Monday, August 25, 2008

This Week's Sermon: Branching Out and Prodigal Son Syndrome

Acts 13:13-52.
Paul and Barnabas continue to spread the gospel as they travel and stop for a time in Pisidian Antioch. There they share the gospel message with those in the local synagogue. At first, their message seems to be well-received, or at least tolerated by those in attendance. They are even invited to return the next Sabbath to share more.

When they return, word has spread about the message of hope they bring: reconciliation and justification before God. So many people show up at the synagogue that Luke tells us almost the whole town came to hear what they had to say. This is where the Prodigal Son Syndrome rears it's ugly head. Those Jews who were part of the synagogue were jealous because the message was being shared now with gentiles. They had accepted the message the week before when it was just for them, now they were angry and spoke abusively against Paul and Barnabas.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells us the older brother had a similar reaction when the Father asked him to join a party celebrating the return of the younger brother. The older brother had spent all of his life doing what the father had wanted him to do, but never realized that the heart of the father was to bring home the lost prodigal. The Jews in this story are in the same situation. They are God's chosen people, and they have spent the last thousand years following God's instructions, but they never saw that what the Father wanted was for them to "be a light unto the gentiles." God wanted to use them to reach out to those who were in darkness. Now that the message has been shared with the gentiles, an open door to justification before God without the requirements of the Law, they are furious. Their "it's not fair" button has been triggered.

We are in danger of developing Prodigal Son Syndrome, where we see the prodigal son in everyone except ourselves. We begin to believe that we deserve God's love and we have earned his favor. The truth is that we can only come to God because of his grace. The Jew's did not choose to seek God any more than the brothers in the parable chose to be born to that father. God chose the Jews to be his people, a light to the gentiles, the ones through whom the whole earth would be blessed. We have this blessing in Christ Jesus, who came through the Jewish nation. We have the truth of his offer of salvation to all who would believe. We are the sons and daughters of God through his grace. Let's not fall into the trap of believing that our only purpose is to preserve our position or to work to deserve God's favor. Our purpose as his children is to bring home our lost brothers and sisters.

How do we avoid the Prodigal Son Syndrome? By pressing in to the heart of God, so that his heart's desires are our heart's desires. We need to draw so close to him that our hearts beat in rhythm with his. His heart is that none should perish, our heart needs to beat with that same passion for the lost. God has not been stingy in extending his grace to us, let us not be stingy in offering that grace to others in Jesus.

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