And [Jesus] said, "There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.' And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
"But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants."' And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants,'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate.
"Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, '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!' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'" (ESV)
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Faith and the Promise
Monday of Lent 3
9 March 2015
The parable of the lost son (Lk 15:11-32) puts the promise of the gospel on the lips of Jesus. The lost son is embraced by the father and returned to full sonship, although he had not deserved it. Indeed, if he had received what he deserved, his father would simply have turned him away at the door: "Be gone, you wretch!" For what could the son offer to make up for his rejection of his father's stewardship and the squandering of his father's fortune? But as we know this is not how the father treats him. The father will hear nothing of the quid pro quo contemplated by the boy: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants" (Lk 15:18-19). When his son pleads with him, the father cuts off the negotiation. The son never gets even as far as proposing the trade off: "Treat me as one of your hired servants" (Lk 15:21). Instead the father intervenes with pure grace: "'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate" (Luke 15:22-24).
The older brother will have none of it. He wants what he thinks his father owes him: "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" (Lk 15:29-30)! He thinks he has earned what the father gives his wasteful brother freely and by grace. He demands his due, which is always a dangerous demand to make. The father replies not by rejecting his older, demanding son, but by simply pointing out that his brother is home and he must celebrate with him, "It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found" (Lk 15:32).
Paul the Apostle is teaching us this same grace from the Old Testament by using the example of Abraham. The example of Abraham shows that faith and the promise have priority over and superiority to circumcision, and therefore to the law. 'For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void' (Rm 4:14). Without faith there would be no promise and without the promise there would be no faith.
The promise of the gospel cannot come through the law because that would annul faith and destroy the promise entirely. The principle of law is quid pro quo and on that basis alone there is no room for faith and promise. Obligation, debt, and reward, are ideas on the level of law. Justification by law would imply no trust or gracious promise, but would simply be a matter of reward. But since man is a sinner, it is inconceivable that he could be justified on such a basis. Therefore, the gospel of gracious salvation is the only hope. To reject that hope is to exclude the possibility of any salvation whatever. Only by clinging to the gospel can anyone find any ground for hope in the ancient promises.
"Paul showed that faith is necessary, that it is older than circumcision (Rm 4:9-10), that it is mightier than the law (Rm 4:13) and, indeed, that it upholds the law (Rm 3:31). For if all sinned, faith was necessary. If one who was uncircumcised was justified, it is older. If the knowledge of sin is by the law and yet faith was without the law made evident, it is mightier. If it has testimony borne to it by the law, and upholds the law, it is not opposed to it, but friendly and allied to it.
"Paul shows on other grounds too that it was never possible to attain the inheritance by the law, and after having matched it with circumcision, and gained it the victory, he brings it to contrast with the law in these words, 'If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void" (Rm 4:14). To prevent then anyone from saying that one may have faith and also keep the law, he shows this to be impracticable. For he that clings to the law, as a saving force, disparages faith's power; and so he says, 'faith is null,' that is, there is no need of salvation by grace. For then it cannot show forth its own proper power; 'and the promise is void.'
"This is because the Jew might say, 'Why do I need faith?' If then it was true that faith was unnecessary, the things that were promised would be taken away along with faith. See how in all points Paul battles with them using the resources of the ancient times and the Patriarch, Abraham. For having shown from the Old Testament that righteousness and faith went together in the inheritance, he now shows that the promise did likewise. For to prevent the Jew from objecting, 'What does it matter to me if Abraham was justified by faith?' Paul says that what they are interested in, the promise of the inheritance, cannot come into effect apart from faith, which was what frightened them most. But what promise is he speaking of? That of Abraham's being "the heir of the world," and that in him all should be blessed."
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 8.3
Almighty God, heavenly Father, the promise of the gospel confers every spiritual blessing upon those who trust it. Grant us to live in faith until the day when we shall see you face to face according to Your promise. Amen.
For Paul Lodholz, who is completing his present round of chemotherapy, that he would be strengthened in body
For Walter Friend, that the Lord would be with him as he continues his cancer therapy
For the family and friends of Herbert "Buddy" Bennerfield, whom the Lord took from this valley of sorrow to be with Himself in heaven, that they would mourn with confidence in the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015