.  His heart goes out to them in their need. It is a cruel world for those who are unmarried and have children, they are amongst the most needy in our society and even more so in the Middle East where there is no Social Security or insurance plan for the unemployed.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27).

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling (Psalm 68:5).

Let’s try and get a picture in our minds of the scene in front of us. We are told in Luke 7:11 that a large crowd of people were following the disciples. Just as they were approaching the town gate they were confronted with the funeral procession. Normally there would be a band of professional mourners at the head, with their flutes and cymbals uttering their shrill cries of grief, followed by those that were carrying the boy in the coffin. When we think of a coffin we think of a wooden box but this was more than likely a long wickerwork basket used for carrying the body to the grave. I find it amazing that we don’t see the widow asking for a miracle, Jesus undertakes without a request from her. Author Ken Gire says: “It is a miracle done without human prompting.  Without thought of lessons to be taught to the disciples. Without thought of deity to be demonstrated to the skeptics. It is a miracle drawn solely from the well of divine compassion. So free the water. So pure the heart from which it is drawn.  So tender the hand that cups it and brings it to this bereaved mother’s lips.” We are most like our Lord when we can step into the shoes of those who are poor and hurting with hearts of compassion, longing to do what we can to alleviate their pain and need.

There are some situations where God does not require faith before He moves, He acts out of His own compassion, grace and mercy. I find it refreshing to know that even when I am at low ebb spiritually that He will move on my behalf outside of His requirement for expressions of faith. Jesus was not worried about being ritually unclean as he stepped forward and touched the coffin. People are what matter to Him. There is a higher law at work, the law of love and compassion. His heart, we are told, went out to her. He said, “Don’t cry.” He felt her pain. When any of His people are hurting He feels their pain. Turning to the boy, he said, Young man, “I say to you, get up!” 15The dead man sat up and began to talk. We are told that there was an awe that filled them, astonishment at such a thing. This awe was awareness that God indeed was visiting His people, how could this be! This young man was dead! Imagine the praise that went up, verse 16, as relatives and the mother herself received her son back from the dead. Imagine what pain there would be in losing your only son and then the joy of holding the one you already had to release to death.

“God has come to help His people!” (verse16).

According to the gospel writers, every funeral that Jesus went to He raised up the dead person! There was Lazarus in John 11, the Centurions servant in Luke 7:1-10, and then Jairus’ daughter was also raised from the dead in Luke 8:40-56. Alfred Edersheim in his book “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah,” tells us that the Jews believed that there would be three evidences in the ministry of the Messiah, He would cleanse lepers, heal the blind and raise the dead. Are you convinced yet that this is indeed the Messiah? God has come to help His people!

Keith Thomas