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The Prodigal God: Part 5 – The Feast of the Father

The Parable of the Two Sons ends with a feast in progress – but with the older son refusing to come join the festivities.

Near the end of Revelation, we read:

“…. For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) – Revelation 19:7-8

Revelation 21:9-11 adds this:

One of the seven angels … said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God….

Isaiah also described this great last time:

On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.

On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove the disgrace of His people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. – Isaiah 25:6-8

The shroud that enfolds all peoples, of course, is death itself. This is a vision similar to that of John in the Apocalypse. This great feast is the wedding feast of the Lamb. But it is not just the people of God who enter this wonderful time. Isaiah promised that in that day, “‘The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the LORD.” – Isaiah 65:25. This will be in the time of the new heaven and the new earth.

Timothy Keller writes of this “Feast of the Father” in the final chapter of his book, THE PRODIGAL GOD: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith.

He does not, however, point to the final feast as the beginning of our time of feasting with the Father. Even now, the Christian community is a new creation (see 2 Corinthians 5:17) where all who are made new in Christ walk in “newness of life” (see Romans 6:4) and partake of the Father’s Feast.

He left a meal – what we today call the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist – as a sign of his saving grace. And, of course, Jesus’s parable of the lost sons ends in a party-feast that represents the great festival of God at the end of history. – pp. 105f.

Then Keller asks, “Why does he speak this way? He does so because there is no better way to convey vividly what it means to live out a life based on his saving work” (p. 106) He goes on to list four different characteristics of our salvation that these “feasts with the Father” suggest.

Salvation Is Experiential

There is sensory participation in the feast. Jesus foreshadowed this in His first miracle: turning about 150 gallons of water into the finest wine. This shows he came to bring festive joy. The Bible often uses “sensory language about salvation” (p. 107). To “taste and see” the goodness of the Lord is not only to “agree and believe” – but to experience God’s goodness. Keller quotes Jonathon Edwards:

The difference between believing that God is gracious and tasting that God is gracious is as different as having a rational belief that honey is sweet and having the actual sense of its sweetness.” – p. 108 from The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader (W. Kimnach, K. Minkema, D. Sweeney, eds. Yale, 1999, pp. 127-128)

In the Feast of the Father, we come to experience the love of God as an objective reality in at least four different ways.

Salvation Is Material

Jesus left the Lord’s Supper for us to enjoy in this age. He promises a meal, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, as the goal of our history. After His resurrection, He ate frequently with His disciples. “What does it all mean? It is a sign that, for Jesus, this material world matters” (p. 110).

God pronounced His Creation “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Keller argues:

Jesus’s resurrection and the promise of a new heavens and new earth show clearly that he still cares for it [i.e., the creation – JS]. This world is not simply a theater for individual conversion narratives, to be discarded at the end when we all go to heaven. No, the ultimate purpose of Jesus is not only individual salvation and pardon for sins but also the renewal of this world, the end of disease, poverty, injustice, violence, suffering, and death. The climax of history is not a higher form of disembodied consciousness but a feast…..

If the material world were only an illusion, as Eastern philosophy says, or only a temporary copy of the real, ideal world, as Plato says, then what happens in this world or in this life would be unimportant. All that would matter would be issues of soul or spirit. However, Jesus was not simply saved “in spirit” but was resurrected in body. – pp. 110f.

This, he argues, means that Christians have important work to do now on the earth. Our task is to be workers together with God to eliminate the pain and suffering of life in the here and now. Matthew 25 describes Judgment Day. Those invited to the feast are not those who call Him Lord, but those who are active in feeding the hungry, serving the refugee, the sick and all others who “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

This is no contradiction to what we have heard from Jesus in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He is not saying that only the social workers get into heaven. Rather, he is saying that the inevitable sign that you know you are a sinner saved by sheer, costly grace is a sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to the poor. Younger brothers are too selfish and elder brothers are too self-righteous to care for the poor. (p. 112 – emphasis added, JS)

Even the miracles of Jesus, he says, “were not so much violations of the natural order, but a restoration of the natural order. God did not create a world with blindness, leprosy, hunger, and death in it. Jesus’ miracles were signs that someday all these corruptions of his creation would be abolished” (p. 112).

Some will, of course, object that this calls for a social gospel – and it does. It does not, however, call for a social gospel divorced from a proclamation of the good news. After all, one of the signs Jesus pointed to for the disciples of John to take back to him to show that Jesus was indeed the one who was to come was that “the good news is preached to the poor” (Matthew 11:5). You could hardly accuse Jesus of neglecting to preach the good news while He alleviated human suffering.

Salvation Is Individual

A feast provides food and nourishment by which individuals find strength, vitality, and growth. Individual Christians need to eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus regularly in order to grow in grace. We must make the gospel more central to all we do to grow spiritually in wisdom, love, joy and peace.

Religion operates on the principle of “I obey – therefore I am accepted by God.” The basic operating principle of the gospel is “I am accepted by God through the work of Jesus Christ – therefore I obey. – p. 114.

We connect with God by believing the gospel (Romans 1:16). We stay connected with Him by continuing to believe and to live in the good news of Jesus’ work in His life and death (1 Peter 1:5). We humans have a tendency to leave the “gospel mode” of thinking and revert to the older brother thought-pattern: because we obey we are saved. At one level, we accept the gospel – but at a deeper level we seek approval from others – and from God – by what we do.

How do we break this pattern? It is not simply by will-power. It is only as we take the gospel itself deeper into our hearts, Keller argues, that we become more like Jesus. We do not become more generous simply by willing it; we must focus on the generosity of God in Christ. When Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be generous, he pointed to the generosity of God (see 2 Corinthians 8 & 9). Do you want to strengthen your marriage? Look at Jesus as the ideal husband.

Keller tells the story of a woman who came to his congregation who told him she had grown up in a church that taught her God accepts us only if we are good enough. She was now hearing God accepts us by sheer grace, and commented “That is a scary idea! Oh, it’s good scary, but still scary.” Keller asked what she meant. She explained:

If I was saved by my good works – then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner save by sheer grace – at God’s infinite cost – then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.” (pp. 120f – emphasis in original, JS)

In other words, she realized that grace meant she is no longer her own, but she is bought with a price. The only people, according to Jesus’ parable of the sower, who produce fruit are those who both hear and understand the gospel (Matthew 13:23).

Salvation Is Communal

A feast is, by nature, a group activity. Yet, we live in an age when even the family meal is going the way of the old country store. Few families sit down to eat together on a regular basis.

This is why so many want their salvation to be nothing but an individual matter between them and God. They may say, “I’m spiritual – but not religious,” or “Jesus, yes; the Church, no!” They want God – but not any organization.

In this last section, Mr. Keller uses an illustration of how the group activity of feasting together make our experience with Christ more real and more meaningful.

This is a discussion by C. S. Lewis in his book The Four Loves where he discussed the nature of friendship. He was one of a small circle of friends who would “feed off of” one another, but he said there was something in each of the friends that only one of the others could bring out. When one of them died suddenly, he said, “Now that Charles [Williams] is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [Tolkien’s] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him ‘to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald.” [pp. 125-7, from C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (Harcourt, 1960), pp. 61-61]

The point is that by seeing Jesus through someone else’s eyes, you see more of Him than you would on your own. We are called into a community of believers who together can see the Lord more clearly than any one of us can alone.

In this way, the feast is more deeply appreciated and real than it would be if we were alone.

This is an easy book to read. The concepts, however, are deep. I recommend it highly, as it will give you fruitful food for thought through more than one reading.

Part One: The Prodigal God – A Book Review

Part Two: The Prodigal God – Redefining Lostness

Part Three: The Prodigal God – The True Elder Brother

Part Four: The Prodigal God – Redefining Hope


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