The Son Brought a Legal Proposal. The Father Brought Bear Hugs and Kisses

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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 1:5Ephesians 2;8-10Titus 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 NKJV 

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

The Journal of the Prodigal Son’s Father

 I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Sivan 30,

I am so grieved I can barely write. My younger son asked for his inheritance, and has taken it and left home. I thought he loved me, but he only loved the things I gave him, and apparently wants nothing to do with me personally. My only solace is in my oldest son, who is still by my side and there whenever I need him. At least one of my sons loves me.

Av 29,

It has been two months since my youngest son walked out of my life. Oh how I long to have my son back! My servants have been filling in, doing all the tasks that he used to do, and even my oldest son has pitched in after all of his work but they can’t take the place in my heart that only he can fill. Its not the work he did that I am worried about. I miss our walks together. I miss our conversations at the dinner table. Now I am so sad I can’t even eat. Many nights I find myself skipping dinner and just sitting on the front porch staring out over the hills. Sometimes the children will be playing on the hills and it reminds me of when my son was young and would play on those hills. He would see me from a distance, when I stepped out onto the porch, and he would know dinner was ready and would come running to the house. Many nights I dream of him running home to me again. While my older son can never fill the void in my heart that my younger son has created, I cherish my time with my older son even more. Now I know how precious those moments are. I am so glad my older son loves me!

Kislev 12,

It’s my older son’s birthday today. Oh what a joy and comfort he is to me! He is always there for me. I treasure every moment we spend together. I had planned to prepare a goat for his birthday celebration but then I thought better of it. I am sure my son is grieved that his brother is still missing, and would not feel like celebrating while his brother is gone. After all, he can have a goat anytime he wants. Besides, I would rather eat soup with both my sons than to have a feast without them. I am sure my older son feels the same way. I sure do love him and am so glad he loves me and has not run away too.

Nissan 1,

I am so excited I can hardly write! Tonight I was standing on my porch staring off into the hills, and at first I thought I was dreaming when I saw my son coming home. Next thing I knew I was running out to meet him. I kept hugging and kissing him making sure it was really him and not just a reoccurring dream I have been having over and over ever since he left. It was really him! He is home! All my dreams have come true! He is home! Tomorrow my older son returns from his business trip. I will have both my sons home! I am going to kill the fatted calf and celebrate both my sons being under the same roof again! I am so happy we will all be together again I won’t be able to tell if I am eating streak or eating soup, but what better way to celebrate than having both my sons together under the same roof again!

Nissan 2,

I am heartbroken again! This time it was my oldest son who tore my heart apart. When he got home and saw the celebration he refused to come inside. Then he tells me, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!” How those words tore my heart apart! All this time I comforted myself with the thought that my older son stayed with me because he loved me as much as I loved him, only to find out he did not love me at all. He was trying to earn something instead. A silly goat! A calf? We could have had either one of those on his last birthday, but I thought the important thing was that we were together. That we loved one another. All these years he served under my house I never cared what we were eating so long as we were together and had each other. Tonight I found out he was not serving me because he loved me like I love him. He was hoping to get some kind of reward out of it instead. I found comfort in my older son when the younger son took his inheritance and left me, showing he only cared about my possessions and not our time together. Well tonight I found out my older son feels the same way towards me. All this time he never cared about our precious moments together. All those years I thought he was serving me because he loved me, when in reality it wasn’t about me at all. It was about some silly calf!

Its like my oldest son was never even here. His heart was never with me. It was with all my possessions. he was sleeping right under my roof while his heart was as far away from me as his brother was.

Do any of my children truly love me? Can any of them look past the inheritance and my goats and calves, and love their father who loves them more than anything he owns?

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

Who Will Wipe The Tears From God’s Eyes?

Southern Christmas Tree

I am writing tonight near the beautiful Southern Adventist University campus near Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away’ ” ( Revelation 21:4, NKJV).

As I read the key verse in this week’s SS lesson, I pause and ask myself, who will wipe the tears from God’s eyes? People say there will be no crying in heaven, but obviously there is, or God would not have to wipe tears from our eyes. God created us with emotions, and He will not turn us into hard-hearted robots, when we see that some have chosen to be lost after so great a price was paid for their salvation.

Yes, there will be tears in heaven, but God Himself will wipe those tears away. Again, my question, who will wipe the tears from God’s eyes? If you are lost, do you believe God will turn Himself into a hard-hearted robot and just forget about you? No way! God says, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” Jeremiah 31:3. To me, everlasting means everlasting.

While God’s love is indeed everlasting, some have thought that meant they could get away with anything, and God will still love them. While that is true, unconditional love does not mean unconditional salvation. You see, I can be lost and go to hell, and God will still love me! Which leads me back to my question once more. Who will wipe the tears from God’s eyes?  In Isaiah 49:15 NLT God asks, “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!” God is not simply making the comparison to a newborn baby. The word “nursing” is present tense. God is saying it would be harder for Him to ever forget you, than it would be for a mother to forget her child while she is nursing it! This is impossible!

Friends, if I were lost, that would be sad for me. However as sad as that would be, my sadness would not last forever. I would be destroyed by hell fire and then would be no more. I would not be missing God for all eternity. But if I were lost, would He be missing me? Would there always be an empty place in God’s heart?

Imagine the prodigal son’s father looking out from the front porch for a trace of his wayward son somewhere off in the distance. Looking day after day, year after year for just a glimmer of hope. Then one day he hears that his son has died while roaming. He won’t be coming home. Do you think that Father who for years watched from his front porch, will no longer pause as he looks out his window into the hills off in the distance?

In Hosea 11:8, After years and years of Ephraim’s rebellion and idolatry, God wrestles with His own emotions, as He cries, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?”

Revelations 6 finishes with the 6th seal and asks the question who will be able to stand when Jesus comes, and not ask for the rocks and stones to fall on them? Revelation 7 answers that question, that it will be those who are sealed with the character of God. Revelation 7 goes on to describe the various tribes or characteristics that will be sealed. The tribe of Ephraim is not mentioned. Ephraim is not among the saved.

Revelations 8:1 says that after the sealing, there is silence in heaven for the space of half an hour. Many scholars agree this half hour is one week in Bible prophecy, when heaven is emptied of angels as they attend the Son of God as He returns. Without disputing that, I wonder, could the silence be God pausing, just asking Himself if there was anything else He could have done to save Ephraim? In Isaiah 5:3-4 Could God have been referencing a future judgment when He cried,  ”O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?”

Of course God has done all He can do! Still, doesn’t a parent in those situations pause to ask themselves if there was any other way a wayward child could be saved, even when reason tells them everything that could have been done has already been done? Our God is a God of principle, but He also created us in His image with emotions. Do you believe God in His infinite wisdom, knowing that all has been done, will just wipe His hands clean of the lost? My God may be a God of infinite wisdom and principle, but He also has an extremely huge heart! No parent has ever loved with as much passion and emotion as my heavenly Father has loved you! And if there has ever been a parent, who has lost a child, and asked themselves what more they could have done and even second-guessed themselves, it would be my heavenly Father!

Does my heavenly Father err? No! Has He already done all that could possibly be done? Yes! Do I still think He may pause for a moment, before declaring the doom of the lost, to search the depths of his infinitely wise brain just one more time, to see if He can come up with just one more idea? Yes I do! Will He find one? No. Everything has been done.

In Genesis 44 Judah tells the Egyptian ruler, not knowing it was Joseph, about how he broke his father’s heart when his father lost his son. He goes on to explain the heartbreak it would bring his father if Benjamin does not return home. Judah then goes on to convey that he will not break his father’s heart again. Judah would rather rot in prison than break his father’s heart.

Friend! Don’t break my Father’s heart! Yes, you may be able to forget Him but He will never be able to forget you! Please! Be there for my Father! He loves you so much! Be there on that day for my Father. If you choose not to be there, who will wipe the tears from His eyes? Who will be there to put their hands on His shoulder as He peers from His front porch off into the distant hills, and remind Him, no, you aren’t coming home – ever?

I have broken my Father’s heart so many times already, but I, like Judah, refuse to break His heart like that again. I want to be there, not just for myself but for my Father! Will you be there too? If not, who will wipe the tears from God’s eyes?

Be there. Please.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

 

Glimpses Of Grace; When God Ran

I am writing this morning from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.  Luke 15:20

I love this parable about the prodigal son. I love how when the son turns back to his father, who represents our Heavenly Father, that while he is still a great ways off the Father has compassion. God does not wait for us to get our act together before He accepts us as His children. I love this verse too, because this verse is the only time we see God run. God does not run to hear angels sing His praises. God does not run to congratulate a Superbowl or world cup champion. But when a rebellious sinner turns his eyes towards home, when a sinner wants to escape satan’s grasp and needs help getting free, God does not walk He runs! As a matter of fact, it’s the only time in the Bible you see Him run!

I would like to invite you to celebrate this agape love with us at the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church. If you are not in the Tampa Bay area you can find a grace filled church here.

Click here and let the song “When God Ran” by Phillips Craig and Dean bless your heart today.

Garments of Grace; The Prodigal’s New Clothes

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Download SS Lesson Guides to your cell phone here.

Many look at the story of the prodigal son, in this week’s SS lesson as a story about one man in the church and one who was out. However, it is interesting in the end, the one who is out comes in and the one who is in goes out. The prodigal son asks for his inheritance before he leaves. What the son is saying to the father is, “I want all your blessings but I don’t want to live under you roof and abide by your rules.” I don’t think the prodigal son is alone in his way of thinking. Remember earlier in these lessons we spoke of Joseph’s brothers being jealous of the special coat that their father had made him. His brothers wanted all the blessings Joseph had, but did not want the intimate relationship with their father that Joseph had. Do we do the same today? Do we ask God to bless us while we are willfully ignoring His commandments? If so, we are just like the prodigal son who said, give me my inheritance and I am going to go live somewhere else where you can’t tell me what to do. Unfortunately the inheritance only lasted as long as the relationship. Lesson learned: The relationship is the inheritance!

 

When the son realizes this, he heads for home. Now feeling unworthy of the relationship or inheritance, he seeks to become a hired hand. His Father would have none of that. While the son is a great ways off, the father runs to him and hugs and kisses him. I am reminded of a story in the Great Controversy, of a religious leader during the dark ages, making a ruler stand out in the snow before he would forgive him. What a gross misrepresentation of my heavenly Father! My Father does not make people stand out in the snow before He forgives them. He runs to where they are and hugs and kisses them, and welcomes them home.

Meanwhile the other brother who stayed at home is not the least bit happy to see his brother return. It makes him so angry he leaves the house! When you read his argument you see he thought all these years he was working for all he had. Come to find out it was all a gift given to him and not of works.  The son who stayed home benefited from grace as much as the one who ran away.

On my trip home from Tulsa I ran into weather problems in Dallas-Fort Worth, where I was to make my connection flight. My flight was cancelled and I ended up spending the night on the chapel floor at the airport. I was frustrated because I lived in the Dallas area for ten years and still have many friends there, but I could not ask them to come get me in the storm which included tornados.  So I laid down on the airport floor with my laptop case for a pillow. I had just begun to feel sorry for myself, when I realized, that many people more noble than I sleep on hard floors every night. People more noble than I had just lost their homes and even lives in the Joplin tornado. People more noble than I sleep on the hard ground under bridges every night! I realized my nice comfortable apartment back home in Tampa is not something I have earned or deserve. It is a gift from God! I then realized that the nice little chapel floor in the airport was not a curse, but rather a gift of grace from God. A gift that I had not earned or deserved.

Since I could not sleep well, I prayed for the prayer requests coming in from my Facebook. Surprisingly they came in all night long. That morning I woke up feeling the presence of God in that chapel more vividly than when I am even at home. I realized my gift from God’s grace is a relationship with Him and not a comfortable place to sleep. I realized I was just as much my heavenly Father’s son while sleeping on the airport floor, as when I will be resting in my heavenly mansion.  Interesting…..Jesus was just as much His Father’s Son while laying in a manger as He is now sitting on the throne in heaven.