Friday, October 7, 2016

"Repentance ... the cause of rejoicing in heaven!"

Day #282

Scripture Reading:  Luke 15 - 16 …

In His parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son in Luke 15, Jesus makes one point by telling three parables.  In the first two parables Jesus states the point of the parable at the end:  "In the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent" (15:7) … and "In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (15:10).

In view of the rest of Scripture we know that NO ONE is righteous (Romans 3:10).  Jesus is drawing a contrast between the "tax collectors and sinners" (15:1) who were flocking to hear Jesus teach, and the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who muttered about Him welcoming sinners and eating with them.  ALL needed to confess their sins and turn from them (repent), but the Pharisees and teachers of the law didn't recognize their need to repent, while the tax collectors and other "sinners" were convicted of their sin through Jesus' teaching and put their hope for forgiveness in His mercy and grace.  The same lesson is repeated in the parable of the lost coin. Heaven rejoices when a sinner … ANY sinner, repents and believes in Jesus.

The lesson is repeated again in the parable of the lost son.  While both sons are lost and estranged from the father, simply in different ways, the emphasis is on the younger son who APPEARS to be more of a sinner than the older son.  He squanders his inheritance, disgraces his father's name and ends up in circumstances that he could not have imagined.  Sin sneaks up on you that way when you are focused on yourself and your own desires.  But by God's grace, the convicting power of the Holy Spirit is able to reach people no matter how far they have strayed.

"When he came to his senses," (15:17) describes the beginning of a spiritual awakening.  The young man was not yet aware of the depth of his father's love, but he had begun to realize that having little with his father was better than having everything without his father.  Meanwhile, the father had been praying and perhaps even keeping track of his son through others, for on the day his son returned, he was watching for him and with love and compassion "ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him" (15:20).  It reminds me of Romans 5:8:  "God demonstrated His love for us in this:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

The Bible makes it clear that only the blood of Jesus pays the penalty for sin and only those who trust in Him will receive God's forgiveness and enter His perfect presence.  So what about Chapter 16?   What is Jesus teaching in the parable of the shrewd manager and the story of the rich man and Lazarus?

First, we need to understand that the Master does not approve of the shrewd manager's tactics.  Jesus is revealing the principle that those who are put in charge of earthly possessions should realize that their use of what God has entrusted to them has eternal rewards.  The shrewd manager was thinking of how to have enough wealth for this world, so he didn't have to work or beg.  Jesus says that those who follow Him should "store up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:20).

The use of our material possessions in this life reveals where our hearts are.  "No servant can serve two masters. … You cannot serve God and money. ... God knows your hearts.  What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight" (16:13, 15).  To illustrate the point further, Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  Jesus is explaining that those whose hearts are set on their things cannot and will not arrive in heaven because they are not rich toward God … they have not repented from their idolatry, from their worship of money and things.

Repentance again comes to the forefront - a genuine sorrow for sin and trust in God.  Lazarus, the poor beggar, was in heaven … not because he was poor, but because in his difficult circumstances he knew he was a sinner in need of God's forgiveness and he trusted in God's love for him.   All of Scripture teaches the same thing.  No one is righteous, no one is saved by their own goodness, rich or poor or in between.  The point of the story of the rich man and Lazarus is that God calls us to use whatever He gives us for the welfare of others, not only for ourselves.  

The rich man begged God to send someone to give him water, but the eternal destinations of all who die are set at death.  God has given everything we need to make the right choice:  "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them … If they don't listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (16:29,31).  The Spirit of God uses God's Word and God's Law to convict people of sin.  Deep inside people know they are sinners in need of forgiveness, but they suppress the truth in their unrighteousness and so the just judgment of God falls upon them (Romans 1:18-20).  The consequences of sin and self-righteousness are eternal.

Most people in the world and many in the church today believe that you can be good enough to earn your way into God's presence.  But God says that only those who receive His love and grace in Jesus Christ will repent and be saved from His coming judgment.

Thank God for His love and compassion in welcoming the humble sinner home!  Trust in the love of God in Christ and let go of the things of the world, for it is those who appear to have little in this world who are the unexpected occupants of heaven.  If God gives you much, use it for Him.  Give it away in the service of others in the name of Jesus.  If God gives you little, use it for Him, giving thanks for the opportunity to offer even the smallest gift in the service of the King.  In so doing you will be "laying up treasures in heaven" and you will be the cause of rejoicing in heaven!

"Father, it is in confessing my need and in experiencing your love and grace that I find comfort, assurance and true and lasting joy.  Help me to understand that the things of this world can easily become idols.  Open my heart and my hands to give freely, knowing that all I have is a gift from You to be used for Your kingdom, to draw others to place their trust in You.  Thank You for Your Word and Your Spirit in me, Father.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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