In the previous post we learned that the God of the bible is a faithful God, able to do just what he said he would. We see this in the prophecies surrounding Jesus’ birth and how God went about bringing them to pass. If you haven’t yet, I suggest that you read the first post Good News of Great Joy as it sets the context for this and future posts in this series.
Now, back to the shepherds. They find themselves in fear at the glory of God. Yet this is not the end of the account. Now comes the beginning of the climax of our study:
“And the angel said to them, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10)
Good news of great joy! Awesome words. Already we see the birth of Jesus impacting the lives of people. Because instead of the sinful shepherds being destroyed by a righteous God, this righteous God silences their fears by bringing them good news of great joy. This is the same thing that happens to Isaiah in the passage we looked at earlier. While Isaiah was struck by fear, God renewed his hope by sanctifying his mouth and taking away his guilt with a burning coal (Isaiah 6:6). So what is this good news of great joy?
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11)
So here is the good news: A savior has been born for you. Now why would the birth of a savior be good news to the shepherds? Well the news of a savior is good news only to those who know they need one. So the shepherds would’ve seen this as good news simply because they knew they needed a savior. Remember their reaction when they were surrounded with the glory of God? They were afraid. Why? Sin.
We are no different than the shepherds. Let’s consider the nature and effects of sin for a moment:
We are born in sin (Psalm 51:1-6)
Since we sin we are guilty of lawlessness—that is breaking God’s laws (1John 3:4)
Our sinfulness makes us fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)
So when we consider our sinfulness in light of God’s righteousness—as the shepherds and Isaiah did—the news of a savior is good news to us as well. Jesus was born for people like us. He says it beautifully in Luke 5:31-32 when he says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance”.
Sin is the sickness of the human soul! The sad thing is that some of us are sick and we don’t even know it! Let us consider the parable of the prodigal son to push this point home. Personally I think it would be more fitting to call the story, the parable of the prodigal sons. Don’t miss the “S” at the end of the word son! This will become clear as we examine the parable more closely.
We find the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 but before we get to that it is important to note that this account starts at Luke 15:1. Again I would like to encourage you to read the parable for yourself to familiarize yourself with it. Now, according to verse 1 and 2 “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ So right at the beginning of Jesus’ monologue we see him engaging two different types of people. We see the tax collectors and sinners drawing near to Jesus while the Pharisees and scribes grumbled because Jesus was receiving the sinners. Now to the parable…
Jesus starts this parable by saying there was a man who had two sons (Luke 15:11)…
The younger son:
The youngest son comes to the father asking for his inheritance (a huge insult to the father because an inheritance is supposed to be given when the father dies so by asking for it while the father is alive, the son essentially wishes that his father was dead) (v.12). After the father divides the inheritance between him and his older brother, the younger brother takes his property, goes to a far of country and squanders his inheritance in “reckless living” (v.13). He then finds himself broke in a foreign country, in the midst of a famine and starts feeding pigs for a living (vv.14-15). Things get so bad that he finds himself “longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate”–side note: contrary to what many of us were taught, he did not eat pigs food– to the point that he started to regret leaving home and decides to get up, go home, ask for his father’s forgiveness and offer himself as a servant to his father (vv.16-19). He does what he decided and instead of being welcomed as a deserter and a servant his father welcomes him home as his son, with open arms, prepares a feast and celebrates his return (vv.20-24).
The older Son:
When the oldest son returns home from the field he hears music and dancing and learns—from a servant—that his younger brother has returned and that his father has welcomed him with a feast and celebrations (vv.25-27). This angered the older son to the extent that he refused to join the festivities but his father came out and began to plead with him but he didn’t want to listen. Instead he answered, “‘look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ (Vv28-30).
Remember the two groups Jesus was engaging in verses 1 and 2 of Luke 15? The tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees and scribes? Well, by telling them this parable Jesus is trying to teach them something. He is trying to show them who they are in relation to God the Father, who they are to each other and how God sees them. That’s the whole point of parables: they are designed to make the listener/reader, who truly desires to know the truth, put himself in the story by identifying himself with one or more of the characters while at the same time hiding the truth from those who want to deny the truth (see Luke 8:4-15).
So which group is represented by which son? Who is the father in that story? Well, the younger son represents the tax collectors and sinners while the older son represents the Pharisees and scribes and of course the father in the story is God, represented by Jesus in Luke 15. As I mentioned earlier, the purpose of a parable is to make the listener/reader identify himself with one or more of the characters in the story. The question is: Who do you identify yourself with in the parable of the prodigal sons? Are you the older son? The younger son? Both?
Which son are you?
Some of us can identify with the younger son. We know what it is to accept God’s gifts and squander them on fleeting pleasures. We get up each morning and use the life God gives us to slowly kill ourselves with alcohol & drug abuse, cigarettes, and reckless lifestyles that are characterize by licentiousness and sexual sensuality. We even know what it is to use the breath God gives us to profane his name and even deny his existence.
On the other side of the pendulum there are those of us who identify better with the older son. We have spent our whole lives in religious circles. We go to church regularly, we tithe and we know all the latest worship songs. We grew up in a good family and we abstain from reckless living. Although these things seem like good things on the surface we often have an underlying motive for our seemingly faithful obedience. We do all these things so that we might one day get an inheritance from God our father.
Both sons have one thing in common. They both wanted the father’s things instead of the father. Personally, I can identify with both sons. I grew up in a relatively “good” family, I went to church regularly, and I attended Sunday school etc. And yet I never wanted a real relationship with God. In fact I didn’t have the faintest clue what a relationship with God would even look like. I just wanted to escape the threat of hell and punishment and if God would leave me alone for the most part and throw the occasional blessing my way then me and him were “cool”. At least that what I thought. As I grew older though I considered the pursuit of religion a fruitless endeavor and started rebelling. I started living recklessly. Alcohol and the occasional drug abuse, smoking cigarettes and partying became part of my weekly routine. So much so that I dropped out of university and found myself in a mild depression.
Here’s the point of this long winded argument. Both sons in the parable sinned against their father. They both wanted his property instead of him. This is the very definition of sin according to the bible. Sin is wanting the things God can give us over and above wanting God himself (Romans 1). So in that regard we have all failed. And if you find yourself still identifying with one of the two sons or maybe both then you, my friend, are lost. And if you are lost then the birth of Jesus is good news for you because He has come for the lost.
Today we learned that the birth of Jesus is good news of great joy for those who need a savior. We also saw by looking at the parable of the prodigal or lost sons that we might be more lost than we initially thought. If you are reading this and you find yourself—as I did—in a place where you realize that you are lost and in need of a savior I want to encourage you to take a moment right now to reach out to God, repent—that is change your mind—and confess your sin. If you do that the bible teaches that God is faithful and just and will forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9).
In the next post we will be continuing with our study to see what exactly the Good news of great joy entails. Until then God bless you!