The Father longs for the return to the fold of the Prodigal Son.

by Charles Gardner.

The question of whether Jesus is for the Jewish people has come up again of late. It is, of course, a very crucial one. The call from Orthodox Jew Jonathan Feldstein for evangelists to come and preach Jesus to the Palestinians in Gaza is a wonderful sign of increasing acceptance among Jewish people of the most famous Jew who ever lived. But is he their Messiah?

When Jesus first sent out his twelve apostles, he said: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5f)

Then, in the region of Tyre and Sidon where a Canaanite woman begged mercy for her demon-possessed daughter, the disciples urged their master to send her away. And Jesus said: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24) But he subsequently commended the Canaanite woman’s great faith, and her daughter was instantly healed.

So we see that preaching to the Jews is set out as the priority both for Jesus and his disciples. And in doing so, the blessings spill over to Gentiles with faith.

In witnessing to the Samaritan woman, Jesus said “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), and yet their remarkable conversation sparked revival in Samaria where many believed he was the Messiah (the Samaritans were only half-Jewish).

As the Apostle Paul said, the gospel is “to the Jew first…” (Romans 1:16). And it is widely evident that revival among the Gentiles is an overspill of a first concern for the Jews. The 19th century Scottish minister, Robert Murray McCheyne, after reaching out to Jews in the Holy Land, experienced revival in his own parish of Kilsyth.

On a broader scale, after the Puritans reintroduced teaching on the vital place in God’s heart for the Jewish people, Jews were welcomed back to Britain where they became increasingly influential. And there was a great awakening of the Christian faith, firmly built on its Judaic foundation. We became a great nation, virtually ruling the world at one time, and playing a key role in the restoration of Israel long promised by the prophets.

But then we turned our backs on the Lord, our influence waned and our foolish ways became legendary.

So, back to the lost sheep. Luke records Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep, which surely fits the picture of the lost sheep of Israel he came to rescue, rejoicing over just one of them who repents. Israelites too have gone astray over the centuries, but it delights the Lord when they turn back to him. Notice how few of their ancient kings did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

So there was no great change when he came down to live among them. But he longs to welcome them home – as the father welcomed the Prodigal Son, and as Joseph revealed himself to his errant brothers.

Jews are often regarded as the ‘elder brother’ of Christians in this respect, but I am more inclined to see them as the Prodigal, who went to a far country to waste his inheritance, only to become destitute and despised, even forced to eat scraps meant for animals – and pigs at that.

But when he came to his senses, he returned to his father who, when he was still a long way off, ran to embrace him and threw a big party. But the older brother sulked, saying in effect, ‘I have worked hard for you all these years while this son of yours has squandered your wealth’ – i.e. perhaps not made the best use of being a light to the Gentiles in teaching God’s ways to the nations.

The father explains that they had to celebrate “because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:32)

Doesn’t the Apostle Paul say: “For if their (Israel’s) rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15) He had earlier asked the Gentiles within the mixed Roman congregation: “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.” (Romans 11:11)

Wasn’t the elder brother envious of the party thrown for his wayward sibling? Indeed, he was. But in these days, with Jews coming back to Jesus in increasing numbers, the boot, I suggest, is on the other foot.

Contrary to nature, Paul argues, we Gentiles have been grafted (by faith) into an olive tree (symbolic of Israel). So how much more readily will the natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree (verse 24) when the time for their full inclusion has come?

Paul goes on: “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.” (verses 25 & 26)

He then quotes Isaiah’s prophecy of the deliverer who will turn godlessness away from Jacob and take away their sins (Isaiah 59:20f). It’s a great and marvellous mystery, which sends Paul into a paean of praise he is almost unable to express, as in “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out!” (verse 33)

And it is surely in the light of this staggering revelation that he begins the following chapter: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…” (Romans 12:1)

Our living sacrifice should be our response to the overwhelming graciousness of God in deigning to include us Gentiles in his plan of salvation. We need to stop sulking and join the celebrations as the Prodigal comes home to his true Messiah.