The Prodigal Brother

In the previous studies, we looked at the prodigal son and the prodigal’s father. The heart of the story is not about the son, but the love of the father. The parable of the prodigal was introduced by Jesus when the religious people of that culture criticized Him saying, “This man receives sinners and even eats with them!”

They were appalled by the concept of having fellowship with people of lesser character. As we discussed in an earlier message, in that culture, to sit down at the table with someone was to proclaim your acceptance of that person. No respectable leader would be caught speaking to a prostitute, thieving tax collector, or drunkard, much less would they dare to dine with them and acknowledge them as acceptable.

Instead of criticizing their judgmental attitudes, Jesus first explains how God cares enough about the sinner, that He would go out and seek to save those who are lost in their sins. Later, Jesus will begin to explain how the law condemns anyone who is born into a sinful nature, for not even the elite religious thinker can avoid sin. They may hide it from public view, but they cannot purify the sin inside.

In Matthew 23, Jesus was moved with compassion to rescue the masses from the burden placed upon them by religion. He condemned the heavy weight placed upon those deemed to be sinners and explained to them the true acceptance by God is to be humble. Through the scriptures, we understand that humility is recognizing we are all incapable of becoming righteous by our best efforts, and we then acknowledge all good is a gift from God. It is God’s righteousness, given to those who recognize they can do nothing, and then turn to Christ. The humble depends upon God’s gift of grace. The proud still thinks they can achieve goodness by making themselves perfect for God. The self-righteous has rejected the gift of grace, and is making themselves into a rival of Jesus by presenting their own works in the place of Jesus’ work.

The law was given to reveal to man the perfect standard of good. Since Adam’s fall, man has looked to himself for good. He still believes the lie, “You can be like God to know good and evil.” It is in human nature to fashion rules into something we can keep. For this reason, God gave the law. Man has always tried to reshape the law into something self-affirming, but God is constantly reminding man that if we fail to keep the whole law, we are guilty. If we fail in one point, we are guilty of the whole law. Therefore, there are two things you should know about the law. It is the standard of perfection based on God’s character. It is also the revelation that you cannot find perfection in yourself. It is intended to drive you away from trusting in your works so you are forced to look to the cross.

Religion can spruce up the outward appearance. Anyone can present a perfect façade to the world and other religious people, but the most religious and the most morally bankrupt have the same problem. They have a rotten sinful nature, and though some may mask it better than others, at our core, we all are in the same position. This is why Jesus said, Matthew 23:27-28

27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
28 "Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

The very people who were condemning the riffraff of society had the same problem. You can paint a tomb white, but it doesn’t change what is on the inside. Those who are looking at the outer shell will be impressed. Those who are decorating their outer appearance can give the pretense of perfection, but just below the surface is rottenness and corruption. We are all in the same boat.

But the good news is that it doesn’t matter. As we have discussed before, when we trust in Christ, we have the promise that the Holy Spirit circumcises (or cuts away) our old inner rottenness, and replaces it with a new nature, born after the Spirit. It is born of God, abides in God, and is a partaker of God’s divine nature. From this point on, the problem is no longer our inner corruption, but remaining in the mindset of the outer flesh.

The problem with religion is that it blinds the self-righteous to their need, and blinds the immoral of their deliverance. I say ‘immoral’, but the truth is that every person has the same heart. Some sins are just more socially acceptable or easier to mask than others. Let’s illustrate this with the story of the airplane pushers.

A certain village was settled in a valley encircled by a massive mountain range. Their forefathers had been banished to this place and they still lived in extreme poverty. The limited resources made every day a fight for survival. No one had ever successfully crossed the mountain ridges to discover what was on the other side. Generations ago, their forefathers wrote of a land of abundance, but they had no way to reach it.

One day the Lord spoke to a man and gave him a message for the village. The people were to build an airplane according to specific instructions. If they trusted and obeyed, they would soon discover God’s promise of a land with every need met. No one knew what an airplane was, but it was the only hope of escaping this place. The man carrying God’s instructions assured the people God’s plan was perfect, even if they didn’t understand. These impoverished people rejoiced at this word and began constructing the airplane.

Though they didn’t understand, they built it according to God’s message, and soon they had a plane at the foot of the mountain. The base of the mountain was a gentle slope, but the higher the mountain went, the steeper and more rugged the terrain. Soon the Lord spoke again and instructed them to take the plane over the mountain. The strongest men were placed at each wing, and the rest pushed from behind. Then the journey began. For a while, things went fine. It was tiring, but the plane moved steadily up the rising slope of the mountain. But then they reached the first cliff.

The people reasoned out a new plan. They roped the plane, and after many struggles, they pulled the plane over the first small cliff. They pushed the craft along until they reached the next cliff. It was higher and steeper than the one before. With great effort, they tried to scale the cliff with the plane, but failed. They regrouped and came up with a new plan. They would disassembled the plane, climb the cliff, and reassemble it again.

Some argued against this plan. Their instructions was to take the plane up the mountain, not pieces of the plane. They had to stick with the original word. The disagreement became so great, the village divided. The majority sided with disassembling, and those holding to the original plan were left without a plane, so they built their own airplane.

Those who carried the pieces scaled this cliff with great effort, only to find the next cliff was higher and steeper still. What’s more is they were barely started on their journey. It was clear that the only way to make it would be to do the best they could. They reasoned that if they could get one piece to the top of the mountain, God would honor their efforts and reward them. They would focus on getting the most important piece to the top.

The people began arguing over which was the most important. When they could not agree, they divided again. Those who thought the wings were what God wanted called themselves the wing nuts, and they focused on carrying their valued piece. The holy rollers said the wheels were most important. The visionaries took the windows. Each group set out to get their piece to the top.

Those with the lightest pieces made fast progress. The strongest among them soon climbed the highest. Everyone began to bog down as the mountain became more treacherous. The complete plane crowd made no progress, but they kept trying and repairing their plane. God would be pleased because they were the most faithful to the original instruction. Each group looked down at those below and were sure God would honor them because of how much more progress they had made than others. Each group began measuring themselves against those below, and obedience was based on how much better they were than others instead of the impossible task of climbing the mountain.

The weaker among them became frustrated and gave up completely. They returned to the valley, and were considered as outcasts. As they looked back to the mountain, from a distance the highest achievers looked no different than those at the lowest cliffs. No one was even a fraction up the mountain, so why bother?

One day a man showed up in the village. He told them it was impossible to get the plane to the top of the mountain, and it was never in their power to do so. God never intended for the people to carry the airplane. Those who had made it the highest hated the words of this man. Their identity was now wrapped up in how much better they were doing than other groups, and especially the mere valley dwellers.

The man readied the plane and invited any who would come to enter the plane. He claimed he could use the wind to lift the airplane and guide it over the mountain. All they had to do was get inside and rest.

“That’s preposterous,” the elite of the village cried. They condemned anyone who would trust in this ridiculous doctrine. God instructed them to take the plane over the mountain. They could not accept that taking the plane was to get in it, and not to bear it on their backs. Besides, how could God measure their worthiness if their efforts meant nothing?

They scoffed at the idea that the wind could have the power to safely lift this plane. They had seen evidence of the wind many times. Sometimes it knocked things over. Sometimes it turned the windmill. One nutcase even built wings for his arms and flapped around like a fool. He never left the ground and no one had flown with the power of the wind.

Those who believed, climbed in the plane and were amazed that this mass of material could fly. The wind was able to use the wings to create lift? The power was in the wind, and not in the plane itself? The mechanics of the plane only served to receive the wind? Their limited understanding couldn’t comprehend how this was possible, but they rejoiced when the mountains that had been their prison for so many years drifted powerlessly under them as the plane carried them to the promise God had given them.

Their best efforts had been worthless, but now they also realized their weaknesses and limitations were irrelevant. Once they were carried by the wind, the mountain that once imprisoned them had no power at all.

This mindset is why God’s people could not comprehend the message of Christ. Those who compared their success against those who appeared weaker scoffed at the gospel, for it said they were all hopelessly imprisoned by the law. Those who saw the impossibility of climbing the mountain of holiness and perfection rejoiced at the gospel message.

You mean to tell me that nothing is about what I do for God? It’s not about me fulfilling the perfect standard of the law? The law only served to reveal to all of us the impossibility of measuring up to God’s nature. Even today, those who look at their accomplishments by comparing themselves to those with greater limitations will feel self-righteous, and their identity is wrapped up in self-glorification. But if we turn and look at the mountain, the cliffs of human limitations, sin, and our nature that weighs us down, we will understand why religion cannot please God. When we look at others, we might feel proud. When we look at our own weaknesses, we might feel defeat. But when we look at Christ, we discover that our works are irrelevant. Our sins are irrelevant. Our limitations are irrelevant. We are trusting in His works, His power, and His strength.

This is what the prodigal son discovered. When he turned to his father, he was focused on his defeat, but the father revealed to him that all his sins and failures were irrelevant. All he had to do was turn away from what was worthless and enter into the fellowship of agape love. Yet his brother wasn’t focused on the love of the father either. He was looking at himself and comparing his works to his brother’s failures. Look at Luke 15:25-32

25 "Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 "So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.
27 "And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
28 "But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.
29 "So he answered and said to his father, `Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.
30 `But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
31 "And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.
32 `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.’"

Which of these brothers were denied love or fellowship? Neither. The son who fell into sin allowed the world to rob him of experiencing love, but once he turned back, he found that the only thing between him and the father’s love was his rejection of that love.

The brother who didn’t fall into sin also missed fellowship. Because he counted his brother as unworthy, he refused to participate. Yet the father refused to cast his brother out of the party just because the older brother put that condition in place. The self-righteous brother withdrew because he thought his younger brother was unworthy. Yet it was he who missed the joy of fellowship, not the brother who returned from sin.

This is you and I when we deem someone a sinner to be shunned. We are all in the same boat. My sins may not be as blatant as the outcast of society, but we both have a sin nature. We both are incapable of becoming righteous. We both are incapable of fulfilling the law.

Human nature is masterful at self-deception. When we see the law, we shape it into something we can keep, and then we convince ourselves we are righteous. I go to church, but they don’t. Yet is my heart in worship of who God is and what He has done for me? If not, I might as well not be here. I’m not doing God a service by being here. If I am in a spirit of worship, then I am also in a humble spirit of receiving from God. I then understand I am only righteous because He has given me His righteousness. The only difference between me and the one I deem as a sinner is that they have not yet discovered God’s gift of righteousness. They become righteous the same way I did – by grace through faith. It is a gift of God not of works so I cannot boast.

We recreate many laws in order to create a standard by which we can feel as if we’re measuring up, but that’s mere religion and will not be honored by God. I’ll give an example. Some claim that unless we keep the Sabbath, we are guilty of violating God’s law. The Sabbath is Saturday. Yet these people don’t keep the Sabbath? Do they travel to church? Do they get their kids ready? Do they cook, set the table, clean up, or do any chore or work in any way? The law of the Sabbath is to do no work – at all. Don’t buy, sell, or exert yourself in any way. Not only can you not work, but it is also a violation of the Sabbath to allow a stranger with you to work. That includes supporting businesses or allowing someone else to do the work for you. Oh, and don’t buy or sell on the Sabbath.

Yet we have shaped the Sabbath into something we can keep, and then we feel justified for keeping our version of the law. We are breaking the Sabbath and then placing ourselves above God by rewriting the law to fit our culture and lifestyle. It’s not just us. Jesus said to the law-abiding Jews, “Moses gave you the law, but none of you keep the law.” And no one disputed Him because deep down they knew they were guilty, though they tried to cover their sin with human effort.

Yet the word Sabbath means rest. That’s why Jesus said, “Come to Me and I will give you rest.” It’s also why the Bible says, “We who have believed do enter that rest.”

If you are in Christ, you are a Sabbath keeper, for He is that rest. If you are in Christ, you have kept the law, for the Bible says in Romans 8:3-4

3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,
4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Just in case you may misunderstand the wording here, let’s bring in Romans 8:9

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.

If you are in Christ, you are a fulfiller of the law. The law is fulfilled by faith. Your faith is to trust in Christ, who fulfilled the law, and you trust in His gift of grace, which blesses you as though you have kept the law. It’s all about trusting in Christ.

The message of the prodigal is all about the love of God, your Heavenly Father, given to you. God does not love you because of what you do or don’t do. He loves you for who you are because of who He is. God is love, and He loves you because that is His nature. He invites you into His agape fellowship because He is glorified when you receive His goodness. And then He blesses you for receiving grace.

Back to the story of our airplane pushers. When they landed in the land of promise, some who had made the most progress on the mountain were stuck in that mindset. They met together and discussed how much God had been pleased with their work on the other side, and to receive the greater blessing, they had to show God how much they were willing to do for Him. So they began climbing the mountain from the other side. They persuaded others to follow them.

When they felt beaten and famished, it must be that God was not pleased. They had to be strong enough to conquer this mountain. Now they had God’s strength, so they would use it to defeat the mountain.

As the Restoration of Mountain Climbers grew in popularity, others began climbing with them. Again people began feeling defeated and falling away. They were shunned, just as they had been on the other side. Someone came to the group and said, “Turn around and look. All you need has already been given,” but they were scorned and counted as offenders. Even in the land of plenty, many lived as though they were on the other side. The same mountain that defeated them before, continued to defeat them. They couldn’t understand why God wasn’t blessing them to climb. Some enjoyed the promise and lived by faith in what they had been given. Others returned to the self-righteous mindset and lived as though they had never been delivered.

The truth is that God will never bless you to accomplish for Him what He has already accomplished for you. Even a Christian, if he or she returns to the law, will live as someone under the impossible burden of the law. They will be tempted to reject others because they are again looking at themselves instead of the giver of all things.

If we look to anything other than faith in Christ, we are under a burden not intended for us. We are also blind to the love of God. The Bible says that when people read the law as their focus for obedience, the veil is placed over their hearts. That veil is only taken away in Christ. While under the veil, the only measurement we have is our works and the sins of others. Both are false measurements.

The prodigal son could not receive love because he was focused on the false promises of sin. The prodigal brother could not receive love because he was focused on his false righteousness and refused to be in the fellowship of those he deemed unworthy of love. Yet he was rejecting the Father’s love just as much as his brother did. Unfortunately, it’s easier to recognize our weaknesses when we fall to sin than when we fall for religion.

Regardless of which side you are on, God’s love does not change. He pleads with the prodigal sinner, and the religious sinner. Any who will come will rejoice in the fellowship of God’s love.

Eddie Snipes 2014
Listen to Eddie’s weekly podcast at
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hollydale-baptist-church/id893226987

Prodigal’s Father

Last week we discussed the prodigal son, and how he believed his sins drove him away from his father’s love. However, his failures revealed the depth of his father’s love in a way that he could not understand until he had nothing but failure to offer him.

In the same way, we don’t understand the depths of God’s love for us until we begin to understand that we have nothing to offer God but sin. In the flesh, even our righteous acts are sin, for as Jesus said, everything that is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is of the Spirit. The works of the flesh cannot produce anything of the Spirit.

When we begin to grasp this truth is when we begin to understand that God doesn’t love us based on what we have done or not done, but based on who He is. God loves you because He is love, and the only barrier God has established is our faith in His word of promise.

Let’s begin studying this truth by looking at love by comparing the Old Testament to the New. The unveiling of our need began when Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation in the garden. It began with questioning God’s love. Genesis 3:5

"For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

How subtle temptation can be. Man already had the knowledge of good. The only thing he lacked was the knowledge of sin. Before sin entered, man was God-conscious and only saw the good coming from the Lord. Once he stepped into sin, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened, and though nothing in life had changed at this point, they became ashamed. They were ashamed because they now looked for good in themselves instead of receiving the righteousness of God. From the beginning, it has always been God’s intention to be our righteousness instead of demanding righteousness.

Once man set out on a quest to make himself good by human effort, the law began to take shape. In the beginning, there was only one law – don’t eat of the tree. Once the tree was taken away, man was in sin, but incapable of understanding his inability to be righteous outside of God. The Bible says that where there is no law, sin is not imputed. In order to reveal to man that good only comes from above, God began unveiling the law in order to drive mankind into the knowledge of sin outside of Him. The Law cannot make us good, it can only reveal our sin. Look at Romans 7:9-10, 12-14

9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.
10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.

12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
13 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.
14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.

Let’s look at how the law was introduced, how it drives us to the knowledge we are sinful by nature and cannot become unsinful, and then see how God uses our weakness to reveal His love. In order to reveal the power of His love, God first based the Old Testament law on our love. Look at Deuteronomy 6:4-5

4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!
5 "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

The law was based upon the command to love God with all – not part – of our life. All your mind. All your heart. All your strength. If you fail to give God everything, you are guilty of breaking the law. The nation of Israel was put under the law, and they could not keep it. They began to shape the law into their culture, and then they strove to accomplish it through a never-ending expansion of the law. The question has always been, “Are you doing enough? Are you loving God enough?”

When the lawyers asked Jesus which was the greatest commandments, He quoted the above passage, but He used the word ‘agape’, which is the love of God. Man’s love is ‘philia’, or friendship love. Philia love is dependent upon receiving. Philia love dies or weakens when it is not returned, but agape is the unconditional love of God. Take time to read 1 Corinthians 13. This explains agape love – it seeks not its own, is not provoked, rejoices in truth, endures all things, and so on. It is beyond human capability to fulfill this. What’s more, is that if you do good deeds, and do not have agape love, your good works profit nothing. Look at 1 Corinthians 13:3

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Agape cannot be earned, nor can it be produced. Either our works are produced by God’s agape love, or they are worthless. Even our good deeds are mere acts of the flesh. This is why Isaiah 64:6 says that all our righteous acts are filthy rags in God’s sight.

This is what those focused on the law could not comprehend. This is why grace was a threat to the religious community at the birth of the church, and why trusting in grace is viewed as a threat today. No one wants to believe that their works profit nothing. Yet once we understand the love of God, we discover this doesn’t matter, for by faith we receive the greater blessing than what we were trying to earn before.

When Jesus quoted the law, it was always to reveal to those who trusted in their works the reality of their guilt. To the Pharisee who thought they were keeping the law, Jesus dismantled all their works. They brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus knowing He would not condemn her. They said, “She was caught in the very act. The law says she must die, but what do you say?”

Jesus stooped down and began writing in the dirt. I imagine he was writing the secret sins He knew they were guilty of. Lust, greed, hatred. Perhaps He wrote the command to love God with all our soul, heart, and strength. Then underlined the word ‘all’. Why is Jesus writing these things, they wondered. Then they demanded, “The law says she must be stoned. What do you say?” The law had already condemned this woman, now those who trusted in the law thought the law could also condemn grace. But the reverse was true.

Jesus stood up and said, “Whichever among you is without guilt, let him be the first to cast a stone.” Then He returned to highlighting their sins in the dirt. One by one, they dropped their stones in frustration and walked away.

Under the law, we are all guilty. And if you look to your works or righteousness – or anything from yourself, you will find guilt instead of righteousness. And that is the purpose of the law. Look at Romans 3:19-20

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

The law was intended to show you are guilty because God wants you to understand that you are loved, not because you do good works. Not because of the sins you manage to avoid. Nor does God deny you because of your sins or lack of good works. God doesn’t love you because of what you do or don’t do. God loves you because He is love. God defeated sin for you in order to reveal that nothing can stand between you and the love of God. Nothing but your refusal of His love. People refuse God’s love because they either don’t believe God loves them because of their failures, or because they believe they can earn His love by human success. But the law never produces righteousness. It only reveals whether a person is already righteous by nature.

After the incident with the woman condemned by the law, Jesus began revealing how they are also under condemnation. He said, “You have heard it taught that if a woman leaves her husband for another, she has committed adultery. But I tell you, if you even look at a woman to lust after her, you have already committed adultery in your heart.”

To those who boasted of their righteousness, Jesus revealed their sin. The rich young ruler who said he loved his neighbor as himself was instructed to sell everything he had and give it to his poor neighbors. To those who condemned murderers, Jesus said that hatred in the heart makes you a murderer. To the person who condemns the thieving tax collectors, the Bible says that greed is equal to thievery. To the one who condemns idolaters, loving wealth is idolatry. Every sin we can observe is already in our own hearts, even if pride blinds us to its reality. Pride blinds us to our guilt, but the law reveals our condemnation. A condemnation that is removed in Christ.

Do you love God with everything? Every thought is based on love for Him? Every action is out of a love for Him? Everything in our heart is grounded in love for God? Our love for our neighbor is so great that we give from our own table to them?

Anyone who trusts in the law or believes they are keeping the law is deceiving themselves. Anyone who thinks they love God enough is living a lie.

That’s the bad news of the law. But the good news is that Jesus fulfilled the law for us to give us God’s favor, bore the penalty of sin for us to take it out of the way, and gives us birth into new life by the Spirit whose life is from God.

The Old Testament law is, do you love God enough. The New Testament says, “It’s not about your love at all. It’s about His love.” Look at 1 John 4:16-19

16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
19 We love Him because He first loved us.

It was never about our love. It has always been about God’s love. In the beginning, man enjoyed fellowship with God until his focus was turned to himself. Remember the account of the tower of Babel? Their goal was to build a tower to heaven. Man’s goal has always been to make himself good, yet every good and perfect gift comes from God, not from man. The law reveals to you and I that our efforts can never be good enough, and it doesn’t matter. Our failure reveals God’s love.

The law was never about man. It has always been about God. The law unveils God’s perfect character and nature, and it unveils our inability to be perfect or attain to God’s standard of perfection – a standard that has always been about God. Now we see the promise, it isn’t about your love for God, but His love for you. God couldn’t have made this clearer than 1 John 4:10

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

It’s not that you love God, it’s that you know and believe in the love God has for you. That is the message of the prodigal son. It wasn’t about the son’s love. It was that the son could not comprehend the love of the father until he had nothing but failure to give to his father. It was then that he discovered the father loved him only because he was his child, and because that was the father’s nature. It was never about the son. It was about the father’s love for the son.

This is you. You are the focus of God’s love. He loves you because you are His child, and His love transforms you. But that transformation cannot take place until you come to the end of yourself – the point where you stop looking to you and begin to know and believe in His love for you.

You see this in the disciples of Jesus. Peter boasted of his love for Jesus. He proclaimed his willingness to fight for Jesus, die for Jesus, and affirmed that he would never forsake Jesus – even if all these others do. Who was the only disciple to deny Jesus? It was the one trusting in himself and his own love for God.

All the others forsook Jesus and fled for their lives – except one. John went to the palace with the crowd arresting Jesus. He is the one who helped Peter get into the courtyard where Jesus was being tried. He was the only disciple at the crucifixion. He was the one Jesus spoke to from the cross when Jesus delivered His mother into John’s care so she would not have to watch Him die. Now look at how the Bible describes John in these passages?

John 13:23

Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.

John 20:2

Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him."

John 21:7

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!"

John 21:20

Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following,

Do you notice anything unusual about the disciple Jesus loved? Have you noticed this only appears in the gospel of John? John is called the disciple whom Jesus loved, but this only appears in John’s own writing. John endured because he understood the love of Christ for him. Never does he boast about his love for Jesus. In John’s latter years, he writes to the church and says, “It’s not that we love God, but that He first loved us.” Following this he says, “We have known and believed in the love He has for us.”

From here we have the promise that perfect love casts out fear. No fear can abide in the heart that is receiving perfect love. Human love can never be perfect. Perfect love is God’s love received into our hearts. When you understand that you are the disciple God loves, you will begin walking in confidence. Fear is forced out of your life, for the disciple God loves has no fear of judgment, but has confidence – even in the day of judgment. God loves you so much that He was punished for your sins. Someone who lives in that kind of love could never fear judgment.

There is no fear in life, for God has promised that He has worked out all things for your good – this includes now and in the future. If you know and believe in the love God has for you, and His love has already prepared the way, how can you fear anything this life can throw at you? Look now at Daniel 10:19

And he said, "O man greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong!" So when he spoke to me I was strengthened, and said, "Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me."

You are God’s greatly beloved. God’s beloved has no fear, but peace. And where does strength come from? God strengthens you and it is by His grace we stand. Don’t believe the lie that Jesus loves you and defends you to the Father. Indeed Jesus is our advocate, but He defends us when the accuser tries to condemn us with the law. Your Heavenly Father loves you and you must know and believe in His love. Look at the words of Jesus in John 16:26-27

26 "In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you;
27 "for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.

You and I are in that day. He is referring to the day when our redemption was complete in Christ. The barrier of the law was removed, sin was taken out of the way, and now the love of God is unveiled in all its glory. When we fall into a humanistic religious mindset, we falsely think God is pleased based on what we do for Him. Not so. Let’s wrap up with Hebrews 11:6

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

All of this is based on knowing and believing in the love God has for you. Have faith in His love for you. Many children go through rebellious attitudes during the transition from childhood to adulthood. During the dark years of adolescence, children doubt their parent’s love. I’ve heard children say, “My parents hate me,” when I know for certain that youth’s parent would give up everything for their child’s good. They work to provide every necessity, education, and gifts. Yet if a child disbelieves in their parent’s love, they will live life under a false ideology and their own perception becomes a reality in their lives.

We do the same with God. He has done everything to unveil His love for us, yet if we place ourselves under the perception of condemnation, we’ll live under condemnation, doubt, and frustration. We can live as a child who has an unpleasable father and never experience the love given to us.

During Jesus’ last prayer, He said the following in John 17:22-23

22 "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:
23 "I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Your heavenly Father loves you just as much as He loves Jesus. You have the glory of God resting upon you, but you can live as a condemned man or woman. Or you can walk in God’s strength and trust in His love.

Know and believe in the love your Father in Heaven has for you. If there is one truth that will transform you into the victorious Christian life, it is this. Once you begin to believe in God’s unconditional love, you will begin walking as a child of the Kingdom. Once you understand you are loved, not because of your own abilities, but because God delights in you solely because you are His beloved child, you will experience a life of love. And God’s agape love transforms lives because it is the power of God within you.

Abide in God’s love. Know and believe in the love He has for you. In this rests all the promises of the life we have been given. It’s all a gift of God’s love for you. You are the disciple God loves!

Eddie Snipes 2014
Listen to Eddie’s weekly podcast at
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hollydale-baptist-church/id893226987

The Prodigal Son

For the next three weeks, we are going to study the parable of the prodigal son. We call it the prodigal son, but it’s more than just a story about a wayward son. It’s one of the richest illustrations ever told. It’s about a son whose life was changed by the love of his father, and a brother who didn’t understand grace.

We are going to study this story from all three perspectives, that of the son, the father, and the brother. Let’s begin by reading the entire illustration from Luke 15:11-32

11 Then He said: "A certain man had two sons.
12 "And the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.
13 "And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.
14 "But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.
15 "Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 "And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 "But when he came to himself, he said, `How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18 `I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you,
19 "and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants."’
20 "And he arose and came to his father. 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.
21 "And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 "But the father said to his servants, `Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.
23 `And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry;
24 `for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
25 "Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 "So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.
27 "And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
28 "But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.
29 "So he answered and said to his father, `Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.
30 `But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
31 "And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.
32 `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.’"

Prodigal Son

You and I are either the prodigal, or the brother. Keep in mind that Jesus told this parable in response to those who criticized him for showing acceptance of prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors, and other sinful people that the religious community shunned as unworthy of God’s acceptance.

In the ancient Jewish culture, to dine with someone is a declaration of acceptance. No Jew would ever dine with someone they didn’t consider respectable and acceptable. Do you remember the story of Jesus and the woman at the well? When Jesus asked her to draw out water for Him, she was shocked. No Jew would dare speak to a Samaritan. They were considered polluted people. They would not even acknowledge their presence, and certainly wouldn’t stoop so low as to ask one for help. Jesus not only spoke to this woman, but He spent two days with the Samaritans, dining with them and teaching them.

If you want to understand the heart of the Father, look at Jesus. We like to separate the Father and the Son as though the Father is angry and the Son appeases Him. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Father sent the Son and the Spirit empowered Him to perform miracles, teach, and fulfill the mission He came to accomplish. The Bible says that Jesus, though He existed in the form of God, veiled His glory and took upon Himself the form of a bondservant, and came in the likeness of sinful flesh.

The power of Christ was veiled for His earthly ministry, and His power on earth was the same power we have on earth – the ministry of the Spirit. This is why the Bible speaks of Christ this way in Luke 4:18-19

18 "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD."

This is also why Jesus said in John 14:12-13

12 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.
13 "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

God is not a seething angry judge. Wrath is against sin, not against you. When Jesus took upon Himself the wrath of God, judgment was satisfied and we now have absolute confidence in the Father’s love toward us. Look at 1 John 4:17-19

17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
19 We love Him because He first loved us.

You are not of fear, but of confidence. Your confidence should not be in yourself, or you will never have confidence. In Christ, the Bible says we have been given the adoption of God as sons. Until we became children of God, we could not have confidence. If a servant rebels, what happens? He will not be treated as a son, but as an offender. Yet we are not servants, but sons. Both men and women are sons of God.

Have you ever noticed how the Bible always talks about us as sons of God? We are sons of the inheritance? In the ancient culture when the Bible was written, women didn’t inherited the possessions of their father. They married into the inheritance of their husbands, but unless there were no sons, they did not inherit the estate of their family.

Though men and women have different gifts and callings in scripture, they both have the same inheritance, for the Bible says that in Christ there is neither male nor female, bond or free, Jew or Gentile. We are all one in Christ. When it comes to our lives in the flesh, we are male and female, but when it comes to the inheritance, we are all counted as sons. All who are of faith are counted as sons – there is no difference. There aren’t kings and queens in God’s kingdom. There are kings and priests – and we are blessed through faith and not gender.

Also absent from the kingdom is slave verses master. In the biblical culture, slavery was not a racial ideology as we think of in light of the 17-1800s. Slavery was the solution to bankruptcy. When someone borrowed money, but were unable to pay it back, they paid the debt through servitude. When borrowing money, the servitude would have been agreed upon before a loan was made.

In God’s kingdom, we are not slaves, for the debt has been paid through Christ. A son can never become a slave, even if he squanders his inheritance. Do you think the prodigal son understood his father’s love?

This immature young man had no concept of the value of his father’s love. Jesus uses this illustration to shock the hearers who didn’t understand God’s love. So he used a rebellious man’s love for money to drive the point hard. A son could not inherit the father’s wealth until after his death. Therefore, this young man is saying, “I wish you were dead. But since you don’t look like you are dying, I want you to just get out of the way and give me what I’ll get if you were dead.”

All the father had to say was, “No.” The young man would have had to stay, but this father understood that forced obedience was not valuable. He divided the inheritance and gave all he had to both his sons. The younger son probably sold off the cattle and goods, then took the money and said, “I’m out of here.” He left without caring how much his father loved him.

It was probably years that he was gone. He partied hard, and everyone is a friend to the big spender. Once the money was gone, the lad had to begin earning his keep. But life threw him a curve. A famine hit the land. In order to create a famine, there would have to be several years with no rain. No crops in the field meant no one was hiring laborers. The only job this man could find was helping a pig farmer.

You need to understand how low this job would have been to a Jewish man. The most vile creature on earth was a pig. Jews would never eat or even touch a pig. Not only that, but they considered themselves unclean if they touched anything or anyone who had come in contact with a pig. In an act of pure desperation, this man took the worst job imaginable.

The famine continued, and the young man grew so desperate that he not only worked in the pig sty, he also began eating the refuse thrown to the pigs. The food not fit for human consumption was the only thing he had available.

While choking down this vile slop, he finally realized he was as low as anyone could go. No friends. No money. No shelter. No food. Even the slaves back home had food, clothing, and shelter. He then rehearsed a speech that he would give to his father and headed home.

Do you think this young man had perfect love? Did he trust in his father’s love? Did he have any comprehension of how much his father loved him? No to all of the above. When he was at home, he wasn’t looking at his father. He was looking at the desire of temptation. After pursuing what he thought would bring fulfillment, he inherited the consequences of his life’s choices.

Do you think he was focused on the father’s love when he came to himself? No. He was still thinking about himself and his desperate situation. He didn’t think his father could love him. He looked at his sins, life’s choices, and the consequences of his own actions. He was certain that his sin had driven him away from his father. He would beg to become a slave just to survive.

How many sins did the father make his son recount before forgiving him? None. Did the father withhold love from the son? No. He loved him even while he was living in debauchery. The father knew the son could never understand his love until his son came to the end of himself. The love of the father never changed. The only thing that changed was that his son could never understand how much dad loved him until he had nothing in his life worthy of love.

Many of you are the prodigal son, or have been there. I have been there. In the past, I thought my sins were driving me away from God, but I discovered they were driving me to Him.

It was not until I had nothing to offer God but sin that I discovered God doesn’t love me because of who I am, but because of who He is. It isn’t until we understand that all we have to give to God is our sin that we can then understand that everything is about His love and not our efforts.

The prodigal son illustration was given because the people who thought of themselves as good were looking at Jesus and saying, “Why are you accepting these people who are bad?”

It isn’t until we understand that we have nothing good to give God that we can begin to comprehend the depth of God’s love.

The son practiced his rehearsed speech, and when he came to his father, something unexpected happened. While he was a long way off, the father ran to meet him. Before he could say a word, the father embraced him and began kissing him. A little is lost in translation here. There are two words used for ‘kiss’ in the New Testament. One means a fraternal kiss, or the common kiss on the cheek used in many cultures. The other means to kiss repeatedly. A good example of both usages is found when a woman known for her sinful lifestyle came when Jesus was dining at a Pharisee’s house. People were amazed that Jesus allowed this sinful woman to wash His feet with her tears. It was vile to be touched by such a woman.

Jesus explained how that someone with little sin doesn’t recognize the love of God, but a person who is hopelessly in debt to sin loves much because they are loved much. When they recognize the depth of the love of God, they recognize how much of a treasure they have been given. In this interaction, Jesus says the following in Luke 7:45

You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in.

The first usage of the word ‘kiss’ is ‘philema’, which is a sign of respect and acceptance. It’s a fraternal kiss on each cheek. The second usage of the word kiss is the Greek word ‘kataphileo’, which is the act of continually kissing someone. It is to kiss again, and again, and again, and again.

I once saw a mother whose child was rescued from a well. The rescue was televised. She didn’t know if her son was alive or dead until a rescuer went down the shaft and came up with the child, safe and sound. She embraced him and kissed him over and over. This is what kataphileo is communicating, and it’s the word used in the prodigal son.

Before the son could say a word, the father embraced him with a bear hug and kissed him again, and again, and again, and again. Then they wept together until the son could speak. Then while the son is saying, “I have sinned,” the father is commanding the servants to put good sandals on his feet. While the son is saying, “I am not worthy to be called your son,” the father is crying out, “Bring the best robe for my son. Put the family ring on his finger.”

Was the son worthy? No. And that’s the point. It wasn’t about his worthiness, but about the father’s love.

Your faith is not about your worthiness. It isn’t about your sin, or ability to not sin. It’s not about your righteousness or works. It is about the father’s love for you. If you could be worthy, you miss the greatness of God’s love. It is when you have blown it to the point where you know you smell like you’ve been in a pig sty, you’ve been driven to despair by your sins, that is when you can understand the love of God.

God loves you because God is love. Your sins, failures, and weaknesses do not drive you away from God. They drive you to the reality of His love for you. It is only then that you are able to understand how much God loves you. When you understand that all you have to give God is filthy rags, that is when you will see God joyfully take away your rags and give you the robe of righteousness.

The sad reality is that we rarely can grasp how much we are loved until we have failed so miserably that we can no longer deceive ourselves into thinking we can please God by anything other than faith. Let’s wrap up this portion of study with Hebrews 11:6

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

It’s not works, righteousness, moral excellence, or religious activities that pleases God. It is faith. Faith says, “I know and believe in the love God has for me.” Faith says, “I am righteous because I am receive the righteousness of Christ.” Faith understands that all I can give God is my sins and failures, and He gladly gives me His goodness and righteousness. Faith is to believe in God’s grace, not our abilities or lack thereof. Faith reveals that my sin is not God’s barrier, and it isn’t sin that overthrows grace, but grace that overthrows sin.

Faith says, “It’s not about me, but it’s about Christ. It’s about His work given to me as a gift of God’s love.”

God transforms you through His power and gifts of love. You don’t make yourself acceptable to God. You are accepted in Christ, and it’s God’s job to transform you into His likeness. The more you learn to trust in God’s love, the more His love forces out of your life the things that hinder you.

Eddie Snipes 2014
Listen to Eddie’s weekly podcast at
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hollydale-baptist-church/id893226987