Seeking sinners in Christ’s name to call them home

27 Jan

“The missionary character of Christ’s church does not issue only from the command of Christ. It flows from the revel­ation of the Father that Christ provided. He sends the disciples into the world as the Father sent him into the world (Jn. 17:18; 20:21). How did the Father send him? With authority, of course, but also in grace and love.

In the teaching of Jesus, the astounding love of God is set forth. Jesus is the Beloved Son, but the Father has not spared him; instead he has sent him to give his life a ransom for many. In the parable of the welcoming Father, Jesus tells of the joy that his Father has in receiving lost sinners home again (Lk. 15:11-32). The story shows God’s amazing grace, for­ – as the prodigal confesses – he does not deserve to be called the son of his father, or even to be made one of his servants. But the father receives him as a son and welcomes him with a feast. The older brother is furious because he knows well his brother’s sin, but does not know at all his father’s love. The key to the parable is the contrast between the older brother and Christ himself. Jesus told the story as one of three parables after he had been criticized for eating with publicans and sinners. In each story he shows the joy, and the feast, that accompanies the finding of the lost. ‘There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents’ (Lk. 15:7, 10). Jesus understands heaven’s joy, and the love of the Father that rejoices in finding the lost. Jesus is the seeking shepherd of the first parable; he is like the woman of the second parable, who turned her house upside down to find a coin. The shepherd sought one sheep of a hundred, the woman one coin of ten; but the older brother would not seek one brother of one. In fact, not only did he fail to go to the far country to seek him, he even refused to eat with him when he came home. Not so Jesus. He, the true older brother, knows his Father’s heart. He goes seeking publicans and sinners. He eats with them, and calls them to come home to the Father.

The gospel is the message of God’s redeeming love in sending his own Son into the world. Those who understand that love will be driven to share it. They will not only rejoice to sit down with other redeemed sinners in heaven’s feast: they will seek other sinners in Christ’s name to call them home. As Christ was sent, so he sends them, and the dynamic of mission is the heart of the love of God. Again we see that mission is not an addendum. Rather, it is evidence that the church understands the gospel. The love that fulfils the law, as Jesus taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan, is the love of compassion, love modelled on the love of God.”

Edmund Clowney

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