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Coro Baptist Church
Ray Bell  |  Coromandel Valley, South Australia
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The Joy of the Father's Mission
SUNDAY, MARCH 21, 2010
Posted by: Coro Baptist Church | more..
Coromandel Baptist Church
Sunday 21 March 2010 Bible Reading Luke 15:1-32
The Joy of the Father's Mission

On Sunday we will close out the series on Knowing God as Father, by giving attention to the Father's joy in his mission to bring his children home.

The Father's love is manifest in his mission, flowing out in the Son, the Spirit anointed Messiah, to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). The mission of God the Father cost the very life of his Son in the Triune agony of holy love in the cross, but the focus in all the parables in Luke 15 is the joy of the Father in bringing the lost home. The cost of redemption is untellable. But, it is very ungracious (and very unlike God) to keep emphasising the cost, when he wants us to share in the blessing. True love bears the cost that the other may be blessed. Jesus knew the cost well enough, but it was his joy to go out with lavish grace and tell sinners of the kingdom of God's forgiving and redeeming love.

As God's redeemed family, we share in his joy both in being brought in, but also in our participation in his mission, as he sends us in Christ to share the news of his grace with the world. The parables all emphasise the fact that God seeks out the lost, that he has great joy in doing so, and that he invites others to share in his own joy. Our joy is his joy. And his joy is in his redeeming grace. Joy is the main theme of these parables. The joy is not simply that of being found, but the invitation in each case is to enter the joy of the one who does the seeking (Lk. 15:6, 9, 28). God's joy in his redeeming grace is the only true joy there is!

God's mission is in accord with his predetermined plan and foreknowledge to bring all things to their goal in Christ, so that all would be to the praise of the glory of his grace. Paul spells all this out most wonderfully in Ephesians 1, for example. It is clear there that not only is the mission of God a fully Triune action, with the Father as the initiator and finisher of the whole, but that this mission is for our blessing. He wants us to participate in his fullness. It is his joy and delight that we do so. His mission is not a reactive development to an unforeseen tragedy (of human sin), but the patient expression of his holy love being worked out in all things to bring many sons to glory in the Son, by the Spirit.

The parables in Luke 15 give beautiful expression to the Father's active purpose in the sending of the Son. The parables in this chapter are connected. They are all given in response the grumbling complaint that Jesus ate with sinners (Luke 15:1ff.). To eat with sinners and tax collectors (who were always ritually unclean) was offensive to the scribes and Pharisees, and Jesus, it was argued, could certainly not be the Messiah if he dared to eat with sinners who would render him unclean. In response by these parables Jesus indicates that they have never understood the heart of God. God had always sought the lost and sinful to bring them home. In truth, this encapsulates the whole of Old Testament history, if they had really understood and known it.

It is no doubt significant that Jesus was telling this parable to the whole community of Israel. There was in fact one covenant community, in which were tax collectors and sinners, and scribes and Pharisees (as two representative ‘types'). Israel as a whole was God's covenant son. The two different figures represent two different responses to God. Those who had treated his love with contempt and effectively joined the pagans, and those who saw themselves as the defenders of God's kingdom and Law, and who viewed the failure of others with contempt. Thus, the prodigal represents one expression of failed sonship, and the elder brother another. Both were covenant sons, but both were lost, albeit in different ways. Neither had really understood or loved their father. In this regard we cannot stand with one to condemn the other, because both needed to hear the parable from the only true Covenant Son...Jesus himself. He is the only one who has truly known the Father, and who represents him in his grace and truth to the world.

The scene builds, from lost sheep, to lost coin (probably from a dowry necklace or some such), to lost son(s). The latter parable in particular is scandalous. Its scandal lies in a number of factors. We use the word ‘prodigal' often as negative adjective. In fact the word means ‘extravagant, generous or lavish', and negatively may imply the reckless use of one's resources. However the real prodigality in the parable is that of God, the Father who lavishly gives and forgives. The forgiveness of the Father removes both the sin (against heaven) and the offence (in your sight), by reinstating the prodigal son to his full status. The robe was the best in the house (i.e. the father's own robe), the ring a signet ring of authority, and sandals gifted for feet once bare but now shod to walk throughout the father's whole estate. It is generosity that was culturally totally unknown (and still is!). The sin of the younger son was utterly offensive, and the father's response (in allowing him to have his way) utterly unthinkable. In addition, the repentance of the prodigal seems to be moved by fairly base motives (he is hungry and wants shelter, and remembers that in his father's house even the hired servants are better off than he). Furthermore the elder brother, by our reckoning, seems to have a good point. He had done the right thing, at least as it seemed, and yet the wastrel son seems to benefit from the father's affections more than the good, upright son did.

The Old Testament made provision for a kinsman redeemer (go'el) to help a relative who had become enslaved or indebted (e.g. Lev. 25:25). Being the closest kinsman to the indebted younger brother, the elder brother should have stood in this role, but he had no love for the brother (since he had no love for the father) and so stood off with bitterness and contempt. So who would act in this role?

In the earlier parables the active seeker is clearly identified, but in this parable the father seems not to be active. He looks for his return, but seems not to take the initiative. This is until we realise who is telling us the parable. The heavenly Father is fully active in seeking out the prodigal son, but sending his own Son as his kinsman redeemer! Jesus fulfils all the Old Testament conditions of a go'el. He himself is a blood relative (indeed our elder brother, cf. Heb. 2:11-13), he has no need of redemption himself, he is willing to redeem and he has the means of paying for the redemption. So Jesus is the active kinsman redeemer to the lost and sinful sons of the Father. And in sending his Son, his only son, the Father is fully active. He sends him. He sends him to gather his scattered children. And he sends him with great joy so to do, equipping him with the Spirit without measure that he might be fully enabled to bear them on his shoulders (through the cross) to carry them all the way home.

Behold what manner of love the father has bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God? He rejoices to send his Son, and invites us to share in his joy that the lost are found! It is not just that we are made joyful when we are found (though that is true enough), but that his joy is full when we are found and we are invited to share in the joy of God himself, in his mission to gather his children. The question is whether we will enter in to the celebration or stay outside with the angry elder brother. The generosity of God to sinners exposes our anger. It touches the nerve of our self-righteousness, and threatens to define our existence...as people who do not come in, but stay out. The father comes out to him, too, entreating him to come in (Luke 15:28). The question is not even whether he would enter the house. It is whether he would enter the Father's joy in his own prodigal and lavish grace. Indeed, it is whether he would enter into his true sonship by entering into true relationship with his Father. In Christ, we are the recipients of prodigal grace. In Jesus the love of God has been lavished upon us, and all this while we were sinners. To know this is joy; to share in God's mission to the nations is joy in its fullness.
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