Lord Jesus compacted the Ten Commandments into two – with the first pertaining to our spiritual life and the second about our present physical life. The Savior repeated the same question “Do you love Me?” to Apostle Peter thrice to make him realize its importance and with each answer entrusted him with responsibility to look after His lambs and sheep and to feed them with Spiritual Manna. Apostle Peter had earlier denied the Lord but was ‘grieved’ to answer and opened his heart in repentance before the Lord. He could do so for he loved the Lord “with all his heart, mind, soul and strength” but can we also do so with confidence?
The story of the Prodigal Son and our love for God – The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11 onwards) is the most discussed topic of the Scripture since we identify ourselves with the son and all have returned to the Father after a stint of prodigal living. However the reason for the story as mentioned by the Lord is often lost. This man of the story had two sons but the younger one asked the father to divide the inheritance while he was yet alive. The father, a loving man, who had been providing the best for his family agreed. He overlooked the fact that the son was virtually declaring him of no use to him in his future life of great ambition and that the son was unwilling to wait for his death to lay claim to the inheritance. The son wanted his father’s property but not the control and correction as is evidenced in teenagers who desire independence of thought and life both. The youth desire to make their own mistakes rather than learn from their elders and there are innumerable parents suffering the agonizing wait for a message or a mail from their offspring.
And he moved to a distant land – After having received his share of the property and converting it to cash, the younger son moved off to a far country, where no one would know him or his family to exercise some control or to report back to the father. The father, on the other hand desires a bond of love with his children to help them grow. Job was overwhelmed by the sufferings heaped upon him and he was unable to reconcile his loss to his past life where there was no sin that was not properly atoned for through sacrificial offerings and worship. Job was not getting any answers to his questions and his wife and three friends were also laying the blame for his sufferings on him for some hidden sins. Finally in desperation he cried out to God “Why then did You bring me out of the womb? I wish I had died before any eye saw me…. Are not my days almost over? Turn from me so I can have a moment’s joy” (Job 10:18-20). Though Job was a righteous man, he was unprepared, like all of us, to suffer for unknown reason and prayed to God to turn away from him to give him some respite. What is love of the parents is sometimes perceived as shackles that restrain us from achieving our goals.
The love of God was displayed in the Garden of Eden, where all eatables, gold and precious stones, animals and birds for company and to entertain were freely given by God. The only restriction was about the ‘fruit of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil’ and accountability to God through His daily visits. Adam and Eve were happy with all the blessings of God made available to them but after a while we start treating the restriction as denial of what is available and treat that as our rightful share. It is then that the truth becomes bitter and the Father a cruel Master treating us as slaves and His command and its disobedience become a lie. Like the Prodigal son we crave for the blessings and not the control that naturally comes with it. We fail to consider the consequences of that disobedience and step out of ‘the protection of the father/God’s house’ and open the door to outside forces to exercise control over us. The question of the All-knowing God to the Eve, “What have you done?” is not to enquire about the details of the crime but an agonizing cry of the Father who is well aware of the future. The righteous Father God could not have allowed sin to be present before Him and the two were forced to leave the life of abundance and inherent security of the Garden of God. The consequential ‘move out’ does not bring sweating it out only but the loss of guidance and protection cause the first murder on the earth by a brother, where Cain killed Abel. The prodigal son started a life steeped in sin and soon lost all the money that he had.
Lord Jesus’ love for mankind resulted in healing of all the “lame, blind, mute and suffering from many other diseases, that the multitudes brought to Him” (Matthew 15:30). The crowds were happy to receive the blessings from the Messiah but were reluctant to listen to His ‘hard sayings’ about leading a righteous life. It was then that “many went back and walked with Him no more” and refused to be His disciples (John 6:66). Lazarus was raised from the dead in Bethany, a town barely two miles (3 kilometers) from Jerusalem, and this and many other miracles were witnessed by the people. Yet the Hosannas sung in His honor on His entry into Jerusalem turned into the cries of ‘crucify Him’ barely four days later and the love for the King had turned into extreme hatred to seek the release of Barabbas, a murderer, and crucifixion for the Son of God.
And “He came to his senses” – The young man was left with no money, no friends, no place to live and nobody willing to help a wayward man. To add to his misery the area came under a severe famine wherein the only job available to him was to care for the pigs, an unclean animal for a Jew, and he was forced to eat “the pods that the swine ate” (Luke 15:15-16). It is not clear how long he was forced to stay in this abominable condition in the pigsty but then he realized the love of his father and the abundance of his house. During our sinful living we are so deeply entrenched in sin and the darkness so overpowering that we fail to see any life other than that. It is then that God touches the heart of His chosen ones through the Holy Spirit to bring us to our senses – only God can and does bring us back to our senses. The son desires to earn the love of his father through honest hard work as a servant in his house and returns with a humble apology and confession of sin.
The Old Testament reminds us again and again about the love of God and various efforts made by Him, through the prophets, to bring the Israelites to senses to bless them with the life of love and abundance. The father had missed his son everyday and eagerly awaited his return one day while looking towards the way that the son had taken to go. How many parents await a call or a message from their children, who are away from them! While the son was still afar off, the father saw him, forgot his status and ran towards him to embrace, kiss and welcome him back into his house not caring for the stink of the sinful life in the ‘pigsty’ (vr 20). The merciful father readily forgives his son and orders a celebration for his return.
The contextual reference – Lord Jesus had heard about the oft repeated complaint of the Pharisees and scribes about His “receiving the sinners and eating with them”. He proceeds to reveal God’s love to them to change their attitude for others through the two parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. The shepherd and the woman start looking for the lost sheep/coin while leaving aside all else and call others to join in the celebration after finding what was lost. And then the revelation, “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:2-10). God is forgiving and merciful to those who repent of their sins and return to Him and the story of the Prodigal Son illustrates this love. We cannot earn this love by our deeds but this is through the grace and mercy of God towards mankind.
Best example of a man’s love for God – The oldest book of the Bible reveals the love of one man for God that made God notice and commend him before others. God took pride in the righteous, blameless and upright living of Job, who feared God and shun evil while Satan accused him of doing this in response to the hedge of protection and blessings on his work by God. Satan is then permitted by God to test Job by taking away all his possessions without touching him and Job loses all his children, cattle and animals in one calamity after another in a single day. On hearing all this Job “got up, tore his robe, shaved his head in mourning and fell to the ground to worship God while exclaiming “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised”. In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:8- 22). Satan further demanded from God to afflict Job with sickness, that he will curse God for every one cares for self over all else. As a result Job is afflicted with sores from head to toe and his wife, not able to bear the agony that Job undergoes, asks him to curse God and die. Despite all this Job maintains his love for God and tells his wife, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” In al this, Job did not sin in what he said” (Job 2:4-10).
We complain immediately for unanswered prayers while Job patiently maintained his righteousness while his three friends blamed him for sinning and eventually, “After the LORD had said these things to Job, He said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken the truth about Me, as My servant Job has” (Job 42:7). Job suffered without complaining and blaming God and God blessed him with double of what he had previously had.
In the Church or in our private worship, why do we come before God – to glorify Him or to continuously blame Him for our troubles; to thank Him for what we have or to curse Him for what we want and do not have. We take years of wrong ways of living an extravagant life, living beyond our means, incurring loss and debts but as we come before the Lord, we expect Him to move the magic wand to pay off our debts. Most of the time we look at God not as a Savior but as a miracle worker who will make our problems disappear with the sleight of hand. Pontius Pilate decided to send the Lord to Herod and he being the ruler of the Galilean region, was well aware of Lord Jesus and His various miraculous deeds, though he paid no heed to His teachings. Herod wanted to see some miracle performed by the Lord before him but Lord Jesus did not reply to any of his questions (Luke 23:7-9). Where there is no love in the heart, there cannot be any answer forthcoming from the Lord. He has assured us of forgiveness for our repented sins and a place in heaven with eternal life, everything else that we receive in this life is a bonus and for His glory. The Messiah Lord taught the followers to ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ and not worry about ‘food, clothing and other material things’ for all this would be given in the power of God’s righteousness as a bonus (Matthew 6:25;33).
What is life in the Kingdom of God? – Firstly, kingdom is where the king is and Lord Jesus has blessed us with the indwelling God the Holy Spirit. Thus the Kingdom of God is already established within us and we operate under His guidance and power. Lord Jesus has restored our broken relationship with God the Father through forgiveness of our sins and we are required to be like the angels in heaven who praise and worship Him in every situation. The four living creatures “do not rest day or night, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). Whatever may be happening anywhere in the universe, they keep singing the praise and worship of God. In like manner our life should also be that “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:17-19). Job rejoiced in the Lord under all circumstances and was counted worth of recognition by Him before His angels.
A Jewish story about an old bird that could not fly and was living a difficult life in a desolate desert area with virtually no food and water is educative. One day he saw an eagle flying high and on enquiry learnt about its scheduled trip to heaven. The old bird asked the eagle to check about his future and was told by the eagle on return that his condition of suffering is to last for seven years but he should give thanks to God in everything. About a week later when the eagle was on another trip to heaven he saw the location of the old bird had a small pond of water with a few fruit trees while the bird falling down every time he tried to fly. But on falling down the old bird would cry out “Thank you Lord for everything”. The eagle was informed by the angel in heaven that the old birds suffering period of seven years has been completed in seven days. Job’s trial lasted a long or a short time is not known but he emerged victorious and stronger in faith at the end of it.
It is important to understand God’s love for us so that we can then rejoice in that love and love Him. “Jehovah your God is mighty in your midst; He will save. He will rejoice over you with joy; He is silent in His love” (Zephaniah 3:17). He is mighty amidst us and not far away and He will save us from our troubles and rejoice over us. Hebrew word translated as rejoice is “sus” which means to delight, rejoice and spin around under strong emotion, like the dancers around a newly married couple. God is within us helping us to be victorious and then rejoices over us out of love for us. A real understanding of this love helps us know God better and we can rejoice in thanksgiving to our Mighty God in every circumstance – whether rich or poor, sick or healthy – to accept His will being best for us. The might of God would be of no help if He cannot or us unwilling to save us from our troubles and His Son was sent to be amidst us to help us overcome evil and darkness within and without us. The God of all creation, Creator Jehovah is rejoicing over us. Be thankful and let this love overflow from within us to others to lead them into this awesome love of God.