Have you ever seen a parent who is frantically searching for a child after they realize he or she is not there? Perhaps you’ve been that parent? I scared the life out of my mom when I was a little kid. We were in a large department store and my grandpa was supposed to be watching me. Well, I thought it would be really cool to hide in the middle of one of those circle racks so that grandpa couldn’t find me. Well, it worked! And it nearly succeeded in giving my mother a heart attack in her mid twenties! There’s nothing I’m told that can compare to the terror of those few moments. There’s nothing that could possibly be more important than finding that precious child safe and sound. There is no obstacle too large that it cannot be overcome in the pursuit of that child. And this is how we human beings react if we have lost someone as precious to us as a child. Can you imagine how God feels about those of us who “get lost” in our selfishness and destructive ways? He “panics” with holy fervor until he brings the very last lost one back to safety.
If you’ve ever read the parables of the lost sheep, coin and son, then you will no doubt remember the pictures of God that are painted there. Now, I want us to mediate for a moment on these images and then ask ourselves this question: Is this the picture I have of God’s heart toward me? In this series of teachings on the love of God we are taking a devotional look at the images of God’s heart toward us as we find them in the Bible.
Most people believe that God is standing up in heaven with his arms crossed and tapping his foot, waiting for you to crawl back to Him and beg for forgiveness. Yet this is not the picture that Jesus painted of God. He talks about a shepherd who lost one of his 100 sheep during the day. So what would a responsible shepherd do? Jesus gives the answer that “he goes after the lost sheep until he finds it” (Luke 15:4). Did you see that? The shepherd goes after the lost sheep. There is no picture of a sheep that comes groveling before its owner now is there? The same story applies to the woman who looked for the lost coin. She swept the house until she found that one precious coin. The result was the same in both cases: what was lost was sought after by its owner! God is shown to be the one that pursues us! We are the lost sheep and the lost coin and God is pursuing our hearts so that He can rejoice over bringing a heart that is lost back to life.
So, how do we know that God is not looking for us in anger, mumbling under His breath that He had to be inconvenienced by the search? Well, the parable of the lost son fills out the picture for us. Here we see God represented as the father and we (humanity) as a rebellious son who demanded his inheritance he had with his father and went and wasted it on unfulfilling pleasures. The interesting thing to note, is that this story would have been very familiar to the listeners. This is because in a story that was popular at the time of Christ, a father welcomes back his son who wasted his inheritance and throws a party for him – only to poison his food and watch him die in front of everybody. The point being, of course, that betraying one’s father is unforgivable and that any wise father would be sure to get even.
With this background we can now see how scandalous the story was for those who heard it because in Jesus’ version of the story, the father sees his son returning while he was still coming over the horizon and runs to meet him! He’s been watching out for him, never giving up hope that He will return! In the oriental culture in which the Bible was written, it was considered improper for an elderly man to run, the reason being that in order to do so he would have to lift up his tunic and expose his legs which was a bigtime no-goer in this culture. Then, he doesn’t even wait to hear the son’s rehearsed “I’m sorry” speech, but throws himself on him and begins kissing him and hugging him. Now this culture was comfortable with the kiss on the cheeks as a greeting, but Jesus makes clear that the father in the story is literally kissing him all over his face and neck! He is, in the culture of that day, out of control! And all because he so desperately longed to hold his precious son in His arms and whisper, “It’s okay, daddy is here, he loves you and NOTHING could ever change that! The father then restores him to his previous stature in his household and throws a gigantic party to celebrate!
Is this your picture of God? Do you see him running like a fool toward you, tears of joy flowing down his face, kicking up dust as he approaches? Do you see Him greeting you with hugs and seemingly endless kisses, so happy to have you in his arms? I believe that hell, fire, and brimstone teaching have taught us to think God is constantly ticked off at us little peons down here on earth. The loving heart of God has been distorted and perverted into a “turn or burn” theology. We are making demands on people to repent “or else” instead of proclaiming God’s unconditional, passionate love for all His children (all that He created) – a love that just simply needs to be accepted in our hearts. We need to tell people truly good news – that God is searching for all who are lost that He might restore them to relationship with Himself. And one day, when all have been found, there’s gonna be a big ‘ole party where we celebrate the fact that God loved us back to life!!! Meditate on these passages in Luke 15 and 16 and ask the Holy Spirit to change the images of God in your mind that haunt you into new ones that heal you.