Updated: Sep 21, 2021
Reading 1 - 1Ch 5:22
"And many others fell slain, because the battle was God's" (1Ch 5:22).
"Warrior, fighting under the banner of the Lord Jesus, observe this verse with holy joy, for as it was in the days of old so is it now, if the war be of God the victory is sure. The sons of Reuben, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh could barely muster five and forty thousand fighting men, and yet in their war with the Hagarites, they slew 'men, an hundred thousand', 'for they cried to God in the battle, and He was entreated of them, because they put their trust in Him.'
"The Lord saveth not by many nor by few; it is ours to go forth in Jehovah's name if we be but a handful of men, for the Lord of Hosts is with us for our Captain. They did not neglect buckler, and sword, and bow, neither did they place their trust in these weapons; we must use all fitting means, but our confidence must rest in the Lord alone, for He is the sword and the shield of His people. The great reason of their extraordinary success lay in the fact that 'the war was of God'.
"Beloved, in fighting with sin without and within, with error doctrinal or practical, with spiritual wickedness in high places or low places... you are waging Jehovah's war, and unless He himself can be worsted, you need not fear defeat. Quail not before superior numbers, shrink not from difficulties or impossibilities, flinch not at wounds or death, smite with the two-edged sword of the Spirit, and the slain shall lie in heaps. The battle is the Lord's and He will deliver His enemies into our hands. With steadfast foot, strong hand, dauntless heart, and flaming zeal, rush to the conflict, and the hosts of evil shall fly like chaff before the gale" (CH Spurgeon).
Reading 2 - Eze 18:32
"For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!" (Eze 18:32).
"This verse is frequently used to support the view that God wants to save all men and it is only their refusal to turn to Him which prevents this, for does not Peter say, 'The Lord is... not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance' (2Pe 3:9)?
"A moment's reflection is enough to cast doubts on this conclusion. That God is merciful, gracious and a God of love, goes without saying; but to argue that He is so to all men, meaning every individual, contradicts the fundamental teaching of Scripture that God's purpose is being worked out 'according to ELECTION' (Rom 9:11).
"The words of Jesus indicate a selection process: 'No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me DRAW him' (John 6:44). It is because of this that Paul writes to the Thessalonians: 'We give thanks to God... knowing, brethren beloved, your ELECTION of God' (1Th 1:2,4)....
"God is all-powerful and able to do as He wills in His universe. If He will indeed have all mankind to be saved, why is it that so many never get to hear the gospel message? The words of the apostle in 1Ti 2:4 -- in which he says that '[God] will have all men to be saved' -- cannot mean that it is His desire to save every member of the human race. To interpret it thus would contradict the fundamental principle that God's purpose is being worked out on the basis of election. In these words the apostle, who had been divinely appointed as a preacher to the Gentiles, is simply saying that it was no longer the case that 'salvation is of the Jews'. God is now working with the Gentiles (all mankind) and it was His will that salvation be offered to 'all men' (ie, all nationalities) and not just to Jews.
"In 2Pe the apostle is writing to the brethren in the Ecclesias of Asia Minor. It is to these, troubled by the Judaizers and in danger of grave apostasy from the Truth, that he writes: 'The Lord... is longsuffering to us-ward (RV, youward), not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance' (2Pe 3:9). These to whom Peter writes had been called by the Father but were in danger of failing to 'make [their] calling and election sure' (2Pe 1:10). The same applies to these verses from Ezekiel. They are not addressed to the individuals of the pagan world but to the Covenant People.
"The vast majority of the Gentile world, then and now, comprise that great crowd of mankind that 'is in honour, and understandeth not' and who are, by God's appointment, 'like the beasts that perish' (Psa 49:20). Being left by God to wander 'out of the way of understanding', they will by His divine decree 'remain in the congregation of the dead' (Pro 21:16). That this sad fact does not give God pleasure, we would agree. Let us not, however, go to the extreme of emphasizing this to the point where we deny that God's purpose is 'according to election' " (John Allfree, "Ezekiel 1-39" 186,187).
Reading 3 - Luk 15
A young man and an older man walk along together, talking about various matters. The young man says to the old man: "Tell me -- I've studied the Bible, as you know -- but I'd like YOU to tell me... what's the gospel all about? Give me the key. Tell me what it all means."
What did he expect to hear from the old man? What he did NOT hear was a list of 25 or 30 doctrines that had to be believed, with a corresponding number of other doctrines that had to be rejected ('I tell you, son, believe all these things in the left column, and be sure you don't believe any of these things in the right column, and get yourself baptized, and I can guarantee you'll be saved.')
And that is not meant to disparage doctrine at all, nor any statement of faith. But a statement of faith, or a list of principles with which one agrees intellectually, is NOT the final object of faith; it is NOT the reality. After the fundamental ideas have been mastered (and -- make no mistake --they must be mastered!), we come face to face with the fact that there is still... something beyond!
The old man stares off into the distance; his eyes are a bit dim now, but he seems to see something the younger man can't quite make out. "Son," he says, his voice trembling just a bit, "let me tell you a story."
The preeminent "picture of redemption" is a simple story:
"There was a man who had two sons" (Luke 15:11)... And the father -- it goes without saying -- loved them both, very much.
"The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate' " (v 12). The first request we hear from the younger son is "GIVE ME!" -- as though it had suddenly dawned on this young man that the father had wealth, and that it "rightfully" should be his!
"So [the father] divided his property between [the two sons]": The young man was "grown up" now, and ready (so he thought!) to take what was his and enjoy it. And the father does not say, "No!" Instead, he gives his son what he asks.
"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living" (v 13). "Got together" is a technical expression in the Greek, meaning literally "to convert to ready cash"; the young man "cashed in" his property; he got his hands on what he could carry away, and carry it away he did! He was not content to stay at home; the world was an inviting place. "I'm outta here! Look out, world, here I come!" He traveled far away, and carelessly wasted all his father's blessings and gifts.
"After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs" (vv 14,15). Pigs! The dirtiest, most despised of animals to a devout Jew! In desperate circumstances, in a pagan place, he makes an effort to save himself, by joining with unclean people, and living by unclean practices, and in unclean ways.
"He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything" (v 16). It's a fact of life: the "world" gives nothing away! Nothing, that is, except poverty, and illness, and regret. Sadly, he came to realize that it was all "vanity and vexation of spirit". Whatever he begged, or grabbed, or stole from the "world" was never going to be enough to fill the aching void within himself.
"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!' " (v 17). The memory of his father's love, and a safe home, touched him even in the distant land. "He came to his senses." Here is the place where the angels begin to tune up their harps, and warm up their voices, for there is about to be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents!
"I will set out and go back to my father..." (v 18). How he had suffered, in strange lands, and with strange people. But he had learned a valuable lesson: Suffering is not punishment if it brings us back home!
"...and [I will] say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men' " (vv 18,19): Notice what is here, and why this story is so powerful:
First, he is convicted of his sin!
Then, he confesses: "I have sinned". No whitewash, no explaining away, no excuses, just... "I have sinned."
He has the profound feeling of not being good enough: "I am no longer worthy" (news flash: he NEVER was! Nor are WE!)
And finally, there is the second request by the young man to his father. It is no longer "Give me!" That was the first request, the prayer of youth and greed. Now, instead, there is the prayer of an older and wiser son: "Father, make me..." "Father, I don't care about what I can HAVE; I care about what I can BE! Don't GIVE me anything; just MAKE me one of your servants! MAKE me into something worth keeping around!"
"So he got up and went to his father" (v 20): What he needed was a new beginning, and he could only find that new beginning by going back to where he had come from, by finding his "roots", by going... HOME!
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him": Even before he got back, his Father was watching, looking down the road. The Father's hand was stretched out still, and when he saw him in the distance -- the sad, ragged figure of his once proud young son -- struggling back up the road to the old homestead, the Father could scarcely contain himself. He was "filled with compassion." He RAN to his son, with the urgency of parental love. And he embraced him, and drew him into his bosom. There was no bitterness, no reservation, no standing upon dignity or formality. The one whom he had held in his heart, all that long time of wandering, had come home! And now he held him in his arms.
"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired men' " (v 21): Notice that it was not enough merely to think the words to himself, as the young man had done before beginning his journey home (vv 18,19). He had to say them; he had to make a public confession of sin and unworthiness, in front of witnesses. There had to be no doubt as to his intentions, in the minds of others or in his own mind.
"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet' " (v 22). But just as quickly as the confession came, it was over. The evidence of his past sins was not to be held over his head to shame him, or to keep him in an inferior position! He had asked only to be one of his father's servants; but his father now elevates him to the rank of a favored son. His nakedness is clothed with a garment provided by the father -- and it is the BEST garment: nothing "second-class" here! And he is given the "ring" of authority as well -- the sign of a son and an heir. He may have squandered his earlier inheritance, but now he receives another!
"Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate" (v 23). The welcome is followed by a special meal of fellowship and rejoicing.
" 'For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate" (v 24). What power -- and what joy -- there is in those two little words: "OF MINE"! Now he belongs to the father again! His sins and all his past set aside, he is now something worth keeping! He belongs to the Father! "He will be mine," says the LORD Almighty, "in the day when I make up my jewels, my treasured possession. I will spare him, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him" (Mal 3:16).
"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound' " (vv 25-27). We need to see clearly here: the older son is to be commended. He had always been working -- he was not a BAD son! While the younger son had gone off to live a life of sin and selfishness, the older son had been doing his duty. And now it looked as though his younger brother had had all his fun, and was ALSO going to be the father's favorite! It was just not fair!
"[So] the older brother became angry and refused to go in" (v 28). But by keeping himself away from the feast of rejoicing with his younger brother, he was also keeping himself OUTSIDE his father's "house"!
"So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' " (vv 28-30). Sure, there is resentment here; and we can understand, can't we? 'But, Dad, I have been a better son than he ever was!' And he HAD! But somewhere in the back of this exchange there is the echo of a prayer uttered in the temple itself: "I thank you, Lord, that I am not as other men!" And in that echo there is a grave danger. "We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise" (2Co 10:12).
Besides, how can he now claim perfect obedience when at this very moment he is going against his father's wishes? One son may have been "lost" in a far-away land, but this son is showing by his present attitude that he is "lost" even though he never left home!
" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found' " (vv 31,32). Notice how the older son had called the prodigal "this son OF YOURS" (v 30), as though to disclaim all kinship. But the father, gently and patiently, reinforces that he is "this brother OF YOURS"! Like the sheep that wandered away from the shepherd and the flock, he was lost and now is found!
The power, and the beauty, of Jesus' story lies also in this: it is an unfinished story. There is at the end a final, unanswered question: Did the older brother go into the house again? Or did he remain outside?
The question is left unanswered in the story because we are expected to answer it, every day, in our own lives.
Some final thoughts:
* We can, all of us, be like the older son. Forgiving our brother is not an optional matter. It is "heart and soul" of the gospel. It is the only basis by which we may expect that the Father will forgive us: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Mat 6:14,15).
* We can, all of us, be like the younger son too. We may not travel to a distant land, to enjoy ourselves in riotous and decadent living. But we may take little "day trips", short "vacations" and "holidays" from our duty as children of God. Our lives may consist of many such little trips away from the Father, and then each time we hurry back, and hope that no one noticed we were gone. To us too, as well as the really "serious" sinner, the words of the old hymn apply:
"Oh, Thou who knowest the path we take,
Who seest how OFT we roam,
Reveal Thyself, the living way,
And guide ALL travellers home."
There is nowhere that we can travel, not the "farthest country", from which we cannot return to the Father's love. There is no "pit" so deep -- nor so degraded -- from which we cannot be drawn out by the "cords of love".
The Father is always waiting. When men and women knows they are "starving to death" -- like the prodigal son (v 17) -- then, and only then, are they ready to come home!
The Father "runs" to the son, to forgive him and welcome him home. The Father "rises early and sends the prophets" (2Ch 36:15; Jer 25:3), beseeching His people to come back to Him. And when we do, then He "runs" to meet us! Like Abraham with his beloved son Isaac, the Father in heaven "rose early in the morning" and hastened, with His Son, to the place of sacrifice (Gen 22:3,6,8). "What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all -- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom 8:31,32). We should think of Jesus on the cross as the outstretched "arms" of God; just as the Son's arms were stretched out and nailed to the cruel cross, so the Father's arms are stretched out, beckoning us sinners to come home to Him. "God was reconciling the world to himself IN CHRIST, not counting men's sins against them" (2Co 5:19).
The Father has made every effort, and provided every opportunity, by which we might be drawn to Him and saved. Truly, "a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over", has been poured into our laps (Luke 6:37,38). "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good PLEASURE to GIVE you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).
If there is any single "picture of redemption" -- above all others -- in which the gospel, and all of man's hope, and the love of God which passes understanding, is isolated, and compressed, and comprehended, then it must be this one. Everything else that we might learn from the pages of Scripture, everything else that we might glean from a lifetime's experience in living the Truth in a hard and often cruel world, everything else we might know of the human condition, and of human need, ought to be set alongside, and interpreted in the light cast from this simple picture:
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him" (Luke 15:20).
May it be so for each one of us.