Your heart in the presence of God (part 4 of 5)

Tablets of Testimony

As a recap from part 3, we are looking at what Mosaic covenant symbols might mean in light of a new covenant.  Particularly, I wrote that the ark of the covenant is a metaphor for your heart.  The intended destiny for your heart is to be in the presence of God, 24×7.  Inside the ark were a pot of manna, a rod, and two tablets (Hebrews 9:4).  In this section we’ll look at the symbol of the tablets of testimony and how they map to love.

We just survived another Valentine’s Day that is supposed to be about love, but often isn’t.  I lost my wedding ring a few weeks ago.  After realizing its loss, I humbly asked people everywhere if they had seen it, to no avail.  After looking for the ring in every place I could think of, I had chalked up the loss as having been careless with it in my pocket.  As I was helping with tasks around the house on Valentine’s Day, my wife found my wedding ring on the floor of the bedroom.  As I reflected on it, it would appear that covenant (what a wedding ring represents), was God’s gift of love to me.  In new covenant scriptures, the writer John can be described as a mystic and represented by the sign of the eagle, would go on to pen that “God IS love” (1 John 4:8).  The tablets, like love were a sign of covenant, albeit with some marked differences.

As I have written about in other blogs, the law of commandments are often misconstrued by well-meaning people who take scripture in isolation and do not consider what I would call the full counsel of His word.  For example, while on hand Paul writes that the law is no longer the yardstick for righteousness (Rom 10:4), we have to consider that Jesus said that not one jot or tittle of the law would be done away with until everything has been fulfilled.  Jesus took the law and amplified it to be about issues of the heart.  Take Matthew 5:21-22 as one of many examples:

21 “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment.
22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire.”

While I have heard many teachings about the Ten Commandments, the teachings that I had heard never sat right with me until I heard a teaching indirectly from the late Pope John Paul II.  John Paul taught about the outward appearance of the law as the ethics of the law (loving God with your mind), and the inner truth as the ethos of the law (loving God with your heart).  The law reveals the condition of both your mind and heart, and is a holy tutor to lead you to the place of needing a savior to change your mind and to change your heart.  Once your mind and heart have been sanctified, there is no longer a need for that particular law.  Love is fulfillment of the law.

With that background, let’s look at a few scriptures which reveal the supernatural creation of the tablets and what their function might be in a new covenant context.

Exodus 31:18, 32:15-16
18 When He finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, He gave him the two tablets of the testimony, stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God.

15 Then Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides – inscribed front and back.
16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was God’s writing, engraved on the tablets.

To clear up what was written on the tablets, it was Ten Commandments as described in Exodus 20.  Deuteronomy 4:13 makes that clear.

13 He declared His covenant to you. He commanded you to follow the Ten Commandments, which He wrote on two stone tablets.

What is important is that you don’t miss that the finger of God wrote the tablets.  If you think that Moses carefully chiseled out what God told him to write, you have missed the sign.

I have a confession to make.  I got wrapped up in trying to know the form of that tablets.  There is all kinds of speculation about what the tablets were like, such as whether they were granite, lapis-lazuli, or sapphire, what form of language was used, and what was written on them.  I had a dream revolving being distracted by a blue bottle on top of an airplane that I was flying on.  It was a correction dream letting me know that I was spending my time outside the kingdom by the appearance of something (idolatry).  Doh!  Remember I have been teaching about symbols being about their function (Hebraic) more than about their form (Greek).  In seeking what the Holy Spirit would want me to know about the tablets, here are my impressions.

1) Focus on my word
2) The purpose of my word is that love is demonstrated.

I believe the closest metaphoric purpose that we have in a new-covenant context is one of fire.  His word is to burn in us like fire as love is fueled with passion.

Jeremiah 23:29
29 “Is not My word like fire” – this is the LORD’s declaration – “and like a hammer that pulverizes rock?”

Luke 24:32
32 So they said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?”

I have listed my take on the words that may have been written on the tablets, taking the Jewish perspective on the commandments.  There is debate on whether the original pictographs were used or the more modern version of the Hebrew language.  The English is for your benefit.

Loving God

  1. I AM Adonai your God.

א אנכי יהוה אלהיך

א אנכי יהוה אלהיך

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.

ב לא יהיהלך אלהים אחרים עלפני

ב לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים עלפני

  1. You shall not take the name of Adonai your God in vain.

ג לא תשא אתשםיהוה אלהיך לשוא

ג לא תשא אתשםיהוה אלהיך לשוא

  1. Remember to keep the Sabbath day holy.

ד זכור אתיום השבת לקדשו

ד זכור אתיום השבת לקדשו

  1. Honor your father and mother.

ה כבד אתאביך ואתאמך

ה כבד אתאביך ואתאמך

 

Loving your neighbor as yourself

6.  You shall not murder.

ו לא תרצח

ו לא תרצח

7. You shall not commit adultery.

ז לא תנאף

ז לא תנאף

8. You shall not steal.

ת לא תגנב

ת לא תגנב

9.  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

מ לאתענה ברעך עד שקר

מ לאתענה ברער עד שקר

10.  You shall not covet.

י לא תחמד בית רעך

י לא תחמד בית רעך

 

Again, the purpose of His word is that love is revealed to God’s glory and credit.  We are able to love because He first loved us (1 John 4).

There are two important number symbols regarding the tablets.  I believe there were five commandments regarding loving God and five commandments regarding loving others as we would want to be loved.  I believe there were five commandments on each tablet.  This is also in keeping with Jewish tradition.  In terms of symbols, five is considered to be the number of grace as revealed in the new covenant.  In context, the number of two is the number of witness or of testimony.  Without grace, it will be impossible to keep the law.  It will be the grace of God that empowers you to fulfill the call to love God and love others.  If you think you can love on your own without the grace of God, you have been self-deceived. Your heart will bear witness to the grace of God enabling you to love.  There are two parts to this heart.  You can not separate the command to love God from the command to love others.  If we have one without the other, the law has not been fulfilled.  Hebrews 8:10 describes the new covenant function of the tablets of testimony and is the fulfillment of one of the most amazing prophecies written in Jeremiah 31:33.

10 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.

One of the beautiful things that is revealed in this scripture is belonging as part of a healthy divine family.  It was in the heart of God to belong and be loved.

2 Cor 3:2-3

2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, recognized and read by everyone.
3 It is clear that you are Christ’s letter, produced by us, not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God – not on stone tablets but on tablets that are hearts of flesh.

The tablets of stone, while glorious, were hard and rigid.  Now we can know that the purpose was always to be about love, and that it was to be soft and pliable.

Love in action brings glory to God.  This is what we were created for.

To be continued (conclusion)…

Your Heart in the Presence of God (part 1 of 5)

One of the benefits to interpreting dreams like Daniel or Joseph in the scriptures is that it teaches you to slow down and think about what a symbol might mean in context.

Hebrews 9:3-5
3 Behind the second curtain, the tabernacle was called the most holy place.
4 It contained the gold altar of incense and the ark of the covenant, covered with gold on all sides, in which there was a gold jar containing the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant.
5 The cherubim of glory were above it overshadowing the mercy seat. It is not possible to speak about these things in detail right now.

One day I asked Holy Spirit what the ark of the covenant might mean in light of the new covenant we have in Christ.  I believe I heard the following answer:

“The ark is a metaphor for your heart.”

Why?  Your heart is a container.  It was created to be in the presence of God 24×7.  The ark was to be found in the Holy of Holies where the presence of God was found.  Whereas in the Mosaic covenant, only the high priest could go in once a year, in the new covenant, the presence of God has been made available to all through the door which is Jesus.

Jude 1:24
24 “Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy…”

The ark along with your heart were created to bring glory to God and be pure both inside and out.  The ark was coated with pure gold both inside and covering the ark.  Gold is a symbol representing purity and high value.  Gold is a weighty substance (Kavod in Hebrew), and its luster shines to magnify its owner.  Gold is a symbol of glory.

Let’s take this a step further.  What is inside this ark?  According to scripture, three things: a golden pot of manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of covenant.  All three of these signs were supernatural.  The manna was bread that supernaturally rained from heaven, the rod was a supernatural budding of an almond branch, and the tablets were written by the finger of God.  These three items in the ark were to be kept as a testimony for all generations.  In other words, they were to be eternal.

I’m going to develop the symbols of manna, the rod, and the tablets in future blogs, but let me provide a teaser as to where we are heading.

According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:13, the things that are of eternal value are faith, hope, and love.  They are all divine gifts and not man-made.  The gifts point to the nature and character of the giver.  They are to be carried in your heart.

Manna is a symbol for faith
The rod is a symbol for hope
The tablets are a symbol for love

Carrying these in your heart brings glory to God.  It’s a miracle to have them in your heart.  They point to Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).

To be continued (part 1 of 5) …

Hypocrites versus Eternal Life

Jesus sometimes used the term “hypocrite“, but most often in regard to the self-righteous. What did he mean by that and how does that apply to us?

When I first started going to church, before my point of conversion, being one of those hypocrites was the last thing I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be one of “them.” I didn’t want to be brainwashed, nor chuck my brain at the door. Yet, the funny thing is that is probably the biggest part of my testimony. A “brainwashing” is probably what I needed the most!

Matthew 1:21

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins”

In Matthew 1:21, we’re taught the meaning of the word Jesus. It means God saves (not me). That’s the whole point of the term “repent” in the gospels. It is not to turn away from something, but to turn towards someone, but that’s a topic for another post.

For a number of years, I have wrestled with what my testimony is. Did I become a “good” person? Not really. Is it because my behavior is so much better? Not really. Is it because of a personal healing or personal encounter I’ve had with His love? Not especially, though I have had glimpses along my journey. What’s ironic is probably more than anything else, God has changed the way I think. That’s the meaning of the word ‘repent’, i.e. to change one’s mind – metanoeo in the Greek. God has changed the way I think about many things, the environment, children, sexuality, marriage, and even birth control. Some of my ways of thinking were deeply entrenched, and it is something of a miracle that I could even begin to think about things differently. My ways of thinking were not something I could change on my own and in many cases weren’t even looking to change. Yet, God.

If we look carefully at the scriptures, we will see two expressions used as opposites.

Hypocrite versus Eternal Life

Hypocrite: a person who pretends to have virtues, beliefs, morals, or principles whose actions don’t match what they say. In other words, a pretender.

Jesus defines the term as well. Mark 7:6 – “these people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

I have come to realize that I have become a card-carrying member of the “Hypocrites-R-US club.” Sad but true. The words in scripture tend to make hypocrites of us all. I think that is the point. In the Mark 7:6 text, we find both the problem and the antidote. The answer can only be found through a personal relationship with the one who is able to save our souls.

Eternal Life: an intimate knowing of God the Father and the Son whom He sent (I would encourage you to pursue a a concordance study on “eternal life,” especially through the book of John).

John 17:3 (HCSB)
“This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent — Jesus Christ.”

Eternal life comes through relational knowledge of both God as Father (Abba meaning daddy), and Jesus through the means of the Holy Sprit. I believe that this intimate relational knowing of God will continue, beyond our earthly dimension, to that of heaven.

One of the questions I have been seeking is what that knowledge looks like. The answer that I have received so far is that it should look like love because God is love. In 1 John, we learn that the one who says he loves God but does not love his brother is a liar (1 John 4:20). In other words, our inability to love others takes us back to being a hypocrite and needing a savior to save us from our selves.

The late prophet Bob Jones who “coincidentally” died on February 14th of this year, had visions of heaven. He said for those of us who have accepted the gift of Jesus’ life, Jesus is only going to ask us one thing, determining our reward. “Did you learn to love?”

That is the path to eternal life. The one who knows God, is intimately familiar with how to love, because God is love. The rest of us are probably hypocrites in need of a savior.

In a scene from the movie “Ragamuffin,” Brennan Manning presents the idea that Jesus will ask us one question, “Did you believe in my love for you?” That is the question we all must wrestle with.

We are able to love because God first loved us. That’s where it all begins and originates from. It’s there that we find grace to take us from being hypocrites to a life lived out of love, and find confidence in a life that is eternal.

 

Power of the Word

Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

In the last blog, I wrote about a case for redefining the use of how we use the word “soul”. I want to apply that new understanding with a scripture that I think is frequently misunderstood.

I want to suggest to you that the word ‘psyche’, translated ‘soul’ in this passage may be incorrect. What if ‘soul’ represents the “thoughts of your heart,” and the ‘spirit’ represents the “intentions of your heart?” If joints could be analogous to our thoughts, marrow would be analogous to our intentions, what’s at the core.

It might be time to eradicate the term “soulish” from the Christian subculture. Rather, I would say that it would be better described as our thoughts and intentions that are not yet perfected. We have many thoughts and intentions, but only some of them will reflect the heart and mind of God (Is 55:8).

Pope John Paul II talks about the difference between ‘Ethics‘ which addresses the law according to the mind, and ‘Ethos‘ which addresses the heart behind the law. Jesus addressed the issue of outward compliance with the Pharisees. Jesus taught that if we have an outward appearance of compliance (ethics) but the heart is still sinful, we have fulfilled neither the commandment nor the purpose behind the law. Once both the thoughts (mind) and intentions (heart) have been sanctified, there is no more need for the law. The law then has done its job as a tutor driving us to Christ for our redemption. Remember that Christ came to fulfill the law, not abolish it.

One of the purposes of the word of God is to sift us. It reveals not only where behavior is in need of being saved, but also our intentions. Whether it’s the outward behaviors or the inner intentions of the heart, the word is capable of revealing our need for a savior.

So what is the application for all of this?

If you’re like me, there are areas where I appear to be righteous on the outside, but am still unloving on the inside. Love is fulfillment of the law.

The only hope likes in the one who sanctifies us and leads us into all truth.

At the cross, which is an altar, a divine exchange can take place. When the power of His word (logos) brings up issues for our mind (thoughts) or our intentions (heart), take them to God. From God’s perspective, the cross was to be a place of both death and resurrection (something dies and something better takes its place). If we let something go, ask God what He wants to give you in its place. While the altar of the cross may seem foolish to the world, to those who are in the process of being saved, it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:15-31). His power is made perfect in humility.

A Case for Redefining the Soul

 

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.

In context, Paul is writing a charge to his brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul is exhorting them (and us) to rejoice always, pray without giving up, give thanks to God, refrain from quenching the Spirit, abstain from evil, consider prophesies, test all things, and hold on to that which is good. Unfortunately, none of these seemingly good things are able to save us. Only God can sanctify, as it is of His grace (1 Corinthians 1:30).

A friend of mine encouraged me recently with the statement that “David was kind to his soul.” What was implied was that I was making my soul an enemy. I’ve pondered this for a while and have decided that my friend was right.

How much has the church taught that the spirit is good, but the soul is bad (aka “soulish”)? We seem to be confused and double-minded as we sing songs like ‘bless the Lord, oh my soul.”  What does that mean?

The traditional teaching that I was taught is that we are three-part bodies, being body, soul, and spirit. I was also taught that our soul is made up of the mind, will, and emotions.

The problem with this traditional viewpoint of the soul (spirit, soul, body) is that it isn’t supported by an accurate translation of the scriptures, in my opinion.

Reading the works of Dallas Willard originally challenged this notion for me some years ago. After spending some time recently learning about the Theology of the Body (Pope John Paul II – Christopher West), I’m even more convinced that the western church has a confused understanding.

In this 1 Thessalonians 5:23 text, there are three keywords of interest in the Greek, but to understand their true meaning we have to look at other occurrences of these words in scripture. We also need to look at the Hebrew, the original source of truth. In my opinion, there’s an obvious translation error when scholars and Strong’s concordances translate both pneuma (spirit) and psyche (soul) as “breath.”

spirit – pneuma

soul – psyche

body – soma

Try a Google search on the definition of the word ‘psyche.’

You will get a wide variety of answers, including a woman in Greek mythology. The word is the root for where we get the field of Psychiatry and Psychology, both dealing with the thoughts and feelings of the mind. The Greek root of psyche is the word ‘psycho.’

Let’s look at an example, which occurs in both the Torah and the new covenant. This will give us insights into the use of the word translated ‘soul.’

In Mark 12:30, the first commandment we’re given from Yeshua is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.

The Greek words here are as follows:

heart – kardia

soul – psyche

mind – dianoia

strength – ischys

Just to clarify, the Greek word ‘dianoia’ (poorly translated as ‘mind’), is about having a spirit of understanding. It ties in with not leaning on our own understanding, but being dependent on God’s. It’s one of the ways that we can love God.

This same scripture is referenced in Deuteronomy 6:5, considered the ‘Sacred Shema’, by the Jewish people. The Hebrew word ‘shema’, means to intelligently hear, understand, and obey. It is written that they “shall love The Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might“.

The Hebrew words here are as follows:

heart – lebab

soul – nephesh

strength – me’od

As an aside, the Hebrew word me’od can be translated as “muchness.” Can you love God by serving others with the strengths you have been given?

If you look at both occurrences of the Greek word ‘psyche’ and of the Hebrew word ‘nephesh’, you’ll find that they represent the same concepts.

If most cases, the word ‘nephesh’ and ‘psyche’ refer to someone’s life (Matt 2:20, Matt 10:28). In a few cases, they refer to someone’s thought life (mind). We would be much less confused about the term ‘soul’ if the Greek and Hebrew words weren’t translated out of context.

I’m going to make a proposal of a new model based on the understanding that the word ‘soul’ should represent someone’s life (the whole person). If you look at the book of Revelation (Rev 6:9), it is the “souls” of the saints that are crying out “how long … until our blood is avenged?” I want to make a case that these are not disembodied souls, but rather whole people. We were never meant to live without a body and we will have a glorified body after our resurrection.

Soul – Whole container representing the life of a person (nephesh/psyche representing life)

Pneuma – Spirit

Psyche – Mind

Soma – Body

I would translate the 1 Thessalonians 5:23 text to say “may your spirit, mind, and body be found blameless, inside and out.” The Deuteronomy 6:5 text might read “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength”.

So what is the application of all this?  Use ‘soul’ when you mean all of someone’s life, or the essence of who they are as a person.  Use ‘thought life’ or ‘mind’ where that applies in context.  Can we say what we mean?

In the context, of our scriptural text, there is a an application for all the parts of who we are to be sanctified.  It is not that some parts are “bad” and some parts are “good,” but rather that all our parts need to be redeemed and made whole.

In Psalms, David had discovered that God desired truth and wisdom even in our innermost parts (Ps 51:6). We are given the assurance that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. We have the assurance that the one who is faithful and true will do it.  Let the spirit of God help you, and trust Him in the process.

Shalom!

 

 

 

How to love yourself

Loving your neighbor as yourself

I’ve often wondered how you “love yourself.” Have you?

In Luke 10:29-37, Jesus told the story of a “certain man” going from Jerusalem to Jericho who was robbed, beaten, stripped naked, and left for dead. In this story, there were three different responses to this “certain man”, as given by the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan.

The first question of the heart revolves around “who is my neighbor?” However, there’s a second question seldom discussed which is “how do I love myself?”

I’m discovering that the more I allow the scriptures to speak into my life and apply to me, personally, the more I find myself resembling the characters in the scriptures. I could be David one moment and Saul the next.

Here’s the text for our story:

Luke 10:25-35 (NKJV)

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and your neighbor as yourself.’ ” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. “Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. “Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. “So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. “On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’

While, the Greek text doesn’t exactly use the word “naked,” it does say he was stripped of his clothing as part of being robbed. The scriptures often describe things in subtle euphemisms rather than direct speech. Certainly a humiliating process of being robbed, beaten, stripped of your clothing and left as half dead.

Think of your reaction to a naked guy, clearly beaten up, bloody, lying on the side of the road. To most people, they would be repulsed, and at the very least not want to get involved.

My wife, daughter, and I were eyewitnesses to a motorcycle accident lately. Most people didn’t stop. Where were they? They probably didn’t want to get involved. They had places to go, important things to attend to. The guy was beat up, lying face down in the middle of the highway. My wife prayed that he would live. Miraculously, he was alive, and while mostly out of it, was able to answer simple questions. His female friend, whose car he ran into, brought towels to slow the bleeding. He had major head trauma, and couldn’t move his arms. I went over and prayed for him, as police officers soon arrived on the scene. At one point one of the officers had me hold a towel over him for modesty, as he had to be stripped out of his clothing for his flight-to-life ride to the hospital. We prayed for his female friend, and continued to pray for him afterwards. Were we inconvenienced? Of course, but does it any of it matter compared to doing the right thing? You realize the fragility of life and how so much of what we think is important, isn’t.

For the “certain man” in our parable, people would ask themselves, “what did he do?” Did he have it coming? Did he rob someone? The scriptures state that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13). The Samaritan in the story allowed himself to be moved with compassion.

What was surprising to me this morning in hearing the parable that Jesus shares in response to the question “who is my neighbor?” was that I found myself not as one of the three characters walking by the one beaten and left for dead, but rather the one left by the side of the road. I don’t think it was any accident that Jesus phrased it, “a certain man.”

I realized that I was that man. I was poor, half-dead in my sin nature, helpless, repulsive, and naked. Those who have loved me have clothed me, and looked past my condition (love is a covering). The point in the story that I never saw before was Jesus is describing how to love your neighbor as yourself. He is describing our true condition before letting love save us.

Look at the care given to this “certain man” in our parable. The one who was formerly our enemy (Samarians were often thought of as enemies by the Jewish community) offers us mercy in our pitiful state.

Luke 10:34-35 (NKJV)

So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’

I want to suggest to you that the Samaritan in this story typifies Christ, and the innkeeper as the Father. Christ lay down his life for us as a complete stranger.

Christ comes to us in our brokenness. He was sent to heal the brokenhearted and bind up our wounds (Luke 4:18, Ps 147:3). The common Arabic understanding was that wine was used to purify a wound, and oil was used to soften the damages. That said, I find the symbols of wine and oil striking. Oil is a symbol of anointing. Wine is a symbol of new life. The very areas of our wounding will become the place of anointing and new life for us as we are healed. In those places where we find healing, we will have mercy and anointing for others. Isn’t it our acceptance of His free gift that will raise us up again? He finds a way to carry us to our destiny, as it’s not something we can manage without His help. He has overpaid the debt required to take care of us. He has prepared a place for us.

The amount paid for our care is interesting. Two denarii is an amount for two days wages (Matt 20:2). Could this be the amount required to sustain us before our resurrection (the third day)? Two is often the number of witness. Is the amount paid for us to be a witness of the mercy of God?

I had always wondered what the ‘as yourself’ part meant in the love your neighbor command. As you begin to see yourself as the “certain man”, naked, repulsive, poor, and half dead, you will begin to understand how God has loved you, shown you mercy, cared for you, and paid the full price for your healing and resurrection. As you recognize the mercy shown to you, you will be able to show mercy to others.

That is how you love yourself.

The Extravagant Father

03/10/2012 – The Extravagant Father

Recently, I received fresh revelation on a scripture that I’ve explored many times.  The story is about a father, a younger son, and an older son.  The story is described in Luke 15:11-31.  Take some time to refresh your memory with the story.  While there’s nothing particularly profound in the language of this story, there are deep things to be discovered in pondering. 

To set the stage, Yeshua (Jesus) is addressing the Pharisees and scribes as the target of the story.  While the story is often traditionally focused on the younger son, the story of the older son is an indictment and the thrust of the conviction.  The story begins with a response to a complaint from the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes.

Luke 15:1-2

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.  Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

The revelation I received is that this story is about two covenants.  The older brother represents the old (Mosaic) covenant.  The younger brother represents the new (Messianic) covenant.

Here are some insights focused on the younger son that perhaps you haven’t considered yet:

  1. For a Jewish son to demand his share of the estate while the father was still living would have been a great insult (as it would be today).  It would be equivalent to saying “I wish you were dead so I could have your money.”  Think about how shocking this was to hear for his audience.  Think about how you would have felt as a parent.
  2. You probably already know that pigs were considered unclean animals (haunt of demons).  Did you ever wonder how pigs got that way? 
  3. The pods were known to be carob pods, which were rather tasteless but provided basic sustenance during a time of famine.  How often, do we turn to the temporary things of this world to try to satisfy us? 
  4. How did the Father see the younger son?  As unclean and demonized with the lusts of this world?  Surprisingly, when the Father saw the younger son, he didn’t see the filth, the perversion, or the uncleanness.  He saw a son.  He saw his potential to be reconciled to love and to have new life as a son as part of a family.  This reveals the heart of the Father.  The Father felt compassion for him, ran towards him, embraced him, and kissed him much.  The expression for “embraced him” is actually to “fall on his neck” which means to place your head upon someone’s neck weeping with joy.  The scripture 2 Corinthians 5:19 reflects this perspective (“in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation”).
  5. In the Jewish culture, the fattened calf would have been their best animal (there normally would have been only one), saved for a very special occasion or time of celebration.  The scripture in Hebrews 9:22 instructs us that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood.   Here’s an interesting thought.  Where was Jesus in the story?  Was Jesus the fattened calf slaughtered to make a way for the younger son to be restored to love and relationship (a covenant meal)?  Perhaps the story simply showed what the Father was doing in response to the question being asked (to bring home that which is lost to love and relationship).  Perhaps the story is pointing to the finished work completed as part of the new covenant, with the blood of Jesus making the loving relationship possible.  Perhaps the story is pointing to the coming time where Jesus became the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
  6. There has been much said about the robe, the ring, and the sandals, but a simpler explanation would be having a profound experience that you belong, you are loved, you have authority, and you are family.  Don’t we all need this experience?  Do you experientially know that you belong, are loved, have authority, and are family?
  7. How much did this cost the Father?  In the Greek, that which has been translated as “wealth” is the Greek word “bios” meaning life (Luke 15:12,30).  As a father in the story, he would have had to give up his life (only son) in order to provide the wealth to divide and distribute between us.  He was willing to give everything (his estate) to reconcile, and have loving relationship with us.

As said, the thrust in the story was exposing the hearts of the self-righteous.  Both of the sons were lost.  What can we learn about the heart of the older brother?

  1. Why didn’t the older brother go after the younger brother?  Didn’t he love his brother?  There is no love expressed through religious works.
  2. He was unwilling to celebrate the restoration of another.  There’s a place to celebrate in the saving of another, in someone going from death to life and becoming reborn.  Religion and moral conformity keep us from being able to love one another.  He judged the younger son as being unworthy of being celebrated or being restored.  How often do we fall into this with our hearts? 
  3. The older brother became angry and embittered.  Why?  Obviously his focus was upon himself and his own works.  The value of his estate would have been reduced, or so he thought.  The older brother never received the grace of God, because His righteousness was based on his own works.  Hebrews 12:15 – “Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”
  4. The older brother didn’t acknowledge his younger brother as being legitimate, calling him a “Son of yours.”  The older brother didn’t want to have his reputation sullied by being associated with “sinners.”  Was he lost in his place of pride?
  5. The Father is trying to bring the older brother into a place of repentance (coming home).  The older brother is a slave to the law (old Mosaic covenant).  He says in Luke 15:29, “Look!  For all these years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours.”  This is what being a slave to religion, rules, and moral conformity look like.  Where was his heart?  Did he love others?  Did he truly love the Father, or was it about what he thought he could earn through following the rules?
  6. The Father tells him in verse 31,“you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.”  There’s a message for all the religious older brothers.  The Father’s crazy extravagant love and provision have been available through the asking and the receiving as a free gift through the love and one-time life sacrifice of Jesus.

To conclude, the story answers the question that the Father does indeed receive sinners and eats with them.  Jesus as the Son, did what the Father did.  The story is about an extravagant Father (prodigal means extravagant), revealing his nature and love for us.  Both of his sons were lost.  The younger son was lost in the lusts of this world, the older son was lost in religion, responsibility, and duty.  Through relationship, the younger son found love, forgiveness, and joy.  The older son was lost in religion and had yet to find his way.

How have we made the kingdom of Heaven more like being around older brothers instead of being loved and accepted in relationship?

Jesus shared this story to illustrate what God is like and that there is an invitation to loving relationship and being identified as a family, not a religion.  Regardless of which son we most resemble, there’s an invitation to come, be embraced, kissed much, and treated like a son or daughter as part of a family.