A pivotal chapter, with an ‘obsession’ with ‘Mission’! (That’s good, btw.!) The chapter consists of three simple fictional stories crafted to illustrate Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ allegation: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (v2).
The ‘Lost Sheep’ (singular) implies safety in the flock (wherever they are) and danger in isolation. Consequently, the loving shepherd temporarily abandons the safe ones and focusses on finding the lost one who is in grave danger. There is one ‘heaven’ of a party when the lost one is found! The punch line is: “…there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (v7).
I always thought that this was a bit unfair, favouring the rebellious sinner who has come to his/her senses just in time! But remember that each of us who is now safely part of the ninety-nine was once that isolated sheep in mortal danger – and we were then the focus of Heaven’s praise party! It is simply someone else’s turn now. It also means that God is concerned with every lost sheep, even if it represents only one percent of the total. He is a missional God!
The ‘Lost Coin’ parable plays out the same way. (It might have been a clever ruse by her husband to get the house spring-cleaned!). She had lost ten percent of her coinage and was certainly not going to settle for ninety percent! The missing coin completed the set and was valuable in its own right. If any of us have lost a thing or a person of great value, it is of no comfort to be told that you still have nine others! And the same applies to God when that special sinner repents. He is truly a missional God!
The ‘Lost Son’ is possibly the most profound of the three stories and is also the costliest in terms of loss. This time, the fictional ‘father’ stood to lose fifty percent of his offspring. The difference also, this time, is that the ‘Prodigal Son’ contrives to ‘lose’ himself! His rebellion disqualifies him from membership of his family (or so he thinks). As we know well, he found that basic hunger was a great motivator and he ‘came to his senses’. Preparing a speech, he returns to his father and is interrupted by a speech more merciful and gracious, accepting him back into his original position in the family and welcoming him with loving arms.
What does it mean? This is a Jew-Gentile dynamic. The Jews were intended – by Jesus – to be represented by the older brother, who was incandescent with rage when he discovered what had happened. Grace in action makes legalistic people incandescent, don’t you know! Jews have never been able to accept Gentiles as spiritual brothers until they themselves have accepted the Messiah and realised their own unworthiness. Really, this parable should be called The Parable of the Resentful Brother.
A missional God, whom we serve and worship, has this infuriating habit of extending grace and mercy to those who have not lifted a finger to approach him or please him. Thank God that the first person the Prodigal met on his return was the father, and not the older brother!
DEUTERONOMY 17, 18, 19 and 20
“What does the King do all day?” That is a question that may have crossed the mind of future Israelites – on the assumption that there was a king at all! God never wanted Israel to have one and that paragraph in Deuteronomy 17 has the sense of ‘second best’ written through it. No, there was no need for a king, and it was only because the Lord knew that Israel so wanted to be like the surrounding nations that they kept asking – that he gave some regulations on what a king should and shouldn’t do. And Solomon, the all-wise one, broke most of those regulations and was consequently led astray from his devotion to the Lord.
The most vital command was that the king had to copy out the entire Law (first five books of our Bible) and to read some of it every day of his life. If he did this, he would stay humble and stay on the right track. Similarly, Royal Priesthood that we are, we all need to do the same: to read the Old- and New- Testament scriptures every day, so that we will know the truth and live the truth (2 Timothy 3:15-16). It amazes me that so few committed UK Christians do this as a discipline, and it goes a long way towards explaining the feebleness (overall) of the UK church, compared to that of the Third World. It is interesting that the Apostles emphasised most of all the importance of the ministry of the Word and of Prayer; if you asked 100 British Christians where they thought they were weakest, 99 would mention one of these two areas of their lives.
In Chapter 18, there appear a comprehensive list of the most pernicious occult practices that must be avoided at all costs. We might look at those and think that very few are possible today – but we would be wrong. Horoscopes, tarot cards, spiritist churches contacting the dead, séances, and general new-age superstition are rife in our society and are a nexus for the spiritual forces of darkness to gain access to human lives – and the eviction process is not quick nor easy either! If any of us have engaged in any of these activities, we need to confess it – preferably to a wise, mature Christian whom we know and trust – repent of it and be prayed for to rid us of all trace of any foothold that the powers of darkness might have in us. This is a matter that needs to be taken seriously.
“The Prophet”, mentioned in 18:15 is both a collective reference to all the prophets who would follow Moses, and a specific reference to Jesus himself (see John Chapter 1). Israel may have on occasion got away with disobeying and disregarding Moses, but woe betide them if they rejected The Prophet!
Going to war was an important part of an Israelite man’s life at that time. He could not shirk his responsibilities to his neighbours. But, at the same time, God did not want half-hearted warriors in his army, so he invited any who had more pressing financial or social engagements to defer fighting until they were able to be single-minded about it. Similarly, he even refused to lead an army of people who were fearful and faithless, since this attitude would infect others. From our point of view, it seems to imply that if we cannot be whole-hearted about mission, then we should build ourselves up by prayer and reading the Bible, until we are sufficiently full of faith and single-minded enough to serve God effectively. Soldiers also had to be able to put sentimentality aside and completely destroy the enemy army without mercy or holding back. We too must not compromise with the truth of the gospel simply to avoid offence, but we must be consistent and complete in our declaration of the message that brings salvation