When the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want for restoration

“He restores my soul.” Psalm 23:3a

Sheep have a habit of wandering away from the flock. They become interested in one clump of grass, and then another and another – until they discover that they have strayed far away from the shepherd and the other sheep. When night comes, the lost sheep is in great danger. It could became a meal for wolves, a mountain lion, or even fall over a cliff.

When the shepherd comes back to the fold, he counts his sheep and discovers that one is missing. The shepherd then leaves his servant to guard the flock so he can go out and find his lost sheep and bring it back to the fold.

Some sheep will develop the habit of going astray. Night after night, the shepherd finds the same sheep missing. Eventually, the shepherd will break its leg. Back in the fold, the shepherd makes a splint for the shattered leg and during the days hat follow, he carries that crippled sheep close to his heart. As the leg mends, the shepherd sets the sheep down by his side. The sheep must still depend on the shepherd to cross streams and rocky knolls.

After the leg has healed, the sheep has learned a valuable lesson – stay close to the shepherd’s side. You may think this is cruel or hardhearted until you understand the heart of the shepherd. The shepherd knows the sheep must remain close to him if it is to be protected from danger. So he breaks his leg, not to hurt it, but to restore it.

Have you ever wandered away from God, forcing Him to move in and break your leg? I don’t mean He literally breaks your leg, although He could. Maybe you felt God’s discipline was too severe and harsh. But when you know God’s heart, you realize that these afflictions came in to your life because He wants His sheep to depend constantly on Him. He longs for us to stay close to His heart.

King David understood this when he wrote Psalm 23. David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and tried to cover it up by murdering her husband, Uriah (2 Samuel 11). David lived with the guilty memory of his sin for nine months before God sent his prophet, Nathan, to restore his servant (2 Samuel 12:1-15). David’s unbearable anxiety and guilt were removed the moment he confessed his sin to God and experienced His forgiveness (Psalm 32:1-5; 51:1-4). He was restored back to fellowship with the Lord the moment he came clean with Him.

Please understand that our Good Shepherd is the One who “restores” us, just as the shepherd is the one who restores his wandering sheep. Sheep do not restore themselves. The shepherd does. Likewise, we cannot restore ourselves when we have wandered from God. Nor can our spouse, pastor, church, or close friends restore us. This is God’s responsibility.

Have you gone astray from the Lord and sunk deep into the darkness of sin and shame? Do you believe that your sin is greater than God’s grace? Are you convinced that God could never forgive you and restore you back to closeness with Him in light of what you have done?

Listen to the heart of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus has the best interest of the sheep in mind. He laid down His life so that those who believe in Him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15). The word “for” in this verse refers to the substitutionary death of Christ. Christ died “for” us or “instead” of us. He died in our place.

God could have permitted us to take our own punishment. But instead, 2,000 years ago, God’s perfect Son took our place on the cross and died as our Substitute. The Bible tells us, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

A California newspaper reported that a man fired a gun into a pedestrian-filled sidewalk. To shield a three-year-old boy from the hail of bullets, a twenty-nine-year-old apartment manager grabbed him and ran back into the building. Carrying the boy, he ran up a flight of stairs before collapsing from two bullet wounds in his chest. A policeman observed, “He brought the boy out of the line of fire and died because of it.”  

As our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ took what caused our death, our sin, and died for us before coming back to life three days later. By dying in our place, Jesus satisfied God’s holy demand to punish our sins. There is no need for us to punish ourselves. Christ took our punishment so we can enjoy fellowship with Him after we receive His gift of everlasting life (John 3:16; I John 1:3-4). No amount of our sin is greater than God’s love and grace (Romans 8:38-39; Ephesians 2:8-9).

Jesus also said, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own” (John 10:14). It was important for a shepherd to know his sheep. He must know their needs, weaknesses, and their problems. Without this kind of knowledge, he would not be able to adequately provide for the needs of his sheep.

Christ is the Good Shepherd not only because He lays down His life for us,but because He has an intimate knowledge of us. He knows everything about us – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and He still loves us. It is also important that the sheep know their shepherd. They must know his voice so they can respond when he calls them. They must learn to trust their shepherd so he can provide for their needs.

The more we understand how intimately our Good Shepherd knows us and loves us, the more we will believe that no amount of our sin disqualifies us from approaching Him. He wants to restore His wayward sheep. He wants to hold us close to His heart. Will you permit Him to do this in your life? If you will, you can know as David did that when the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want for restoration.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, my gracious and good Shepherd, thank You for Your unlimited love and grace towards me. Thank You for laying down Your life for me so I may have Your life forever the moment I believe in You. Even though I am prone to wander from You, this does not diminish Your love for me. You still seek me out to restore me back to fellowship with You. Thank You for the pain I have felt when I have wandered far away from You. That pain teaches me to come back to You and to stay close to Your heart. Help me to show the same restoring grace to others who have wandered from You as You have shown to me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  

The Father’s love toward His self-righteous son

“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.’ ” Luke 15:31

In Luke 15:11-24, we saw Father God’s love expressed in a relationship between a father and his wayward son. God is like a father who is generous to His children (15:12); He allows His children to make their own decisions and live with the consequences (15:12-16); He longs for His wayward children to return to Him (15:20a); He unconditionally loves and accepts His wayward children (15:20-21); He restores His repentant children to the privileges of sonship (15:22); He celebrates whenever His wayward children return home to Him (15:23-24).

Today we will look at how God the Father responds to an angry and self-righteous child of His. In this parable, the younger wayward son returned home to his father and his father responded with love and forgiveness to him, and restored him to the privileges of sonship (Luke 15:18-22). The father even had a parting celebrating his son’s return (15:23-24).

But while this restoration and celebration was taking place, the “older son” had been working “in the field” (15:25a). And as he drew near to his father’s house and “heard music and dancing,” he asked one of the servants what was  going on (15:25b-26). When the servant told the older brother that his younger brother had come home and his father was celebrating his return, the son became “angry and would not go in” to join the celebration of his younger brother’s return (15:27-28a). But notice what the father does. “Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him” (15:28b). The father did not ignore his son and leave him in his self-righteous pity party. No, the father pursued his angry son.

Instead of rejoicing in his father’s love and forgiveness towards his repentant brother, the older son was angry with his father’s response. This son had worked hard “serving” his father much like the Jewish religious leaders worked hard to try to earn God’s love and forgiveness (15:29). The older brother viewed himself more as a servant than as a son of his father. Actually, he views himself as a “perfect” servant. He arrogantly boasted to his father, “I never transgressed your commandment at any time” (15:29a). Really!?! He never once disobeyed his father!?!

Then he angrily blames his father for not giving him what he deserved. “And yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends” (15:29b). Like the religious leaders, this older son’s self-righteousness led him to feel that he was not being treated as much as he deserved. He preoccupied himself with his work instead of focusing on his relationship with his loving father who accepted and loved him apart from his work. He was hurt because his father never celebrated all that he had done for him, but now his father was throwing a party for his “less than” brother (15:29-30).

The older son refuses to acknowledge his brother as his brother. He calls him his father’s son (“this son of yours”), implying that his father shared his younger brother’s guilt (15:30a). This older son was elevating himself above both his father and his younger brother. His self-righteous attitude may have been his way of compensating for a deep sense of inadequacy and insecurity in his heart. This prevented him from experiencing any joy over his brother’s restoration. Amazingly, everyone in this parable experienced joy except this older brother. Instead of staying home to enjoy the love of his father, this older brother was working hard in the field so he could get what he wanted from his father.

Have you ever felt this way towards God? Do you have resentment towards God when He restores a believer whom you think should be punished? When you compare yourself to that wayward believer, do you feel superior to him or her? He or she is like a second-class Christian compared to you? When we compare our righteousness with the righteousness of other broken sinners, pride can easily fill our hearts. It would be better to compare our righteousness with that of God’s. When we do that, we will realize that our righteousness is like “filthy rags” before our perfect and holy Father in heaven (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:23). When we forget how much grace and forgiveness God has extended to us when we sin, we can be very unforgiving toward others when they sin (cf. Matthew 18:21-33).

Perhaps, you have worked hard for God as a Christian trying to win His approval and love. And when you see God restore a wayward brother in Christ, you feel resentment towards God’s love and forgiveness. “After all, you have done so much for the Lord. Why doesn’t He celebrate what you have done?” You have lost sight of the heart of your heavenly Father. You have focused more on working FOR the Father rather than being WITH Him. Instead of enjoying God’s grace and love towards you, you demand justice for your brother who has been restored by God.

How does the father respond to his angry and self-righteous son? He responds with the same love and tenderness that he showed toward his youngest son. “He said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours’ ” (15:31). His obedient son had constant access to fellowship with his father along with enjoyment of all he possesses. But instead of enjoying his relationship with his father and all of his father’s possessions, the older son chose to focus on his works and what he thought he deserved. This produced a haughtiness in him that caused him to look down on his father and his younger brother.

What amazes me about our Father in heaven, is that He loves His wayward children and His self-righteous angry children with the same tenderness. He pursues them even when they do not deserve it. The bottom line is both sons needed forgiveness and restoration. And their father granted it to them freely.

I believe this is a powerful message for the church today. I wonder how many wayward Christians receive the same love and tenderness from their church as they did from God when they returned home to the Lord? Or do they receive the anger that was displayed by the self-righteous older son, causing them to feel like a second-class Christian? Instead of embracing the repentant sinner, they shun him because in their minds he deserves justice not grace. Oh they would never say that out loud. But their actions speak much louder than their words. What the self-righteous Christian fails to understand is all of us deserve justice, including him or her (Romans 3:23; 6:23a). But God’s grace is for the underserving – a condition of all of humanity. God’s grace restores the repentant sinner not because they deserve it, but because God is a God of second chance.

As I have processed this parable the past few days, I am reminded of how the self-righteous Jewish leaders responded to Jesus’ grace towards repentant sinners. They hated Jesus and His grace which was captivating the hearts of the people, and eventually these leaders murdered Him on a cross (Matthew 9:11; 11:19; 12:9-21; Mark 2:13-16; 3:1-6; Luke 5:30; 15:2; 19:7; John 5:16; 7:1; 11:45-53). But when Jesus died on that cross He paid the penalty for the sins of the repentant sinner and the self-righteous sinner. That makes them equals before the cross. There is no more hierarchy of the “haves” and “have nots” in God’s family. Praise Jesus for our total acceptance and worth before Him!

If you have been given justice instead of grace by Christians, please understand that this is not Jesus’ way. Jesus is not uptight about your sin and shame. Christ said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). Christ did not come to condemn you, but to cleanse you. He did not come to rub in your sins, but to rub them out. If you do not have Jesus in your life, He invites you to come to Him now just as you are.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He is not asking you to come to church or to a pastor, a priest, an imam, or a monk. He is asking you to come to Him. Notice He does not say, “Come to Me and I will give you guilt … shame … stress.” No He says, “Come to Me … and I will give you rest.” Christ is saying that when we come to Him just as we are, He will give you spiritual rest. The rest Jesus offers refers to a state of mind that exists when a non-Christian realizes he or she does not have to earn or work for their salvation. This refers to the positional rest of eternal life that is based on trusting in Christ’s accomplishment on the cross.

When I was a nineteen year-old college student athlete, I came to Christ in faith and received the “rest” of His forgiving grace. This took place in a cornfield driveway as a song by Chuck Girard entitled “Lay Your Burden Down,” was playing in my parent’s car. As I listened to this song, my heart was flooded with the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. He took away the burden of my sin and shame. I would like to share some of those lyrics before we pray:

You’ve been tryin’ hard to make it all alone
Tryin’ hard to make it on your own

And the strength you once were feelin’, isn’t there no more
And you think the wrong you’ve done, is just too much to be forgiven
But you know that isn’t true
Just lay your burden down, …He has Forgiven you

Lay your burden down, lay your burden down
Take your burden to the cross, and lay it down
Lay your burden down, lay your burden d
own Take you worries to the cross and lay them down

Prayer: Father God, please forgive me for judging others as unworthy of Your love and restoration. When I feel deeply inadequate and insecure, it is easy for me to lift myself up by tearing others down. I am no different than the older brother when I focus on the sins of others to avoid looking at my own sins. Oh, how quickly I can forget the burden of my sin and shame You lifted off of me forty-one years ago when I believed in Jesus. How prone I am to resent Your love and forgiveness toward repentant sinners because I think they deserve justice instead of grace. Please cleanse me of these arrogant and self-righteous thoughts that seek to elevate me above You and others. Lord God, I invite You into the dark recesses of my soul to shine Your unspeakable love which restores the broken hearted and crushed in spirit. Please make my heart whole again so I may love and restore other broken sinners with the love and grace You have abundantly lavished upon me. Thank You, my precious Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.