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God’s Word for You

Luke 15:25-30 The music of forgiveness

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, October 11, 2018

25 Now the older son was out in a field, and on his way back, as he got closer to the house, he could hear music and dancing.

Before we continue with this part of the parable and its important message for us, I want to comment on the word Jesus and Luke use here for “music.” The Greek word we might expect is mousica (μoυσικά, μoυσικός), but that word, rare as it is in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, occurs in the New Testament only in Revelation 18:22 in the form “musicians.” Here, Jesus uses the even rarer word symphonias (συμϕωνίας), “beautiful, agreeable sounds; harmony.” This is the term from which we get our word ‘symphony.’ Jesus is implying with this word that everyone inside the house was in agreement as they rejoiced. When God and his angels cheer about a repentant sinner, there is not one angel, not a single cherub or seraph, not one throne, power, ruler or authority, that is not singing with delight. But in the parable, there is someone who is still outside the house: the other son.

26 He called one of the servants to ask what it was all about. 27 The servant told him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in, and his father came out and urged him to come in, 29 but he answered his father, ‘All these years I have slaved for you and never disobeyed your commandments yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. 30 But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after squandering your property—he and his prostitutes—you kill the fattened calf for him!”

I get a chill when I read the Greek text of verse 29 when the older son dares to say, “I have never disobeyed your commandments.” The phrase οὐδέποτε ἐντολήν σου παρῆλθον could also be translated more dramatically, “I’ve never broken one of your commandments.” This is exactly what so many of the Pharisees believed and sometimes even said out loud. “All these I have kept,” one rich young Jew said to Jesus, “What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:17). But the Pharisees were not willing to trust Jesus, to follow him. They thought they could get to heaven without him.

The father in the parable didn’t have a lamb cooked or a goat, which would have been more than enough for his family and servants. He had the fattened calf slaughtered. He planned to invite the whole town to celebrate, but the older brother wanted nothing to do with it. The younger brother had been lost in sin, but the older brother was lost in the sin of unforgiveness. Maybe a lot of people are more like this second lost son than the first. They recognize that they were rescued from their sins by Jesus and are grateful—eternally grateful—for it. But then they catch Jonah’s sickness. People love it when God is merciful to them, but they don’t like it when God is merciful and patient with someone else (Jonah 4:3 and 4:9).

By accusing his younger brother of consorting with prostitutes, the older brother may have been invoking Deuteronomy 21:18-21, the law of the rebellious son, which concludes this way: “Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 21:21). Who am I to say, “He’s not sorry enough”? Who am I to say, “God would never let that kind of person into heaven”? Jesus reached out with his forgiveness to adulterers, adulteresses, prostitutes, tax collectors, a Roman governor whose hands were drenched in blood, a King of Israel who was curious about him, and Pharisees—many Pharisees—most of whom wanted him dead, and even a couple of men who sat on the council of the Jewish Sanhedrin.

If God seems to bless those “late converts” more than he’s blessing a lifelong Christian like me, I need to open my eyes and reconsider what the word blessing means. I might imagine that I never even got a young goat to celebrate with my friends, but we will celebrate in heaven. Our task here in this life is not to celebrate, but to serve, and to fill up the father’s many mansions. The other parables make this clear. What is it that we really do have? Paul teaches us carefully to remember what we are:

“Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:9).

If I haven’t seemed to run away from God in my life, that isn’t to my credit. It’s to God’s credit. On the other hand, if I did run away and was brought back again, that’s to God’s credit, too. What is there in me, in any of us, to look down on anyone else? Look up! Look up to our Savior Jesus, sitting at the right hand of the Father, who made me his brother through his blood. How did he do this? Why? We confess it in the creed:

    “He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.
    “All this he did that I should be his own, and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he has risen from death and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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