Repentance and Proximity

“But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!  ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”‘ So he got up and came to his father.”  (Luke 15:17-20 NASB)

So, when did the younger brother, the one having wasted his share of the inheritance on wild living, actually repent?  Was it when he “came to his senses”, when he determined to return to his father, or when he actually got up and headed back?  The tax collectors and sinners crowded to Jesus to hear Him.  Had they repented or was this definition of repentance for them as well as the Pharisees to whom Jesus responds?

Jesus begins His ministry crying out “Repent! For the Kingdom of God is near!”  He sends His disciples out on two separate occasions, and their message is the same.  And yet, as one of my friends who comments on these entries at times points out, Jesus healed people regardless of whether they demonstrate repentance or not.  In fact in both instances of sending out His disciples, they too heal and cast out demons regardless of the repentant response.

So repentance can’t be the dividing line between the activity of God in the lives of people.  It can only be seen as the dividing line between those who determine to live like Jesus and those who simply want to hear and be entertained.  Jesus relied on proximity to proclaim His message of repentance.  So if people came to be entertained, He used their proximity to announce a radical paradigm shift.  Some took Him up on His offer, but most did not.  Either way many were healed, had demons cast out, and were fed.  In the process they had at least heard God calls us to a different life.

Here’s one of the sad ironies about this view of Jesus: If someone claims to have accepted Jesus’ radical paradigm shift and then refuses to be around the “sinners and tax collectors” of our day, then they’ve adopted the wrong paradigm.  Over the centuries since Jesus said these words, walked these places, and did these things, many competing paradigms have emerged.  They claim to be the world view of Jesus, His direct apostolic anointing, and so on.  Unfortunately they bear only passing resemblance to Jesus’ life.  Claim what you like, only the paradigm that matches the life of Jesus is the paradigm of a disciple.  If we going to focus on making disciples, then we to be very careful to adopt the right paradigm.

So, perhaps only disciples are saved, and the process of salvation can be said to be repentance.  But if so, then the result in a persons life should include proximity to sinners, ministry including the miraculous in their lives, and a call for them to repent.  So whether the “sinners” are found on Wall Street or in Battery Park, the need for proximity remains, as does the work, as does the call to repentance.

So, that’s my two cents, to borrow from my friends comment from yesterday.  What do you learn from Jesus’ description of repentance?

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Speaking To Both Groups

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. (Luke 15:1 NASB)

“I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7 NASB)

“And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!  ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”‘  So he got up and came to his father.” (Luke 15:16-20 NASB)

I’d like to see some remorse over what they’ve done.  It vindicates me.  And it’s selfish and petty of me.  The question I’m wrestling with is this, “Were the tax collectors and sinners coming near Jesus to hear Him repentant at that point, or was Jesus calling them a step further with His parables?”

The reason I wrestle here is partly because this is where I spend my time, in the interstitial spaces between closely related statements.  Most people find it boring as all get out and it’s hard to discuss in any company mixed or otherwise.  It’s just not interesting to most people, but it brings me full stop as I think it through.

The other reason I wrestle here is that I have to let Jesus be my guide rather than my tradition or contrary teachings.  The Holy Spirit needs to be allowed to use Scripture to make me more like Jesus.  Jesus knows what this means, I don’t.  But I need to know.

Jesus doesn’t say that the younger son repented.  Instead He described the thoughts and actions of the younger son and left the terminology to His audience.  At the beginning of the chapter, the tax collectors and sinners came near to hear Jesus.  The observation of the Pharisees was that Jesus welcomes them and has meals with them.  That could have been hyperbole for Jesus allowing them to come near Him, or it could have been more detail about what Luke meant by “coming near Him to listen to Him.”

Since Jesus has already said that eating with Him and listening to His teaching in their streets was not enough (Luke 13:26,27), I don’t think either one really constitutes “repentance”; at least not as Jesus intends it to be understood.  Which leaves me thinking that Jesus was telling the parables to both groups.  The only way I can think that He wasn’t is if the “eating with sinners” was the celebration over their repentance (Zaccheus?).  So, I’ll hold out that it’s possible they had repented.  On the other hand then, why the detail about the younger son?  Was that to explain to the Pharisees what He meant by repentance?  Again, it’s possible.

But I believe it’s more likely that Jesus is also speaking to those who came near about what they needed to know to make that closeness life-changing.  They had come near to listen, and so Jesus took that opportunity to tell they what they needed to know, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

I’ll unpack that tomorrow.  For today, what do you think?  Had the sinners repented drawing near to hear or had they not?  And why or why not?

Responding to Repentance

“I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7 NASB)

“In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10 NASB)

Something that I keep forgetting to do with these parables is keep the beginning of this chapter in mind as I’m reading them.  The beginning, the setting of the scene, is the difficulty that the “righteous” had with Jesus gadding about with “sinners”.  What Jesus wanted is illustrated by the first two parables, and then left hanging in the air in the third.  He wants them to rejoice over these that return.

I sometimes find it hard to keep that in mind as I see what gets “caught in the net” of evangelism, or simple human need.  What these parables make clear is that when I choose not to rejoice, I’m missing out on what in heaven is an opportunity to party.  And the question for myself is why would I do that?

Probably one of the reasons, and I’m guessing there are several, is that I kind of like the setting of “working out my salvation” to be undisturbed.  I get how ridiculous that sounds, but I also suspect that I’m not alone, we just dare not speak it (or write it) aloud.  Stating the obvious, without being disturbed I will never be pushed to grow in my Christ-likeness.

Another reason that I, perhaps others, fail to party at appropriate times is that I think more in terms of resources and logistics than in terms of a life in need.  I’m wondering how I can help this person and am distracted by the limited resources I see.  Instead I believe I simply need to come along side with whatever resources I have and let One feeding 5,000 with simple fish sandwiches worry about the resources.

But I think the worst reason, the one that really misses the point of Jesus, replacing it with the point of my culture, is that the goal of myself and the person is life-change.  The truth is that the real need is a life patterned after Jesus.  Whatever I do should lead that direction.  Physical needs sometimes distract people, and are all they can see.  Repentance, or a change of mind and heart that permits the Spirit of God access to their lives, isn’t normally the first thing people want when they come to the church.  What they want is the stuff of their lives to improve.  I get lost trying to connect the one with the other, partly because I don’t think people see me as being much like Jesus.

These are just a few reasons I get distracted from the party over repentance.  Perhaps you have others.  What do you learn from the party in heaven missing here on earth?

Jesus Doesn’t “Believe” In People

Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.  But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. (John 2:23-25 NASB)

It seems Jesus has a wide range of acceptance in a very wide range of people.  There are those who read the accounts of His life and say they’re made up and He was just a nice guy.  There are others who those same accounts and are completely consumed by Jesus as the Savior of all creation.  I love this account of Jesus though.  It helps me work with and among the spectrum of people reading or hearing those accounts.

Jesus was disillusioned about people in that He held no illusions about them.  I can’t tell you how much I want that.  People still surprise me.  I still want or expect more from them.  They still disappoint me.  I still disappoint them too, and I am even often disappointed in myself as well.  I once told some youth in our church that people suck, and if we didn’t we couldn’t use a straw.  It’s strange important truth.

The application for me is that I can’t nor should I trust people to be anything but people.  Instead, I can and must trust in the Holy Spirit and His work in and through people.  It’s not the people, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit in and through people that makes church possible.  It may seem semantic but I had a huge test of this in my personal life just this week.

Did you know that commercial leases obligate the guarantors for the entire financial value of the lease?  I didn’t.  I found that out and experienced “sticker shock”.  As an elder at my church I was being asked to sign a lease obligating me to $272,160 which is more than the total assets entrusted to me by my Master.  If I trusted in the people of this church who have a track-record of pitiful giving, then I’d be in big trouble; I wouldn’t be able to sign it.  But I did sign because I trust in the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the lives of the people and His work in this place of worship.  Still, it wasn’t easy.

I needed this example of Jesus.  I needed to know I didn’t need to believe in people to minister to them and on their behalf.  I have other lessons to learn, like resisting the temptation to use the signing of the lease as that line of delineation between the committed and the uncommitted.  It’s not.  That’s not what my Master intended.  The Holy Spirit does not use such things to divide, He uses them to unite.  I know that because that is what the Holy Spirit does, He unifies His people.

What do you learn from Jesus’ disillusionment with people?

Finding Repentance

“But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!  ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”‘  So he got up and came to his father.” (Luke 15:17-20 NASB)

In the previous two parables, someone searches diligently until they find what was lost; shepherd for sheep, woman for a coin.  But in this parable the father remains at home looking at the horizon.  In the previous two parables, the rejoicing at having found what was lost was to illustrate the rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents.  In the third parable, the change in the younger son describes repentance.

I have been asked what repentance is, what it looks like and and so on.  Normally people refer to the word “turn” or “return” with repentance when that is the least common word used for it in Scripture.  The most common word used is a “change of mind”.  This meaning is the least common explanation of repentance.  The repentance of the younger son didn’t happen on the way back.  That would simply be return.  The repentance of the younger son happened in the far country.

“But, having come into himself…” doesn’t use the word, “afterthought”, but it does describe it.  He was thinking one way, living one way, seeing things one way, and suddenly stops.  He comes to himself.  There’s a part of him that “wakes up” as if from day dreaming.  That’s the first part of repentance.

The younger son, having come into himself, then takes honest stock of his circumstances compared with what he has known.  Not the wasteful living he has known, but the life he has known with his father.  He compares his circumstances with those of his fathers field workers.  He’s actually worse off than they are.

Keep in mind that his assessment is a comparison with the results of his choices versus the circumstances of his life with the father.  This parable presupposes an experience with the father with which to compare current circumstances. In other words, for the popular understanding of repentance, he had something to return to; it is going back to something once possessed and enjoyed.  This is going to have meaning for us as we apply this concept to any evangelistic endeavor.

The younger son then comes up with an apology.  He will go back and ask to be a hired person.  This is the humbling part of the process, the part where we acknowledge we are entitled to nothing.  That’s difficult for us as people.  Regardless of culture, we have this concept of entitlement of one sort or another.  But repentance brings us to a place where we renounce any entitlement.

Finally, the younger son stood up and went back.  This is the final part of a process that included much more.  We’d love to skip to this part, and return to the robe and ring and sandals and veal without honesty and humility.  Then, when the robe, ring, and veal are missing from our “return” we are upset with the results, thinking we did our part, where’s God’s part?  Repentance cannot simply be a return.  It must be a process of changing how we think about what we did and do.

Having been in a 12-step program for years, I described the program to those outside and inside as a spiritual discipline of repentance.  I got a lot of confused stares doing that. I was okay with such a response.  I still believe it is a spiritual discipline of repentance.  And to an extent, I still follow those tenants.  The program systematized repentance so people had steps to follow instead of a word to figure out.  And it also brilliantly illustrates how difficult the process can be.

So this is what I learn from the parable of the lost son, or one of the things.  What do you learn?

Found Coin Party

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’  In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  (Luke 15:8-10 NASB)

I’ve heard several interpretation of why the coins were so important to the woman, and in each case it seems to detract from the point.  Frankly it’s money of some sort, and I’m good leaving it at that.  The point is that the woman sought the lost coin, found it, and partied with her friends and neighbors over it.  The point of the story illustrates the party in heaven “before the angels of God” when one sinner repents.

Again, this parable seems odd as a story, but the point is really supposed to be at the forefront.  Jesus again points out that heaven, and here, specifically God Himself, rejoices over one who repents.  A couple of details different from the previous parable, besides the difference in what was lost and found, are the reference to “heaven” versus to “before the angels of God”, and the absence of “than over ninety-nine who need no repentance”.  I’m not sure of the significance of these differences, they could be literary style.  I would like to point out that “in the presence of the angels of God” does seem to imply (or I infer from it) that God is the One rejoicing as opposed to the angels; as if He sort of embarrasses Himself like David in dancing with joy.  It paints an interesting picture if so, and would illustrate an equally interesting characteristic of God.

Again, though the element of repentance is present.  The lost which is found is connected once again to a repentant sinner.  So, the success of the searching is contingent upon the decision of the one sought to repent.  This is sort of key here.  We really love the picture of Jesus seeking us to bring us back to Himself, and He does.  But also keep in mind, Jesus doesn’t violate our choice.  He doesn’t take away the right He gave us to choose. So the responsibility is on us.  He seeks, He calls, He “waits on the porch looking”, but we have to decide to return or agree with Him.  This the point of connection I see with the previous chapter’s treatment of the cost of such a choice.

I don’t understand this passage as arguing against the high cost of discipleship.  Rather I see this passage as explaining the action and attitude of God toward it.  He seeks us to make that difficult commitment.  He seeks us, but He doesn’t then “lower the bar” to get us in.  In the next parable, the change in the younger son illustrates what Jesus means by repentance.  So, when we look at the lost sheep and lost coin, those items represent those people who have changed their minds about their lives.

So God seeks the “lost” from the fellowship of His people, but then calls them to change their mind about their situation.  This may be a different concept than many have toward evangelism.

What does God reveal to you through this parable?

Who’s Who Among Followers of Jesus

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.  Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?  When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’  I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:1-7 NASB)

One of the the things that bothers me about the “cost of discipleship” Luke records Jesus describing at the end of chapter 14 is how impacts evangelism.  I am to share my faith, what does that mean, and how is that done exactly?  In fact, it’s really easy to simply lift Luke 14:25-35 out by itself and construct a picture devoid of evangelism; how could you evangelize if Jesus puts such impressive barriers before would-be “disciples”?  So, this next section of three parables is really important as a balance to the expensive cost of discipleship.

Before diving into the three parables though, I want to point out two thins: 1) Jesus says in Matthew 18:17 that someone who will not return from sin is to be treated as a “Gentile and tax collector”, and here that such were following Jesus.  And 2) Pharisees and scribes made up part of those following Jesus.  We think of them as entirely adversarial, when it is probably more accurate to say that those following Jesus fit a spectrum of sinners all the way to “righteous”; including many in the middle of that spectrum.  The question is how committed were they to being “disciples”.  That’s how this passage connects to the previous one.

The context is the grumbling of one group following Jesus about another group also following Jesus.  The Pharisees and scribes grumble about Jesus cavorting with the sinners and tax collectors they scrupulously avoid.  Jesus explains the issue with three parables.  The first is about a lost sheep.  Ironically, this parable has a parallel in Matthew 18, where we find “church discipline”; and also where we seem to fail to connect the two dots.

The parable is about one who, having 100 sheep, loses one along the way somewhere.  He leaves the 99 in the field to find the lost one.  He’s secure in their safety in the flock.  Keep in mind this is a parable, and not necessarily a picture of actual events.  For once finding the lost sheep, the shepherd throws a party rather than returning to the flock in the story.  The point is that the shepherd rejoices and parties over the found one, not the 99 still in the flock in the field.

But keep in mind that the explanation includes a concept I will need to return to at some point, repentance. The party in heaven is over those returning to the faith, those who’s mind’s have changed to align with God’s mind; they’ve swapped their paradigm for His.  Having done that, the party begins.  What I question is whether all along their sinful path their acceptance had always been assured, but their enjoyment of the benefits of such acceptance had not.  In other words, had they excluded themselves from the benefits of the household of God, even while the access had always been available?

I ask for this reason, I wonder when or where along the spectrum of life with God, are people considered “saved”.  Although, as I read Scripture, I become more convinced that this is probably the wrong question.  I am becoming more convinced that the real question should be whether my relationship with Jesus is present or absent.  Am I enjoying the benefits of His acceptance, or have I rejected such benefits to pursue the enticements of the world.  Paul writes of Demas a few times, one of which includes a return to the faith and fellowship with Paul.  So, perhaps the issue should be about recovering those who have had a relationship and wandered off.  In which case, these parables are not about “evangelism” in any sense, but about recovery of followers.

On the other hand, the categories of tax collectors and sinners versus Pharisees and scribes argues for a more indistinct option.  These categories have more to do with fellowship within the worship of God by Israel than within the “church” so to speak.  In other words, the relationship is different.  Jesus seems to be teaching throughout that fellowship with Him restores fellowship with Israel and Israel’s worship of God.  What needs to be done is to extrapolate that and apply the concept to fellowships of believers.

Sorry for the abrupt ending, but here’s where you share what you find in this parable.  What do you find here?

Three Costs of Discipleship

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.  (Luke 14:26-27 NASB)

So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:33 NASB)

I may have bitten off more than I can chew here taking all three, but I’m going to give it a shot.  The thing is, “classic” evangelism, the kind practiced in the last 40 years or so has been unbelievably “flies with honey” in its approach.  Jesus really wasn’t that way.  He was unbelievably honest.  He did things like heal or just talk to someone, but also acknowledge the sin.  He didn’t let the sin get in the way of talking to them, or even using them to reach an entire village (Samaritan woman for instance).

Jesus came to begin a process of making disciples, and we have somehow forgotten that.  Some now content themselves with butts in seats and baptisms.  Others with “participation” or acceptance.  We figure if we can get them in the door then the teaching can begin and at some point these lost people will become more like Jesus just by simple association with us, who are so much like Him…oh please.

The problem with this concept is the missing life change, the intentional transformation that leaves so many much like they were before hearing of Jesus.  If I’m no different a year after passing through the water than I was before, what has the “church” accomplished?  It certainly isn’t “making disciples” of Matthew 28.  But it’s uncomfortable to discuss the hyperbole of Jesus’ statements which call us to pay a much higher cost for following Him than we thought.  No one told us it would be so expensive.  Had we known before hand, we probably wouldn’t have signed up.

Jesus lists three costs here.  Jut three, but seriously, they are as if He addressed them to Americans.  Hate your family (and yourself)?  Not very popular today.  In fact it argues against the upsurge of “redefining” marriage and family by minimizing their place in the life of a disciple.  It becomes less about family and more about Jesus.  Anyone a little uncomfortable yet?  Easier to talk about family and make that the issue isn’t it?

And what about hating your own soul?  Just in case the people were a bit unsure what He meant, Jesus goes on to say that we must take up our personal method of execution and follow Him.  Yes, we are to die to ourselves.  I’m supposed to give up my goals, my plans, my ideas of right, wrong, what is important, and so on.  Those are supposed to die, and in their place, I am to allow Jesus to fill me with His goals, plans, ideas of right and wrong, what is important, and so on.  Oops.  He was serious about that?

But again, just in case we get to a point of asking, “everything?”, Jesus goes on to explain that we are to figure this out up front.  Figure it out before hand, because unless we give up all our possessions we’re not going to be able to “afford” to be a disciple.  So possessions are another thing that are supposed to go, they are to to be left behind in our pursuit of following Jesus.  Not very American or even Western of us is it?  Who’s ready?  Let’s get on this bandwagon!  Burn it all!  Well actually no, sell it all, give the proceeds to the poor, and be content following Jesus.

Here’s the point:  To be a disciple of Jesus is expensive.  In fact, it’s so expensive, most people working so diligently to get more people into the program haven’t paid the cost of the program themselves.  No one sees how expensive it is as they are being coaxed to “join up”!  They see people much like themselves doing the coaxing, so it never occurs to them that there’s this cost involved.  Ironically, it rarely occurs to the ones doing the coaxing either.

Let’s make a change.  In Luke 14:16-24, Jesus made a very clear and insulting point about the relative danger Jews were in with God.  And then in verse 25, we have many throngs following Him around.  So, He insults them in a sense, and they flock to Him.  Not a typical approach to “evangelism”, insulting the people you’re trying to reach. It worked for Him though.  So then He sort of “thins the herd” with His explanation of the cost of being a disciple.

I’m sure the disciples were hearing and going, “Yeah, no lie.”  They had given up careers, family, status of one sort or another, all sorts of things.  We sometimes forget that.  They paid a literal cost.  Jesus describes this here, and we think, “He’s exaggerating”.  And then come away from the passage content we don’t actually have to hate our families and give up all our stuff and carry around some heavy thing that we later die on.  I believe if we’re comfortable, we’re missing the point, and do not have ears to hear.

What do you learn from Jesus’ declared cost of discipleship?

He Couldn’t Just Say ‘Thank You’?

And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14 NASB)

When you are invited to dinner at someone’s house, there is certain etiquette dictated by culture (every culture) we are to follow.  Different cultures have different etiquette, but there’s always something.  I strongly suspect that First Century Jewish culture didn’t have an etiquette clause that permitted Jesus to suggest to His host he invite someone else.  On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that by the time Jesus made the suggestion, the host was probably thinking he wished he had; just not the ones Jesus suggested.

Meals are social gatherings, or should be.  We enjoy eating with people we like to “hang out” with, so we invite those people to meals.  Sure, we can use meals for “social climbing” and can expect that the people we invite would invite us to their place for the same reasons we invited them.  It’s part of being social.

In First Century Israel, meals were also religious to a degree, but still retained the social aspects.  I don’t know for sure, but I also suspect that Gentile cultures around the Mediterranean Sea had similar social aspects, though not always with religious overtones.  Today, meals can be social in closed family circles, wider friendly circles, or broad social circles.  In no culture of the day Jesus said these words, nor in today’s Western Culture is it common practice to invite the groups Jesus suggests to the meal.

Jesus knows this. So why would He suggest it?  He makes it a big point too because His emphasis is on the reward for doing so.  There’s reward for inviting according to culture only in that culture.  There is reward for inviting the disenfranchised only in heaven.  He is, in essence, challenging His host on what is of more importance to him, culture or heaven.  Regardless of time or culture, the challenge remains.  What is more important?

Two things: 1) What is more important to you, the culture you live in here on earth, or heaven to which we journey through this life?  2) What do you learn from these words of Jesus to His host?