Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Prodigal Son, Line by Line

The Prodigal Son is one of the most famous stories in all of literature, speaking to the deepest part of the souls of fallen humanity. It is a story that dates from the beginning of time when Adam sinned, rejecting his purpose and identity by choosing to believe Satan’s lies over God’ s truth and was cast out of the beautiful garden his Father had made for him. All of mankind has followed in Adam’s footsteps, each one going astray and falling short of the glory of God. Woven through the pages of Scripture, the consummation of this epic tale comes in Luke 15, which beautifully illustrates the acceptance and reconciliation that has been provided for us through Jesus. I invite you to join me on this journey as we walk through this beloved passage line by line.

I hope that each person who reads this can understand and accept the wonderful honor and privilege of entering into a restored relationship with God. It is my sincere hope that each of you can feel empowered to live out your true calling and purpose by realizing 3 truths about your identity as a child and heir.

Luke 15:1-13
And He said, A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with riotous living.

The first thing we learn about this young man is that he has thrown off all authority and rejected the covering and protection of both his father and usurped the authority of his older brother, who would traditionally have overseen his father’s estate. The Hebrew word for this is na’ar, a teenager or young adult who is roaring or one who is separated from his father’s household and without covering and supervision. Not only does he fail to exercise good stewardship over his estate which should have been used to provide for his future family and to care for those in need, but he squanders it on riotous living. This word riotous is asotos in Greek. It means the opposite of sozo, which is the word for salvation. He is engaging in a lifestyle that is both self-destructive and destructive to others. When I click on this word in my logos bible software it automatically links to the Hebrew equivalent of this word, zalal, which means gluttony—He had adopted a lifestyle of devouring everything and everyone around himself. His lifestyle and behavior were the very opposite of a saved person and will ultimately destroy him. Verse 13 makes it clear that he is living an asotos, or unsaved life.

Verses 14-16:
Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the carob pods that the swine were eating, but no one was giving him anything.

Famine is a sign of the absence of God’s blessing and in the Bible, famines usually occurred when the people of an area were worshipping false gods and engaging in sin. Having wasted his entire estate, the prodigal is no longer free to be his own man, but must hire himself out as a servant to another. This was a very low position for a Jewish male. Pigs were an unclean animal and under the Old Covenant, Jews did not eat pork.

Expository note: [Animals, like pigs, which do not “part the hoof,” do not have the sophisticated digestive system of cows and sheep that clean toxins out of their bodies and make them healthy for food. Pigs store toxins in their fat. Not only do they not sweat toxins out, they even eat their own excrement, taking the toxins back in. While Christians can bless their food and make it safe through prayer under the New Covenant, and we can cook meat in better, safer ways to get rid of those toxins, God’s food laws had a purpose and the health and well-being of his people was and still is part of the covenant.]

Caring for pigs is one of the lowest jobs he could have taken. Pigs were often fed carob pods, a sort of sweet fruit to fatten them up. Poor people were also given these pods to eat. The fact that no one would give him any shows the complete disdain with which this man was treated. They treated the animals better than him. They viewed him as less valuable than the pigs—one of the lowest and most despised animals to a Jewish mind. He has sunk as low as he can go.

Verses 17-19:

But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger. I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”

Verse 17 is the turning point of the story. He comes to himself, or comes to his senses. This moment is a picture of God’s call. While God has given all men the ability to make choices, just as this father allowed his son to choose to walk away from him, the choices have consequences. The more a person chooses to believe the lies of satan and to live in a wrongful, sinful lifestyle, the deeper they go into bondage and slavery to sin. What we witness in this verse is the Holy Spirit calling this man to repentance. John 16:8 tells us that the Holy Spirit will “convict all men concerning sin and righteousness and judgement.” This young man has a choice, whether he will return to his father, or continue his life of sin. Hebrews 3:7-8 tells us “Therefore as the Holy Spirit says: Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts….” At this point, he can either choose to repent, to change his mind and return to his father, or he can sink back into his deception and reject the call to repentance. He chooses to repent and go back to his father. He will humble himself and ask for mercy. His physical suffering paints a vivid picture of the spiritual anguish a lost human soul. This verse shows us a picture of freedom, how God’s call can separate a person from harmful, destructive spiritual influences and give them back the freedom to make their own decision. When we proclaim God’s word it has the same effect. “God’s word is living and active and sharper than any two-edged blade, capable of dividing soul from spirit.” His word, whether it comes from His Spirit calling men to repentance, or from the Bible, can separate a person from the lies they have believed and clung to.

Verse 20:
So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

The Father’s reaction is astonishing!!! Under the Old Covenant, such a son, having lived a gluttonous lifestyle and according to verse 30 engaged in the sexual sin that comes with such a lifestyle would have been deserving of the death penalty under the Law. Because of his youth, his Father could have chosen instead, to beat him with the rod as punishment and if he yielded and repented, his life could be spared. Otherwise, he would have been put to death and hung on a tree. [This punishment with rods was NEVER used on someone under the age of 12 and ONLY used on those who had committed very serious crimes.] Unfortunately, since Romans 3:23 tells us that ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death, we ALL deserve to be beaten with rods and put to death. But, because Jesus was beaten with rods in our place, scourged and hung on a tree, we have forgiveness of sins. "But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him and by his stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5) The rest of Romans 6:23 tells us that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. This young man received correction from the Holy Spirit, instead of the rod. He received GRACE instead of the LAW and he chose to live under grace instead of going back to living the cursed life he was under. Every person must make this choice: “Today I call heaven and earth to witness against you that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse, therefore choose life, that you and your children may live.” (Deut. 30:19) If you have never made that decision, I encourage you to accept Jesus into your life today. Repent, just as this prodigal did, ask for forgiveness and invite Jesus into your heart and life to heal, restore and renew you. enter into a relationship with God. 

Verse 21-24
And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ BUT THE FATHER said to his servants ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found. And they began to celebrate.

This parable follows the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin which tell us that there is rejoicing in heaven and among the angels over one sinner who repents. This is a picture of that type of rejoicing. All children are created by God. All of us, just like sheep, have gone astray. This prodigal son returned to his father and there was great rejoicing. The moment He humbled himself, he was exalted. Here is a mini-lesson on these 4 verses to show just how this incredible teaching applies to our lives:

1. The Robe Represents God’s Anointing
The robe represents being honored, being clothed in righteousness and power.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, Isaiah 61:10

And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. Luke 24:49

Just like Joseph, Daniel, Elisha, and even Jesus, when we come to our Father, we receive a robe that shows we are the true Sons of God and heirs of the kingdom.

2. The Ring Represents Authority
On that day…I will make you like My signet ring, for I have chosen you." This is the declaration of the LORD of Hosts.  Haggai 2:23

A signet ring represents the seal and authority of the King. When we become heirs with Jesus, we receive authority to act as God’s representatives.

3. The Sandals Represent Being Sent Out
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. Mark 16:15

How lovely on the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace And brings good news of happiness, Who proclaims salvation, And says to Zion, "Your God reigns!" Isaiah 52:7

Illustration:
Slaves were not given shoes. Shoes not only represent sonship, but the ability to come in to God’s presence and go out as His ambassadors. When we humble ourselves as servants, Jesus lifts our heads and calls us friends. My pastor has called these the “shoes of peace,” and he is very much correct because when Jesus sent the disciples out he told them to speak Peace first thing to every house they came to. And that is exactly what we are meant to do—to share the good news with everyone that they can have peace with the Father because of what Jesus did for us. We also preach the good news to ALL creation—meaning that we exercise spiritual authority over powers, principalities and spiritual forces of evil to bring the blessings of God’s Kingdom everywhere we go.

Application:
Thank God for the incredible honor to be his ambassador. Think of 3 practical ways you can represent God and bring the blessings of His kingdom to those around you. Ask God if there are any areas of your life where you need to be exercising spiritual authority over the enemy to close doors and take back ground he has stolen. God has honored us. List 2 ways that you can honor someone in your everyday life to show them the kind of dignity, honor, compassion and respect the Father showed the prodigal son. List 3 ways that you can honor prodigals when they show up on the doorstep of the church. Pray for a prodigal that God would grant them freedom from harmful spiritual influences and would send people into their lives to minister to them. Ask God to speak to them and call out to them and miraculously intervene in their lives to reveal his goodness to them.


And Now, THE REST OF THE STORY.....

Part 2: The Other Son

Verse 25-28
Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound. But he became angry and was not willing to go in...

The older son was the firstborn. He can represent anyone who has grown up religiously who becomes jealous of a new believer and the attention they are getting. Earlier in chapter 15, we learn that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 who need no repentance. It was his joy, right and privilege to join the celebration, but instead, he covets the attention being given to his newly restored brother and angrily refuses to enter in and join the family. It is worth noting that dancing is seen here as an appropriate means of celebration when a person returns to their Father, God. One of the principles taught in the parable of the laborers is that those who serve God will receive the same wages, the same eternal reward which is heaven and being in the Father's Presence, whether we are saved young or old, spend a lifetime serving him or a few short years. All believers will be at the great celebration in heaven.

Verse 28-32
...and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours, and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might make merry with my friends, but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him. And he said to him, Son you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.

The older brother can be shown to represent religious leaders and even the nation of Israel as a whole. Israel had always had God's commandments, while the Gentiles did not, though all were rightfully His children (Acts 17:8), the Gentiles had chosen to act in evil ways and become sons of the evil one instead. Most prostitutes were cult prostitutes and a goat was the sacrifice that was used in the wild parties, or Bacchanales of the ancient fertility cult. This cult manifested as Ba'al worship and then as Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology. This mention, along with the tending to pigs, shows how thoroughly Hellenized, or Greek, the prodigal son had become. He was living as a pagan. I believe the older brother is intentionally referencing the fact that he, himself has not participated in such activities. This is more than simply a complaint about not celebrating with his friends, He is emphasizing his own piety. The claim that he had never broken a commandment is false because Romans 3:23 says that "ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." This brother represents Jews who rely on good works and the law for their salvation, instead of grace and this passage paints a picture of how many Jews rejected Gentile believers, refusing to celebrate their acceptance by God. This is a very hypocritical position, since the nation of Israel had very much gone astray and committed all of the same sins as their pagan counterparts. The Old Testament presents the story of Israel, as God's prodigal son, going astray and prophesies God's plan of redemption and reconciliation. Even the Pharisees of Jesus' day, had dark hearts and secret sins. He called them whitewashed tombs--beautiful on the outside, but rotten internally. Even one failure to follow the law is breaking God's covenant. No one can come into the Father's house except by grace. The older son could no more claim perfection than the nation of Israel could. Even in this instance, the Father comes to plead with the older son to enter in. This is the position He takes with unbelieving Jews today, who have been cut off from their own family tree through stubborness and hardness of heart. This passage shows that God's promises still stand true for Israel, but they must choose to accept the Father's invitation and enter in to the celebration. Just like any person who has grown up in church, but never accepted Jesus as saviour, the unsaved Jews, the nation of Israel has become like the older brother, standing outside of the Father's house, refusing to enter in. 

As believers, it is not our position to judge who is worthy of hearing the good news of salvation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Isaiah 53:6 says: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Jesus has provided the way for us to be reconciled with the Father and He has judged all people worthy of hearing the message and being given the opportunity to accept the invitation and be welcomed home. It is not our place to point fingers, throw past sins and accusations at them in front of the father and say unworthy--it is our place to celebrate and welcome new believers home in the same way that we were welcomed home. They have been rescued, forgiven and given a clean slate, just as we have been saved and forgiven. 



Monday, September 7, 2015

Identity Theft: Who are you...really?

Our true identity is a precious thing. The Bible says that if we trust in Jesus, we are God's children who are dearly loved and longed for, chosen and redeemed. We are called citizens of heaven, God's representatives on this earth, priests and kings. Satan is terrified of us finding out who we really are and what we are meant to become. He will tell us all sorts of lies to make us forget who we are and to cause unbelievers to continue rejecting God. We should not be unaware of his schemes. 2 of his main strategies for identity theft are: 

1. To tell people lies about who God really is 


2. To tell people lies about who they really are 

He uses these lies to cause people to fall short of fulfilling God's calling and purpose for their lives, or to cause them to reject Jesus and their identity in Christ entirely and to choose him instead. I invite you to read on and explore an example of how he tried to steal the identities of 4 Hebrew boys and what happened when they remembered who they really were and claimed their true identity.

In 2 Corinthians 2:11 Paul says: 
I have done this so that we may not be taken advantage of by Satan. For we are not ignorant of his schemes.”  

One very clear example of this scheme of Identity Theft is found in the book of 
Daniel chapter 1, verses 1-6:

In 605 B.C., after Nebuchadnezzar’s first conquest of Jerusalem, He ordered that young men from Israel of royal descent be brought to Babylon to be educated. Among them were 4 boys from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. When these boys arrived, they were given new names.

If we take a look at how these boys were renamed when they were hauled off to Babylon, we can see the lies the enemy tries to tell us and by studying their true names, we can see who they really were, what they meant to God and most importantly, we can catch a glimpse of who God really is and what he is really like. I will be including some New Testament passages to help us make an application of these Biblical truths.

HANANIAH
Hananiah was renamed Shadrach. His new name was actually a false prophecy over his life. It meant "I am very fearful of God." His true name means "Yahweh is gracious," Jewish teachers love to use the hinting method, to quote part of a passage of scripture in order to bring the whole thing to mind. This phrase should bring to mind this often quoted passage: 

"Yahweh is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding (overflowing) in faithful lovingkindness" 

While it is true that God had punished the nation of Israel, He had supernaturally preserved all of those who trusted Him by promising through the prophets that those who did not resist the Babylonians would be spared their lives. God was already miraculously protecting these Judean boys before they ever arrived in Babylon. The judgement that had come upon Judah was an answer to the prayers of the faithful, calling out for help and God dealt graciously with those who trusted him even in the midst of judgement on the nation. This lie called "Shadrach" was an attempt to undermine his faith, trust and confidence in God. His true name told Him who God really was, that HE was reliable, the HE was faithful and that HE was compassionate.
In the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 4, verse 16 this is written: 

Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.(Hebrews 4:16)

AZARIAH
Azariah was renamed Abednego, which means Slave of Nebo--a false God. The message contained in this name means--you are a slave and you will never be set free. Because Nebo was a moon god, and the moon goddess is Sin. This name is like saying "you are a slave to sin" and will never be set free. But his true name, Azariah means "Yahweh has helped." It means God HAS helped us, He IS helping us and He WILL help us in the future. His true name told Azariah that God was on HIS side, helping Him. Here are some Scriptures about that illustrate how this truth applies to all of our lives: 

But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart...You have been set free from sin.....Romans 6:18

Helping is an essential aspect of God’s character. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,” John 14:16

He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. Psalm 91:15

Azariah’s true name told him that if he cried out to God, He would be faithful to help, just like Hananiah’s true name told him that God would be gracious and compassionate.

MISHAEL
Mishael was renamed Meshach which means "I am of little account." His new name meant that he did not matter, that he was worthless. But the truth is, he was a treasure. Daniel carefully records that Nebuchadnezzer took some of the vessels, or treasures of the house of God and took them to the house of his god. But the true vessels of the house of God, Yahweh's true treasures are not gold and silver bowls or implements--those things are just symbols, a representation. PEOPLE are his true treasures and the vessels that carry His Presence as the following verses demonstrate:

For you are a holy people to Adonai your God—from all the peoples on the face of the earth, Adonai your God has chosen you to be His treasured possession. –Deuteronomy 7:6

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Matthew 13:44)

Just like these 4 boys, believers are the treasure, Jesus gave all that he had for us. That’s how much we are worth to him. 

1 Timothy 2:4 says that God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 

2 Peter 3:9 says “He is being patient for your sake, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. “ 

No one is worthless to God:

Therefore, if ANYONE cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. 2 Timothy 2:21

We are the vessels that carry God’s Presence, just like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah WERE the true vessels of the house of God.

The enemy wanted Mishael to feel worthless because he knew what God these boys represented. Satan wanted to undermine his trust by making him feel unworthy of God's time, attention and efforts--like He wasn't worth saving. But His true name means "Who is what God is?" Put that another way--There is NO ONE like MY GOD!!! Mishael clung to the truth. His name also points us to another passage of scripture by use of the hinting method

“Who is a God like You pardoning iniquity, overlooking transgression, for the remnant of His heritage? He will not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us. He will subdue our iniquities, and You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will extend truth to Jacob, mercy to Abraham, that You swore to our ancestors from the days of old.” –Micah 7:18-20

THE TEST
In Daniel chapter 3, the boys are faced with a decision. They were told to either bow down and worship an idol, or be thrown into a blazing fiery furnace. They took a stand: 

If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, Be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” 

How could they show such amazing chudzpah? When we're facing tough situations, it's good to know what God's word says about it. Perhaps words like these gave them courage and strength: 

"I will be with you...When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, nor will the flame burn you." -Isaiah 43:2 

"You will come as far as Babylon. There you will be rescued. There will Adonai redeem you from the hand of your enemies." -Micah 4:10  

These young men knew that they were really worshippers of the one true God and God showed up to save them out of the fiery furnace, giving us a picture of the extraordinary measures He will take to show us what we are worth to Him: 

“So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out from the middle of the fire…not a hair of their head was singed, nor were their robes scorched, nor was there a smell of fire on them” 

Not only did they come through their fiery trial unharmed, these men were promoted. They had already been appointed as administrators over the province of Babylon, after they won their first trial by refusing to eat unclean foods and now, because their identity was firmly grounded as Israelites, God’s chosen people, they refused to be stripped of their true identity and were promoted even higher.

DANI-EL
Daniel's new name, Belteshazzar, meant "Lady protect the king," it is also translated as the treasurer of Bel. It meant that he was owned by Bel, that He served Bel, that he was supposed to protect this false god and perhaps, worst of all, it meant that he was less than a man. His name meant that he was a slave who was less than a man, bound to a false god, But Daniel's true identity showed who he really was. Daniel means "God is my Judge" and I am all that He says I am. Only God could judge him. In Daniel 10:11 he was addressed as one dearly loved or highly esteemed. God’s favor was so strong on Daniel that he was made ruler over the province of Babylon and chief among the wise men under King Nebuchaddnezzar. Ultimately, it was Daniel’s influence and position of authority that allowed him to turn over Babylon to the armies of Cyrus, who would be the one to issue an edict allowing the Jews to return home and to begin rebuilding the temple. You see, Cyrus had 2 names as well, he was also called Darius. This is the king who loved Daniel so much—this Daniel whose careful oversight had allowed his people to prosper, even in exile. Daniel’s wisdom, influence and willingness to be used by God was instrumental in bringing down one of Satan’s most powerful strongholds on earth—Babylon--and in allowing his people to return to the promised land. Daniel’s identity was so undeniable that even pagan kings and rulers recognized that he had “an extraordinary spirit in Him” and proclaimed the greatness of God. Dani-EL knew who he really was. He survived wicked bosses/ kings, awful circumstances, life in a pagan stronghold and difficult trials and prospered and overcame them all. He is one of the greatest overseers of God’s people and all because he knew who he really was.

These 4 boys refused to compromise their IDENTITIES. They were shown to be 10 times wiser than the most educated men in the world. They became important and influential leaders and were delivered in miraculous ways. They remembered who they really were--forming their identity based on who God really is—and were blessed and fruitful because of it. God used them in mighty ways to lead, govern, and watch over His people. 

Just like these 4 Hebrew men, We can overcome any circumstance, bringing God’s kingdom into the middle of any situation, when we know who we really are. 1 Peter 2:9, 2 Corinthians 5:20, Galatians 4:7 begin to give us a clear picture of who we really are in Christ:



“So you are no longer a slave, but God's child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir …You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light …Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God is making his appeal through us…”

Application: Who are you, Really?:
If someone asks who you really are, do you know the answer now? Are you a believer who has invited Jesus to come into your life? Do you know that God loves you? Are there areas of your life where you need to take spiritual authority? Pray more? Be a more humble and grateful servant? Be light to the world? Help others? How does knowing your true identity affect your daily thoughts and actions?