First, we've been mentioning the Westminster Shorter Catechism regularly in Sunday School (and reading recommendations for that) and our course of study is generally following the order of doctrines in WSC. I hope that people will take the time to think about trying to memorize the Shorter Catechism and even start to catechize children (the PCA has produced two catechisms for young children based on WSC but changed so that younger children can memorize and understand them: First Catechism: Teaching Children Bible Truths and Catechism for Young Children). Scott Clark, professor of church history and historical theology at Westminster Seminary California, has a good essay on why we should memorize the Catechism. His conclusion:
Reformed catechesis, however, is not mere obligation. It is a joy and a gift from our covenant Lord. If we do make catechesis a regular part of the religious life of our children, if we make regular use of the ordinary means of grace (Shorter Catechism 88), if we pray and read with our children, we may expect them to make a credible profession of faith in the congregation. Watching our children make profession and come to the table of the Lord, these are the answers to the prayers of all Reformed parents. May God grant us such graces.
Second, Tim Keller's new book, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, is now available. I haven't read Reverend Keller's book (and to be honest with all I do have to read and to but and read it isn't on my Amazon wish list at the moment) but it does bring up an interesting passage of Scripture in the parable of the prodigal son. The question that comes up is, "Where do we see Jesus in this parable?" We know that all of his parables reveal something about him but this is an odd one. Some suggest that Jesus is found in the person of the father who receives the prodigal back. Some think that Jesus is seen in the prodigal himself as he humbles himself and identifies with sinners. I think that Jesus is only seen here when we realize that he removes himself from the parable and puts the Pharisees in his place so that we can only see him by their negative example.
Now it is true that Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Heb. 1:1-3) and also true that Jesus humbles himself from his glory to be found in the form of a servant (Phil. 2:1-13). This isn't what Jesus is revealing to us in this parable though. God the Father is the one who is revealed in the person of the father in the parable. Jesus also cannot be seen in the person of the prodigal as the story focuses on his sin and repentance; neither of which are things that Jesus did. So where do we find Jesus in the parable?
I think that the answer is in backing up and looking at the story in context. The beginning of the passage provides this context: "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.' So he told them this parable" (Luke 15:1-3). Tax collectors and sinners are gathering around Jesus and he receives them. The Pharisees and scribes object to this behavior and question why Jesus would associate himself with sinners. Jesus tells a trio of parables to explain why he welcomes the tax collectors and sinners.
The first parable is that of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7). When a man who has a hundred sheep loses one he immediately leaves the other ninety-nine and goes to seek after the lost. When he finds that lost sheep he brings it back and rejoices with his friends because he has recovered what was lost. It is easy for us to see Jesus as the shepherd in this parable who goes and finds sinners and brings them to repentance and Jesus confirms this reading by saying, "there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." The second parable is that of the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10). A woman who has ten coins loses one and then lights and lamp and sweeps the house diligently until she finds it. After she recovers what was lost she calls her friends and rejoices over that coin that was lost and now is found. Again we can easily see Jesus in the woman who searches diligently for what was lost as he finds sinners and brings them to repentance. Again Jesus confirms this, saying, "there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
This brings us to the third parable, that of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32). A son is lost but no one goes to find him. Eventually the son repents of his sinful life and returns to his father who welcomes him and throws a banquet and a party to celebrate the recovery of his son. But no one in this parable left to find what was lost or diligently sought after what was missing until it was found. What jumps out at us in contrast to the first two parables is the lack of the shepherd or the woman. Instead we find the older brother who not only does not seek out his younger brother but is furious that the father would show grace to the prodigal when he returns! Clearly the older brother in the story reveals the Pharisees and scribes who not only did not seek out the tax collectors and sinners to bring them back to God but grumble against Jesus when he does the same. They despise the tax collectors and sinners and are furious that Jesus would eat with them.
But suppose that the older brother had known that his father longed to restore his younger son and desired to return to fellowship with him. If that older brother desired to please and honor his father then wouldn't he have immediately left all that he had in his father's house and gone to look diligently for his brother until he could restore him to his father? So we are meant to see Jesus in the negative example of the older brother. Jesus knows that the heart of the Father is to rejoice in the repentance of sinners. So he leaves the glory that he has had from all eternity with the Father and humbles himself to the death of the cross so that he can bring those lost sinners to the household of the Father. He is the one who goes and seeks until he finds what is lost and brings it back to the rightful place. He is the good older brother who seeks out the prodigal and brings him back. Ed Clowney (see Chapter 3) helps us to meditate on how the heart of our Savior is revealed to us in this parable:
We do not understand this parable if we forget who told it, and why. Jesus Christ is our older Brother, the firstborn of the Father. He is the seeking Shepherd who goes out to find the lost; he is the Resurrection and the Life who can give life to the dead; he is the Heir of the Father’s house. To him the Father can truly say, “Son, all that I have is yours.” He who is the Son became a Servant that we might be made the sons and daughters of God. This parable is incomplete if we forget that our older brother is not a Pharisee but Jesus. He does not merely welcome us home as the brother did not; he comes to find us in the pigpen, puts his arms around us, and says, “Come home!”
Indeed, if we forget Jesus, we do not grasp the full measure of the Father’s love. The heavenly Father is not permissive toward sin. He is a holy God; the penalty of sin must be paid. The glory of amazing grace is that Jesus can welcome sinners because he died for them. Jesus not only comes to the feast, eating with redeemed publicans and sinners; he spreads the feast, for he calls us to the table of his broken body and shed blood.