The Nature of Christ
If we are to imitate our Lord we must know his ways. Today
we will look at the nature of Christ as revealed in some of the most famous of
Luke 15:1-10 TNIV
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. (2) But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law
muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." (3) Then Jesus told them this parable: (4) "Suppose one of you
has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in
the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? (5) And when he finds it, he
joyfully puts it on his shoulders (6) and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors
together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' (7) I tell you that in the
same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (8) "Or suppose a woman
has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn't she light a lamp, sweep the house
and search carefully until she finds it? (9)
And when she finds it, she calls her friends and
neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.'
(10) In the same way,
I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one
sinner who repents."
Some people are not content unless they have something to
grumble about. The Pharisees are no exception; they have little difficulty in
finding fault with Jesus. In particular, the man associates with known sinners.
Understand please, there distinction of sinner and righteous is somewhat
different from ours. The sinner is someone who leads a life of overt
disobedience to what the Pharisees consider as the law. The most common example
quoted in Scripture is that of prostitutes, followed closely by tax collectors.
I leave to the reader the implications of that order.
The truth is that most of us categorize sin into the
disreputable and acceptable. The category seems to be based on how prevalent
the sin is. Prostitutes are not the normal woman you meet; therefore, they are
sinners. Those who stuff themselves (gluttons) are viewed with an air that it
could happen to anybody. This might be an innocent occupation if it were not
for the fact that it can be used to categorize those in the church — and in
particular deny entrance to those who have the wrong kinds of sins. I once was
denied entry into a church because I pointed out the obvious hypocrisy in their
selecting people. They claimed it was to "preserve the character of our
witness." It seemed to the rest of us that it was designed to keep out
people with the wrong skin color. It is a rare church that is totally free of
this kind of selection.
Who Does He Seek?
In these two parables Jesus identifies the kind of people
that he came to look for:
Sheep. It's my understanding that sheep are rather stupid. If
left to their own devices they will wander off and get lost on their own. This
explains the employment of sheepdogs. But notice that there is no condemnation
of the sheep; they're stupid and everyone knows it. So it is with human beings;
some of us just need being rounded up.
The coin, on the other hand, is lost through no fault of its own.
But it's still lost. It's not possible to round them up, they have to be
Thus it is that we are to seek those who are lost and round
up those who have wandered away, for our Lord loves and seeks them.
We Should Seek Them
Christ's command is clear; we should seek them.
- We are to search no matter where. There is no place so
dark that the Light of the World cannot penetrate it.
- We are to search no matter when. Today is the day and
now is the hour of salvation.
- We are to search no matter how. The woman lit a lamp
and used a broom. If it takes car shows and rock-n-roll to bring them in,
then so be it.
The Good Shepherd
Christ amplifies his meaning by telling us just what a
shepherd should be doing.
John 10:1-17 TNIV
"Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does
not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a
thief and a robber. (2) The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
(3) The gatekeeper
opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own
sheep by name and leads them out. (4) When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of
them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. (5) But they will never
follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not
recognize a stranger's voice." (6)
Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he
was telling them. (7) Therefore Jesus said
again, "Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for
the sheep. (8) All
who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not
listened to them. (9) I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They
will come in and go out, and find pasture. (10)
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I
have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (11) "I am the good
shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (12) The hired hand is not
the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons
the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.
(13) The man runs away
because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (14) "I am the good
shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— (15)
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I
lay down my life for the sheep. (16) I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must
bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock
and one shepherd. (17) The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only
to take it up again.
(The reader will note that we do not intend to cover all the
meanings encompassed by this speech. Rather, we will examine the character of
the good Shepherd — and his competitors.)
Christ and the Father
Jesus touches briefly here on a subject which is mystified
Christians for 2000 years: the Trinity. We can but briefly touch upon the best
known solution, from Thomas Aquinas. He distinguishes three characteristics of
any person: essence, attributes and accidents. To give you an example, God's
essence is his existence. He is the "I am." He has attributes, indeed
he is his attributes. So we may say that God is love, God is truth, God is
righteousness, etc. Jesus Christ had a shoe size. Philosophically speaking,
that's an accident. All three persons of the Godhead share in the essence of
God. They also include all the attributes of God – but only Jesus had
accidents. Only Jesus was incarnate.
There is an interesting dichotomy here between Christianity
and Islam. The Christian maintains that God is; and that God is love. If this
is so, I trust you can see that God must be plural in persons. You cannot have
love unless there is an object of your love. Indeed, I submit that the Trinity
is necessary because you not only have to have an object to love, but you also
have to have the choice not to love. So there must be at least three persons in
the Godhead. In Islam, God's existence is not his essence – rather, God is pure
will. (This, by the way, denies the possibility of causality. That explains a
lot about Islamic civilization.)
There is one key here for all of us: God the father gives
the sheep (that's us) to the Son. He, in turn, entrusts them to the church.
That trust we must examine next.
As far as we know, there has never been a time in the
history of the church where all of its pastors are pure men, solely devoted to
the kingdom. Read the letters in the New Testament. You will see that rather
frequently we have men who are not working in the best interests of Christ.
Jesus breaks it down this way:
There is first the thief. We do not need to look very far from
these people. These are the ones who are taking upon themselves the role of the
pastor, but they're in it for the money. I would not care to name names, but it
would strike me that looking at televangelists might produce a fair crop of
Next there is the hired hand. It's a job; he gets a lot of
respect but perhaps not as much money as one would like. In this day and age
such people are rather more rare than usual. But if you look at the history of
the church, particularly in the Middle Ages, you'll find plenty of examples.
The test point is this: what happens when the going gets rough?
Finally there is the true pastor. I strongly suspect that the
vast majority of pastors today fall into this category. They may be dumb,
ignorant or misled — but is it not the case that most of the pastors you know
are in fact dedicated to Jesus Christ?
All well and good, but what are we supposed to do about it?
How do we separate the hired hand in the thief from the true pastor?
Remember that Christ calls his sheep by name. This implies a
personal relationship. The final appeal, as Churchill put it, is to heaven, not
to Rome. When you have a close personal relationship with Jesus, determining
the truth in a man's heart is quite a bit easier. You know what to look for.
Therefore, you listen to his voice. Study the Scriptures; pray
Finally, understand that you are sheep. No, you aren't smart
enough to figure everything out. You're going to have to trust God, just as the
sheep trust the shepherd.
Luke 15:11-32 TNIV
Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two
sons. (12) The
younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he
divided his property between them. (13)
"Not long after that, the younger son got together
all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in
wild living. (14) After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in
that whole country, and he began to be in need. (15)
So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that
country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. (16) He longed to fill his
stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
(17) "When he
came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have food
to spare, and here I am starving to death! (18)
I will set out and go back to my father and say to him:
Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. (19) I am no longer worthy
to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.' (20) So he got up and went
to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him
and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms
around him and kissed him. (21) "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against
heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' (22) "But the father
said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring
on his finger and sandals on his feet. (23)
Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast
and celebrate. (24) For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost
and is found.' So they began to celebrate. (25)
"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When
he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. (26) So he called one of the
servants and asked him what was going on. (27)
"Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father
has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' (28) "The older brother
became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.
(29) But he answered
his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never
disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could
celebrate with my friends. (30) But when this son of yours who has squandered your property
with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' (31) "'My son,' the
father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. (32) But we had to celebrate
and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was
lost and is found.'"
This story has been labeled the greatest short story ever
written – the quote is variously attributed to Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and
others. I am unable to track down the original citation.
We live in the country in which rebellion against authority
is praised. As I write this, the "occupy Wall Street" movement is
just winding down. The occupiers have been fawned over by the press to the
point of heroic. It is as if we have forgotten the basic lesson of sin: sin
starts with rebellion. Rebellion is the root of sin; it tells God that you know
better than he does. That's what happens with her younger brother in this
story. It is a measure of the love of God, as portrayed by the father, that
such a thing is allowed at all. How much nicer it would be if God prohibited
all such rebellion! But in his great love for us he has given us the freedom to
choose. So the young man does it his way and squanders the money.
Please notice one thing: it is by reason that the young man
comes to his senses. Reason triumphs over rebellion. I have often heard this
parable interpreted with the younger man's decision being made an emotional
moment. Read the passage again; the kid comes to his senses and reasons out
what he should have done. The result of this reasoning?
Humility comes first. The conquest of pride by humility is
necessary before the boy can go home.
Honesty is next. The kid has figured it out that he is alone his
fortune and forfeited all right to go back to the home. He sees his status with
his father completely changed into that of the lowest servant. He's right;
that's what he deserves.
In the father in this parable we see the example of God. May
I point out three brief points?
The father was looking for the son to return home. You can
imagine scanning the horizon every day, waiting heart broken. He will not go
and attempt to force him to come home, but he will stand at the gate and watch.
Once you understand that the father in this parable represents
God you will see something startling: God runs. He is portrayed as being in
flight on the cherubim, seated in majesty, even walking with his children. But
this is the only place where God is shown running. How much God loves us!
The boy has come home with his canned speech; he knows the facts.
Perhaps he does not know the father. For his father throws a party to celebrate
the fact that he is home. When a sinner comes home, God and all the angels
The Older Brother
If the younger brother emphasizes rebellion, the older
brother represents the doctrine of salvation by works. He is offended by the
generosity of his father.
The older brother sees his younger brother's return as a time for
justice. Dad should give you what for and teach him a lesson. It is well said
that mercy triumphs over justice; that's exactly what's happening here.
Indeed, the father's generosity, as seen in the older brother's
eyes, is foolishness. Sometimes difficult for us to distinguish foolishness
from love. But the foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of me.
One point that perhaps you didn't notice: the father went out to
the older brother, too. God reaches out to the warm, passionate sinner; he also
reaches out to the cold, legalistic sinner.
All well and good; but what am I supposed to do about it?
How am I supposed to portray myself as being like Christ? If you think about
it, it's rather difficult to deal with the prodigal son. It's no easy thing to
search for the sinner was lost. In short, I get the point of the parables — but
I don't see how I can possibly put them into action.
You're absolutely right. You can't. But there is a way…
John 15:1-8 TNIV
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the
gardener. (2) He
cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does
bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (3) You are already clean
because of the word I have spoken to you. (4)
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can
bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit
unless you remain in me. (5) "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in
me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
(6) If you do not
remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such
branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (7) If you remain in me and
my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
(8) This is to my
Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my
Imitation of Christ
Truth to tell, I grumble better than I search. I prefer to
complain about the difficulty of the assignment rather than get on with the
work. But like all of the good things of life the work must be done. So the
first decision we need to make is that were going to do the work. This means,
as you can see from this parable, we are going to have to draw on the strength
that Christ provides those who are in relationship with him.
This seems somewhat difficult; sort of like herding cats.
Sheep are bad enough. Okay, it's difficult. But it's also required. One reason
for this is that this obliges you to remain in Christ, remain a branch on the
true vine. My prodigals are long way off, but that doesn't change the need to
be alert to their return.
Christ the True Vine
"Remain in me." By our own strength unaided we are
not capable of the kind of loving, forgiving response we see here. We cannot
remain diligent long enough, nor can we search hard enough as long as we rely
on our own strength. But if you rely upon Christ's strength, things are
different. What may surprise you is the way by which you tell you're doing it
right. There are two things which will become evident:
First, you will be fruitful. People come to Christ, people will
grow in Christ, and people will be blessed in Christ by what you do. Not all of
us are cut out to be evangelists, but your life in Christ should show to the
point where you can say that you have borne much fruit.
You will also be pruned. Usually at an inconvenient time – at
least it will be for you. As a teacher, I experience this. People open to the
class; they learn — and leave. God is giving them the growth they need; the
teacher's ego is not considered important in this process. In fact, it helps
with his humility when this happens.
How to Remain in Christ
So the question is, "how do I remain in Christ?"
May I suggest you begin with study and meditation? Transformation
proceeds from the inside out. Study the Scriptures; meditate upon them and
learn from him.
With your mind properly informed by your studies, go to him in
prayer. Prayer is easier when you know what you're talking about.
Then, with your mind prepared and your life synchronized to him
by prayer, take action as he gives you guidance.
God's work, done God's way, will never lack for God’s supply
(Hudson Taylor). The arm of flesh will fail you; stand in his strength alone.