February 14, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.’” (James 4.7)
If only the older son in Luke’s sharing of Jesus’ story had known the simple truth proposed by Jesus’ older brother. But, of course, that would have been impossible because whether the story Jesus told was a true life event or not, Jesus’ brother had not yet seen the wisdom of God in full effect to declare the truth mentioned above. What if James had known the veracity of God’s word concerning the devil? Would he have seen his brother differently? Would he have believed in Him and His mission before the crucifixion as he would find it to be true after the resurrection? We do not know exactly when that truth became evident to him. We do know that James became the leader of the community of faith in Jesus as the Christ following the season of Pentecost when the Spirit of God anointed the disciples for their apostolic ministry. As they were commanded to “go out into all the world beginning in Jerusalem and make disciples of all nations,” someone had to tend the home fire and keep it burning. That duty fell to James who went from keeping His brother safe from death by chasing after Him to plead with their mother to come home to declaring that Jesus had ascended to the right hand of God and was making an eternal home for all believers. But, the wisdom came to James and he shared it with those under his charge there in Jerusalem as the chief elder of the “home” church. It was sage advice he proffered “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” What if Saul, David, Judas Kerioth, the younger brother and the older brother had heard that wisdom statement in their own lives? Would we be seeing the story differently? Instead of chasing after temptation, temptation would be running from us because it would have no chance of surviving in our presence. Why wouldn’t it? Because we would fully acknowledge that we stood in the presence of God. And that is the way it was designed to work. It doesn’t mean we may not entertain the thought of such temptation. It does mean that it would become a fleeting thought as the truth and goodness of God in the presence of His Word and His Spirit would flood our heart, mind and soul leaving no room for the temptation to take root. It, the presence of God, would flood our life to overflowing and temptation would ride out of our lives like a surfer on a wave rushing to a distant shore.
So, what of the older brother in the story of “The Prodigal.” He represented, as an image in the story to the storyteller, the established religion of the Scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the Law. The reaction of the older brother to the father’s extravagant expression of reconciliation of the younger is telling. Dare I ask, “If we follow the paradigm of James’ teaching would we consider then that the older brother was aligned with the devil because he fled?” I have little doubt that not many have considered that thought when they hear the story itself. We get so caught up in the story of the younger brother and feel a kindred spirit calling us together into the welcoming arms of a loving father that the story of the older son is almost an aside. But, it isn’t an add-on to the story. It is an element which exists only in the third “lost” story. There is no hint of it in the first two. What we see in them is “what was lost was found” and became the grounds for great celebration by everyone. Think for a moment about who, not what, was the center of such celebration. Everyone was celebrating for the one who had found what was lost. The shepherd brought home the lost sheep. In the story, the sheep was found alive. It was returned to the fold and a full accounting could be made to the master of the flock. The shepherd would experience neither loss nor penalty. He was liable for one hundred sheep. There would have been a penalty for anything less. The woman found her lost coin and returned it to its treasure store. Imagine, for arguments sake and a clearer understanding of the impact of one coin, that each coin represented a volume in a collected work. With one volume missing, the work and its message would be incomplete. It would lack its full effect. Consider the Ten Commandments? Which one would you have no problem with losing? What if there were only nine commandments? Eight? Seven? Six? Hmmm, Jesus proposed such a query to the Rich Young Ruler. The man’s response was “Hey, I have kept all of those all my young life!” Jesus then asked, “Are you willing to be perfect then? Sell all that you have and follow Me if eternal life is your true aim!” Even if the man had fulfilled all ten instead of just six, Jesus would not have altered His question and challenge. What was needed was the full content of righteousness. We dare not miss a one part, especially the most important one. There had to be some great significance to that one coin for the woman. When she found it, everyone came to celebrate with her and for her. So what if the celebration in the story of the Prodigal was more about the central figure of the father than merely celebrating the return of the “lost son”?
Of course, we know Jesus speaks of the joy in heaven when a lost sinner is redeemed. The whole of Heaven rejoices greatly. The sounds of such joy may well send chills through us as we think of it. But, would there be such a victory if not for the love and steadfastness of the father on earth as it is for our Father in Heaven? Dare we consider the place of Jesus in this story? It may stretch your willingness to imagine it but I ask you to consider it. Who did Jesus become when He came to earth? We know without question that He was fully God and knew no sin. Yet, the sins of the world were being heaped upon Him by the established “rule of the land” in both the realms of Israel and Rome. We believe that Jesus died for the sins of all as the paschal lamb that was sacrificed as well as the scapegoat sent out into the wilderness. He had already caused “the devil to flee” as He resisted the temptations offered to Him at the end of His forty day sojourn following His baptism and ministry anointing by John the Baptizer in the Jordan. But, for our sake, He became as the prodigal not literally but figuratively. He became us. We are a prodigal. But, we also can be the older brother. In our own mind, we can look at others as the Jewish leadership did at Jesus and see unworthy. We can raise a complaint about such a celebration for someone who doesn’t deserve it when we get no such option for “being good.” Was the older brother “all that good”? We don’t hear anything but how he was true to his position. And why shouldn’t he be? He is the older brother and would receive the lion’s share of the inheritance when his father passed. He was the “good son.” What if he secretly thought that the leaving and reported failure of his brother would be the death of his father? Hmmmm, he wouldn’t have to ask for his share, it would be his. It would all be his. Just a thought. And here is another thought: what if the celebration for the return of the brother was, not in a self-serving manner, a way of celebrating the father’s love steeped in the word of God and filled with the prayer of safety for his son and sons. Everyone rejoiced in the son’s return but honor and glory went to the father.
And then there was the fleeing of the older brother who covered himself over with “what about me.” He succumbed to the temptation of jealousy, envy and self-righteousness. Was his place in the story any different than that of the leadership of Israel in the story of God’s redeeming love through His Son, Jesus? The father resisted the tempting offer to lavish more attention on the older son in that moment made by the “poor me” older son. He resisted and the tempter fled? Where he went and what he did is not a part of Jesus’ story. That he acted the way he did was a convicting part of the story left for those with eyes to see and ears to hear to grasp and consider for themselves. What was most important of all? It was the recognition of the greatness of God’s love for the lost that they would be able to find themselves in Him. His nature never changed. His presence was always there. He is a force to be reckoned with and in response all Satan, the Devil, can do is flee. Our persistence in faith has its just rewards when we come and stay with the Lord our God.
Father, thank You for loving us all the way back home in Jesus’ name. Amen.