The Lost Boys

One of my favorite parables (and perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted) is the parable of the “prodigal” son. The word prodigal means basically means ‘wasteful.’ Prodigal does not appear in the Bible. Jesus simply tells the story, or parable. Parables are illustrative stories that do not give us much detail, names, dates, or places—they simply illustrate a point. The story of the prodigal son is a story of two lost boys. Neither boy is a believer. Only one ends up ‘saved.’ As you read the parable, remember to read it in context:

 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

 Each of the sons represents a different people group. The good son represents the Pharisees and scribes who grumbled at and against Jesus’ ministry to the lost tax collectors and sinners. Like the Pharisees and scribes, the good son is outwardly religious, but his words and conduct reveal his legalistically dead, entitled, and embittered heart. The prodigal represents the “tax collectors and sinners.” Tax collectors and sinners personify the immoral and the rebellious who are dead in their sins and trespasses. In reality, spiritually and eternally speaking, the good son and the prodigal are equally lost, with hearts dead and disrespectful toward their father (who represents our gracious God). They simply manifest their sinful and dead states in different ways, one more obvious than the other.

 There are those who wish to misrepresent the prodigal as a child who has wandered away from the faith only to come to his senses and rededicate his life to God. Nothing can be further from accurate or the truth. The parable tells us that this boy was ‘dead’ (i.e. spiritually dead). In fact, the father, who personifies God, describes the prodigal as one who was once lost and is now found… as one who was dead but is now alive:

 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (Luke 15:31-32)

 The parable is all about the grace of God, a God who has mercy upon whom He has mercy and the danger of overlooking the spiritual condition of our outwardly moral (outwardly Christian) children whose hearts are spiritually dead. The parable of the prodigal son is about two lost boys and their gracious father who shows them both undeserved grace. With this in mind, read the parable for yourself (Luke 15: 11-32). One son is shown to have repented of his sin. The other son is shown to have failed to repent. Often, we overlook the behavior of a lost “good kid” because of outward conformity, rather than an inward change of heart and an eternal change of destination. Be careful.

Keith Crosby
Dealing with Conflict

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9).

This earthly life we lead is fraught with misunderstanding, miscommunication, and hurt. There are times when people deliberately hurt us. There are times when people do so accidentally. And there are times when we do one or the other to other people. What comes next is important. It is important to Jesus Christ. It is important to His Father in heaven. It should by all rights, therefore, be important to us. As Christ-followers, we want to be peacemakers not peace-breakers. We see the importance of loving, biblical, Christ-commanded confrontation throughout the New Testament. Matthew 18 is one example:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Matthew 18:15-17).

Often, but not always, the offense taken is a misunderstanding. That’s why you go to your sister or brother in Christ, privately. Sometimes, your private approach is not well-received or productive. Jesus offers a solution. Bring others into the equation to help (to help you both). The aim here is not embarrassment but restoration. You see this at the end of verse 15—“you have gained your brother.” Why involve others? An extra pair of eyes, or two, or an uninterested third party can bring objectivity to the conflict. This is as much to hold you accountable as to hold the one with whom are in conflict accountable. The aim is objectivity. The goal here is to confirm the facts. You may discover you’ve got the whole thing wrong. Or… they may come to the conclusion through an extra set of eyes that they were in fact at fault. Again, the goal isn’t vindication but the restoration of relationships.

On rare occasions conflict or misunderstanding uncovers deeper issues. This comes through in verse 17: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Matthew 18:17).” Most of the time this is not the case. Most of the time these are loving discussions between friends or associates. There are times you can look the other way and there are times you must speak into a matter:

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

There are times we are forced out of love for God and our neighbor to speak into a matter. Once again, the goal is never vindication (i.e. vindictiveness) but the other person’s good and ultimately a restoration of relationships. And, once again, much, if not most, of the time these are small matters. Both passages (Matthew 18 and James 5) also cover serious issues.

Most of us dislike conflict. Most of us just want to put it behind us. However, when we ignore our problems they often fester and get worse—like a cavity in a tooth. Conflicts and misunderstanding require action and effort to resolve. On occasion, we fall into the trap of acting like children, “Well, I’ll forgive them when they come to me begging…” Christ calls us to be proactive. There’s an old saying, “Meet them half way.” Sometimes we employ this adage as an excuse: “I’ll meet them half way, if they will come half way.” Or, we say, “They won’t even meet me half way.” Jesus calls us to a higher standard:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

The careful observer will notice this comes close on the heels of Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:23-24 indicates if you are aware that someone has a problem with you take the initiative to go to them---there’s no “meet me half way.” Just as God took the initiative to reconcile mankind to Himself in Jesus Christ, we, as His followers, must take the initiative to reconcile others to ourselves—even if they are at fault. No, we are not God. We are not playing God. We are, however, His servants.

Are you at odds with someone? Are they harboring a grudge against you? Have they slandered you? Reach out to them. Show grace, as one who has received grace. Step into the breech and try and heal it. And if you fail? You will have failed during an attempt to demonstrate your loyal love for God and your care for your neighbor by this act of obedience. You will show yourself to be a child of God: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God (Matthew 5:9).” There are worse things to be called.

Keith Crosby
Thoughts as we head into Good Friday and Easter (Resurrection) Sunday

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:21-27)

 It was a dark day in Martha’s life. Her beloved brother, Lazarus, had died and had now been in the grave for over three days, four to be exact. To add to her anxiety and pain, Jesus, in whom she had placed much hope, had been absent for her brother’s death and had not been there to console her. He had come after the fact. He had healed so many, but now there was no healing her brother. Lazarus was dead. Lazarus had died and after four days would remain dead according to the Jewish understanding of death Four days in a tomb under the hot Judean sun would only hasten his decay and erode what hope she held out. There could be no healing now.

 Finally, Jesus returns. And in her tearful words, one almost detects a word of criticism, “… if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus’ reply seems religious and spiritual (“Your brother will rise again…”) but impractical. Assuming Jesus spoke of the final resurrection of the dead at the end of time, Martha affirmed His observation. Sounding spiritual, herself, she says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Martha thought Jesus was speaking of the resurrection referred to in the book of Daniel. But Jesus had other plans. Maybe in her moment of grief, she lost sight of Jesus and who she knew Him to be. We do this all the time during times of hardship and pain. We sense God is far off and things are out of control. The truth is, the Lord is always near; moreover, He is always in control. As fragile human beings, we do not see the proverbial forest for the trees. If we listen and pay attention, God will remind us. He will remind us by and through His Spirit, His Word, or His actions (providential or miraculous) that He is God, He is sovereign, He is here, and He is near. We must always cling to what is true. We must never forget, even if we cannot see it at the moment, that all things truly, truly work together for good to those who love God, those who are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28) and those who have faith---who have placed their hope---in Jesus Christ. His is a hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5: 5). Mary was about to experience this first hand. Jesus’ words are telling and what He ultimately does, exceeds her wildest expectations. The resurrection of Lazarus foreshadows the glory of what is to come.

 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:25-27)

 Jesus reminds her of what is real. That He is the resurrection and the life.  Thinking more clearly, she affirms her belief, faith, and trust in her affirmation or confession of faith: “She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world (John 11:27).” In short order she experiences the fruit of a hope that does not disappoint. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-45).

 What’s this got to do with Easter?  This event in her life foreshadowed the greatest even in history. Often, the confirmation of our faith precedes the trying of it. In short order He is arrested, brutally tortured, and murdered, leading some to comment “He saved others but did not save Himself.” His disciples are scattered, crushed, confounded and disappointed. Jesus, as part of His Father’s larger redemptive plan, is crucified, dead, and buried. His disciples are scattered and in hiding, some wondering if their hope in Him was unwarranted. That’s “Good Friday.” Some would consider it “Bad Friday.” Calling it Good Friday is counterintuitive, yes---but apt. Why? Because He who knew no sin became sin that we might become the righteousness of God. What? The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. We know all of us have sinned. Like sheep, we went astray, and God laid on Him to penalty, the punishment of us all. That’s why He’s called Savior. Just as their hope would not be disappointed, neither is ours. Jesus rose from the grave on Easter Sunday demonstrating His power to deliver. He demonstrated His power to deliver on His promises. He demonstrated His power to deliver us from sin, death, and hell—if we trust in Him. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this (John 11:25-26)?”

 Sometimes hope seems crushed. Often things are darkest right before the dawn. Hope in Jesus, trusting in Christ, is a hope that will not disappoint. I’m sure when Jesus died on the cross Martha was once again devastated by a sense of hopelessness. And upon encountering the resurrected Christ was able to trust Jesus in a wider sense than she could have conceived of. This Easter weekend, starting with Good Friday, we celebrate not only the passion of the Christ but the certainty of a hope that does not disappoint—indicated by the fact of His ressurection.

 As sure as He was crucified, Jesus Christ rose from the dead and sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for those who trust in Him. This life is short and eternity is long. And our joy involves seeing beyond this life and into the next. Jesus has done for us what we could not (and would not) do for ourselves. He’spaid the debt we couldn’t pay, stood in the breach we created between His Father and us, and offered us a home with Him for all eternity. One day, He will wipe away every tear. All we have to do is trust in Him. His message to us and to Martha (and Mary) is that one day all this will make sense, viewed through the lens of eternity, through the lens of the Gospel, and a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. One day…

 I don’t know what hardships you are facing. I don’t know what suffering you’re having to endure. But Jesus offers hope, healing, and redemption as a gift. Take it. And in Him and through Him you will be able to make sense of it all as His first disciples did and like all His true disciples do now. One day. Come to worship with us this weekend to understand why things are the ways things are and how wonderful things will be, one day. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23). This Easter Weekend, find the answers to all your questions, find hope, help, and healing for your soul through salvation in Christ. Experience a peace that surpasses human comprehension, as you turn to the Savior, as you surrender your past, your present, and your future---your rights to Jesus Christ and look forward to an eternity with Him, in heaven, ONE DAY.

Keith Crosby