Thursday, December 16, 2010

Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7)

The Context

When reading parables, it is good to know with whom Jesus is speaking in order to understand the message. In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus was speaking to Pharisees. Pharisees believed that they were righteous in and of themselves. Not only did they become prideful about their righteous appearances, they turned their noses up at anyone who did not display the same traits. So when Jesus spent time with the "real sinners," they grumbled. Jesus then told three parables that relayed the same truth: Jesus loves and pursues sinners.

A Double-Layered Truth

Read the parable carefully. Jesus pursues sinners with a love that is unmatched. He loves to restore their lives. He loves to redeem them. Verse 7 states, "Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." A double-layered truth is revealed in this verse. 

The first truth is that there is a celebration in Heaven when a sinner turns to Christ. Amen!

The second truth is that there is no celebration for those who "need no repentance." Jesus wasn't describing people who were already saved; He was speaking about the Pharisees. Jesus was alluding to the fact that there is no one who is righteous by their own works. There will be no celebration in Heaven for the self-righteous because they aren't known there.

Death = Life

When we begin to realize our own sinfulness, we will quit looking down our noses at this lost world and will realize that, in and of ourselves, we are just as bad. There is only one pedestal for a Christian, and Jesus is on it. One of the essential truths of Christianity is that we are nothing and Christ is everything. When we realize our nothingness and exalt Him, instead of ourselves, His righteousness will shine through us (Gal. 2:18-20). This is a supernatural act. Even our desire to glorify God is a gift from God (Phil. 2:13). 

Do you feel like nothing you do is good enough for God? If so, then rejoice in that because it's true (Isa. 64:6)! Christ will do all the work if you realize your own sinful position and place all of your trust in Him; and a huge weight will be lifted from you. He will give you rivers of living water that will pour out of your heart (Jn. 7:38). All work will be done from the overflow of that rushing current. You will rejoice in it and all of your guilt and shame will be swept away!

In your heart, do you consider yourself to be more worthy of Christ's love than others? If so, then you are not exalting Him; you are exalting yourself. This reveals areas of unbelief in your life. The cross is a call to die, so that you may truly live (Lk. 9:24). Don't look within yourself to find righteousness; look to Christ. When you start living out of His heartbeat, instead of your own, arrogance toward sinners will be replaced with a broken-hearted love for them and your faith will grow exponentially. 

We are nothing. He is everything. To God be the glory!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Joseph's Just Response (Matthew 1:19)

"Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly."
—Matthew 1:19—

A Prime Example

What does it mean to be just? Joseph had entered into a marriage contract with Mary. In Jewish culture, this covenant was made about a year before the marriage was consummated. In this binding contract, Joseph and Mary were expected to remain celibate. They were saving themselves for each other.

I could not imagine the pain that Joseph must have felt when he received the news that Mary had become pregnant. The woman that he loved, trusted, and patiently waited for was pregnant, and he was not the father. Based on the information that he had received, Joseph had every right to pursue a divorce (a divorce was necessary because of the binding nature of the marriage contract) on the grounds of infidelity. Not only that, he could have made the divorce public so that everyone could see his innocence in the situation. No one would be able to suggest that he had impregnated Mary, then secretly divorced her. A public divorce would have ensured that no one could attack his integrity. The community would have supported him fully and he would have received sympathy. He could have sought to humiliate Mary. He could have turned everyone against her. He could have taken revenge.

Joseph did none of this. Instead, he decided to "put her away secretly." This meant that Joseph would validate his divorce in the presence of two required witnesses. All the details would have remained private. He put his own reputation on the line to ensure that Mary, the one who he thought betrayed him, would not be publicly disgraced. Joseph was a just man.

A Hard Reality

Betrayal is an ugly thing, but even uglier is vengeance. Sometimes people hurt us in ways that cause indescribable pain. Many times this pain affects us for much, if not all, of our lives. There is no doubt that Joseph, had God not interceded, would have never forgotten his feelings of betrayal. Did Joseph consider taking revenge on Mary for what he thought she did to him? Scripture does not reveal this information. What it does reveal though, is that he did not set out to act on any vengeful thoughts that he might have had. He chose to preserve as much of Mary's dignity as possible.

When others hurt us, many times our first internal reaction is vengeance. We want our offenders to feel the same, if not worse, pain that they have caused us. Many spend a great deal of their lives telling all who will listen of the painful offense that was done. I do not intend to downplay the severity of the offense or the reality of the pain; things such as abuse, neglect, infidelity, rape, abandonment, and several other tragic events can affect someone for a lifetime. No person should ever be hurt in such a way. When someone hurts us, it is not our responsibility to be painless; our responsibility is to respond to the pain in a just way.

Justice sometimes demands legal action. Joseph's just nature was not compromised by his intention to obtain a legal divorce. His justness would have been compromised though, if he had decided to retaliate against Mary. Joseph's intentions were to inform only the people who needed to know of what happened. He did not want to get back at her by telling everyone about the situation.

An Act of Justness

When someone hurts you, and you need to talk with someone about it, tell only one or two people that you know you can trust. Get it all out, but make sure that they are people who will maintain complete confidence. If you feel that you need it, seek professional counseling. If you were hurt in a way that demands legal action, do not feel guilty about taking it. 

If reconciliation is possible, be reconciled to your offender. If not, then ask Christ to help you forgive and move forward. Just because the pain remains does not mean that you must hold a grudge. Forgive the person who hurt you and continually hand your pain over to Christ. Be patient; He will give you joy.

Keep what was done between you, the offender, and only those who need to know. If you talk to one or two people about it for therapeutic purposes, do it with the right intentions

Do not seek vengeance by telling several people about the sin that was committed against you. Never try to rub the person's name in the dirt. Do not try to get even by destroying the offender's reputation.

If what happened to you is a vital part of your testimony, avoid using the person's name or obvious references that indicate his or her identity.

Seek not vengeance, but love.

In all things, be just.