Christ Our Teacher (Lk 15)
For our communion reflections today, I want to direct your thoughts to "Christ Our Teacher." His work as a teacher is work He does as a prophet. A prophet is a forth-teller of the things of God; a prophet is a teacher (not just a foreteller). The office of prophet is one of the offices that He executes as our redeemer along with the offices of a priest and a king. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q23), our Lord executes these offices "both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation." Thus, we are led to think of His work as our prophet as taking place both in the earthly state of His humiliation and in the heavenly state of His exaltation.
John speaks of the fact that "no one has ever seen God, but God the only Son who is at the Father's right hand, has made him known (Jn. 1:18). This is a loaded passage that looks back from the present to the time when Jesus made the Father known. He is "at the Father's right hand." This fact signals the accomplishment of His work on earth. What was His work on earth? How can it be summarized in broad over view? John tells us: His work on earth was the work of a teacher making the Father known.
Our prophet is a teacher and revealer of God. God the Son, the only or preeminentSon has made the unseen God known to us. He embodies instruction; His very incarnation, His presence among us, His every action, and His every word was teaching in one form or another. Jesus is the prophet/teacher par excellence that was promised in the time of Moses. He is the one of whom it was said, "I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them [his brothers] everything I command him" (Deut. 18:18). Therefore, even though Jesus is equal with the Father and owns Him as Father in a unique sense (Jn. 5:18), we are not surprised to hear Jesus tell us that "the son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing" (Jn. 5:19). What He learns from the Father is what He makes known to us His friends (Jn. 15:15).
He also teaches in the present state from the Father's right hand. Luke states that his first letter to Theophilus (the Gospel of Luke) recorded what Jesus "began to do and teach" (Acts 1:1) indicating that what we have in the book of Acts is the continuation of His teaching. At first it was on earth, now it is from heaven. Therefore, remembering that Christ is a prophet-teacher like Moses should include the fact that this is not only something He did but also it is something He is doing. Christ is our teacher.
So let me ask you this question, what comes to mind when you think of Christ as a teacher. Looking back to the Gospels and trying to focus on the Lord Jesus in this way, what do you remember? This will depend on your knowledge of the Gospels and on your present circumstances as they cause you to look to Him in time of need. This is such a time with so many "lay offs" and new terms like being "K-Marted" or "Enroned." In such times we are reminded of how much we depend on the Lord. As I see it, this accents the importance of the 6-1 pattern of work and rest that stabilizes our experience of the vicissitudes of history. When under such threats we tend to look to Him as our provider as sovereign Lord of history, and so we should.
But thinking of Him as your teacher, where do you go in thought? You may go to His sermons such as the Sermon on the Mount or the Olivet Discourse. Or you may think of how the gospel is taught in the miracles of Christ. If you focus on how Christ taught, then no doubt you will be reminded of His parables. Even nonbelievers will think of Christ when the teaching method of the parable is discussed.
So what parable comes to your mind first when you think along these lines? There is no single parable that we all ought to think of first. Our recollecting will be determined by many factors including the freshness of our reading in the Gospels and on our personal experiences, circumstances, and needs. But it would not surprise me if most of us had the same parable in mind. I think the list of parables that we would think about probably contains the sower (and other kingdom parables perhaps: the Wheat and Tares, The Mustard Seed, etc), the Good Samaritan, and the Prodigal.
In the context of these introductory remarks, I want to direct your attention to the parable of the Prodigal. Actually, we should look at the three parables of lost things recorded only in Luke 15. Let's do two things: let's remember the teaching in brief over view (for background) and let's then remember the teacher (in this specific context).
1A. First, let's remember the teaching in Luke 15
1) The teaching is given because of a complaint (15:1-2)
Teachers raise complaint! The Pharisees and the teachers of the law are grumbling and murmuring against Jesus like Israel grumbled and murmured against Moses (Num. 14:2). They complain because Jesus "welcomes sinners and eats with them" (Lk. 15:2).
2) The teaching is pictured in parable
Our Lord responded by telling three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. These are a unit and should be read together. Obviously, sinners are spoken of here as lost. But perhaps we should not call these parables of lost things (or of the lost) with an accent on the state of being lost. Perhaps, it would be better to call these parables of finding, being found, and rejoicing (particularly on the part of the "finder"). The ideas of finding and being found presuppose the condition of being lost. But the orbit of thought does not move in the sphere of being lost but of being sought and found. Note that accent as you look at the picture presented in a parable (or parables as a unit).
Suppose a shepherd has a hundred sheep and he loses one of them, will he not "go after the lost sheep until he finds it?" (v. 4). When he finds it, what does he do? "He joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home" and "he calls his friends and neighbors together" saying "rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep" (vs. 5-6).
Suppose a woman loses a valuable silver coin, what will she do? She will try to find it by lighting a lamp, sweeping the house, and searching carefully "until she finds it" (15:8). When she finds it what will she do? She will rejoice and call others to rejoice with her (15:9).
Finally, suppose the younger of two sons insists on receiving his inheritance, which he then squanders and wastes in some far country away from his father. Now suppose that after all the foolishness he "comes to his senses" (v. 17) and returns to his father saying, "I am not worthy to be called your son" (v. 21). What will the father do? He will throw his arms around him and kiss him. He will call for the best robe, a ring, sandals, and a feast of celebration (v. 23). Why will he do this? The father tells why: "For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found" (v. 24). When the older son gets wind of the "goings on" he complains based on his slavish obedience that there has been no such celebration for him. What is the father's response? He says, "We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found" (v. 32).
3) The teaching is interpreted by analogy
In a word, there is joy in heaven when a sinner repents because he has been found. The idea of rejoicing leaps from the stories into the interpretation. The call to "rejoice with me, I have found" expressed by the shepherd and the woman (and "Let's have a feast and celebrate," 15:23, expressed by the father of the prodigal) is followed by "in the same way" (15:7, 10). "In the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven" and "In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Because of the unity of the three parables this reference to analogy pertains to the prodigal parable as much as it pertains to the other parables. Thus, by interfacing the parables we know that the finding of sheep and coin explains the "coming to his senses" of the prodigal.
When one sinner repents, there is rejoicing in heaven in the presence of the angels. The cause of a sinner's repentance is the seeking and finding of a determined Savior. The prodigal came to his senses and returned to the father in repentance because the shepherd of the flock and the woman of the house found "him" (sheep, coin, prodigal). There is a seeking by Christ until he finds the particular and individual sinner that He has on His heart and when he finds the particular and individual sinner that sinner repents saying, "I am not worthy" (15:21, coins and sheep do not speak but repentant prodigals do).
2A. Second, let's remember the teacher in Luke 15
We get a view of Christ by His teaching in these parables. His teaching is our salvation.
1) He welcomes sinners (15:2)
What does this tell us about Him? He makes sinners feel comfortable in His presence. This is an awesome thought! Here is the holy one, God the son, the preeminent one. And He condescends to receive sinners into His embrace. He loves sinners and He forgives sinners. He loves and He forgives.
2) He seeks sinners
This is why He came into the world. He came on a mission in obedience to the Father. He came seeking the lost who are utterly helpless being blind (v. 7, cannot see their need to repent), lost, and dead (v. 24). He is gracious doing for us what we could not do and giving to us all that we need.
3) He seeks until He finds
This expresses His determination. We are undeserving and helpless but He comes to us in the power of grace. He does not set about on a task that He will not complete. He is resolved and determined to save. His love is a saving love; this is not just a providing love but a love that saves. He is our rock of comfort.
4) He loves you individually
If you have a repentant heart and a repentant life (these go hand in hand), it is because Jesus set His love on you personally and individually. This love on His part transcends time. He loved you before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4; Jn. 17:1-2). He had you in His heart when He went to the cross despising the shame, you were the joy set before Him in that darkness and suffering (Heb. 12:2). He is in heaven in the presence of the angels rejoicing over your repentance and your repentant life. It is a joy to His heart. He is joyfully your Savior.
Together these four things reveal the love of Christ for each of us. We have His love (welcoming, forgiving), His gracious love (given our helplessness being blind, dead, and lost), His efficacious gracious love (He seeks until He finds), and His personal efficacious gracious love (He loves you, each one). He sought you, each one of you who are believers here today. He did so with determined and efficacious love. With that same personalized and individualized love, He will see to it that you are welcomed home to glory and the Father's embrace. He says by these communion elements: "I will nourish you all the way to glory."
When we think about Christ as the teacher of parables and as the teacher who gave us the special parables about finding, being found, and rejoicing we remember that He found us, He found you, and He found me. We can each say, "He loves. I remember Him. He determines unconquerably to save sinners. He is the Lover of my soul. He is my gracious Savior. He is my Lord and my God. I must learn from this teacher."
We remember the Lord Jesus as we come to take of these elements. By taking these elements we are giving a reply in symbol to what is symbolized. The gospel that centers on Him is symbolized. When we partake of the symbolic elements we give our response to the gospel of Jesus Christ the risen Lord. We say at least three things in the very partaking and ought to be saying these in our hearts. Personalized the question becomes, "what do I now say to these things?"
1) I need the Lord Jesus
I need the body and blood that is represented in these elements. I need the work that He did as the Great Shepherd of the sheep who came into the world, who came seeking sinners. I acknowledge my sin and my need of Him to protect me from the wrath of God by His body and blood. This becomes a prayer in very personal terms: "O Lord Jesus I need you."
2) I own Him as my very own
By taking these elements to my lips I am saying that Jesus is more than a great prophet, priest, and king; He is my prophet, priest, and king. I am saying that I own Him as my teacher. I commit myself to Him to learn from Him. I am His disciple. I devote myself to the living Lord Jesus to learn from Him under His authority in order to live my life according to the principles that please Him. I am not out to please myself in some autonomous way. Instead, I own Him and His teaching as my delight in life. "Lord Jesus, I own you as my teacher."
3) I own His people as my family
Since there is only one loaf, then we being many are one body in Him. By taking of this loaf I am saying that I own His brothers and sisters as my brothers and sisters. I am saying that I will try to figure out how I can serve His family members. I am saying that I own His family as the context of mutual edification, of a "one anothering" in which I learn from them and they learn from me. Here I acknowledge that I am going to miss out on many things I need unless I take up the means appointed by my Lord for mutual edification. "My Lord Jesus, I commit myself to learn from you in the context of your brothers and sisters who are my brothers and sisters."
In this spirit and commitment let us "take and eat" of the meal of the new covenant.
Closing benediction: May the Lord richly bless you in learning from Him under His authority in the context of His brothers and sisters.