Pursuing the Simplicity of the Gospel: Part 6

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Structure of the Simple Gospel of Forgiveness of Sins

In Luke 15 we find three stories Jesus shares.  Like any good teacher He tells three different stories to teach the same truth.  And like any good teacher, He does this because He wants to emphasize the truth in all three stories so that nobody can miss it.  That means it's really, really important.  In other words, missing the point of all three stories would make us pretty lame-brained.

This brings me to an outline of sorts that I think will be helpful in structuring our understanding of the simplicity of the gospel in the message of forgiveness of sins. Let's read through the remainder of Luke 15 and then I'll unfold that structure.

Parable of the Lost Sheep
4  "If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do?  Won't he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6  When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.'  7  In the same way, there is more joy in heaven ove rone lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven't strayed away!
Parable of the Lost Coin
8  "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won't she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it?  9  And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say,'Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.'  10  In the same way,there is joy in the presence of God's angels when even one sinner repents."  
Parable of the Lost Son
11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: "A man had two sons.  12 The younger son told his father, 'I want my share of your estatenow before you die.' So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. 13  "A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land,and he began to starve.  15  He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs.  16  The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.  
17  "When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, 'At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger 18 I will go home to my father and say, "Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant."'  20 "So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son,embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.'  
22 "But his father said to the servants, 'Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger andsandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.' So the party began.  
25 "Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 'Your brother is back,' he was told, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating becauseof his safe return.' 28 "The older brother was angry and wouldn't go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, 'All these years I've slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to.And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf! 
31 "His father said to him, 'Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day.  For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!'"

In these three stories I see a structure to the simplicity of the gospel of forgiveness of sins that looks like this:

1. Know You're Lost
2. See God's Search
3. Hear God Forgive
4. See God Rejoice

Let's look briefly at each one so you get the gist of it.

1.  Know You're Lost

A sheep was lost, a coin was lost, and a son was lost. Jesus told three stories using three different items to illustrate the same truth to the self-righteous because of their attitude towards other despicable, scum sinners. 

The reason the gospel is simple and must be kept simple is because it's about a simple problem, a simple condition. If you don't know Jesus then you're wandering around, looking for the next opportunity in life that might really make things happen for you...that next big break. 

And you believe it's going to come from something the world has to offer you, usually in the form of money, sex and/or power or control. That means you're lost. You don't know where you
should be going.

2.  See God's Search

The beauty of all three stories is that despite the condition and situation of each lost item, God is portrayed as the One who takes an interest in that which was lost, and pursues it until He recovers it.  In the first story, God is the shepherd who recovers that one lost sheep. "If you had one hundred sheep, and one of them strayed away and was lost inthe wilderness, wouldn't you leave the ninety-nine others to go and search for the lost one until you found it ?"

In the second story, God is the woman who recovers that one lost coin.  "Won't she light a lamp and look in every corner of the house and sweep every nook and cranny until she finds it?"

And in the third story, God is the father who recovers his lost son. Except in this story, interestingly, God is not portrayed as searching like He is in the first two stories. And I think that is because it presents the other side of God as the faithful and patient and omniscient and providential One who has orchestrated the whole rebellion of the son so that he would come back home to dad. 

In other words, God has planned out the events of this man's life so that he will come back home. So God is sort of in the son's search, if you will, for happiness, not finding it, of course, until he comes back home.

3.  Hear God Forgive

Here is the simplicity of the gospel. We see it more in the third story than we do in the first two, although there is a feature in the first story that shows it to us in a very interesting way In the story of the lost sheep we see God's forgiveness portrayed this way in verse 5: 

"And then you would joyfully carry it home on your shoulders." 

There's your God right there! There's His simple message of good news! He pursues you until He finds you and then He joyfully carries you home on His shoulders. He is not reluctant that He found you. He is not out of breath and impatient when He finds you. He is not like the mother who loses their child in the mall, feels terrified, then finds the child only to cry, hug, and spank allat one time. 

He's JOYFUL! He doesn't spank or beat you all the way home. He CARRIES you all the way home, on His shoulders, wrapped around his neck where your face is close to His, where your ear is close to His mouth so that you can hear the whispers of His love for you as He carries you home. 

In the story of the lost coin we can see just a glimpse of God's forgiveness in the way the woman views the coins. In the Greek the silver coin was actually a drachma, which was a full-day's pay in that day and time. If you work for $10 an hour right now and you work ten days at eight hours a day, and you get paid daily, it would be like losing $80 of your $800. That's a tenth of what you worked so hard to earn! 

You wouldn't think or respond, "well, it's just $80. I can work another day and earn that back." NO! You worked hard for that $80, that full day's wage, so you're going to look high and low until you find it. And that's because that money, like YOU, dear friend, is valuable, as verse 8 describes. 

You may be a notorious, despicable, scummy sinner. But God also says YOU are valuable! And why are you valuable?  Because God forgives you. He has searched for you, found you, cleansed you, made you pure again...forgiven you. You are precious in His sight because you belong to Him. This is portrayed the clearest in the story of the son who comes home humbly acknowledging his stupidity and foolishness. He knows he's been an idiot so he's just happy to come home and work as an employee on dad's farm. But dad will have NONE of that! Jesus says, 

"But his father said to the servants,
'Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house, and put it on him.
Get a ring for his finger, and sandals for his feet.
And kill the calf we have been fattening in the pen." 

THAT is a picture of forgiveness! Again, this is not reluctant God sighing and huffing as He inches out a little mercy and grace to you one little dose at a time, waiting to see if with each inch of it yourespond like you ought to before He gives you any more. NO! This is God overwhelming you with ALL of His mercy and grace and blessing. THAT'S forgiveness.

4.  See God Rejoice

Finally, in all three stories this is my favorite part. God REJOICES! He is portrayed as a happy God! Not some old scruffy, stiff man with a frown on His face and a cane he's holding waiting for the first opportunity to rap you on the shins!  In the first story here's how Jesus portrays the Father, in verses 6-7: 

"When you arrived, you would call together your
friends and neighbors to rejoice with you because your lost sheep was found.
In the same way, heaven will be happier over one sinner
who returns to God than over ninety-nine others
who are righteous and haven't strayed away!"

And in the second story Jesus describes the Father this way, in verses 9-10:

"And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors
to rejoicewith her because she has found her lost coin.
In the same way, there is joy in the presence
of God's angels when even one sinner repents."

And in the third story, Jesus portrays the Father this way, in verses 24 and 32: 

" 'For this son of mine was dead and has now returned to me.
He was lost, but now he is found.' So the party began..
'We had to celebrate this happy day.
For your brother was dead and has come back to life!
He was lost, but now he is found!' "

Do you see this!  God is a rejoicing God! God is a happy God! Heaven is a happy place! The angels love to rejoice when sinners repent! 

This is a joyous occasion! 

This is not just one huge universal sigh of relief that you finally came to your senses and got right with God. 

NO! This is the universe rejoicing that God has found you (when you should have been looking for Him but weren't) and that you've repented and turned to Him!

In the next post, I'll make some concluding remarks on this series.

About the Author: Rob is a entrepreneur in Statesboro, GA, where he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 18 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.

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