A son down in the muck with the pigs. Just one straying guy, who needs to be reconciled to his father.
I just read a pretty out-there interpretation of the parable of the prodigal son. (or lost son or two sons or whatever). The author, who is deserving of immense respect*, quite confidently stated how the prodigal son was about the grand story of Israel coming back to God. The lost son, you see, is not so much representing an individual person’s path back to God but the nation of Israel’s return for Exile. The message of the parable – and of Jesus – is so much larger than just one person being able to come into relationship with the God who forgives them and accepts them upon no merit of their own. So it is argued. No only is this interpretation completely novel, it also tears down what so many have always believed about this telling of the Gospel message. In essence, it is about the Big Story of Israel’s Redemption and not about little ol’ you or me.
There’s a trend in theology. It is to minimize the individual side of salvation and the Gospel. For the most part this is to be applauded. There is a tendency to make Christian a kind of “just me and Jesus thing”. But there’s more to it. The Good News (and all it’s implications) is so much more than that. It is about the Lordship of Jesus over all, the fulfillment of Israel’s destiny, the Kingdom of God coming into the world, and the future restoration of all things. It is about non-Jews coming into the family, so to speak. It is about God making a People for His Name. It is about God’s purposes for the entire Creation. It’s about so much more than you may first think. But… but… but… Is it still about sinners coming to be forgiven by their Maker?
Contra the normal saying, sometimes we can’t see the trees for the forest. The Gospel of Christ is so much more than an individual sinner coming into saving faith but it can never be less!!! While the prodigal-as-Israel-coming-out-from-Exile may be intriguing as a grand theme we must remember that this parable is set up by two previous ones. A shepherd leaves the 99 to find his one lost sheep. A woman combs her house to find her one lost coin. And the setting is one where Jesus is criticized for eating with sinners. Individual sinners. Individual souls who will not enter the coming Kingdom unless they repent and return to God. And there’s joy in those two parables. But what is the joy? We’re told (twice) that there is no greater joy in heaven than over one sinner who comes to repentance. Turns out the Gospel is still good news for poor sinners.
As a pastor I must never forget this is what people need. As a normal disciple I can’t forget that this is what I have to share with others. As a Christian who falls and fails and continues to sin against my Father, I can’t ever forget that He loves me and will receive me (me!) when I turn back and return to Him.
The Gospel must remain good news for individual sinners!
* I read this in N T Wright’s voluminous tome Jesus and the Victory of God. There is so much to commend in it that I can’t even begin. But just because a man is a theological genius and is incredibly right about 95% doesn’t mean he can’t miss a simple truth that has been in front of his eyes since Sunday School.
How can God be loving and full of wrath? How can some blood save anyone? How will the Hebrews finally leave Egypt? They will go out under the blood. Hear what that has to do with us in this sermon from the 1st of June, 2014.
When Tom Wright is asked about the challenges that the Church faces in light of legalized gay marriage his response is brilliant. This is 5 minutes of your life that will NOT be wasted.
Notice his main couple points:
1) You can’t just go around changing the meaning of words and things. Just because some say something is so, don’t make it so.
2) Christian and Biblical opposition to same-sex practice and marriage is not – and has never been – about 5 or 6 pesky verses. It is coming out of the Grand Narrative, so to speak. That means you can’t shrug this contemporary issue off and expect to keep the Christian faith coherently together.
Ol’ Brother Tom isn’t right (*ha! a pun!) about everything I don’t think. He’s admirably right about tons of stuff, though. And he is super-duper right about this.
Augustine by Champaigne
He’s all in!
“If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.” St Augustine 354-430
As usual, Augustine nails it. My wife used to ask people what they thought God was like. They usually just described themselves only bigger. She would then reply, “well, you’re just following yourself and trying to be God”. We’re always pre-disposed to do just that.
The Good News of Jesus has many implications. That He is King for instance. Or that He is Substitute for guilty sinners. Or that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Or that He didn’t just die for individuals but shed His blood for the Church. Or that He has something to say about sex and marriage which is counter-cultural. Or that He requires us to change our relationship with money. Or that we are required not just to make a quick decision but to follow Him to the end.
We’re always eager to remake God in our own image. That’s why we need to be constantly challenged. If we read the Bible and never find anything that challenges us to change our lives or our views, then we can guarantee that we’re probably not following God but only ourselves.
Here’s a famous question: If you could be any animal, what kind of animal would you be?
Did you pick something strong, beautiful,or majestic? Or maybe something able to fly high or run far?
Well, if you were to ask the great theologian Karl Barth he would reply… I’d be an ass!
Referring to the story of Christ entering Jerusalem on the back of an ass, Barth found affinity with that donkey and said:
“If I have done anything in this life of mine, I have done it as a relative of the donkey that went its way carrying an important burden. The disciples had said to its owner: ‘The Lord has need of it.’ And so it seems to have pleased God to have used me at this time…”
Wanting to be used by God. Wanting to carry Christ and His message where he went. He wanted to be an ass. There is great humility in this statement. Nobody was looking at the donkey on that day. They were all looking at the One that was carried. Wouldn’t it be great if all our lives were more like that?
Is the idea of someone’s heart being in God’s hands a comforting one? Well, what if we’re talking about Pharaoh’s hard heart? The account of God’s plagues and Pharaoh’s hard/hardening/hardened heart is not one which pleases modern ears. But in it we see some truth, some problems, and even… some comfort. From the 25th of May, 2014.