I get a little twitchy when it comes to discussions of other religions, partly because of my lack of knowledge. But also because while I want to be loving, I really can't embrace the whole you-do-it-your-way-and-I'll-do-it-my-way thing, since Jesus says He is the ONLY way. Either I believe that's true, or I don't. And if I believe that's true, by gum, I have an obligation to tell you so that you don't miss out. But in telling others, I can step indelicately, hurt feelings, and come off decidedly un-Jesuslike.
The one thing I do know that makes Christianity different, is that while we're all searching and thinking that we're finding a god, only the LORD--the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob--desires to be in relationship with us. He actually pursues us. I said as much that day at breakfast, and have been mulling that thought over ever since. Then this morning in my homework for a study I'm doing on the book of Jonah, I was reminded of three parables Jesus told to illustrate that while we're seeking, or even when we aren't seeking Him, He loves us and wants us to be in relationship with Him. It's amazing!
In one chapter of Luke, Jesus tells these three stories to a gathering of all kinds of people. Tax collectors, sinner-types, and religious leaders and scholars, so we know these stories are meant for all of us to hear. Check it out:
Parable of the Lost Sheep
Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
Parable of the Lost Coin
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”
Parable of the Lost Son
To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
I'm grateful for the lesson this morning in my study, because it's a reminder that in following Christ, I do find God, THE God who has been searching for me, and throws a party every time one of the lost ones makes their way to Him.