During the Willow Creeks Association’s Global Leadership Summit this year Tim Keller spoke from the text of the parable of the prodigal son. He recently wrote a book titled The Prodigal God and I assume much of what he said is expounded upon in the book.

Tim mentioned that the word prodigal also incorporates the idea of reckless expenditure and because this parable involves the reckless expenditure of love by the father (i.e. God) he titled it The Prodigal God. The sub-title (aim) of the talk was to diagnose spiritual deadness and reveal the cure for it.

The parable of the prodigal son was told to Pharisees and religious folk. In Luke 10 we read that the Pharisees and scribes complained because Jesus ate with and received sinners. In the light of this Jesus told three parables, the third of which is the prodigal son.

In the parable we often miss the fact that it was not only the younger brother that was alienated from his father but so was the elder. The younger did not love the father but rather he loved the money of his father and so he asked for his share of the inheritance and goes and spends it. But the elder brother wasn’t much different and his attitude is revealed in Luke 15:29 –

“he said to the father, Behold, so many years I serve you, and I have never transgressed a command of you. And you never gave a goat to me, so that I might be merry with my friends.”

He also was after his father’s possessions though he went after it in another fashion.

At this point Tim mentioned that people try to gain salvation in two ways. The one way is like the younger brother – ignoring God and be immoral and irreligious. The other is like the elder son – be very moral and religious. But in both these ways the heart of the person is not drawn to God but rather what can be gained – salvation.

By the end of the parable it is the elder brother that is outside the house trying to save him. He is lost because of his goodness. This is what religion does. It acts morally in order to gain salvation while salvation is not gained in that manner. Religion says obey and be accepted. Elder brothers serve God to get things from God. In other words doing what they think is expected of them and s getting leverage over God. The Gospel turns it on its head – you are accepted now obey out of love towards the One who accepted you. We get a righteous record because of the Son and then obey because we want more of God himself not what can give us.

Diagnosing Spiritual Deadness

So, diagnosing spiritual deadness – it is caused by the attitude of the elder brother. At one level we believe the gospel, but persistently our hearts go back to religion – we go back to being elder brothers. Elder brothers, and here is the source of spiritual deadness, believe they’re getting leverage over God

  • Elder brothers get angry when their life doesn’t go well
  • When elder brothers are criticized they either attack or are demoralized
  • There is no intimacy in an elder brother’s prayer life – it is about what is to be gained
  • Elder brothers have a sense of superiority because of their good works. Their self image is based on right doctrine and they loath all who disagrees with them.
  • They loo down on people who have or know less as lazy
  • They get merciless – forget from where they themselves where saved

What to do about this spiritual deadness.

  • Get to a new level of repentance.Repentance that means much more than just being sorry for wrong done and confessing it. It goes to the level of repenting for the reasons behind actions both wrong and right. Repenting from that motivation behind our good actions that seeks to gain something from God.Often the elder brother/Pharisee types are even proud of their repentance. It is one more “good” thing to do by which leverage over God can be gained.
  • Break through to a new level of rejoicing.Here Tim touched on something I have never thought about before. The estate of the father was already divided in two because of the younger brother’s request. He went and spent his part of the inheritance so the only reaming part of that estate would then be the elder’s inheritance. At the return of the young brother the father commands a feast must be held and the young brother is given a ring and robe – all of it at the expense of the older brother’s part of the inheritance! Understandably the older brother is furious. Here this squanderer of his father’s possessions comes back and gets all the advantages of the household for which he has not worked and that at the expense of the older brother – scandalous!We however have an elder Brother quite unlike the one in the parable. Our elder Brother brings us back to our Father at His expense – his very life.

    This moves us to humility.

    This is cause for rejoicing.

Teaching values

Whenever we teach about moral values we should press through to the gospel otherwise it becomes moralism and phariseeism. The reason behind what we do, the motivation is not to gain leverage over God. It is not to somehow gain points with God and then get something in return but because we have been shown mercy and acceptance into God’s family.  If we teach morality without this component we will end up with people falling back into the attitude of the elder brother.

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Psalm 98 (NKJV)
1. Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
For He has done marvelous things;
His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.
2. The Lord has made known His salvation;
His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.
3. He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
4. Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.
5. Sing to the Lord with the harp,
With the harp and the sound of a psalm,
6. With trumpets and the sound of a horn;
Shout joyfully before the Lord, the King.
7. Let the sea roar, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell in it;
8. Let the rivers clap their hands;
Let the hills be joyful together before the Lord,
9. For He is coming to judge the earth.
With righteousness He shall judge the world,
And the peoples with equity.

I read this Psalm in my devotion time some months ago. This Psalm speaks of some really extravagant celebration. Just look at this:
Verse1 – Sing a new song. It takes time and commitment to write a new song. Before it is performed a LOT of work needs to be done – ask any song writer or arranger.
Verse 4 – Shout joyfully. Shouting goes with celebration. Just think of any sporting event – loud, joyous, and extravagant.
Verse 5 – A band playing along. Again this speaks of time consuming planning and rehearsal, not just haphazard, spur of the moment, let’s have a small get together. No this is serious partying!
Verse 6 – More shouting. Joyful shouting!
Verse 7 – Creation gets invited to this party. This is not a localised, house party. This is a global event. This has the characteristics of a new year’s celebration complete with rock bands televised across the globe and fireworks at Sydney Harbour, Moscow, Paris’ Eiffel Tower, London’s Millennium Wheel, New York’s Time Square and all over the globe. We talking about the biggest party one can imagine.

But what struck me about it was not only the extravagant celebration that is portrayed here but also the reason for it. Verse 9 says the following: “For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, And the peoples with equity.” Now this is where it got to me. Judgement is not normally associated with celebration, especially when God is involved. When God’s judgement comes up in conversations things get tense and voices get that serious tone to them not associated with a party. Our understanding of judgement is that of the law courts. You have the plaintiff or state attorney, the accused and their lawyer and the judge. When this law process is done then there is a judgement of guilty or not guilty. If guilty, then there is a penalty with not much reason for celebration, even the plaintiff will normally just state that they are “satisfied” that judgement went their way, but nothing to throw a global party about. If, however the judgement is “not guilty” there is normally much joy and, if South African court cases can be taken as an example, much celebration.

This Psalm says that God is coming to judge the earth and that is the cause of much extravagant celebration. I contemplated about this for some time now (more than 4 months actually). Then I read and discussed the following verse with some friends:

1 Colossians 1:19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (NKJV)

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned- 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the offence. For if by the one man’s offence many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. 16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offence resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offences resulted in justification. 17 For if by the one man’s offence death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
18 Therefore, as through one man’s offence judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

Wow! This good news, truly GOOD news. God the Father reconciled all things to Himself through Christ Jesus. This is extravagant grace! Jesus God’s free gift of grace is given to who? All? Really all? Can you believe it? ALL! WOW! Grace is true for all! Now this is reason for a global, extravagant, loud shouting, fireworks shooting party. This makes me want to shout with Darlene Zschech:

Shout to Lord all the earth let us sing.
Power and majesty, praise to the King.
Mountains bow down and sea will roar
At the sound of Your Name.

I sing for joy at the works of Your hands
Forever I’ll love you
Forever I’ll stand
Nothing compares to the promise I have in You

May this GOOD NEWS reach into your heart and fill your entire being:

You have been reconciled to God.
You have been forgiven.
There is nothing that stands between you and your Maker so come and reconcile yourself to Him and come into this wonderful relationship with God your Father.
Come live your life in this glorious place of reconstruction of your being.
Accept Christ Jesus as lord over your life, not Caesar, not Obama, not Robert Mugabe, not crime, not dependency on anything or anyone.
Jesus promises freedom and ultimately new and eternal life.
As for the Accuser’s case against you – you are found “NOT GUILTY”!

Grace is true for all. Let the celebrations begin.