St. Luke XV.
§ 1. Teachings Outside Jerusalem
N OW the narrative ceases for the present and for several lessons we follow the teachings outside Jerusalem.
Recapitulate last lesson, briefly reminding why He had to leave Jerusalem. Evidently He means to return at next festival. Meantime for many weeks He is now moving through the country outside, and giving very important teaching. The same thing happened when He was again expelled a couple of months later. We do not always know the exact order of the events or the teachings. So we shall drop the narrative for a while and try to learn the more important things taught outside.
§ 2. The Three Great Parables
We have to depend chiefly on St. Luke and the new stories that he discovered. Now what do you think was the most precious teaching that he found out for his new book? All Christian people would say the three parables in St. Luke xv. I think it was on the road at Jericho that these were said, after the Lord had dined with Zaccheus and the publicans. (See v. 1, 2). One feels glad that the Pharisees did grumble, since it got us this delightful teaching about the heart of God. Now name the three parables? Yes. The shepherd who had a hundred sheep, and the woman who had ten pieces of money, and the father who had two sons. And each had lost one, and because it was lost, they were more anxious about that one than about all the rest. You understand that. You would feel the same.
Now what had Jesus chiefly in mind to teach about? The heart of God. It was not the Lost Sheep or the Lost Coin or the Lost Son, but what? The feeling of the person who has lost them. Who is meant by the shepherd and the woman and the man? Our Father in Heaven. God. Be clear about this, and remember that He who told us was the Blessed Lord himself who came from heaven to reveal God's heart to us. So we may feel quite sure about it.
§ 3. The Heart of God
Now suppose a wicked man or woman who had been sinning terribly against God, and now tortured by conscience and very miserable wishes he had not done these things, but feels God must be very angry and must send him to hell—so there is no hope for him. What would these stories of Jesus teach him? That maybe God would not be quite as severe as he feared? That maybe there was a chance that he might some day be forgiven? Is that all he could learn?
Oh, don't you see how much farther our Lord went? He says in the stories: "My son, God has been suffering about you all the time. God is not a big policeman trying to catch you tripping. God is the Father, caring much more than your own father or mother. God, He says, is like that shepherd. What did the shepherd do? Left his ninety-nine sheep who were safe and went away over the mountains in spite of storm and rain and fatigue seeking that lost sheep till he found it. That is God. What did the woman do—a poor woman who would greatly miss that coin? That is what God does who misses that lost sinner. What of the prodigal's father, in his comfortable home with his faithful son beside him and all good things about him? Is he happy? No, says our Lord. He is thinking of his miserable boy in his sin—that is God. The sore heart wanting His child back.
§ 4. Too Good To Be True
Does it seem too good to be true? Why, it is true, even of your own poor father or mother, if you went wrong and broke their hearts. God has put that much of His Nature even into the hearts of poor sinful parents on earth. Do you think your mother would rest satisfied if her other children were good and you were bad and miserable? I remember a mother in a rich, beautiful home who said to me one day: "I never told you my great secret trouble—my boy who went wrong and ran away ten years ago—I don't know to-day if he is dead or alive, but, God help me! he is never out of my thoughts day or night!"
Oh, young people, think of your fathers and mothers! God has given you an awful responsibility, putting your hand on their heartstrings so that with a touch you can give them untold happiness or misery. They can't help it. God made them like that. And from them learn God. Jesus said once to the fathers and mothers in Galilee, "If ye, being evil, cannot help caring like that, how much more the Father in Heaven." If God does not care as much as your mother would, it is a poor business. But if He does? And "much more," our Lord says. Then we are living in a very wonderful world of love with that Father at the head of it! I think hardly anyone would stay away from God if they really believed that.
§ 5. God Seeking
Now there is something more to learn than God's love and pain. What were these people in the parable doing? Merely sorrowing? They were seeking to find what they had lost. "Seeking that which was lost until we find it." Do you think God just waits coldly for His lost son to come back? Or is He seeking? Can you think of any way in which God is seeking to-day? Do you know what usually brings a sinner back? His conscience. The torment of it. Who put this conscience into us?
A man talked to me one day about his evil life. "Are you happy in it?" I asked him. "Happy!" he said. "No. Sometimes I go ahead without thinking much. Sometimes I lie awake at night and think of my mother and the old home, and think of what I am doing. It is just hell at such times." No, it was not hell. Could you explain it? It was conscience. It was the stern love of God wanting him back, and seeking by this torture of conscience—seeking that which is lost, if so be that He may find it. Conscience is an awful solemn thing, but a delightfully hopeful thing. It means God is suffering for you. God is making you suffer because He cannot bear to lose you. That is what Jesus says. Are you not glad that St. Luke discovered these three lovely parables?
§ 6. God Finding
Now read the ending of each of the parables, about the gladness of God's finding. What did the shepherd say? The woman? The prodigal's father? What does our Lord say about the joy in heaven. Would that make you think at all of pain in heaven. I think it should. For if there be joy with God over one that repenteth, must not there be pain with God over one that repenteth not. But it is the joy we are to think of here. Think of your own father or mother if you went wrong and nearly broke their hearts—if some day you came back sorrowful and changed and started out to live a life that gave them pleasure. Why, that little mother, bowed and troubled, would grow young again in the joy of it. From this learn God.
I was told of a young man who had shamed and made miserable his proud, silent old father. And he used to think of that father cursing him for what he had done. One night, with sorrowful heart, he stole back to the old home, but would not dare to face his father. He thought he would just peep through the window for one look and go away for ever. But he saw the stern old man on his knees, and through the opened window he just heard this: "O God, my heart is sore. Watch over my poor, unhappy boy, wherever he is this night!"
That, says Jesus, is the heart of God.
Questions for Lesson II
1. What was St. Luke's most precious discovery?
2. When do you think our Lord said these?
3. Why should we not think this love and pain of God too good to be true?
4. What do you know of God's seeking?
5. The joy in heaven suggests also pain. Explain.