Skip to content

23

Where's the turning point in the parable of the two sons?  (Yes, that again).

Is it 'coming to himself' in the pig-sty?

pig-sty

If that's the turning point in the son's life, repentance will look like weighing things up and choosing obedience.

What's wrong with that?  Well for one it effectively makes the prodigal his own saviour. 

But aside from this.  Let's think about how this paradigm would affect our understanding of ongoing repentance. 

Basically, if repentance happens in the sty, when we sin we will think, 'Darn it, I've left the Father's house, I'm away from His love.  But now I need to clean up my act, prepare my repentance speech and return to His service.'

But is that really the turning point of the story?  I'm not talking in terms of literary devices. I'm asking the question, What is the point that determines the prodigal's fate?  What is the decisive moment for his life?  Is it 'coming to himself' in the sty?

No.  Of course not.  He could have devised the greatest repentance plan known to man and still been rightly shunned by his father.  The true turning point was the father's embrace.

 

prodigal-son

 

The real change in the prodigal - both his change of status and of heart - truly happens in the arms of the father.  That's where repentance occurs.

Imagine yourself in those arms.  You may have been sorry before, now you loathe youself.  Yet you cannot escape his love.  You had thought you stank in the sty.  Now you feel your stench to the core.  Yet you are held close.   You had composed a repentance speech.  Now your awareness of sin is overwhelming.  But you're enfolded in grace.

This is true repentance - that which occurs in the Father's embrace.  And this is where our ongoing repentance occurs. 

When we sin, do we consider ourselves to be in the pig sty - the long journey back home stretches ahead of us?  Or do we consider ourselves to be already in the Father's arms?  There's a big difference.

I remember speaking with a Christian man about his extra-marital affair from years earlier.  As he spoke about the pain of those memories I said to him "You realise that in the midst of the very worst of that, Jesus was rejoicing over you as a Bridegroom rejoices over His bride."  He paused for a long time and said "That makes it a hundred times worse!"  I said "Yes it does.  A thousand times worse."  We think that we manage to sin away in a corner somewhere.  No, no, no.  Just read 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 to see that we are very much united to Christ in our sin! 

We stink of pig in the Father's arms.  That's a thousand times worse than stinking in the sty.  But it's a million times better too. 

The point of our turning - and our life of turning and turning again to the Father - is in His unchanging embrace.  When you sin don't imagine yourself alone in the sty.  You are there in His arms - reeking and held fast.  It's a thousand times worse.  A million times better.

.

3

Here's a hymn.  Not sure it's finished - not happy with switch to first person in final verse.  Critique happily received (very new to this).

It fits with any common metre tune - maybe one of these: Worcester, Moravia, Martyrdom, Manoah, Leicester, Faith, Dundee, Dunfermline, Crimond, Cheshire. Burford, Bradford. Belmont

 

The glory of the bloodied God
His fruitfulness in shame
Stooped lower than all men have trod
In torment in the flame

The writhing worm, disjointed dry
Rejected from His birth
Thrust groaning into Satan's sky
Accursed by heaven and earth

Hell's blackest cloak enfolds with death
From Pinnacle to pit
To choke the Source of Living Breath
Extinguish all that's lit

The Mighty Man at war cries out
It echoes ‘gainst the sky
Resounding as a futile shout
Within a victory cry

Creation torn from Head to toe
His body out of joint
The Rock that splits is split in two
Creation to anoint

Our Jonah hurled as recompense
Into abysmal depths
The beast that swallows Innocence
Is swallowed by His death

Divine appeasing blood poured out
Divinely pleasing scent
While man appraises with his snout
Declares it death's descent

Crowned in curse, enthroned on wood
My God nailed to the tree
The reigning blood, that cleansing flood
Is opened up for me.

 .

Penicillin.

arf arf.

But seriously folks... Nick Cornell, fellow Eastbourne curate, asked us last night at our joint prayer meeting: What do you give to a people who already have everything?

Because Ephesians 1:3 says we are that people.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places

We have it all.  So what does God our Father give to His children who already have everything?  Ephesians 3:14:

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 

That's what God gives His children who have everything.  A deeper understanding of what they already have.

Isn't that a brilliantly simple and powerful description of the Spirit's work?

Good one Nick.  Somebody give that man a blog.

.

(I'll get back to the series soon, just thought I'd break things up).

I was reading some very familiar words again:

 Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."  (Mark 8:31-33)

Here are four shocks:

  1. The 'things of men' are satanic.  To simply buy into the things of men (as opposed to the things of God) is to be a conduit of Satan.
  2. Minding the 'things of men' is a simple matter of moving towards comfort and away from the way of the cross.  Satanism is simply the preference of comfort to cruciformity.
  3. Peter's sin is not even that he desires his own comfort but that he attempts to shepherd another away from the cross and towards comfort.  Peter thinks he is helping Jesus, in fact his encouragement to self-protection is demonic.
  4. The 'things of God' is Christ crucified.  Think of the highest heights of deity - mind the things of God - and what do you picture?  Jesus says picture Him bleeding for demons like Peter.  That's what 'the things of God' consist in.  To shy from this is to embrace the things of men and become a servant of Satan.

 

Praying the Lord's prayer recently I was thinking about what the prayer assumes about the character of God: Father, in heaven, holy, etc.  Then I thought, what does it assume about the character of the one praying it?

 

Here are some thoughts:

  • Childlike
  • Reverent 
  • Expectant 
  • Guileless
  • Obedient
  • No agenda of our own
  • Desperate
  • Dependent for all things
  • Confident of mercy
  • Acknowledging sin
  • Repentant
  • Merciful
  • Having a deep appreciation of grace
  • A follower
  • Hating sin and temptation
  • At war with the evil one
  • Sheltering in the Lord's deliverance

Three thoughts:

1) I want to be this person.

2) Jesus has made me this person (John 16:23-27)  The Father regards me as this very person, clothed in my Advocate. I not only pray in and through Jesus but with Him. 

3) Prayer, resting in the intercession of Jesus, is what will make me more and more live up to what I've already attained in Him.

.

 

He began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death."  (Matt 26:37-38)

He fell with His face to the ground and prayed.  (Matt 26:39)

"Abba, Father," He said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."  (Mark 14:36)

Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:44)

During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death  (Heb 5:7)

 "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." (Matt 26:42)

Perhaps no bible story has had more impact on me than the account of Jesus praying in Gethsemane.  It haunted my teenage years especially.  It said to me: 'This is what honouring God looks like.  This is the epitome of religious devotion - overwhelmed to complete prostration, loud cries and tears, commitment to the point of death.'  And I attempted to emulate this.  Not in practical, daily 'thy will be done' service - no, no!  Instead I would attempt to re-enact Gethsemane.  I'd sneak out of the house at night and find somewhere really scary - a forest in dead of night was best.  And I would literally fall on my face and ask God to take my life, to make me His servant, to do whatever He wished with me.  (Of course I imagined that His wishes would be awful, dark and painful).   Nonetheless Gethsemane had taught me that this was the way and so I'd try (unsuccessfully) to work myself up into some kind of hyper-serious state of emotional sincerity.  I was massively aware that I was falling short of offering the required... what?  devotion?  gravity?  sacrifice?  Whatever was needed, I was painfully aware of lacking it.  But I made my dramatic teenage offering and waited for the results.  But no angel came to comfort me.  No spiritul blessing was poured out.  No command from heaven.  Just an overwhelming sense that heaven was silent and my devotion was clearly not sufficient to rouse Him. 

And, over time, my response to this was 'God doesn't want me, I don't want Him.'  I wandered from Him for years.  But it was Gethsemane that brought me back.  Because all of a sudden I saw what should have been most clear all along.  I'm not at the centre of Gethsemane!  I'm sleeping with Peter, James and John.  I'm the weak, flesh-driven, good-for-nothing follower who cannot stay awake even for one hour.  But Christ!  He prays to the Father.  He intercedes for His worthless, pathetic friends.  He offers to drink their cup.  And suddenly it all fell into place.  Christianity was not about me burying my face in the dirt for Him.  He buried His face in the dirt for me.  It's not about me stooping low enough to be worthy.  It's about Him stooping lower still because I'm not.  I don't offer my life to a silent heaven.  The Man of heaven offers His life for a silent, sleeping, sinful me.

Gethsemane is good news.  There's so much more to be said.  But perhaps it's said best by my favourite preacher on this my favourite passage:  Click here for Mike Reeves on Gethsemane.  Well worth the free registration!  Check it out.

.

"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32)

We think of ourselves as battle-weary soldiers, securing the kingdom for a grudging commanding officer. The Good Shepherd calls us little sheep who are given heaven and earth by a happy and generous Father!

Now if that doesn't revolutionize our prayers, nothing will!

.

After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone, 24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." 28 "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." 29 "Come," He said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31 Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. "You of little faith," He said, "why did you doubt?" 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshipped Him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."  (Matthew 14:23-33)

Here Jesus walks on water - He treads on the abyss. But Peter walks as Jesus walks (cf 1 John 2:6). How?

Notice he doesn't just step out. He asks for Jesus to command him. He's been in a storm with Jesus before (Matt 8:23-27).  Peter knows the power of Jesus' word - His word is obeyed! So Peter wants a word from Jesus to command him. And the word is powerful to enable that which it commands (Jesus' word is like that). Peter does the impossible because Jesus commands it.

Of course he sinks (looking at the waves and not looking at Christ). But in His grace, Peter only ‘begins' to sink.  This is not gravity acting on Peter or he'd sink like a stone. How slowly Jesus lets him down!  But when Peter calls out, 'immediately' Jesus saves.

His words of rebuke tell us how we can walk like Jesus: ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?'  Now what is Jesus referring to here?

Peter did not doubt that Jesus could walk on water.  And it wasn't self-belief that Jesus was recommending (Peter has no ability to walk on water!).  Peter's problem was that he doubted Jesus' word to him.  He doubted the word which both commands and enables what it commands. Peter doubted that he truly had been made into the person Jesus said He had - one who walks like He walks.  That was Peter's problem.

When Christ speaks a word to us then trusting Him involves trusting that we are the people Christ says we've become.  Jesus says to you:

"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." (John 5:24)

So, don't look at the wind and waves.  Don't look at your heart and your abilities.  Trust the word that Jesus has spoken to you.  His word is powerful to make you who He says you are.  You can't make yourself into this person, but neither can anyone or anything else prevent you from being it.  The word of the LORD is supreme, you can trust Him.  You will not be condemned.  You have crossed over from death to life.  And now, you can walk as He walked.

.

Bobby's just commented on a brilliant Richard Sibbes quotation re participation in the trinitarian communion of love.  Go read it. 

It got me thinking about the upper room, before Jesus died.  Here Jesus gives us three pictures of how we are loved.  The waterfall, promotion, God's compass.  They all deserve reflection as we immerse ourselves in how we have been loved by the triune God.

.

First, the waterfall:

"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you." (John 15:9)

Here the love of the Father for His Son cascades over to us.  We stand in a beginningless, limitless torrent of love.  Think about it.  Take the word 'as' with utmost seriousness.

.

Then there's promotion to Jesus' side:

The Father Himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. (John 16:27)

Here, in loving Christ we are raised shoulder to shoulder with the Son.  Think how highly we have been raised.  Anointed ones alongside the Anointed One.  Sons and daughters alongside the Son.  Receiving the same love from the Father that Jesus does.  Promoted into the Godhead!

.

Then there's God's compass placed within us: 

...in order that the love You [Father] have for Me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. (John 17:26)

The Father's own 'true north' of love for His Son is placed within the Christian.  Now we have the Father's love for His Son in us.  The Christian loves the Son with the love the Father has placed within us.  That beginningless, limitless waterfall is not only something we receive, it's something that now flows from within us (John 7:38f).

.

How He has loved us!  How He has caught us up in His love!  Meditate on these things

.

When times are tough - what is your comfort?  When comforting others, where do you point them?

In the circles in which I move the encouragements of choice involve variations on the theme of 'God's got a plan.'  Many's the time when a well-meaning brother (usually a brother) has said 'I guess at moments like this, all you can do is cling onto God's sovereignty.'  Often I've heard friends say that only sovereignty has enabled them to get through the hard times. 

Something's gone wrong here.   1.5 billion Muslims navigate through life clinging onto 'insh'Allah' (God willing).  800 million Hindus believe that karma will work everything out.  And how many westerners, even in the face of terrible suffering, will still believe 'everything happens for a reason.' 

This was really brought home to me about 5 years ago.  I was praying with a new convert from Islam.  We were worried about his visa application, but I was amazed at how he was 'trusting God's sovereignty'.  In fact he was using language that I usually associate with the most mature of reformed Christians.  I told him I was very impressed, he shrugged his shoulders and said 'In Pakistan we have a saying: 'God willing' - it means that whatever God wills will happen.'  Insh'Allah had simply been translated to a Christian environment.  Yet surely a Christian account of sovereignty involves more than simply transfering deterministic agency from Allah to the Father!  Surely there's got to be a gospel-shape, a Christ-focus, a trinitarian dynamic to Christian sovereignty.  Yet what was so striking about my friend's translated insh'Allah was that it sounded so completely like the Christian pastoral wisdom sketched out above.

Two years ago I went to northern Nigeria and the difference between Muslim and Christian accounts of sovereignty struck me again.  When I wanted something done by Tuesday, the Muslim would tell me 'It will be ready, insh'Allah'.  The Christian would tell me, 'It will be ready, if Jesus tarries.'  Hallelujah!!  Isn't that brilliant??  (King James' English lives on in Nigeria!).  But isn't there all the difference in the world between a future determined by an inscrutible divine will and a future opened up in the gospel-patience of Jesus?  I've tried to get people using 'If Jesus tarries' over here, but it hasn't taken.  Yet.

Now I'm not denying for a second the sovereign rule of the Father through the Son and by the Spirit.  And perhaps in future posts I'll outline some thoughts on what a truly gospel-shaped, Christ-focused, dynamically-trinitarian account of sovereignty might look like.  But for now I will simply question the pastoral wisdom of referring the suffering Christian to the sovereignty of God as though 'God's in charge' was the sum and substance of the Christian hope.

All too often this amounts to a 'light at the end of the tunnel' comfort.   How much better to encourage a person that Christ joins them in the tunnel.

I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.  (Philippians 3:10)

Christ is with us in suffering.  He is especially near to the broken-hearted.  As Spurgeon used to say, He never throws His children in the fire without joining them in it (cf Dan. 3; Isaiah 43:2).  In suffering we get to know the Suffering Servant with greater depth and intimacy than ever before.   To simply point to the God over and above us in suffering is deficient.  We must also point to the God beside and within us.

The gospel is not the truth that, while I may be buried in muck, God remains untouched in pristine glory and one day I'll be there with Him.  The gospel is that God joins us in the muck.  The gospel is that He stoops, sympathises and suffers alongside us.  And that He raises us with Him to the throne.   But if the gospel is not that God remains in heaven and we battle on till glory, why does so much of our pastoral exhortation betray exactly such a 'gospel.'

Why do we so often point people to God's sovereignty and so rarely point them to God's Son?  Why is the focus on the light at the end of the tunnel and so little on the One who joins us in the darkness?  The one kind of exhortation produces tight-lipped soldiers, the other produces broken-hearted lovers.  Let's aim for the latter!

.

Twitter widget by Rimon Habib - BuddyPress Expert Developer