I love OU Football. Several Saturdays each year, I have the opportunity to go to the “temple” of OU football known as Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium to see the Sooners play. It is a great place to see a game. Though we lost, the scene at this past year’s Notre Dame/OU game is one I will not soon forget . . . it was awesome.
Though every seat in Memorial Stadium is a good one, there are nuances that allow you to have a different vantage point depending on where you sit. If you are down low on the west side, you are close to the action, but you probably have to stand the entire game. If you are in the upper deck on the east side, you have a chair back, but it takes an hour and a half to climb the ADA compliant switchbacks to make your way to the top. If you are in the north end zone, you get to be up close to the Sooner Schooner, but you have a hard time seeing the action on the far end of the field. If you are in the south end zone, it is hard to see the massive scoreboard that sits directly above your heads.
Different seats offer different vantage points. This is a principle that is not just true in a stadium, but also true in life. Depending on what seat you are in, stories and experiences impact you differently. Of course, Jesus knew this. That is why when He tells His parables, many times they have different meanings for different people in His listening audience. This was certainly true in Luke 15 when Jesus tells His famous parables of the lost sheep, shekel, and son. Though this section is long, take the time to read it . . . and focus on who the audiences were that Jesus was addressing:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
So He told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
Did you catch the audiences addressed here? In the first couple of sentences of Luke 15, Luke lets us know that Jesus was talking to the “tax collectors and sinners,” but also to the “Pharisees and scribes.” To be sure, these were two very different “seats” from which to hear the parables Jesus taught.
The “tax collectors and sinners” were the people everyone thought had screwed up. They were the ones rejected and despised by the religious elite. Jesus tells these parables to them to let them know that God (in Christ) is seeking them out. He is leaving the 99 to hunt them down. He is searching the house of Israel for them because they are valuable to Him. He is standing at the roadside waiting for them to come home. This truth would have been an incredible comfort to the sinner! God does not want them to come home to punish them . . . He wants them to come home and be restored as a son.
The “Pharisee and scribe” were the religious elite. They were the leaders in the synagogue. They were the ones who knew their Bible well. But they were also the ones who had become self-righteous and self-reliant, thus blinding them to their own sin. To this group of people, Jesus tells the parable to remind them that they should be rejoicing, not grumbling, at the outreach of Christ to the broken and bruised. Also, Jesus tells the parable to remind them that their Heavenly Father is concerned for them as well . . . evidenced by the fact that the story of the lost son ends with the father outside the house, talking with the older son (older son = Pharisees and scribes), inviting them to come into the party.
This Christmas season, I do not know which seat you are watching the Christmas story from. I don’t know if you are watching the Christmas story from the seat of the sinner or from the seat of the scribe. I don’t know if you have spent the past few days/months/years running away from God and doing your own thing like the younger son in the parable. Or, I don’t know if you have spent the past few days/months/years stewing in your self-righteousness, trying to justify yourself, and complaining about the sinfulness of others. Whatever seat you have been sitting at, I invite you to look to the Christmas story again. It is awesome!
In it we see Jesus coming to earth and inviting to His manger throne Jew and Gentile, angel and human, sinner and scribe. In His birth, He comes to reveal to us what God is really like . . . and God is our Heavenly Father standing outside the house welcoming back the prodigal and admonishing the proud to trust in Him. This is truly awe-inspiring no matter what seat you are sitting in.