THE GOSPELS 94
GOD’S PRIMARY CONCERN…THE LOST
In the John 3:16 we find what is perhaps the best known scripture in the whole Bible. However, the significance of this passage is much greater than most imagine. What it really reflects is the great concern the Father has for every child that is lost. When it says, “God so loved the world”, it means that He loves every child, made in His image, in the whole world…no exception. The extent of most people’s love is their own family and friends, or at least those of their own race and kind. God’s love is not so restricted, and we should strive very hard to expand our concern to include everyone we encounter. This was Jesus’ lesson in the Samaritan story.
However, Jesus had a habit of eating with everyone, which included publicans and sinners of every kind. The super-pious Pharisees found that a very reprehensible practice. Jesus’ answer was, as usual, very practical and unanswerable by the Pharisees. If you own one-hundred sheep and one gets lost, don’t you leave the ninety-nine and go find the lost one? Isn’t finding the lost one more wonderful than owning all the herd? Every Pharisee, who understood the way shepherds view their sheep, knew the answer to that question.
Then, because the subject was so important, Jesus gave them the parable of the lost boy. A man had two sons. The younger came to him and said, “Father give me what is coming to me”. I have often said that if the father had given him what was coming to him, there would have been no story. However, the Father divided the inheritance and gave his son what he asked for. The young man then left to go out on his own. He used the money to buy friends, only to wake up and realize that they were pigs. That would shorten the story, but it is close to what really happened. The companions you have because you have money are worthless when the money runs out, just as pigs are only interested in you so long as you feed them.
The young man was soon destitute and went to work feeding pigs. Then an important thing happened. He came to himself. William Barclay says that the theory of “total depravity” is false. That is the theory that man is totally evil and must be selected by God and cleansed to be saved. Barclay believes, and so do I, that man is basically good and becomes evil by the influences of the evil world in which we live. When one comes to oneself, it means you awake to who you really are, and that is a creature made in the image of God.
So, when this young man came to himself, he realized that he didn’t belong with pigs and thus headed home to his father’s house, even expecting and willing to be a hired servant there. This was lower than a slave, who was considered almost a member of the family. The hired servant was a day laborer and could be dismissed at any time. However, this resolve only emphasized again how little the young man understood his father. There was no way the father was going to let his son be a hired hand. When he arrived, there was rejoicing, and he was given a magnificent banquet, none of which he deserved. But this is not the story of a poor misguided boy. It is the story of a loving, forgiving, wonderful-beyond-description father.
The older son heard the noise of the celebration and asked a slave what was going on. When told, he became very angry. To his father he said, “I have worked faithfully for you for years, and you never even gave me a small kid to celebrate with my friends”. But the father told him he didn’t really understand.
He said, as if the boy should have already known, everything I have is yours. In
other words, “Don’t you realize who you are and what blessings you have?” I wonder if it isn’t true that many Christians do not realize what a rich treasure they already have in Christ. They have joy and peace and above all, hope, which is denied all who struggle in this world without Him.
The ultimate story of this parable is that God is infinite in His mercy. That He wants us to leave the world and come to Him. That He will forgive our sins and welcome us. He does not give us a list of requirements to fulfill or penalties to pay. He just wants us to believe in His love and want to be with Him. If I could
not pray to a God like that, the end of every day would be filled with hopelessness.