I am writing this at the risk of giving away the "answers" at my Bible Study on Thursday but I just couldn't wait.
One thing I absolutely love to do is study the Bible with other people. I regularly learn all kinds of things from the people I am studying with, even if they have never looked at Scripture before. It is one of the beauties of Bible study.
On Monday night, my staff partner Mike, and I were looking at the second part of the parable of the lost son in Luke 15. Here is the text we were studying:
25"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So 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. 29But 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. 30But 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. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "
Now, I have studied this passage many many times. But I have learned that even if that is so, God can still reveal something new to me. This was one of those times. There is much to talk about in this passage. I just want to focus on the new thing I saw.
It has long been clear to me that the older son had a screwy relationship with his father. Somehow he got the idea that in order for his father to love him and celebrate him, he needed to work and slave away in the field. He also had to do everything right. So rather than actually be a son and have a relationship with his dad, he was out in the field.
It occurred to me that the son didn't really know his father. Because if he did, he would have known that his father was an incredibly generous, forgiving, and loving man.
He would have also known what kind of things caused his father to celebrate and throw parties.
Earlier in the chapter, Jesus tells a story of a shepherd that loses a sheep. He searches for it and finds it and throws a party with all of his friends. Then Jesus tells a story of a woman who loses a coin. She searches all over her house for it and when she finds it, she throws a party for all her friends. Then in the first part of the lost son story, the father throws a massive party because his son has been found.
The common theme? God celebrates when he finds things that are lost. The spiritual interpretation Jesus gives is that there is a massive party in heaven when sinners repent and turn to God.
So if the son had really known his father, wouldn't he have known that his father absolutely couldn't get enough of finding things?
Instead, he spends all his time working and slaving away and doing all the right things trying to get his dad to notice and celebrate. But it would appear that his dad doesn't care about all that. He cares about having his lost son come home.
So maybe the older son should have gone looking for his brother. Maybe then he really would have understood his father and entered into the joy of the party. I think Tim Keller talks about this in one of his books but it just clicked for me as I was looking at this.
So maybe when we want to deepen our relationship with God, the answer isn't found in doing more of the right things. It isn't found in slaving away. It isn't found in going to church more or reading the bible more, though those are really good things to do.
If we want to know our Heavenly Father in a deep way, to be close to his heart, to experience him in a new and fresh way, then maybe we should go looking for lost people and help them come home.
I feel like something very significant happened to me while I was studying that passage. God, help me put flesh and bones on it and experience the joy that you feel when someone comes home. Amen.