Prodigals and Pharisees

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  • December 04, 2007

Jesus’ parable in Luke 15 has been on my mind a ton lately. I’m so impressed by what Jesus communicated and how He did and to whom.

Jesus is hanging out with sinners and tax collectors. It says they kept “drawing near to Him.” Ok, stop right there. Isn’t it amazing that the most irreligious people wanted to be around Jesus. Does the Church reflect that quality of the Lord? As we get ready to plant a church, will we do so in such a way that the “sinners and tax collectors” of our culture would be drawn near? Or do we so easily become insular and focus on the holy huddle?

So the sinners are coming to Jesus, and all of the sudden the Pharisees start grumbling. They can’t take that someone who’s suppose to be holy is letting himself be contaminated by the company of such filth. Ok, stop again. What is it about Jesus that the religious are offended by Him? I’ve thought about this a ton over the last few years. I may have mentioned before that I’ve always had a soft spot for the Pharisees. When I was a kid reading the Bible, I remember feeling bad for them cause it seemed like Jesus was always picking on them. It just didn’t seem fair. I’m not making this up – I always figured, man, these guys are doing everything right, or at least trying to, and yet Jesus doesn’t pat them on the back, He grabs them by the throat. And then, you’ve got these flagrant sinners, and yet Jesus is so welcoming of them. (I wonder who I sounded like…keep reading Luke 15 and you meet a character that’s just like I was) Really, it has been amazing to discover that Jesus’ harshest words have always been towards the religious, the moral, the “good” people.

So Jesus is hanging out with sinners, in come the Pharisees, and so Jesus tells a set of stories. The third one is the story of the Prodigal Son. It’s been amazing to think through this story. He’s got religious and irreligious people in front of him. “Sinners” and “Saints”. And so He tells a story that simultaneously speaks to the condition of both parties.

To the sinners, he speaks of a wayward son who has left the Father and has dived into the depths of depravity. And afterwards, he’s left empty, alone, lost. He comes back home repentantly. And to the saints, he speaks of a dutiful but distant son who has stayed with the Father and poured himself into performance. And afterwards, he’s left empty, alone, lost. He stays outside the home bitterly.

There’s a ton to think through. But here’s one part that hit me. As we plant 7 Mile Road Church, we’ve go to do so in such a way that we are simultaneously speaking to prodigals and Pharisees. Our services, sermons, small groups, and more – all of it has to be approached with the understanding that we are calling both the legalistic and the lawless to the Gospel. The Gospel confronts the law-keeper and the law-breaker. The Gospel slays the self-righteousness of the “saint” and the antinomianism of the “sinner.”

This is something I long for 7 Mile Road to do well. We won’t have special ‘seeker services.’ Yet every service and sermon seeks to redeem the lost and edify the redeemed, to save sinners and saints…at the same time. Our hope is to minister to prodigals and Pharisees, just like Jesus.

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About Ajay Thomas

Ajay lives in Philadelphia with his wife Shainu and their kids Hannah and Micah. He is responsible for preaching and vision as a pastor at Seven Mile Road.

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