Our Redeemer thirsts for recognition. He hungers for the sympathy and love of those whom He has purchased with His own blood. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 190.
What if I told you, no matter what the circumstances of your birth were, you are no accident. God literally loved and dreamed you into existence. God did not create you to fill a place on this earth. He created the earth to give you a place to live. Our Redeemer hungers and thirsts for your love and sympathy. He longs for your friendship. And that is what the sanctuary service is all about. Its not so much about a legal process as it is about atonement and reconciliation. As humans we tend to relate more to legal settings. We can invent a Santa Clause who gives good gifts to good children. We also dream up karma where bad people get what is coming to them. But God’s grace is so much greater than any legal setting our minds can create. This is why I believe the story of the prodigal son is Jesus’ way of illustrating the atonement and sanctuary from God’s perspective, without having to use a legal setting that we as humans are more accustom to, and seem to relate to.
First let me begin by clarifying something. Obedience is not legalism. Obedience is the gospel. Obedience and good works are the fruit of grace. See Romans 1:5, Ephesians 2;8-10, Titus 2:11-12. I have talked to adults who told me how “legalistic” their parents were while growing up. When I ask, “how so?” they tell me, “well they went to church every single Sabbath.” I’m thinking to myself that is not legalism, that is just loving to be in God’s presence. Often as the person continues explaining, I come to the realization that the parents were not legalistic, they just had standards. Standards, obedience and good works done out of love instead of for selfish gain are not legalism. They are fruits of the gospel. Legalism is when we try to obey God’s law in our own power for our own glory. The Gospel is when we obey by the Holy Spirit’s power because we love God.
And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them. Luke 15:2 NKJV
By eating with sinners Jesus was making a public proclamation, which irritated the religious leaders. Companion is a Latin word; com, meaning ‘with” and pan, meaning “bread.” so a companion is someone you eat bread with. By eating with sinners Jesus was telling the world “These sinners are my friends!” God provided the sanctuary service as a model of reconciliation. God does not need a legal setting. I believe that when the Bible describes a legal setting at all, it is for our understanding and not for God. This is why I would like to share a parable with you, which I believe describes the sanctuary message from God the Father’s perspective.
The story of the prodigal son is the story which I believe demonstrates the sanctuary service and atonement from God the Father’s perspective.
Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. Luke 15:11-13 NKJV
So basically the son is saying, “Give me your blessings but don’t expect me to live by your rules.” Do we ever treat God like that? Even worse, by asking for the inheritance now the son was suggesting he wished the father was already dead. The son seems to have the same attitude of the rich young ruler. The ruler wanted eternal life, but did not want to follow Jesus. He was willing to earn eternal life by doing a “good thing” but when Jesus invited Him to go with Him and have an actual relationship/friendship, the ruler would hear none if it. The rich young ruler only wanted eternal life, but not to be friends with Jesus. The prodigal son wants the father’s blessings but does not want the father’s friendship. How sad! Seeing how our Redeemer hungers and thirsts for our friendship.
But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. Luke 15:14-16 NKJV
Those blessings don’t last when we leave the source of those blessings. You can’t run away from the fireplace and still expect to feel its warmth. Now the son has joined himself to citizen who really has no need for him. ‘He joined himself” implies this was a one sided agreement. He pushed himself upon the citizen. The son really doesn’t belong here. He belongs at home with the father.
But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” Luke 15:17-19 NKJV
Now the son comes up with a legal proposal. He still is not looking for a relationship with the father. He is not looking to be his son, he is planning to be a servant. He will work under a legal agreement. He will work in exchange for room and board. That’s it. Strictly a legal agreement. None of this father and son stuff. I will just do my work and get my pay. How sad! Beings how our Redeemer hungers and thirsts for our love and recognition. He did not die to make us slaves. He died to make us friends again.
And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. Luke 15:20 NKJV
So the son turns towards home, or the workplace whichever way you look at it, rehearsing his legal proposal on the way. But while He is a great ways off the father saw his son, and ran and fell on his neck. That phrase “fell on” is an old English phrase meaning “big bear hug.” Its the same term used in the book of Acts, when the Holy Spirit fell upon the people in the upper room. The Holy Spirit gave them a big bear hug. This is why I see this story as being God’s view of the atonement. The son is bringing a legal proposal but the father is bringing bear hugs and kisses.
Part of the cleansing of the sanctuary is cleansing our minds from all the lies Satan has told us about God, so we can have a clear appreciation of the father’s love. In the book Great Controversy, the chapter titled, “An era of Spiritual Darkness,” we see a gross misrepresentation of God’s character, in the pope, who made German emperor, Henry IV wait for days outside the pope’s castle in the freezing cold, before he would finally grant him pardon. Jesus shows us what the Father is really like, in the story of the prodigal son, who while his son was still a great ways off, ran to him and gave him bear hugs and kisses!
And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, 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 fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry. Luke 15:21-24 NKJV
So the son begins his legal proposal, but he never gets to finish it. As soon as he gets to the part about not being worthy to be called his son, the father would hear none of it. The father tears up the legal proposal and throws it away! “Go get the robe and family ring!” The son never gets to finish the legal proposition of being a hired servant. Our Redeemer did not die to make us slaves and servants. He died to make us sons and daughters. He died to make us friends. The father will hear nothing of a legalistic arrangement. He just wants to be friends again! Remember God is not legalistic, we are. We relate to legalistic settings because we are legalistic. If the Bible describes the atonement in any legal way it is so that legalistic humans can understand. The story of the prodigal son is the story of the sanctuary and plan of salvation the way God understands it. Therefore not one hint of legalism will be tolerated in this story. We see the son with a legal proposal. We see the father bringing bear hugs and kisses.
What if I told you all that legal record keeping in heaven is not for the Father? What if I told you it is for legalistic humans to look over during the thousand years? I have been in at least a couple of Sabbath School class discussions where this scenario was brought up. You are driving down the street when a huge truck crosses the center line and hits you head on and kills you. Right before you die you see the truck coming your way and say a bad word. I have heard people actually suggest that you will not be saved because you never told Jesus you were sorry for saying that bad word. You were killed before processing the legal paper work to get forgiveness, therefore no heaven for you. What if I told you God is not legalistic and does not need any legal paper work processed in order to forgive you?
If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, Psalm 130:3-4 NKJV
[Love] keeps no record of being wronged. 1 Corinthians 13:5 NLT
Remember God is love. God keeps no record of being wronged. In Mark 16:7 the angels tell the women to tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus would meet them in Jerusalem. But wait! Peter hasn’t had a chance yet to tell Jesus He is sorry. Peter hasn’t processed the legal paper work for forgiveness yet. That’s okay. God isn’t legalistic. He has already forgiven Peter, without the legal paper work being processed.
But there’s more! The father has ordered the fattened calf to be killed for a celebration. Now wait a minute. If you’ve ever worked on a church board or finance committee you know this will not work. The son has already wasted the father’s money. We will have to sell the calf to reimburse the father for his loss. Also there will be more expenses to the party besides the calf. We must call the whole party off. We must save that money to make up for the money that was wasted. We can’t waste any more. Calling off the entire party just makes good legal sense. Only one thing though. God is not legalistic. After all the son has already wasted God is still going to have that party. After all, His child is home now. They can be friends again!
“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ Luke 15:25-30 NKJV
Sadly the older brother who had been working at home was just as legalistic as the brother who left home. Funny, the only one who is not legalistic is the father. Both sons seem to connect their blessings to their work, while father connects their blessings to being family. The older son seems to think he has worked hard and has earned a reward. This must have broken the father’s heart when he realized his son had been working all these years for a reward. The father just thought the son was working because he loved him. The son’s speech makes it clear to the father that these years of service had nothing to do with love. He still wants to be paid or rewarded.
The older son makes it clear he was working under the younger son’s legal proposal the entire time. The son divorces himself from the family saying I have been serving you like a servant and not a son, and this son of yours, instead of my brother. All this legalism is breaking the father’s heart. He will hear nothing of the sort. While both sons keep using legal terms like “this son of yours” instead of my brother, and “one of your hired servants” instead of son, the father refuses to use such language. The father keeps using the words, “This son of mine” and “your brother.”
In the story of the prodigal son God is desperately trying to share His perspective of the sanctuary and atonement. God did not send His Son to die to make a legal working arrangement. He did not send His son to make us slaves and servants. He sent His Son to die to make us family, so we can be friends again.
No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. John 15;15 NKJV
For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, Hebrews 2:11 NKJV
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! 1 John 3:1 NKJVYou may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.