The Parable of the Prodigal Sheep

The Parable of the Prodigal Sheep

James R. Aist

Perhaps when you read the title of this article you thought to yourself, “Doesn’t he mean the lost sheep?” After all, that’s the way the later-added, extra-biblical headings refer to this parable. And, in my experience, this parable is commonly used to refer to God pursuing unbelievers until they have been drawn all the way to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Indeed, God does exactly that (John 6:44), but is that what this particular parable is really about? Let’s take a closer look, and find out.

Jesus said, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go in search for the one which went astray? And if he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine which never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:12-14).

Notice that the scene opens with the man actually owning 100 sheep. If he has them, then he owns them; these sheep belong to this man. Moreover, if this man did not already own these sheep, then none of them could actually go astray, because the man would have no rightful claim to them in the first place. So, right away, we can see that this is a parable about, not a wild sheep belonging to no one, but a prodigal sheep belonging to the man.

Having this perspective, then, let’s proceed to what I believe to be the correct spiritual meaning of this parable: It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones whom the Father has given Me (John 10:29) should perish. Jesus is the man in the parable. Now we can see that the parable of the lost sheep is really about the Father pursuing a backslider that He has already saved until he is brought back into the lifestyle and fellowship of the saints who are following Jesus. And, that is exactly why He will raise all of them up on the Last Day (John 6:39), not just the ones who didn’t backslide!

Now, if you will indulge me for a few moments more, I want to make a point of comparison. If you will take a look at the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-28, you will see that it begins in a fashion similar to the parable of the lost sheep: “A man had two sons.” They were his sons throughout the parable, and when the prodigal son returned to his father, he was reinstated, not adopted, into his father’s household. Although these two parables differ in detail, there are many parallels. Perhaps now you can better understand why I chose to say “prodigal sheep” in the title of this article.

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE)

The Reverse of the Curse

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The Reverse of the Curse

James R. Aist

God has been impressing on me lately the incredible magnitutide of what He has already done to bridge the spiritual gap between Himself and mankind that began when Adam chose to obey Satan instead of God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). God’s response to that “original sin” was three-fold: 1) He pronounced curses on Adam, Eve, Satan and all of creation; 2) He drove Adam and Eve from the Garden so that they could no longer eat of the tree of life and live forever; and 3) He severed the spiritual connection into which He had created Adam and Eve in the first place. The latter is the spiritual gap that original sin caused, and I want to focus here on the extent to which God has already bridged that gap, how incredibly far God has gone to more than restore our former spiritual connection with Him. To do that, I will focus on God’s presence as manifested by the Holy Spirit.

Before sin entered into the world, it was just Adam, and Eve and God; He was their God, and they were His people, one might say. Once sin entered in, however, He was no longer their God, and they were no longer His people. This spiritual disconnection between God and mankind persisted from generation to generation, with God dwelling only with or among His people, keeping His distance, as it were.  But, God did promise that the day would come when He would be their God and they would be His people again (Jeremiah 24:7), as it was in the Garden of Eden before sin entered the picture.

So, in the fullness of time, God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to spiritually reconnect (i.e., reconcile) mankind with Himself. But God went much farther than merely re-establishing the former spiritual connection. At Jesus’ request, God sent the Holy Spirit to actually dwell within each person who would receive Him as their Lord and Savior, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:27! Never before had the spiritual connection between God and mankind been either this intimate or this powerful. Now, all who believe in Jesus have within them the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11)! Moreover, the fact that God would place the Holy Spirit within each new believer is proof positive that He has, in fact, made us to be “the righteousness of God in Christ (Romans 3:22).” Otherwise, we would not be morally fit for co-habitation by the Holy Spirit (Psalm 5:4)!

Now, let’s pause for a moment to summarize: God was with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; God was with the Isrealites in the wilderness as they followed Him around for 40 years; God dwelled among the Israelites in temples built in the Promised Land for His presence; God was momentarily within at least one prophet when he was prophesying (Ezekiel 2:2); when Jesus came, God dwelled among men for 33 years and the spiritual connection with the Father was re-instated; but, when the Father sent the Holy Spirit to believers, for the first time ever God dwelled within men permanently. “Why is that such a big deal?”, you may ask. Its primarily because the Holy Spirit within us is a God-given guarantee that we will, for sure, always have eternal life (Ephesians 1:14)! Our salvation has been sealed by the Holy Spirit within us (Ephesians 1:13).

At the beginning of this article, I pointed out that God’s response to Adam’s “original sin” was three-fold, and, so far, I have dwelt on only the third response. But the Bible tells us that God will re-create the kind of utopian scenario that existed in the Garden of Eden before sin entered the world, and that we will be together with God once more on a renewed earth, where we will reign with Jesus forever. In the meantime, let’s remember that God has already done more than merely remedy our spiritual separation from Himself: His Spirit now dwells within us! God sure knows how to more than “reverse the curse”, doesn’t He?

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE)

A Poignant Parable of Progressive Purification

English: Firewood Español: Leños Français : Bo...A Poignant Parable of Progressive Purification

  James R. Aist

Introduction

A parable is usually understood to be made up of two parts: 1) a simple, down-to-earth story; and 2) a spiritual, moral or religious lesson derived from it. Undoubtedly, the most famous parables in the Christian world were those told by Jesus, who routinely and intentionally taught in parables. The personal revelations that I receive occasionally from God more often come in the form of a vision that conveys some kind of spiritual message or revelation, but many years ago one came to me by way of a real-life, real-time parable. It was about how God, through the working of the Holy Spirit within born-again Christians, goes about the process that we usually refer to as “sanctification”. I hope this story will bless you as much as I was blessed as God showed me this parable when I was smack dab in the middle of it.

The Setting

We were living in Ithaca, NY, at the time. Our home was located “in the country” on Snyder Hill Road, just three miles from the campus of Cornell University. I had the house built to my specifications so as to be inexpensive to heat during the much-too-long and hard upstate New York winters. Besides, we were going to heat the new house with wood, and I didn’t want to stack and fetch any more firewood than necessary during the frigid, blustery heating season. As it turns out, we only needed about one and one-half full cords of wood each winter, which is an amazingly small amount for that region. Nonetheless, every time I had a dump truck deliver a load of cut and split firewood and dump it in a huge pile about 30 feet from my garage, I had a big job ahead of me. The firewood had to be stacked in a neat row, roughly four feet high and as long as there was firewood left to stack.  It took me about three sessions of about one and a half to two hours each to finish the job, and it was hard, physical work, to which I was definitely not accustomed!

The Simple, Down-to-earth Part

Well, I had, for many, many years, stacked the pile of firewood into a neat and straight row and cleaned up the mess of firewood “trash” that remains on the lawn, and nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened. True to form, I had developed a routine for the tedious, but necessary, task of cleaning up the “trash” after the firewood was stacked. I would begin with the largest pieces, those that were too small to stack with the normal firewood but very easy to spot and gather into a box to use as kindling whenever I needed to build a fire in my wood stove. With those larger pieces removed, I could then more easily spot fragments of a smaller size and gather them into the box. And so on and so forth, until there was nothing left but tiny bits and slivers that I was not even aware of until all of the larger pieces had been removed. I would then rake together as many of these minuscule remnants as possible and deposit them into the trash. Finally — applying the concept of “good enough” — I would declare the project finished, even though, if I looked closely enough, there were still left even tinier fragments that I had not noticed before. Oh well.

The Spiritual Lesson Part

So, one crisp, spring day I was busy cleaning up the trash after stacking the firewood for the next winter. First the larger pieces, those that were easiest to see, then the next-largest pieces that were now, themselves, the easiest to see, and then the still-smaller pieces which had seemingly appeared out of nowhere when all of the just-larger pieces had been removed. Then, I paused briefly to rest and catch my breath. I was standing there, looking out over the “debris field” and thinking about how I could see the next-smaller pieces only after the just-larger pieces had been removed, when it hit me.  This is exactly how God cleans the sins out of our lives after we are born again! He begins by showing us the most conspicuous sins. These are the ones we are probably already painfully aware of, but have not yet dealt with for some reason. When these sins have been taken care of, it’s easier for Him to show us the less conspicuous sins, and we set about, together, to deal with those. And with those sins now out of the way too, it’s possible for us to see sins that we didn’t even know were there, and so on. Wow! I thought I was just was cleaning up the trash in my lawn, but God was showing me how He was cleaning up the trash in my life!

The After Word

Who would have ever imagined that such a simple task as cleaning up the trash left by a pile of firewood could produce a spiritual lesson of such magnitude?! But isn’t it just like God to teach us through the routine things of life, if we will just pause and meditate now and then?

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)