By Benjamin H. Liles
Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death-- even to death on a cross. ~ Philippians 2:7-8, Holman Christian Standard
This is written for the Prodigal; for the one who thinks and believes they don't deserve God's love. Ever. I know I don't deserve His love either. But that's the thing of it all, I can't work for His love, nor can I ever fall far from His favor. Look at what Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:3-4, New American Standard).
You don't think you deserve God's love? Not one of us deserves it,. but He gave it any way. Think on this a moment: Those who commend themselves, thinking they are far better off than you and I, believing they have the market cornered on all things God, keeping us held down and holding on to their Jewish ideas and customs are in for a rude awakening.
Jesus told the Pharisees, "A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.' And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper" (Luke 14:16-24, New King James).
Jesus wasn't concerned with the Jewish customs. Yes, He fulfilled the whole letter of the Law, which the Laws of Moses stated. But who can uphold the Laws perfectly not ever once sinning? Only God can, and He did so in the Son and through Him whom He sent.
Let me put it to you in this way: if you think you are unworthy of God's love, mercy and grace, I get that too. I have been there. There was a time in my life, and in a way I still behave this way, when I was in full tilt rebellion against my biological father. We could not get along at all. We fought constantly. But did my dad ever stop loving me> Quite honestly no. Here's a list of all where I lived in those years of rebellion:
- On the streets. I didn't have enough money to rent an apartment in my late teens, so I literally lived on the streets of Austin, TX. I actually have dumpster dived. It's not fun when you're that hungry.
- In the mountains of West Virginia. This one was kind of stupid, but I moved there for a girl. I had a job, two actually, and it was hard to keep things up to having an apartment there. I had to come home.
I have had jobs that have lasted longer than a year. The longest lasting job I ever held was for two years with a grocery store. I am, at best, earning a living on state-run welfare. If my wife and I lived in England in the early part of the 20th Century, we wouldn't be on any kind of welfare. We'd have to work in a workhouse, at best.
So, does God love those who are broken-hearted? Yes, immensely. Does He love those who are at odds with Him? Totally. Does He love those who hold to their tradition, but also making it hard on others to find Him? Yes, He does. But He rebukes those who claim "religion" to be considered "right" with God. It's a works-based tradition. Christ came to show us that traditions are hollow. They can't help anyone in the least bit.
Tradition says, "Give a tenth of what you have to your local parish." Christ says, "The widow who gave two minas gave all she had" (see Mark 12:41-44). Tradition says, "Will we have spouses in the afterlife." Jesus says, "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matthew 22:29-32, New King James). Tradition says, "Love the Lord and love your neighbor (such as next door, no further)." Jesus says, "Love your neighbor enough to cover any expense they need" (see Luke 10:25-37).
With all of that said, you may believe you have done the worst of the worst, deserving nothing more than complete, final and total separation from God forever. If that's the case, why is it Christ extended, to the worst of the worst eternal life? Let me give you his story, in my words, a fictional account:
Peter Bar-Jonah had always been a thief. He stole food whenever and however he could for his mother and his two younger siblings. Ever since their father died in a fight with Roman Centurions, life had been hard for the family of Jonah Bar-Joseph. They were a family from the tribe of Judah, one of Israel's twelve sons. Peter always found trouble, even if in some small way.
"Mom, I did it so you and my sisters could have something to eat."
"No, you did it because you are a thief. I never taught you this. If your dad was still here-"
"But he's not. If he hadn't gotten into that fight he'd still be alive, and--"
"Keep it up, young man, and I guarantee you I won't be able to save you any more."
Peter exhales strongly, the chair making a hard sound as he stands. "Fine. I'll make my own way!"
Now he's on the cross next to Christ. He yells at the man who knew no wrong, "You say you know God, why don't you save us as well?" (see Matthew 27:44, again a fictional story).
From the other prisoner being crucified, as it was Roman tradition to execute her enemies in this manner, profaned, "You can't be the Son of God! You cannot save us either!" (a huge paraphrase of Luke 23:39).
Realizing his error, Peter Bar-Jonah hangs there a moment, taking in everything he's done wrong. He looks back over his life: from the first fight he ever got in, to the first chicken he stole and butchered, all the way to mocking God's Son, his face blanched white. Gulping, and pushing his fears down, he cries in anguish and in fear, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom" (Luke 23:40-42, New King James).
Jesus responds, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).
I went through all that to tell you this, you are never too far gone from the God of Heaven, who sent His Son for you, to die in your place, so you can be His child. When you think on it it's in the same sense of how the Prodigal Son came to his father: "How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants" (Luke 15:17-19).
This son rehearsed his story and was sticking to it. He knew his father well. He knew he was sure to get it without an extreme apology for doing the wrong thing. But that's where the difference ends with God. He's not like our earthly fathers (mothers in the sense of the father being absent). He loves us regardless, we just need to be willing to come to Him. We can talk to Him without pretense. We can be amazingly real. He can take it. The thing is can you take His love?
When Christ came the first time--to be our sacrifice so we wouldn't have to keep on with offering a daily, monthly, and even yearly sacrifice--to be the final and acceptable sacrifice on our behalf so we can access the Father, God, that's why Jesus came. He's inviting us to the banquet awaiting all in His Heavenly Home. Yes, God loves all of us. He wants the righteous to humble themselves so they can inherit life eternal, because they are just as sick as the rest of us. But they have to see they are as in much need of the Son as we are as well. It's like Christ said, "Those who are well have no need for a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but the sinner" (Mark 2:17).
Prodigal, this one is for you. Welcome back to the family! You who labor and are weary, put aside your heavy load. Unpack your bag and take your rest. Allow Jesus to be yours and for you to be His. Allow Him to be personal with you. you can be personal with Him. He came for you. He came for me. He's for us all; He's not against us. But we have to be willing to give Him the right to dwell in and through us. Let us put off our vain traditions and give one another the grace and mercy He's given us.
Father, I come to You today acknowledging the sin in my life. I know my sins keep You from loving me fully. It's like baggage I need to put away so I can spend time with You. But this baggage needs an eternal dumping place so I can remain with You. I want to be with You. I want You, Father. But I know by holding on to my garbage, my so-called baggage, I cannot be with You. I am very much like the Prodigal. Your Son, Jesus the Messiah, clothes me in His righteousness so I can be with You. If it wasn't for Him I could never talk to, or even hear Your voice. Thank You for sending Him to call me to being holy. I'd rather Your holiness over my own. Help me to be merciful and gracious as You have been with me. I praise Your name. I praise Your wondrous deeds! You put those who keep a hold on me to shame. You openly squash any kind of opposition against me. You lead me in Your ways, granting me both peace and rest. In You I desire to remain. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.