The glory captured in this picture is the reality that God, because of Jesus will welcome all who return to Him no matter who you are, what you’ve done, or how far you’ve run. Because of what Jesus has done for us the Father will not let us define ourselves by our sin, nor require us to work our sin off before we receive His full welcome and eternal joy. The gospel opens up a new way to relate to God, by His grace! Though we have run and rebelled, the gospel is the good news of what Jesus has done for sinners like us to bring us back to God. That’s the glory of the gospel that shines through this painting.
The problem is their were two sons! I don’t think Rembrandt ever painted a picture of the Father entreating his obedient yet self-rigteous and angry older son, did he? However, the older son according to Jesus was just as lost. Why? Because he used the Father to get what he wanted as well. The difference is he saw his obedience as the way to get what he wanted from the Father. His obedience didn’t come from a place of love and gratitude and relationship; but as leverage. He didn’t see his Father as gracious and generous, but as a slave-master, so he would bide his time till he could get all that he wanted and deserved. His didn’t understand that as he despise a kind of grace that allowed the “outside” to become an “insider”; he the “insider” was on the outside of this party of grace and love. So, the Father went out to him as well. And his welcome would include laying aside his self-rightreousness and outward obedience and recognize and receive the full grace of the Father that he needed just as badly.
There are two ways to be lost. You can be far from God by your running and active rebellion and sin, of course. But did you realize that you can be far from God even in your obedience, rule keeping and outward morality? Because Jesus was addressing the Pharisees in Luke 15, we must realize the danger of using our obedience as a form of self-salvation. We already know that Jesus is our hope, is our Savior when we sin and repent and turn to him for forgiveness. But we also need the constant reminder that our obedience doesn’t save us when we are not sinning! In both, Jesus is your only hope. Salvation is a welcome into the Father’s grace and eternal joy only through faith in Jesus alone. Older sons (like me) and younger sons must renounce both our sin against God and any outward obedience we believe earns our reward and instead must cling to Jesus alone.
The Father’s welcome is a welcome into an eternal reward, an eternal party, an eternal celebration not because of what we have done or not done; but because of Jesus alone.
If you are interested, there are several outstanding treatments of this story:
1. Dr. Ed Clowney preached a sermon called Sharing the Father’s Welcome. A transcript is available if you click the title.
2. Dr. Clowney’s sermon deeply impacted another preacher named Tim Keller, who wrote a book called The Prodigal God; which is one of the finest books on the true nature of the gospel I’ve read.
3. You can also listen to last Sunday’s sermon, where standing on the shoulders of these two men, I preached about how the gospel results in Shattered Categories.
Dear Redeemer Church,
In light of the events of the past week we are planning to take some time tomorrow morning to pray for our country and those directly affected by the tragedies. Please come so that we can see each other and approach the throne of grace together to find mercy and help in our time of need.
Also, we realize there are so many thoughts and emotions and questions, and opinions and voices and yet we are persuaded that as Christians, we must not take our cues or talking points from the world, but from the Scriptures.
We are attaching a talk and ask you to take time this next week to listen to it.
We believe this message will be incredibly helpful for us as a predominantly white church to understand the reality, history and theology of the race issue in our country.
May the Lord lead us. And may we see significant healing and reconciliation in our country with the church leading the way with the message of hope found in Christ alone.
On behalf of the pastors,
The man I met was from El Salvador. Even though he had lived in the US for 13 years, his accent was still thick and reminded me how I love Latin American speech patterns. We only talked for a short time. He told me he was a concrete worker and when I saw the “fish” decal on his truck I asked him if he went to church. What he said next was classic. He said, “Yeah, you know, I try to do all the right things for God.”
We had only just met and we only talked briefly, but I took the chance to tell him I could
relate. But then I added what good news it is that our hope is really found in the fact that Jesus has done it all for us. How great it is that Jesus has done all the right things for God for us! He nodded in what seemed like polite agreement, but I hope this small see
d of gospel truth will go deep into his heart to change what he, along with millions around the world, think Christianity is all about.
As I drove away his statement stuck with me. He reinforced once again the
default thinking of both Christians and unbelievers around the world.
Maybe you are not a Christian and Christianity appears to be just another lifestyle choice. Everyone has to choose what will drive them, what values will occupy the center, what “kind of person” they will try to be. Some people go the route of religion. Therefore, Christianity is just one option of many to choose from. All things considered, it’s a pretty tame option (with the plus of a good amount of spirituality mixed in for th
ose who like or need that stuff). But in the end, you might think it really seems a lot about what you have to do. What do I need to do to get in? What do I need to do to stay in? If I convert or walk an aisle and get saved, isn’t Christianity then just about a life of doing good things and not doing bad things? Like my new friend’s brief commentary: isn’t Christianity about trying to do all the right things for God? Meh. I could see why you could take it or leave it!
Surprisingly, even Christians get trapped in this mindset. Most Christians tend to think about their lives in 3 Phases: 1) Life before Christ, 2) Became a Christian, 3) My Christian life now .
Most would admit that Jesus was the main player in phase 2. We sing Amazing Grace because we are amazed that Jesus would save even people like us “t
he hour [we] first believed.” Something about His death in our place for the payment and forgiveness of our sins melted our hearts, and we believed and were saved. Something about being restored in a relationship with a loving God who made us seemed more than attractive–it seemed like the answer to the deepest longing of our heart. And something about eternal life in a perfect new heaven and new earth gave a glimmer of real hope that made much of this life make sense for the first time.
However, after becoming a Christian, most people begin to live like the rest is now up to them. The work begins. The work of staying on track, the work of pleasing God with obedience, the work of staying on the straight and narrow, the work of feeling sufficiently convicted of sin, repenting of sin and trying to stop sinning. Of course, the Bible has plenty to say about each of these categories and their place in the Christian life, but the subtle tone of most people’s view of the Christian life is it’s all about my performance. A good Christian performs well and deserves God’s blessing. A horrible Christian performs badly and deserves whatever punishment one gets in this life.
In our most recent series on Sundays we keep seeing something different than this all-too-common mindset. We are studying Christ in the Old Testament, and how all of stories of the Bible point to good news found in Jesus Christ. And we have seen again and again:
Christianity is not about what we do for God;
Christianity is about what Jesus has done for us!
This is the message of the whole Bible! At no point can sinful humanity reach to God; at every point God must reach to us and rescue us by doing for us all that is required to get back to Him. Every story proves this. We fail. God relentlessly intervenes and saves. And each facet of His salvation points to the true and greater salvation to come in His Son Jesus Christ who came to do what we could never do.
And this the only way the gospel is good news: if all that needs to be done has already been completely done for us and is offered to us to be received. Jesus didn’t come to give a little boost in our efforts toward God, but to completely do everything we couldn’t do for us. As the Son of God wrapped in flesh, He lived the perfect life we could never live, in our place, for us. And He died the perfect death in our place, for us.
All that God requires of us is to receive this good news, to take it in, to believe it and trust it. We must simultaneously remove all trust in our ability “to do” for God, and place all of our trust in Jesus’ “done” on our behalf. And it’s only when His “done” for you truly sinks in, when the completeness of His salvation for you and freeness of His grace to you and wonder of His eternal love for you truly sinks in–only then will the Christian life be something different than you ever thought. The Christian life will become one of joy and gratitude and rest; and then worship and obedience and response, instead of drudgery, external duty and exhausting performance.
Christianity is not like my new friend thinks. It is not about trying to do all the right things for God. Here’s some good news: One already came and did all the right things for God for us! He now offers, “and all that I have done can be yours.”
For a little over 5 years, our church has partnered with other Gospel-centered churches in Hampton Roads in an organization we call the 64 Gospel Alliance. We chose this name because of I-64! As you know, this highway runs through our entire region so our vision was to gather other like-minded churches in our region to join together for encouragement and fellowship and to participate in periodic events together. While a number of pastors have joined us over the years, the core group of churches include Redeemer Church, (Eric Hughes, John Butler, Alex Brodine), Redemption Church (Scott Osborne, Josh Jones), Cornerstone Bible Church (Stacey Potts, Jordan Heijermans), Anchor Church (Kris Hassanpour) and Eastminster Presbyterian Church (David Zavadil). We meet once a month, and this has proven to be one of the most encouraging meetings on our calendar as we have grown in our friendship with and affection for these pastors leading churches in our area. These men have become friends and we thank God for that.
We also thank God that there have been times when we have gathered our churches together for events. In the first few years we hosted a Church Planting conference here at our church, and then a joint Men’s Conference. And what a joy it was to have Redemption Church join us for our Christmas Eve Service this past Christmas.
We are gathering together again on Good Friday. Redeemer Church will host our annual Good Friday service, and we will be joined by other churches in the 64 Gospel Alliance. Also, the pastors of these churches will be involved in leading us through the service.
Please plan to join us as we spend time reflecting on Christ’s work on the cross through singing, Scripture readings, a brief message and communion together.
The service will begin at 7:00 p.m. and we encourage you to bring your kids. Afterwards, we will have coffee together in the lobby and have a chance to meet folks.
I hope to see you there,Eric
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18a)
We are in our 7th week of sermons in a series called Christ in the Old Testament. If you are interested in catching up – click here for sermons about Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Melchizedek and Isaac.
But this blog post is the prequel; an explanation for why we have chosen this series.
And the short answer is: We believe the more we see Jesus and believe in Him, the more our lives will change. This is what happens when we see and believe in Jesus – we are transformed! We are changed from one degree of glory to the next by beholding the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). Do you understand what this means? This means that God delights to change us as we see Christ. Not to simply change our behavior, but to actually change our hearts, to change what we treasure, what we trust in, what we love outside of Christ that leads to idolatry and sin. We desperately need our hearts to change, to be renewed with affections for Jesus, to be filled with faith and trust in all that He says is true about us. 2Corinthians 3 tells us that we become what we behold! And to behold Jesus, who He is and what He has done for us, through the thousands of facets available to us, is the greatest joy of our lives and good for our souls.
And then, in Luke 24 we find in a post-resurrection story about Jesus meeting two travelers on the road to Emmaus. These two had left Jerusalem discouraged and disillusioned by all that they had seen. And of all the places the risen Christ could have been, of all the things the risen Christ could have been doing Jesus graciously does two things for these two:
First, He draws near to the disappointed. He doesn’t condemn us for our doubts, for our questions. He drew near to them, and He draws near to us when we are disillusioned and doubting.
Second, Jesus showed them that He is the true and better….everything! Luke tells us:
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
What a seminar this must have been for these two! To have Jesus walk through the entire Old Testament showing how it all was about Him must have been thrilling. And how staggering for us to realize that according to Jesus, the entire Old Testament is about Him! He is the true and greater Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Sacrifice, Temple, Promised One, etc., etc. We are excited about this series finding Christ in the Old Testament, because we plan to show how the major stories and characters of the Old Testament ultimately point us to the One who has the power to change our hearts as we see and believe in Him; as we trust that He has always been God’s plan of salvation.
God never intended us to be restored to Him through our own good works, through our own law keeping, through faith in Christ and then making it the rest of the way on our own. God always intended for us to trust fully and completely in His Son for our salvation, for our righteousness, as the perfect wrath bearing sacrifice for us, as our perfect substitute. The God-man, Jesus Christ has come to live the life we couldn’t live, to die the death we couldn’t die, and to give us all His eternal rewards that we could never earn.
We are looking to study the main stories and characters of the Old Testament not to find out how we should do better and be like these men and women of faith: how to have faith like Abraham, how to conquer the giants in our lives, how to “dare to be a Daniel”. No. We plan to take Jesus’ cue and see how each ultimately points to Him.
And each Sunday, as we see more of Him and truly believe what He has fully and perfectly accomplished for us and freely gives us – may we be changed!
In November we are emphasizing mission at Redeemer Church and asking our members to consider giving to our Global Mission Fund.
We talk a lot about “Treasuring Christ, loving one another, and reaching our world.” Our emphasis on the third part, “reaching our world,” flows directly out of the first two. Christ, our treasure, is the heart of all our activity, the resource of all our work, and the motive to all our movement. The fellowship we have found with one another gives us strength in all we do, a network for ministry, and a means for delivering the gospel message. These are not three separate focuses, but all three points work together to form a robust whole.
It is amazing to consider how Christianity is growing around the world. The Washington Post reported proof of this in May of this year. For example, over the past 100 years, Christians grew from less than 10 percent of the population of Africa to nearly 50 percent today. In the same time period, Christianity grew at twice the rate of population growth in Asia. It is estimated that more Christian believers are found worshiping in China on any given Sunday than in the United States. The Gospel is continuing to travel around the world and bear fruit.
Communities of witnesses have continued to move out into their neighborhoods and into the nations. This is because of the Lord’s promise in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
At Redeemer, our Global Mission Fund is helping us move out toward the nations. This fund will be used for three purposes. First, we will support our members on short-term mission trips. Second, we will support long-term mission partners who are working in nations around the world. Third, we will support specific church planting efforts, both around the United States and around the world.
Because of your giving toward our Global Mission Fund in the last year, we contributed toward the short-term trips of 18 members. Additionally, we are currently able to support Dean and Denise Adamek at Rancho 3M in Mexico, Jim and Pat Giddens working with Wycliffe Associates in Florida, Kendra Jarrell working with SMI in Uganda, Eric and Faith Needham working with Crossworld in Thailand, Micah Orsetti working with YWAM London in London, and Seita and Emma Sakaguchi church planting in Tokyo.
Please pray and consider how the Lord is leading you to give toward our Global Mission Fund in the coming year.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil. Isaiah 5:20
The prophet sounds a warning about something that is very simple, and at the same time completely unthinkable. Is it possible that a person could look at something evil and describe it in adoring terms, or look at something beneficial and reject it as a threat? Isaiah warns of this very possibility.
That this warning needs to be sounded at all says something profound about our sinful human capacity to rationalize and promote what ought to be rejected. Isaiah’s admonition points to our ability to take the hateful object and reframe it so as to appear desirable. At the same time, we have a great capacity to discard what will help us, telling ourselves that we have rescued ourselves from destruction.
This warning points beyond mere disagreement of opinions; it refers to intrinsic values that cannot be compromised. We are not just talking about personal preferences expressed in a democracy, but standards that are established outside of our cultural conversation. In other words, this warning points to God. This warning depends on God whose life continues to sustain all of reality regardless of the ongoing tug-of-war of any particular earthly culture.
To call evil good and good evil is not only to disregard the reality of God, but also to exchange reality for illusion. For evil, by any other name, will remain poisonous while good – though it is called something else – will continue to benefit those who receive it.
This is why the abortion debate in our country has reached a new peak. You may have heard about a series of videos posted online by a conservative group calling themselves The Center for Medical Progress. These videos have pushed the controversy of abortion in our country to the forefront of the political and moral conversation by highlighting the reality that calling abortion good does not make it good.
Abortion supporters, such as Dorothy Samuels, articulate their position by focusing on the reproductive rights of women and the viability of zygotes and fetuses. In her recent article, Samuels steers the conversation away from the question of the personhood of the fetus in order to combat the charge of murder by rendering it a moot point. She lists the benefit of women having only the children they want when they are ready to have them, not being forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. She expresses concern about the fragile state of abortion rights in our country. She frames her discussion in such as way as to meaningfully engage issues surrounding abortion without ever having to engage the act of abortion itself.
The videos published by the Center for Medical Progress force the discussion at this very point. They force us to deal with the ugly reality of what abortion is. Dorothy Samuels leaves out of her article, for instance, the methods of abortive dissection. She does not mention the market for research on human tissue that makes tiny aborted human heads and arms and livers more valuable than the human life that was on the verge of coming into the world. She does not speak to the growing practice of “soft eugenics” among expecting parents in our country. She does not address the reality that for decades abortion centers have disproportionately targeted minority neighborhoods. Samuels discusses abortion while all the time ignoring the violence, greed, selfishness, and hatred intrinsic to abortion in our country.
We must not be silent about this. We must deal with reality. We must call good what is good, and evil what is evil. For more information about what abortion is, visit abort73.com.