What a great God!
Our wonderful God
The Pharisees and scribes are complaining at Jesus – just for a change! – at the fact that He is hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. He has time and time again talked about the gulf between doing religious acts for the sake of looking good, of making oneself ‘holy' by following the law, versus having a heart of love for God and for people. He has been tearing down the false security of the law that they have become entrenched in through generations and generations of legal practices, obsessing over the law and following the tiniest letter whilst failing to grasp the bigger picture. These Pharisees have been wholly dedicated to convincing themselves and others of their holiness and it's taking a while to ‘unconvince’ them of this!
Here Jesus flips the focus from people's heart attitude towards God, and focuses on God's heart towards them. He just unleashes the truth of God's love for all people in beautiful story format. It's an amazing picture of God's love and in it are revealed so many aspects of his character and his stance towards us. Here are just a few:
He is a HUMBLE God: This is incredible to me. I struggle to be humble. Me! With my gazillions of flaws, absolutely without anything in myself to boast of! Yet God humbles himself in love. In the parable of the lost sheep the shepherd treks through the wilderness to find a wandering animal and carries it home. In the next parable the woman is on her hands and knees cleaning and searching. How incredible that Jesus compares the great Yahweh with these humble images. And in the final story, the Father not only keeps a lookout for the son who should have brought shame on him, revealing his longing for the one who isn't loving him back, but when he sees him he runs to meet him, an act which culturally would have been unacceptable and humiliating. He doesn't care! His heart is not to protect his own dignity and status, but is to shower with love and kisses!
He is an ACTIVE God: In their humility and desire to find their lost things, the characters in the stories all set about doing something to receive their lost items back. God did everything it took to make it possible for us to get back to Him. He went to extreme measures, persevering through hardship and pain. When we know of Jesus' sacrifice we can be left in no doubt that God loves us SO much.
He is COMPASSIONATE, GRACIOUS and FORGIVING: The father in the final parable would have been justified in holding back his compassion, grace or forgiveness. He could have made a deal with his son that if he came back he would have to repay what he owed and slowly earn back his father's trust. He could have given him a quiet and humble return, fitting for someone who had behaved so badly. He could have not given the finest things to someone who already squandered previous gifts and proved themselves totally unworthy. But he didn't. He wholeheartedly forgave and immediately heaped on the grace. There was no waiting to see how sorry he was, how dedicated he was, whether or not he was going to make more mistakes – he was instantly forgiven, instantly lavished with grace, instantly honoured as a son.
He finds JOY IN RELATIONSHIP WITH US: Have you ever been invited to a party to celebrate a sheep? Or a coin? Me neither! You might be one of those people who has birthday parties for their pets. If you invited me I might come out of politeness but I wouldn't share your enthusiasm for celebrating that cat or dog or goldfish. Because they are not important to me, I don't see them as valuable and precious in the same way that you do, I don't get it! We might not get why God gets excited about us. He is the God of the universe; I am just me. We might see someone who we don't particularly enjoy hanging out with and not get why God gets excited about them! Why He is so happy to have each and every one of his children return home and has uncontainable joy over them. But He does, and He seems to be a big fan of parties! I don't know anyone else who gets this excited about me, even though my husband loves me a lot and my mum gets very happy when I'm visiting home! I think I need to appreciate this more and try to enjoy that relationship as much as God does.
He is more INTERESTED IN OUR HEART TOWARDS HIMSELF than in what we have done: God cares when we do right and when we do wrong, the Bible makes it very clear that we are created and purposed for good. It is also clear that God hates sin. But if we have genuinely turned to God, like the son in the story – if we have been humble enough to recognise our guilt and our need of rescuing, none of the bad stuff counts. ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us'(Psalm 103). So whilst we're still dwelling on our mistakes, still feeling shame for our failures, feeling unworthy and worrying about what God and others will think of us, God is thinking of no such things. He isn't interested in that stuff anymore, it is dealt with. He is much more interested in our acceptance of Him and the fact that we have come home.
He is a FATHER WHO DOESN'T HAVE FAVOURITES: Whilst son A was away rebelling and dishonouring his father, son B was faithful, hard-working, as far as we know all the things a good son should be. He thought he was earning his father's favour, he thought this should make him the favourite. But God doesn't have favourites. So whether you think you're not as good a Christian as those people who love to spend their Friday nights attending life group, or you think you're better than that person who spends their Friday nights drinking a bit too much in the pub. Or whether you think you're somewhere in the middle…You're not! You're just as loved and just as valued and just as celebrated as the next child of God. So we can enjoy being in His family together and not worry about competing for gold stars or being jealous of each other's gifts.
Let's enjoy the fact that we have been found and welcomed home by a loving, rejoicing, hugging and kissing, forgiving, humble, great God.