Training for Heaven

shutterstock_454850368.jpg

On Friday, February 9, 2018 the 23rd modern Olympic Winter Games began in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Ninety-two nations sent their best athletes to compete for medals in events such as figure skating, alpine skiing, snowboarding, bobsledding, curling, and ice hockey.  As you may already know, the modern Olympic Games began in 1896 but are based on the ancient Olympic games, which were conducted every four years from 776 B.C. to A.D. 393 in Olympia, Greece. While the Olympic Games are the basis for our modern international sports competition, it should be noted that it was one of four sports festivals conducted in ancient Greece that collectively were known as the Panhellenic Games. In addition to the Olympic Games, there were the Pythian Games conducted in Delphi every four years, the Nemean Games conducted in Nemea every two years, and the Isthmian Games conducted in Corinth every two years. All of these games were so designed that there was at least one major competition every year in which athletes could compete.

The Isthmian Games are noteworthy because they were “second only to the Olympics” in prominence, and it is quite possible that Paul was present for this competition in AD 51 (1). In fact, his tent making business with Aquila and Priscilla may have been related to the influx of visitors and athletes who were present in Corinth for the games and in need of accommodations (Acts 18:1-3). Regardless of whether or not Paul was present for the Isthmian Games, he seems to have been familiar with, if not a fan of, such competitions because athletic metaphors permeate his letters.

For example, he referenced wrestling, which was one of the main events of the games, in Ephesians 6:12 when he wrote, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but…against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” He also referenced the sport of boxing, another main event at such games, in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 when he wrote, “I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control.” However, his favorite metaphor centered around the foot race, probably the stadion, which was the most popular Olympic competition and similar to a 200 meter sprint. Paul frequently compared the life of discipleship to running a race, as was the case in 1 Corinthians 9:24 when he told the Christians in Corinth, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (cf. Galatians 2:2; Philippians 2:16; 2 Timothy 4:7). 

One of the key elements of Paul’s athletic metaphors is the emphasis he placed on training. In 1 Corinthians 9:25 Paul indicated that “everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.” He may have been referring to the fact that the athletes competing in the Olympiad were “required to go into ten months of strict training and [were] subject to disqualification if [they] failed to do so” (2). The point Paul was making is that the one who “run[s] aimlessly” or the one who boxes as if he is “beating the air” is untrained or undisciplined at that particular sport and, therefore, liable to disqualification (1 Corinthians 9:26). Paul does not want that to happen to the Christians in Corinth so he instructs them to “so run that you may obtain” the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24), which means that they should, like him, “discipline [their] body and keep it under control” so that they would not “be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). In other words, Paul is saying that in order to avoid disqualification one must train himself or herself.

John Ortberg in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted points out that “there is an immense difference between training to do something and trying to do something” (3). Trying to do something refers to our efforts to do something we have never done before with no particular outcome expected and no particular preparation conducted. Training to do something refers to our efforts to prepare ourselves to do something at which we intend to succeed. So, you can “try” to run a marathon or you can “train” yourself to run a marathon. The former refers to an unprepared attempt to complete a 26.2 mile run without the expectation of succeeding. The latter refers to a systematic process of mentally and physically preparing to successfully complete a 26.2 mile. Similarly, you can “try” to get to heaven or you can undergo training that will prepare you to go to heaven. Scripture affirms that, when it comes to our spiritual race, success “is not a matter of trying harder, but of training wisely” (4). Notice that Paul instructed his protégé, Timothy, to “train yourself for godliness” in 1 Timothy 4:7 and, in the very next verse, indicated that the reason he should undergo such training was because “it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Paul is saying that spiritual training is essential to an eternal reward.

That leads to an important question: how do we train for heaven? In this same passage, Paul identified the source of Timothy’s training when he indicated that Timothy was “trained in the words of the faith” (1 Timothy 4:6). Certainly, Paul was referring to the Hebrew Scriptures that Timothy learned from his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5), but he also was likely referring to the divinely inspired teachings that came from himself and others. The point Paul seems to be making is that God’s word is the Christian’s training manual. He emphasized this point in 2 Timothy 3:16–17 when he said that “all Scripture is…profitable for...training in righteousness, [so] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (emphasis added). In other words, the Bible is our training manual because it reveals exactly what is necessary for us to reach maturation and be fully equipped as disciples of Christ. Therefore, our training for a heavenly reward necessitates our constant interaction and absorption of God’s word, which will in turn produce a disciplined and self-controlled lifestyle. That is what Psalm 1:2-3 is referring to when it described the one who “delight[s]… in the law of the Lord” and “meditates [on it] day and night” as a “tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither.”

As you watch the Olympics this year I encourage you to consider your own spiritual training. Are you regularly being equipped by our spiritual training manual or have you abandoned the program? Are you adhering to the rules or are you risking disqualification? The truth is that you cannot be victorious without proper training because, in order to become like Jesus, you have to be “fully trained” (Luke 6:40). May each of us stop trying to get to heaven and start training to do so. May we all be able to utter the same words as Paul when he reflected on his time of departure in 2 Timothy 4:7-8…

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

____________________

(1) Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1987): 433.

(2) Ibid., 436.

(3) John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002): 43.

(4) Ibid.

Oblivious

Jeff_Francoeur_on_May_24,_2011_(1).jpg

On Monday of this week, I took my daughter and two of her friends to a local, indoor playground for a few hours. While there, a man, whose daughter started playing with my own, struck up a conversation with me. During the twenty or so minutes that we were engaged in conversation, I learned which church he attended, where his daughter goes to preschool, and where he lived. Eventually, I informed him that I was a preacher, and, so, I naturally asked him what he did for a living. It was then that I learned that he was a former professional baseball player. I did not recognize him, so, the next thing I asked was whether or not he made it to the majors. He responded affirmatively and told me that he had a decade long career there. I then asked for which organizations he played, and learned that he had played for several organizations including the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, Philadelphia Phillies, and Miami Marlins. From there we engaged in a rather typical conversation about our kids, about our community, and a little more about baseball. I never asked for his name, but shook his hand when it was time to leave and said, “I hope you have a blessed day.”

After I got home, I decided to utilize what information I had gleaned from our conversation to figure out his identity. It was then that I realized I had been talking with none other than Jeff Francoeur, a 2007 Gold Glove winner and one of the “Baby Braves” who finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting back in 2005 after playing just half of a season. I imagine that it was somewhat surprising for “Frenchy,” as he is affectionately called, to interact with someone in the Atlanta area who, after learning of his occupation, failed to recognize him. This is the hometown hero who led Lilburn High School to two state titles in baseball. This is the guy who played five seasons for the Atlanta Braves, the last of which took place less than two years ago. This is the guy that Sports Illustrated dubbed “The Natural” on its August 25, 2005 cover after the phenomenal start to his career. And I didn’t even know who he was. After peeling the proverbial egg off my face for asking “The Natural” if he made it to the big leagues, I began to reflect on my obliviousness to his identity and was reminded of a few stories in Scripture. 

I was reminded of Balaam who was oblivious to the angel of the Lord who attempted to kill him because he had chosen to cooperate with Balak against God’s orders (Numbers 22:22-35). Balaam’s story is a reminder that we can be oblivious to our own spiritual shortcomings. It may be that we are oblivious to our own sinful activities because we strategically rationalize what we do, say, or think in order to make it “right.” Such justification efforts are blinding because, at best, they make us hypocrites who are unable to recognize the log protruding from our eyes (Matthew 7:3-5) and, at worst, they make us equivalent to unbelievers who are “blinded” from “seeing the light of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:4). So, we should remember the warning that Solomon issued twice in Proverbs, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (14:12; 16:25). Or, it may be that we are oblivious to our shortcomings because we ignore our spiritual ineptitude by assuming that our bare minimum efforts qualify as obedience. We should remember that Jesus called the Christians in Laodicea “blind” and instructed them to “buy from me…salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” all because they mistakenly thought that they were spiritually healthy when in reality they were, at best, spiritually stagnant (Revelation 3:17-18). So, we should remember the warning that Jesus issued to this church, “because you are lukewarm…I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16) and open our eyes to our need to “be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).

I was also reminded of Elisha’s servant who panicked upon discovering that they were surrounded by the army of the king of Aram because he was oblivious to the army of the Lord stationed on the hills around them until Elisha prayed for his eyes to be opened (2 Kings 6:15-17). This story serves as a reminder that we can be oblivious to God’s operation in our lives. Now, by no means am I indicating that it is possible for us to know everything that God is doing. Scripture asserts that “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are [God’s] ways higher than your ways and [God’s] thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). However, Scripture also indicates that our God is actively working, not passively watching. Paul says in Romans 8:28 that God promises to make “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Knowing that God is actively involved in this world should give us confidence to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) since He promises to be our ever present Helper (Hebrews 13:5-6) and there is nothing that can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39).

Finally, I was reminded of the two disciples who were traveling to Emmaus on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, and were oblivious to the fact that the stranger who walked with them and explained the Scriptures concerning the Messiah to them was, in fact, Jesus (Luke 24:13-35). This story serves as a reminder that one can be oblivious to the identity of the Savior. Such blindness to the Savior may be the result of ignorance or hard heartedness or dissatisfaction. Regardless of the cause, failure to recognize the Savior affects one’s salvation because Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” 

I may have been oblivious to the identity of Jeff Francoeur, but in the grand scheme of things it won’t matter. What will matter is whether or not I am oblivious to my own spiritual shortcomings because that may cause me to assume that I am spiritually safe when I am not. What will matter is whether or not I am oblivious to God’s involvement in this world because it may cause me to deny gratitude toward Him, let my faith be shaken, or ignore His will for my life. What will matter is whether or not I am oblivious to who Jesus is because my salvation is contingent on my recognition of His identity. I don’t want to be oblivious to what really matters, and, in order to prevent such blindness, I must, like David, “meditate on [the Lord’s] precepts and fix my eyes on [His] ways” (Psalm 119:15, emphasis added).

EMERGENCY ALERT

2018_Hawaii_missile_alert.jpg

On Saturday, January 13 around 8:10 AM, residents and visitors of the state of Hawaii errantly received an emergency alert notification on their mobile phones which read, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Thirty-eight minutes later a follow-up message, cancelling the original message, was finally sent which said, “There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm.” Apparently, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency was conducting a shift-change drill at the emergency command post, which it habitually does three times a day, and an employee accidentally pushed the button that sent the alert rather than the button that simply tested the alert.

Although this alert was the result of human error, it was nonetheless real for citizens of Hawaii who entered a state of panic. According to reports, motorists parked inside the Interstate H-3 tunnel that runs beneath the Ko’olau Mountains. Video surfaced of parents escorting their children to shelter beneath manhole covers. Families huddled in bathtubs, patrons gathered under restaurant tables, and tourists were instructed to stay indoors. The panicked response seemed natural for residents of Hawaii, considering the fact that it is the only state in the union to be directly attacked by a sovereign foreign nation since the beginning of the twentieth century and it is the state closest to North Korea whose leader has conducted numerous ballistic missile tests and earlier this month announced the presence of a “nuclear button” on his desk. According to The Washington Post, “Hawaii reinstated its Cold War-era nuclear warning” system back in November “amid growing fears of an attack by North Korea.” So, residents of the island nation were already living with a heightened state of fear prior to the inadvertent emergency alert notification, and, for a few minutes on an otherwise pleasant Saturday morning, everyone residing on that chain of islands assumed that death was imminent.

The situation causes me to wonder what I would have done if I were there and received that emergency alert notification. Officials indicate that in the event this were a real attack, residents of Hawaii “would have as little as 12 minutes to find shelter once an alert was issued.” So, I can’t help but wonder what would have been my focus for the next twelve minutes as I awaited my own end. Would I have focused on trying to contact loved ones? Would I have focused on finding shelter? Would I have focused on assisting others? Would I have focused on my relationship with God? If I assumed that I only had twelve minutes left to live, what would I do? What would you do?

The situation experienced by residents of Hawaii on January 13, 2018 is reminiscent of the situation that Scripture depicts for residents of this world. The Bible warns that there is a day coming when “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). This statement should serve as our emergency alert notification even though it was penned nearly two millennia ago because through it the Bible is warning us of the destruction that is awaiting this world one day.

Now, this is not entirely bad news as was the case in the Hawaii incident. The end of this world will coincide with the second coming of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:24), and, at that time, Jesus will escort the saved to a new home in heaven where they will reside with God for eternity (John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; Hebrews 9:27-28). That’s absolutely good news for those who have entered a saved state! And such a state is attainable by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8) when one repents of his or her sins and is baptized for the forgiveness of those sins (Acts 2:38). However, those who have not entered such a state will face an alternative destination that is described as a place of “darkness,” which indicate loneliness (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30), a place of “fire,” which indicates pain (Matthew 13:40, 42, 50; 18:8-9; 25:41), and a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” which indicates remorse (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 2:13; 24:51; 25:30, 41). Therefore, each of us should consider whether or not we have received salvation.

In addition to this warning, the Bible indicates that the timing of this final destruction and Jesus’ return is unknown. When asked by His disciples “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3), Jesus’ response was, “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). As a result, the coming of the day on which these things are to happen is repeatedly compared to the coming of a “thief” throughout the New Testament (Matthew 24:42-43; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 16:15). Since a thief does not inform his victims of when he plans to arrive, the point of this comparison is to emphasize the unexpected timing of the day on which Christ returns and the world is destroyed. In other words, it will arrive without warning. Therefore, we should be on high alert, living as though the end is imminent. That is why Scripture places so much emphasis on preparedness. Such an emphasis is evident in the Parable of the Faithful Servant (Matthew 24:45-51), which is preceded by Jesus’ instruction to “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44). The emphasis on preparation is also evident in the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), which concludes with Jesus’ instruction to “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13). Based on such teachings, we can conclude that Jesus expects us to be prepared for His return, and that’s not an unreasonable request since He already prepared for our presence in heaven (John 14:2-3). Therefore, each of us needs to consider whether or not we are ready for the end because, for all we know, we only have twelve minutes left to live.

RESOLUTIONS AND RESOURCES

Money (iStock_5509580_MEDIUM).jpg

A common practice that coincides with the start of a new year is the making of new year’s resolutions. A New Year’s resolution is a personal declaration of what one intends to do at the start of a new year in order to alter an undesirable behavior or trait, to accomplish a personal goal, or to better some aspect of one’s life. One of the most popular resolutions every year centers around our finances. Financial resolutions may take the form of resolving to spend less money, to save more money, or to get out of debt. If one of your resolutions revolves around money, then consider what the Bible has to say about financial stewardship.

The first component of financial stewardship entails giving God the “firstfruits.” The “firstfruits” terminology is not commonly used today, but it refers to a financial mindset that prioritizes God. After the Israelites took possession of the land of Canaan, they were required to offer to God some of the first harvest that they reaped (Deuteronomy 26:1-10). Why? Because He gave first. He gave them the land and He gave them the harvest, so they were expected to bring a basket of their first bounty back to Him. As a result, the giving of one’s “firstfruits” in the Israelite’s agricultural society demonstrated that God would receive financial priority. 

This “firstfruits” mentality may not carry as much weight in an industrialized society, but Jesus made sure that the principle behind it applied to every disciple. In a section of Scripture in which Jesus addressed financial matters, He concluded with the words “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). To what is the phrase “all these things” referring? “All these things” is referring to the necessities of life such as food, water, and clothing, which Jesus indicated that God freely supplied to the flowers and birds. What is the condition for having "all these things...added to you"? The condition was the prioritization of God—seeking God first. So, when Jesus spent His time in Matthew 6 talking about wealth, finances, and stewardship, what He was trying to communicate is that the “firstfruits” mentality should not diminish in the New Testament. Solomon summarized the expectation well when He said, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce” (Proverbs 3:9).

Now, it should be noted that God is realistic in His expectations of your giving. He does not expect you to give above your means (2 Corinthians 8:11), but He does expect you to give purposefully and cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). It should also be noted that failure to prioritize God with our finances is considered a form of stealing from Him. In Malachi 3:8-9, God criticized the Jews for their failure to fulfill their covenant obligation of tithing and accused them of robbery as a result. As you examine your finances today can you wholeheartedly say that God takes precedence in your financial agenda? Or, are you guilty of robbing Him because you are not financially prioritizing “the Giver of all good gifts” (Matthew 7:11; James 1:17)?

The second component of financial stewardship is to avoid misappropriating God’s funds. There are many ways in which one can misappropriate the resources that God has entrusted to us, but quite possibly the most common means of such misappropriation is indebtedness. Debt is not identified in the Bible as a sin per se, but the Bible does discourage its usage. For example, Paul instructed Christians to “Owe no one anything except to love each other,” or, as another translation says, “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8). Why would Paul issue such an instruction? Consider the fact that Solomon equated indebtedness to slavery in Proverbs 22:7, saying “the rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” In other words, Solomon is saying that the accumulation of debt allows the one to whom you are indebted to be your functional master. This is a problem because Scripture indicates that as disciples we are to be mastered by no one but God. Remember, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Thus, the basis of Paul’s instruction to “owe no one anything” is the fact that God is the only one to whom we should be indebted because He paid our greatest debt—the debt of sin (Romans 6:15-23; 1 Corinthians 7:23; 1 Peter 2:16). 

There are other biblical principles that have a bearing on our attitude toward debt. For example, we should avoid indebtedness because it robs us of a pilgrim mentality. In Hebrews 11:13 and 1 Peter 2:11 we are identified as “strangers and pilgrims” and “sojourners and pilgrims.” Such monikers indicate that our current residence is not our permanent residence. We need to remember that everything we own will be destroyed one day (2 Peter 3:10). So, worshipping the idol of accumulation through indebtedness contradicts our identity as pilgrims. Additionally, we should avoid indebtedness because it can prevent us from investing in kingdom opportunities. When our money is tied up paying off debt, it is unavailable to be used for more beneficial things such as benevolent activities or evangelistic opportunities. We must not forget that Jesus instructed us to “lay up…treasures in heaven” rather than "on earth” in Matthew 6:19-20. As one preacher said, “kingdom investments are the only investments with an eternally prosperous dividend.” 

In regards to the misappropriation of God’s funds, it should also be noted that failure to appropriately utilize the resources given to us by God is considered a form of laziness and is condemnable. In the Parable of the Talents, when the master received the financial report from the one talent servant, he was greatly disturbed by the one talent servant’s unwillingness to make the sacrifices and do the work that was required in order to wisely use the funds with which he was entrusted. As a result, the master called him “wicked and lazy,” stripped him of his resource, and condemned him by sending him to a place where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:26-30). An application that can be made from this parable is that God entrusts resources to us, such as money, and He expects us to utilize it wisely for His glory. Failure to do so comes with dire consequences. As you examine your finances today, can you wholeheartedly say that you are mastered by no one but God, that you are operating with a pilgrim’s mentality, that you are investing in heavenly treasures? Or, are you guilty of financial laziness because you are allowing debt to dictate your financial direction?

PURSUING THE LOST BROTHER

In Luke 15 Jesus provided a trilogy of parables known as the “lost” parables. These parables are similar to one another because they each depict something valuable (i.e. sheep, coin, son) being separated from its guardian (i.e. shepherd, woman, father) before eventually being reunited, after which a celebration ensued because what was “lost” had been returned to the one who lost it (Luke 15:6, 9, 22-24).

There is one distinct difference between the first two parables and the last one. In the Parable of the Lost Son, no one embarked on a search and rescue operation. While the shepherd left the ninety-nine sheep to find the “lost” sheep (Luke 15:4) and the woman canvassed her house to find the “lost” coin (Luke 15:8), no one pursued the “lost” son. 

Why didn’t the father pursue the lost son?

Did the father refrain from pursuing his youngest son because he did not love him? Absolutely not. It is evident in the parable that the father loved both of his sons deeply. He loved the youngest son enough to let him make his own choices (Luke 15:12), and he loved the eldest son enough to entrust him with everything he had (Luke 15:31). Not only that, but the father demonstrated his love for both of his sons by always being concerned about who was missing. When the youngest son finally returned home, we are told that his father “saw him” even though he “was still a long way off” (Luke 15:20). Why did the father spot the youngest son before he made it to the house? Because the father was always on the lookout for who was missing. Later, when the eldest son refused to attend the coming home party for his brother, we are told that the “father came out” to him and “entreated him” to come inside (Luke 15:28). Why did the father notice that the eldest son was not at the party? Because the father was always on the lookout for who was missing.

It seems that the father refrained from pursuing the “lost” son out of respect for the “lost” son’s free will. Unlike the sheep and the coin who left their guardian’s care accidentally, the youngest son left his father’s care intentionally. He made a deliberate decision to leave, and his decision was tantamount to a rejection of his father. Therefore, as the one rejected, the father, though desirous of his son’s return, was not in a position to initiate that return because he was respecting his youngest son’s freedom to choose. 

Why didn’t the brother pursue the lost son?

If anyone should have pursued the “lost” son it was the “obedient” son. The eldest son loved his father and demonstrated that love through his obedience. We are told that he intentionally “served…and…never disobeyed” his father (Luke 15:29). Certainly, there would have been occasions when he observed his father’s longing for the youngest son. Certainly, the eldest brother knew that it would delight his father for his brother to come home. Should his love for his father not have prompted him to pursue his brother and bring him home so that his father’s heart would no longer break? The eldest son had the opportunity to do something that would bring his father tremendous joy, but he failed to do it. Why?

It seems that the “obedient” son refrained from pursuing the “lost" son because he did not love his brother like the father loved his brother. While the father watched for his youngest son to return home (Luke 15:20) and threw a party when he did (Luke 15:22-23), the eldest son sulked outside (Luke 15:28) and even refused to refer to the youngest son as his brother (Luke 15:30). Instead of celebrating his brother’s return home and his father’s healed heart, the eldest son criticized the father for loving the “lost” son more than him, the “obedient” son (Luke 15:29-30). When all is said and done, the one thing that is apparent is that the eldest son did not possess the heart of his father and that’s the reason he was not concerned about the state of his “lost” brother.

Why did Jesus tell this parable?

It is worth noting that Luke sets up the three lost parables by saying in Luke 15:1-3, 

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:

Who among this audience would have related to the “lost” son? The tax collectors and sinners. What message would the tax collectors and sinners have taken away from this parable? They would have heard Jesus communicate how deeply God loves every individual and how desirous God is of every individual to return home. By comparing the celebration of the guardians when they found what was “lost” to the celebration that occurs in heaven when a sinner repents, Jesus revealed to the tax collectors and sinners that it brings God great joy for those who are “lost” to be found (Luke 15:7, 10). God celebrates when one of his “lost” children returns home because He “so loved the world” (John 3:16) to the degree that He does “not [wish] that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). So, if you are a “lost” son, then the point of this parable is that God wants you to come home.

Who among this audience would have related to the “obedient” son? The Pharisees and scribes. What message would the Pharisees and scribes have taken away from this parable? They, too, would have heard Jesus communicate how deeply God loves every individual and how desirous God is of every individual to return home. The difference is that, through the behavior of the eldest son and the criticism he receives, they would have been confronted with God’s expectation that His children love the “lost” to the same extent as Him. Essentially, the disobedience of the “obedient” Pharisees and scribes is evidenced in their lack of concern for the “lost” because this trait contradicted the nature of the Father. The lesson to be learned from this group is that those whose relationship with God has been reconciled are tasked with “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18), meaning they are expected to pursue the “lost” on behalf of their Father as His “ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20). So, if you are not a “lost” son, then the point of this parable is that God expects you to be a pursuing brother.