I will never forget a time when I was in the sixth grade, that my friend and I were hanging out one afternoon and he decided it would be funny to call 911 and hang up! Keep in mind, we were at my house. Moments after he calls, a police officer comes to the door asking if everything is okay, and my mom immediately knows what is going on. Into my room walks the intimidating police officer, escorted by my mother. It was a situation that I desperately wanted to run from. I did not want to face it. Later, I did not want to hear the lecture that would come from my dad on why this was wrong. Though I did have to face it and suffer the consequences, I desperately wanted to get away from it.
Typically, when we mess up, we want to run from the punishment. We want to avoid those whom we have wronged. It is natural to our human nature to want this.
This morning, I was reading Luke 15, the chapter of the Bible that includes that all-to-famous Parable of the Prodigal Son. The opening verse declares the context of the passage, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them'” (Luke 15:1–2).
It is almost unanimous that the context of the parables in Luke 15 are to be directed at the Pharisees and their attitude of earned salvation. It is to show that salvation is by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8–9). When the older brother–in the parable of the Prodigal Son–grumbles in the time that his younger brother, who has “squandered his property in wreckless living” is welcomed with open arms and receives a party in this welcoming, it is reminiscent of the Pharisees attitude in that they have kept all of the rules, yet have earned nothing from them.
As I was reading Luke 15 this morning, I read it in an entirely new light. This is the umpteenth time reading this passage, yet the first understanding it in this fashion. Today, these words leaped off the page, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to him” (Luke 15:1).
This is so different from our culture, which runs from any sign of organized religion, especially that of Christianity. What intrigued me, was that these tax collectors and sinners, the worst that society had to offer, were the ones drawing near to Jesus. Jesus was with them, but they were the ones leaning in. They were the ones asking for more. They were the ones wanting to be closer.
Our society runs because they feel judged, not loved. Now, don’t misunderstand me in thinking that I am taking God’s judgment out of the equation. Scripture clearly defines God’s wrath, His judgment, the lake of fire, and much more.
Why did Jesus come into the world in the first place? John records Jesus’ own words, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Who did Jesus love? The world! His love was and is not limited to a particular person, a particular church, or a particular country. His love is for all people!
These sinners drew near to Jesus not because they were judged, but loved. My question is: What must we do to see sinners, those who are broken and without hope, to look forward to the joys and draw near to the message of the gospel? What have we changed? What have we lost? Yes, we are not Jesus, but we have the message of Jesus!
Again, please do not misconstrue what I am saying and believe that I am propagating some form of prosperity gospel in which God’s judgment and wrath are taken out of the equation. I am not seeking a prosperity gospel, but a gospel which brings reconciliation to the broken, a gospel that brings hope to the hopeless, a gospel that gives someone something to look forward to.
Just as I wanted to run from the judgment that I had to face when calling 911, others would run from judgment spoken of by so many legalistic Christians. Yet, the beauty of the gospel is that grace is greater and Jesus’ blood covers our sins. We communicate the gospel not in consequences, but in the cross. We communicate the gospel in the hope and love of Jesus Christ! Jesus stands in as our substitute that we might not take the wrath of God, which was satisfied in the cross of Christ!