Thursday, July 3, 2014

Parable of the Lost Sheep pointed to Universalism - Wrong!

Recently, I read an article which talked about the Parable of the Lost Sheep being pointing to salvation universalism. 

What is the doctrine of Universalism or salvation universalism?  It is basically this: That everyone will be saved eventually, meaning everyone gets to Heaven, eventually; no one gets sent to Hell to suffer the terrible sufferings.  And so, it is saying that unbelievers, too, get to go to Heaven; independent of faith or religious faith.  Behind the doctrine is the simplistic and shallow argument of “if God is really a good and loving God, He cannot be sending people to Hell!”

There are therefore, people out there who claim that Scripture sometimes or at some places, pointed to universalism of salvation, and at others, NOT.  One Biblical text which is quoted to support this universalism of salvation is the Parable of the Lost Sheep; which I am saying as a one-liner, now – No, it does NOT (point to or supports universalism of salvation).

Before I go on to expand on my one-liner that I have just stated, let me get 2 things straight:

1.   Not in support of universalism is NOT about denying any class, race or color of skin, of people, the salvation grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  So, salvation through Christ Jesus, is open to all peoples; but it also is “there is no other name through which anyone can be saved”.  It is open to all peoples, but the way is only one – accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour, and thereafter be living a life after the Holy Spirit, instead of after the flesh.  And so,

2.   Universalism is unbiblical belief.  It is NOT that we, believers, made ourselves to be intolerant and exclusive, but it is the dictate of God and His Word.  In fact, believers are expected to develop to be patient, longsuffering and persevering, and be loving, compassionate and merciful, but the matter of going to Heaven is NOT the prerogative of the believers to decide how, but it is as prescribed by God, the owner of Heaven.

Let me put down the Parable of the Lost Sheep as given in Scripture:

Luke 15:3-7 - 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Matt 18:12-14 - 12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

The proponents of universalism (of salvation) argue that

1.   God will go out of His way to save people, even a single person, and in this parable, the lost sheep has to do nothing at all.  It is saved, in the parable. 

2.   It is NOT punished for getting lost, for going off on its own.

3.   NOT only is it NOT punished, but God celebrates.

4.   It is NOT the will of God that one of these little ones should perish.

5.   Although we see repentance in the Luke account, it is NOT in the Matthew’s account.

The proponents conclude that God will go out of His way to save because of His love, and it is regardless of the person being wayward or otherwise; the person is NOT punished, while God celebrates; and it is the will of God to save, and so, everyone will be saved, purportedly God will, God must.  Repentance is NOT a must – seen in the Luke account but NOT in the Matthew’s account.

On the surface, the above points seemed legitimate, but the problem is the lack of understanding of how parables were used and handled.  Wrong identification and handling of the key object and metaphor of a parable will lead to wrong interpretation of a parable.

The thing about interpreting a parable is to get to the “that is what it is like in case of the Kingdom of God”!  A parable is used to tell of a thing/an aspect, the “that is what it is like” of God or the Kingdom with the help of an approximation in our human living. In the case of the parable of the lost sheep, it is NOT about the sheep owned or lost sheep as such. The “that is what it is like” was the rejoicing.  The key object of the parable (the thing that the parable was trying to point to) was the joy or rejoicing of God and rejoicing in the Kingdom of Heaven.  The equivalent key metaphor of the parable (the thing in the parable that pointed to the key object of the parable) was the joy of the man (who had the sheep), and the rejoicing of his friends and neighbours.

Jesus was trying to explain the why of “He did what He did” just before He gave this parable. Jesus had repeatedly said what He did was to do what the Father God had wanted Him done.  Why did He, Jesus, do so, to do what the Father God had wanted?  The answer is simple, He wanted to please the Father God; He wanted the Father to rejoice, to be joyous. 

Isn’t that so, for us, too?  Yes, we, too; the overall counsel of the Word pointed to us to exist to please God.  We are to bring joy and rejoicing to God (Read this article: if you want deeper understanding of this: Do we exist to please God, glorify and honor Him?)

What was it that was said against Jesus, before He gave this parable to explain Himself?  The Pharisees and Sadducees (these were snobbish Jews) frowned at His (Jesus’) welcoming and eating with the sinners.  The tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to hear Him, then.  To the snobbish Jews, they had the notion that if Jesus were indeed the Son of God or the Messiah, He could NOT be associating with the sinners (they, the Pharisees and Sadducees, didn’t; they didn’t eat with the Gentiles. Even the Apostle Peter was rebuked by the Apostle Paul for doing so, once [Gal 2:11-14]).  Jesus, using the parable, explained why.  So, the parable was to bring out this: the Father God would be joyous and Heaven would rejoice when people (even the Gentiles) be turned/turned back to be His.  To give an idea of the joy and rejoicing, Jesus used to the joy and rejoicing of the man with a 100 sheep who lost one and found it again. 

There is always a limitation of any presentation in a parable to portray the actual thing of the Kingdom, and so, the key to parable interpretation is to identify the “that is what it is like” of the parable; reading too much into the rest, is uncalled for, and will lead to wrong conclusion.  The “that is what it is like” here is the joy and rejoicing of having recovered one that is precious and once owned, or having gained one more, as precious.

Those of us who truly appreciate that the parable’s intent was to highlight the joy of God and rejoicing in Heaven, would use this parable this way and say, on the occasion of a person coming into salvation or coming back from a backslidden state, something to this effect, “We are very happy for you; God and Heaven rejoice over you.  Or I may even tell the person this, “Remember today, it is a very special day; it is your birthday – the day of your born-again [for those entering into salvation]!  Rejoice, for Heaven rejoices with you.

If you are still NOT convinced that the highlight is indeed about the joy and rejoicing, you can check Scripture, and see that, immediately following the above Parable of the Lost Sheep is the Parable of the Lost Coin.

Luke 15:8-10 -   8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

In fact, the text started with “Or suppose a woman ……”; in other words, Jesus was saying we could either consider the parable of the lost sheep or this other parable, parable of the lost coin; they are saying the same thing.  What same thing?  The same thing is that “God is joyous and Heaven rejoices over one who …..” 

The story line is the same for the parable of the lost coins as that of the lost sheep, just that instead of 100 sheep, it was 10 silver coins.  So, we can see, it got nothing to do with what kind of sheep the man was having, nor was it about how the finding took place or the method employed or whether or NOT the sheep did anything or NOT, or any punishment should be meted out or NOT.  I believe, just in case people over-focus on the sheep (unto misinterpretation) in the first parable, Jesus gave another, and in this case, an inanimate object, coins! [I am NOT here saying the owner shepherd-sheep representation used by Jesus was a bad one; it was NOT, and it did have its root in the OT; Isaiah 53:6 – “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.”]

Sure, it is God’s will that all men be saved and NOT perish; we know that, even from other Scripture verses, but it is clear that, that does NOT mean that every man will be saved and NOT perished.  Jesus did talk about this, when He was asked: “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” (Luke 13:23).  Jesus talked about the narrow road and gate and the wide road and gate, and in that, we know that NOT all would be saved.  The main reason is there is still the volition of man.

Men have to exercise their volitions to believe the Gospel, to repent, to turn back to God, ask Him for forgiveness, and walk thereafter after the Holy Spirit, and no longer after the flesh. 

Is repentance important?  Yes.  The Apostle Luke, being a medical doctor, was more meticulous in his observations and writings, and so, much of his gospel writings were with more details than the other gospel writers'.  That the Apostle Matthew failed to record it, repentance, does NOT mean repentance is NOT important.  The overall counsel of the Word attests to the importance of repentance, if NOT the absolute necessity of repentance, for salvation.

Now, on the argument that God MUST go after the wayward, and so, saving everyone, if you believe, like I believe, Jesus perhaps, was also pre-empting this (just as I believe, he pre-empted people focussing on the sheep instead of the joy and rejoicing, and gave the lost coin parable), He gave one more parable – the parable of the lost son or as I preferred it, the parable of the return of the prodigal son [I am NOT saying this is only reason He gave this 3rd lost-parable]. 

In the previous two lost-parables, Jesus said that the owner set off to seek out the lost (the lost sheep and the lost coin) and bring them back.  For this third one, just to make sure that people do NOT get the wrong idea and said that He (Jesus) said it is God MUST (or we say, “you push all bucks back to God”), Jesus detailed the parable of the lost son where the younger son insisted to leave and go live his wayward life. 

You will notice here, that the father was NOT said to go after the wayward son, and get him back (unlike the owner of the sheep who went out to find the sheep and carried it back, or the coin owner who probably combed every each of space and found the coin and put it back to where it belonged, with the other coins, in safe-keeping). 

The parable of the Lost Son can be read from Luke 15:11-32.  Luke 15:20 recorded this: “So he [the prodigal son] got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

We can see from the above that God was eagerly waiting, “from a distance”.  Many believers are too cavalier about “God with us all the time; He is with us everywhere”.  Yes, God is omnipresent, meaning He can be present anywhere and everywhere.  The “with”, is NOT just about presence (as in “physically” present), it is about God identifying with you and in agreement with you. 

If you are believer, God is always present with you by His Spirit, but He may NOT be with you!  I tell people there is one place God cannot be found!  Where?  In evil.  God can be looking on, but He is NOT with you in evil.  If you are bent on doing evil, He does NOT identify with you and cannot agree with you, and so, He is NOT with you.  But He can be like the father in this parable of the return of the prodigal son, eagerly waiting for his turning back or repentance. [Never preach this parable arguing there is NOT even the need of repentance, as some overly grace preachers do, it is WRONG].

It is clear, it is NOT God MUST, but God desires for all men to be saved. God could go and find the sinner, work on him, and bring him back into the fold or He could be eagerly waiting for the sinner to turn back or repent.  We must NOT forget God is God, meaning He is sovereign, and being sovereign, it is His prerogative when it comes to grace, mercy and compassion.  Scripture, in Romans 9:15 said this:  I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.  But we also know this: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. (1 john 1:5).  God is good; there is no evil in Him.  He may come for you, but why don’t you go into the light, turn away from your evil ways or darkness; and He will let Himself be found by you.

It is NOT God MUST.  Non-believers can wait all they want, and backslidden believers can wait all they want, if they miss the boat, they cannot blame God, for God NEVER committed He MUST.  People need to know, faithfulness and MUST are NOT the same; God is faithful, but it is NOT He MUST.  God is holy, and His love is love unto righteousness (‘ahab love [For better understanding of ‘ahab love, read this: ‘Ahab love – love unto righteousness]), and so, punishment, even to suffer in Hell, is NOT inconsistent with the nature and character of God; He is still the good and loving God. 

The Parable of the Lost Sheep does NOT point to God will save everyone, regardless.  It shows God’s desires to have those lost be back to Him, and He would be joyous and Heaven would rejoice each time it happens. That is the main thrust of the parable.  God wants to save you as His child, even when He already has [many children], but it is NOT regardless.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions

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