The Gospel is for sinners.
Sounds simple enough … a review of some fourth grade Sunday school material. I can almost see the flannel graph now. Basic as it may be, I have had a growing sense of this simple reality lately. An increasing awareness of my own sinfulness has moved me back to the most fundamental of Christian truths: the Gospel.
In the Gospel, we find that hurting, scabbed over, sinful, self-willed, arrogant, rebellious, lonely, and miserable wrecks are offered hope, newness, and the very life of God. What we desperately needed, He became for us … and in us. Few of us would disagree. My problem is I normally view all this in the past tense. I always look back at the Gospel. The Gospel isn’t just something we need as the initial message prompting us into God’s kingdom, that mysterious event when we step off the road to destruction and on to the road pointing to life. The Gospel is also what we need every moment of our existence, each baby step down the path.
Several weeks ago, I reviewed the story of the prodigal. I was struck by the abruptness of the story’s ending. We aren’t told how the elder brother responded to his father’s tender request he join the celebration, that he let go of his bitter self-righteousness. The "dark character" in the parable’s plot had been the younger son whose greed had shamed himself, his father and his family. However, the story takes an unanticipated turn at the end: The younger son is broken in His Father’s arms while the elder son is defiant to His Father’s invitation.
The story is left hanging; and amazingly, the elder son becomes the "dark character," brooding outside the party of forgiveness. This abrupt climax must have disturbed the Pharisees, as they would have obviously recognized that Jesus identified them with the elder brother. The elder brother was disgusted with the display of the father’s affection for his wayward son, and the Pharisees would have joined in that disgust. Jesus’ aim was to challenge their pretentious righteousness. In scorning the prodigal’s return, on some levels, they became him. Which sin is worse? Leaving the father … or refusing the father? Some prodigals sin "big" and then wake up from their foolishness. Some prodigals sin "little" and always stand just outside the embrace of grace.
Grace is a theme that has changed my life. During college, God crushed my world in order to show me grace. I was amazed by it … drawn to it … overwhelmed by it … incredibly thankful for it. However, now I have come to a new place: I need it. I have always been thankful for the heart of the gracious father in the story of the prodigal sons. Now, though, I see myself in the story: I am the prodigal.
The Gospel is for prodigals. Like me.
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