Friday, May 1, 2015

Rejoice With Me

One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Luke 15.  It is Luke’s account of three parables, each of which describes the finding of a lost item, and each of which describes the joy and celebration which resulted.

The audience for these stories was the Pharisees who were complaining about Jesus' life style and his welcoming of tax collectors and sinners. Jesus told these stories as a rebuke to the Pharisees.  The stories are about God's love and mercy for sinful human beings.  Jesus was telling the Pharisees that he wanted them to rejoice with him.

It is important to understand who these tax collectors and sinners were that Jesus was eating and associating with.  Tax collectors were Jewish men who purchased from the Roman officials the right to collect various taxes.  They were hated and despised by their fellow countrymen; not only because they were unpatriotic, and dishonest and greedy, but also because their job made them ritually unclean.

For the Pharisees, the term "sinners" was used for a class of people who lived immoral lives or had questionable occupations; people that no respectable Jew would have anything to do with.  Another example would be people with certain diseases or disabilities that many would take as a sign that they committed some great sin. They were physically and morally unapproachable.

These people: the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the maimed and diseased -- basically, the social and religious outcasts -- were coming to Jesus and he was receiving them and eating with them.
But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such sinners?” Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”  Luke 5:30-32

The Pharisees didn't like Jesus’ association with sinners.  The Pharisees found no joy in repentance of sinners at all. What was it that caused them such pain to have Jesus associating with sinners and enjoying them?  In Matthew 23 Jesus gives us some insights into the mind of the Pharisee.  In verse 6 Jesus tells us, “the Pharisees love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues”. In verse 13 He says that the Pharisees, “shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either”.  In verse 23 Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites and says, "you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith".

Why were the Pharisees unwilling to seek to save sinners and unable to rejoice at their repentance? Why were they unwilling to associate with them?  The story of the older brother in Luke 15 represents the Pharisees, who grumble at Jesus’ reception of sinners. In the story, the older brother is out in the fields working when the younger brother returns. The older brother does not know of his younger brother’s return until his attention is aroused by the sounds of celebration coming from the house. He became very angry and refused to go in to celebrate, even though this celebration was called for by the father.

When the father came out to his older son, to ask him to join in on the celebration, the older son refused. The words of the older son are the key to understanding his desires and attitudes.

He told his father, “I have worked hard, but you gave me no banquet”. The older brother was at work in the field when his younger brother returned home. He thought that the basis for obtaining his father’s favor was his works. He didn't need to work to win his father’s approval or blessing; he only needed to be a son. This emphasis on works was the error of the Pharisees. They were “hard at work” with respect to keeping the law, as they interpreted it, thinking that this was what would win God’s approval and blessing.

The older brother told his father, “you have given your other son a banquet, when all he did was to sin”. This is, of course, the flip side of the first protest. The older brother expected to be rewarded on the basis of his works, so he expected his younger brother to have been disowned due to his works, i.e. his sins.

It was not the younger brother’s sins which resulted in the father’s celebration, but in his repentance and return. The older brother not only failed to comprehend grace, but he resented it.  The problem of the older brother, is self-righteousness. His self-righteousness is such that he expects - even demands God’s approval and blessings.  His self-righteousness is so strong that he resents the grace of God and refuses to rejoice in it.

Don’t be a Pharisee.  I challenge you today to see “sinners” the way that Jesus sees them and to rejoice with Him whenever one of his lost sheep comes home!

You can listen to the audio sermon here.