Three-Act Play, Act Three, Scene II

March 6, 2015

Luke 19:10

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

In Scene I of Act Three of the Three-Act Play, we learned what the elder brother should have done but didn’t.  He should have gone after his younger brother, found him and brought him back to his home and family.  And we saw how he represented the Pharisees and scribes – the Jewish leaders who were supposed to shepherd the lost sons of Israel the tax collectors and the sinners (represented by the younger son) and bring them home to God.  But they failed, just as the elder brother had.

As pointed out in the last blog, Jesus left off the parable in Luke 15 with some unresolved issues!  What was He trying to teach by ending it this way – with the elder brother failing to even comprehend his obvious mission?  The Lord was directing our attention to the Elder Brother who didn’t fail – Jesus Christ Himself!

Jesus Christ is the Son of God – “…the firstborn from the dead…” (Colossians 1:18) by means of the resurrection – “…the firstborn among many brethren…” according to Romans 8:29.  You see, everyone who by faith accepts Jesus as Savior is born of God – born again (John 3:3 through 5) – and is a son or daughter of God. Jesus Christ is then our Elder Brother!  As it says in Hebrews 2:11 – NIV), “So Jesus is not ashamed to call…[us] brothers [and sisters].

What should the elder brother in the parable have said to his father if instead of being just obedient and self-righteous he was truly good and godly?  In the last blog, I postulated his words thus:  “Father, I will go to seek and find my brother, and bring him back into our family.  It matters not what the hardships; whatever the cost, I will do it!

This is exactly what Jesus Christ did for us!  We are like the younger son!  We are naturally estranged from Our Father God, and off in a far country wasting God’s gifts and possessions with prodigal living!  The Lord plainly said in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  We were lost and needed to be found!  And only our Elder BrotherJesus Christcould do it!

What hardships did Jesus endure to seek and to save us?  What were the costs He paid to redeem us?

•      As expressed in Dottie Rambo’s song, If That Isn’t Love, it says of Jesus, “He left the splendors of heaven….”  What was so splendid about heaven?

In Revelation we see glimpses of Heaven’s glory:

Revelation 1:13 through 16 describes Christ in glory: …the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the feet, and girded about the chest with a golden band.  His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass…and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.”  So glorious was this vision that John tells us,And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.” (Revelation 1:17).

Revelation 4:2 and 3 shows us “…a throne set in heaven…encircled by an emerald-colored rainbow, and He who sat thereon was reflecting brilliant hues of green and red.

Revelation 4:6 through 9 gives a description of four cherubim around the throne – “[marvelous] creatures full of eyes in front and in back…” (verse 6), and with four faces – “…a lion…a calf…a man, and…a flying eagle.” (verse 7).  Their entire reason for existing is to praise God, as described in verse 8:  “And they do not rest day or night, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!

Revelation 7:11 and 12 says that the occupants of heaven – men as well as angels,…worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’

So glorious is it in heaven that Paul wrote in I Corinthians 2:9 (quoting Isaiah 64:4):  “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.

And so glorious is the Lord, as well as His dwelling place, that Paul in I Timothy 6:15 and 16 breaks forth in this praise of Jesus Christ: …He…is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no [mortal] man has seen or can see….”  By the way, this is what Moses also experienced in Exodus 33:18 through 23.

•      He left all the glories of heaven behind to come to earth!

And Paul eloquently describes the depth to which Jesus came to seek and to save us in Philippians 2:5 through 8 (NIV):

      …Christ Jesus…being in very nature God, did not consider equality with
      God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the nature
      of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appear-
      ance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even
      death on a cross.

He came as a servant – as He said in Matthew 20:28 (NIV): “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  He performed lowly acts of service, even washing His disciples’ feet in John 13:1 through 5.

Leaving behind all the riches of heaven and all creation – for He created it all and owns it all (see Colossians 1:16, Psalm 50:10-12) – Jesus declared in Matthew 8:20, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.

In Monday’s blog, we will continue to explore what it cost Jesus to become our Elder Brother.

Three-Act Play, Act Three, Scene I

March 4, 2015

Luke 15:11-32

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

Act Two of the Three-Act Play concerns the elder son of a wealthy Jewish father with two boys.  This elder son did not go off “…to a far country, and there waste…his possessions with prodigal living.” (Luke 15:3).  He stayed home and worked the farm in obedience to his father.  But he was just trying to keep in the good graces of the old man so he could inherit all the family wealth!  He did not care for his father, just the father’s riches!  So when his younger sibling came home with a repentant heart, and to his father’s gracious welcome, the elder brother was angry and refused to celebrate his brother’s return!

But first, a question:  When Jesus told this parable in Luke 15:11 through 32 why didn’t He bring resolution to this last difficulty raised within the story?  As the parable ends, the elder son continued to be estranged from his father and his bother, and – apparently – from God also!  Act Two of the Three-Act Play concerning this elder brother seems to close with a lot of loose ends still hanging:

•      Was there reconciliation among all the family members?

•      Did this first-born son ever realize and understand the grace-filled heart and actions of his father?

•      Did he ever repent of his self-righteous attitude?

•      Was he reconciled finally to God?

This raises another question that is very pertinent here:  What should have taken place when the Prodigal Son ran off with a third of his father’s wealth?  The father would have wanted to go and search for his wayward son.  But he was elderly, and the strain of such an undertaking might have been too much for the old man.  But his son who remained home should have stepped up and volunteered,Father, I will go to seek and find my brother, and bring him back into our family.  It matters not what the hardships; whatever the cost, I will do it!”  After all, it was this elder son’s responsibility to keep the family together, and to try to promote godliness and prosperity in the lives of the family members.  That’s why God had designated in Deuteronomy 21:17 that the first-born son would inherit a double portion of his father’s estate!

Did he do it?   No!  He felt no obligation to either his father or his brother!  The only obligation this first-born son acknowledged was to be considered good enough to stay in his father’s will!

Do you remember the Prelude we considered in the last blog?  Who were those included in the second group of hearers mentioned in Luke 15:2?  “…the Pharisees and scribes….”  What was God’s purpose for leaders among the Jews?  They were to be shepherds among the sheep – the common people of Israel.  And what was the job of a good shepherd?  In Zechariah 11:15 through 17, God describes the actions of a foolish and worthless shepherd.  If we take that negative description in verse 16 and eliminate the negatives, turning it exactly 180 degrees, it will beautifully lay out how a good shepherd should act:

      For indeed I will raise up a shepherd in the land who will…care for those who
      are cut off,…who will…seek the young,…who will…heal those that are broken,
      …who will…feed those that still stand.

This is what the Pharisees and scribes should have been doing for their fellow Israelites – including the tax collectors and the sinners mentioned in Luke 15:1!  If these Jewish leaders considered the common folk of Israel lost, then they should have been out seeking the lost to bring them back home – home to the obedient Israelites and home to God!  The Pharisees and scribes were the elder brother in Jesus’ parable – self-righteous and unrepentant!

And what would have happened beyond the borders of Israel if the Jewish leaders were fulfilling God’s intended purpose for them?  Jesus summed it up in John 13:35:  “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  The Gentile nations – the non-Jews – would have sat up and taken notice of the love among the Jews and the care they provided for one another!  As it was, Paul wrote in Romans 2:24, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

What a terrible heritage any individual or group of people can leave if they hold a self-righteous and unrepentant attitude!

Oh dear Christian!  Do not allow yourself to be identified with those represented by the elder son!

Three-Act Play, Prelude

March 2, 2015

Luke 15:1-3

(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

We are going to step back to look at the Prelude of the Three-Act Play. Yes, I know that the Prelude comes before Acts One and Two! But in order to understand the Prelude, or the setting of this parable, we had to learn what we could concerning first the younger son – the Prodigal Son, and then the elder son. Now let’s consider Luke 15:1 through 3:

      Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him [Jesus] to hear
      Him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives
      sinners and eats with them.” So He spoke this parable to them….

Actually, the Lord spoke three parables to them: The Lost Sheep (Luke 15:4-7), The Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10), and The Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32). They all had similar themes of something valuable being lost and then recovered.

Who were Jesus’ listeners to these three parables?

•      Luke 15:1 – “…the tax collectors and the sinners….Both were despised by the Pharisees and scribes because of their questionable morals and less-than-righteous living.

The tax collectors were Jews hired by the occupying Romans to collect taxes for the Roman emperor and his underlings. They were specified the amount of money they had to turn over to the government, but whatever they could cheat and extort from fellow Jews above and beyond that amount, they could keep for themselves. Many tax collectors had gotten rich at the expense of their own people, and they were hated and despised because of it! Obviously, they had no morals and they were continually breaking God’s laws. Had not God laid down the principles of financial honesty in Deuteronomy 25:13 through 16 (NIV)?

      Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. Do not
      have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. You must
      have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in
      the land the LORD your God is giving you. For the LORD your God detests
      anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.

The sinners were those who did not live up to the exacting standards of the Pharisees and scribes! A Pharisee was bound by the 613 spiritual and civil laws delineated in the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament. The most widely accepted list of these laws was compiled by Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, a Jewish medieval scholar. Two of the laws cover the Sabbath: “Do no work on Shabbat,” and “Rest on Shabbat.” But the Pharisees loaded many more of “…the traditions of men…” (Mark 7:8 – NIV) to the laws given by God. Just to ensure these two Sabbath laws were properly kept, they added 39 kinds of work that people must not do on the Sabbath day!

These tax collectors and sinners are represented in the third parable of Luke 15 by the younger son who…wasted his possessions with prodigal living.” (Luke 15:13). In the eyes of the Pharisees and scribes, these people were spiritual derelicts! They lived by their own rules – obviously not God’s! – and tried to find their way in life by all the wrong roads!

•      Luke 15:2 – “…the Pharisees and scribes….” We looked at the Pharisees above – very legalistic, and condemning anyone who did not agree with their own interpretation of the law and righteous living.

The scribes (according to Eerdmans New Bible Dictionary) were experts in the study of the law of Moses – the Torah. They faithfully copied the scriptures, and wrote down the oral laws, traditions and legal decisions of Jewish leaders, claiming this oral law was more important then what had been written by Moses. And they taught rigorously students that they gathered around them. In Jesus’ time, most scribes – also known at lawyers – belonged to the party of the Pharisees.

The Pharisees and scribes were right in their own eyes – the only ones right – which is why they looked down upon others as sinners. They tried to gain God’s favor by obedience to all their rules and regulations – many of which obscured what God was plainly saying!

This second group of listeners are represented by the elder son, the one who despised the father’s gracious reception of his sinful younger sibling! Remember, he refused to go into the feast of celebration that his father had given in honor of his wayward son who had come home! The Pharisees and scribes were the ones whom Jesus address when He told them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:31).

So when Jesus was speaking this parable known as The Prodigal Son, the emphasis was probably laid more upon the rebellion of the good and moral elder son – the Pharisees and scribes – than upon the repentant younger son – the tax collectors and the sinners.

Don’t miss this point as we enter Act Three of the Three-Act Play.