So Close, Yet So Far Away

One day while teaching a curious crowd, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). I find it hard to imagine a more sobering sentence. Jesus is saying that there are people who think they will go to heaven when they die, but to their everlasting dismay, the door will be closed to them.

Jesus’ words should cause all of us to examine the foundations of our hope. Ironically, it appears from the Gospels that no one is more at risk of possessing a false hope than the religious and the moral. Let me invite you to examine your heart as we consider Luke 15 together.

The Setting

One day a group of notorious tax collectors and sinners gathered around Jesus. While they enjoyed His warmth and kindness, a group of Pharisees and scribes assembled at a distance, grumbling over Jesus’ willingness to associate with such immoral people. Grieved in His heart, and aware that the Pharisees would resist direct instruction, Jesus told three stories to highlight the spiritual need of both groups of people. In Jesus’ third story, often referred to as the Prodigal Son, things get personal.

The Younger Son

Jesus begins by telling us a certain dad had two sons. One day the younger son came to his father and asked for his inheritance. This would have been culturally alarming, similar to saying, “Dad, you are not dead, but let’s act like you are. I want your money, but not you.” The father did so, and the son left home and wasted everything in sinful living. Once the money dried up and he reached the end of his rope, he planned his confession speech and went home. When the father saw his wayward son compassion welled up in his heart. He ran to him, embraced his neck, and threw a party. Jesus used the younger son in his story to illustrate the tax collectors and sinners who had gathered around Him. Jesus wants us to know that His arms are wide open for the most immoral person who draws near!

The Older Son

Jesus then turns our attention to the dad’s older son. After a long day working in the hot field, he returned to the sounds of a party. Once he found out this party was to celebrate his immoral, little brother who had come home, he was furious and refused to enter. When the father heard his older son was fuming outside, he left the party to appeal for mercy. Instead of listening, the older son argued that his resume of obedience had never been rewarded. So Jesus used the older son in His story to illustrate the Pharisees and scribes who stood at a distance begrudging His kindness to sinful people.

As I consider my own life, I can identify with both sons. I have spent time in both worlds, but truth be told, I have spent more days far from God near His house than I have in open rebellion.

The Conclusion

Jesus then concluded His story with one last entreaty from the father. “Son…it was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:32). The story ends without letting us know if the older brother ever entered the house. Why would Jesus end His story this way? Because He was appealing to the Pharisees and scribes, and awaiting their response. The moral of the story is stunning. Some people are irreligious; others are religious. Some people run far away in rebellion; others stay close to home in religion, but everyone is far from God. Everyone is invited to come to God by placing their faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

As I consider my own life, I can identify with both sons. I have spent time in both worlds, but truth be told, I have spent more days far from God near His house than I have in open rebellion. Neither place is life-giving. Both places are dangerous, but I have come to see the overwhelming risk in being the older son who is religious, yet far from God. Whereas the irreligious lost person is fully aware that they are far from God…

  • The religious lost person can more easily be deceived into thinking he/she is close to God
  • The religious lost person can more easily mistake religious activity for spiritual life
  • The religious lost person can more easily deceive others into thinking they are near God
  • The religious lost person can more easily feel justified by their good works
  • The religious lost person can more easily justify their condemnation of others, allowing themselves to escape the microscope of their own examination

Finding Life In The True Son

In Jesus’ first two parables something is lost, someone goes searching, and a party is planned after it is found. In Jesus’ third parable, it was two kinds of people, the irreligious and the religious, who were lost from the Father. So God sent Jesus, His Son, to seek and save the lost. Here on the Earth, Jesus died on a cross for our sin and rose again to provide us the way back to God in heaven.

How is it that we can know for certain that we will enter heaven when we die? Read Jesus’ words one more time. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Everyone who does the will of His Father will go to heaven! And what is the Father’s will? Jesus could not have answered this question with greater clarity. “For this is the will of God, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).

No matter how moral or immoral, religious, or irreligious you have been, Jesus is ready to receive you into His arms. Don’t let rebellion or religion blind you. If you will repent of your belief that you can earn salvation, and believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sin, you can be certain that He will raise you up at the last day. Are you prepared for this party?