Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Attitude of Jesus Toward the Lost

The Prodigal Son
With the Old Testament background in mind we are now in a position to turn to the teachings of Christ. What was noteworthy, and controversial, about His earthly ministry was His willingness to associate with the notorious outcasts of society. He was frequently criticized for mingling with hated tax-collectors, women of ill-repute, and on at least one occasion with a Samaritan woman. On the other hand He wept over Jerusalem which He knew was under God's judgment. His explanation for His concern for the lost was simple and to the point: "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10; NKJV).

    Jesus had several parables to illustrate the point, some of them recorded in Luke 15. These parables were prompted by a complaint from the Pharisees and scribes to the effect that "This Man receives sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2). In reply Jesus began first with the Parable of the Lost Sheep (vv. 3-7). The owner of the sheep leaves the ninety-nine and goes after the one that is lost. In the story his reaction to finding the sheep is significant: "And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'" (v.6). Then Jesus tells the moral of the story: "I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance" (v. 7).
    The next parable was that of the Lost Coin (vv. 8-10). Once again the main character in the story has lost something, this time a coin. Again an effort is made to find the lost item until it is found. Again the friends and neighbors are called to celebrate, and once again the point is this: "Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (v. 10).
    The imagery of these two parables is vivid: the frantic search, the joyful celebration. And in each case the point is the same: the repentance of a sinner is greeted with joy in heaven. But all rights a sinner deserves punishment; but what God really want to see is repentance, and He wants to see repentance because He genuinely cares about the sinner.
    The most dramatic story of all is the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lu. 15:11-32). The youngest son has utterly disgraced himself. At length he recognizes his desperate condition and realizes that he must return to his father, but he is afraid of what his father's reaction might be. He prepares a speech full of humble contrition, and then goes on his way. His father's reaction, however, was not what he had expected. ""But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him" (v. 20). The son tried to deliver his prepared speech, but the father would have none of it. "Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry" (vv. 22,23). And the reason for the big celebration? " . . . for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found" (v. 24).
    There was, however, one other person in the story, an older son who was put off by the patent injustice of the situation. He had always been the "good boy," the one who always tried to please his father. Why throw a party for the son who was rebellious and irresponsible? But the father told him the same thing that he had told the others: "It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found" (v. 32).
    The younger son was a sinner; he had done much to provoke his father to anger. And yet his father agreed to see him. Why? Because he love him and longed to see him restored to the family. The point of all these parables is that God desires the repentance of sinners, not just their condemnation.

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