Saturday, August 15, 2015

God's Greatest Joy

One of my favorite parables is found in Luke 15:1-7, as I believe it shows the true heart of God.  In fact, this parable is located right before the parable of the prodigal son.  The parable of the prodigal son is meant to illustrate the great truth shown in verses 1-7.  Here are those verses in their entirety:

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming
near Him to listen to Him.  Both the Pharisees and the
scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives 
sinners and eats with them." So He told them this parable 
saying, "What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep
and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine
in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until
he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, 
rejoicing. Ans when he comes home, he calls together his 
friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, 
for I have found my sheep which was lost!' I tell you in the 
same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner 
who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who
need no repentance."

What these verses tell us is that God's greatest joy is when someone turns from their sin and turns to Him.  This great and wonderful truth is illustrated in the story of the prodigal son (vs 11-24) by the father who, from a distance, sees his lost son coming to him and runs to him in joy, embracing and kissing him, and holding a celebration for him.  

In a sense, this great joy of God should not surprise us, for because of His great love for us He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice on the cross for our sins.  However, so many of us labor under a couple of popular misconceptions of God that veil our eyes from this truth. 

Misconception #1.
God is a God of wrath, who is eager and waiting to punish you, strike you down, and send you to hell because of your sin. We always hear the line about not standing to close to someone in case God zaps them for doing something wrong. You see, even using that line, which almost all of us have used, shows that we do have a sense that punishment for wrongdoing is right, and must be carried out for there to be true justice.  Yes, if God is holy and righteous there must be and will be ultimate justice for any and all wrongdoing, but that doesn't mean that God just can't wait to get even or that He delights in some kind of barbaric punishment or that He chortles over the eternal damnation of anyone.

What the Bible tells us about God's heart and attitude toward men, all men, is just the opposite, not only do the parables mentioned above illustrate this truth, but here is what else the Bible (God speaking) reveals to us about it:

Ezekiel 18:23 "Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked," declares the Lord God, "rather than that he should turn from his ways and live."
Ezekiel 18:32 "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord God. "Therefore, repent and live."
Ezekiel 33:11 "Say to them, 'As I live!' declares the Lord God, 'I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die?"
I Timothy 2:3b-4...God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
II Peter 3:9 The Lord is slow about His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.

So what we see here in these verses is that it gives God pleasure, it brings God joy when someone, anyone, turns from their sinful ways and comes to Him for forgiveness.  

Misconception #2.
God is a benign God who is somewhat detached from this world, but loves us as we are, let's us set our own moral code and use our own guidelines for entering heaven (whatever our version of that may happen to be).  This misconception totally misconstrues what the real love of God is.  Let's see what the Bible tells us about this:

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
Ephesians 2:1-8 And you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in  Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no man may boast.

The real love of God is the love that moved God to have mercy and compassion on us by providing the means of forgiveness of our sins (the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross), and salvation (our acceptance by faith and its corresponding trust in the work that God has done on our behalf through Jesus Christ). If God loves us like we are then there would have been no need to send Christ as the sacrifice for our sins. 

The common thread that binds both of these misconceptions together is a faulty view of sin, not just sin in general, but our own sin in particular.  Both views really downplay the heinous nature of all sin and how egregious is sin, all sin, any sin, to God.  We all know what sin is, and we all know that we have sinned.  However, have we grasped how serious even one sin is? Again, let's take a look at what the Bible says.

Leviticus 11:44 "For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Ezekiel 18:4 Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Because God is holy, any sin and all sin, is an affront to His holiness and is worthy of death.  Because He is just, no sin can be overlooked.  Because He is righteous all sin(s) will receive a just judgment, a right recompense, and a proper punishment.

Because of His great love He has placed all the sins upon Christ of those who will come to Him in faith, and Christ has born the punishment for those sins in our stead.

So, at the cross we see both the justice of God and the love of God on full display.

Because of God's understanding of the justice that awaits all who sin, because of God's love providing a way for the payment of the penalty due for every sin, God therefore takes great pleasure and has unbounding joy in the salvation of those who turn to Him.

Have you heard His voice calling you to come home to Him?  Will you answer that call and turn to Him?  Will you forsake all else for His salvation?  Will you trust in what He has done to save you from the right and just consequences of a life that is lived apart from Him?  Will you call your sin as that which it is and call out to the Lord for His forgiveness?  For when you do there will be great joy in heaven among all its hosts for the salvation of your soul; and the Father Himself, the God and Creator of all that is, will run to meet you.

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