Saturday, 20 May 2017

Are you worthless? (Luke 15:8-10)

‘Because you are worth it,’ says L’Oréal.  Why has that advertising slogan been so successful?  Well, it is telling people, ‘I know that our product is expensive, but, hey, your value more than justifies the price.’  It also resonates with the fact that we all have a great desire to be told that we have worth.  Oprah says that all our problems are rooted in a lack of self-worth.  However, the Bible says that our worth is to be found not in self but in God’s grace

My fragile and twisted sense of self-worth is exposed when someone treats me like a ‘nobody’.  Parents rightly feel annoyed when their children take them for granted.  When someone ends a relationship with us, it hurts to think that the person sees so no worth in us, and that their life would have more value without us.  Millions of people go to counselling saying, ‘I feel that I am worthless.’

Why am I so obsessed with proving my worth?  Can you ever be happy if your sense of worth is based on people’s opinion of you?  The parables of the lost tell us that Jesus values failed people.  But why does he value us?  We are going to see that God values us because he makes beauty out of ashes (Isaiah 61:3).

1.      The bad news is that you are worthless.
The story of the Bible involves humanity being made in the image of God, yet rebelling against our creator.  We still have the image of God, but it is marred.  At the heart of our sin is the fact that we have not considered God to have worth.  We have valued independence from him above living under his infinitely-loving rule.  Tragically, our sin has actually rendered us morally worthless.  The Apostle Paul writes that, ‘All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no-one does what is good, not even one’ (Romans 3:12).

2.    The bad news is that you can’t make yourself worthy.
The Pharisees and teachers obeyed all sort of rules in order to prove their worth.  But Jesus exposes the wickedness of their hearts and the emptiness of their religion, and they hated him for it.  Jesus’s teaching damages the self-esteem of every person who claims to be righteous and good.

It is a hard burden to try to prove your worth.  You slave at convincing your employer that you are invaluable, only to find that your replacement is better than you.  You try to convince people that you are a good guy, only to destroy that image with a bout of moodiness.  You might even be putting on a face for those in church, and be wondering if we would judge you if we knew what you are really like.

Trying to prove our worth to God is a dead end street because sin taints everything about us.  The Bible teaches us that he root of every conceivable evil is buried in the soil of our hearts.  Isaiah proclaims that all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  Our corrupt, proud, self-centred souls render us incapable of doing anything truly good and worthy.  We cannot earn worth before God

Yet Jesus invites those who are trying to prove themselves by their good works to come to him and experience rest (Matthew 11:28).  Although, we can do nothing to make ourselves worthy of God’s love, he wants to treat you with grace.  Our worth is not self-worth.  Our worth is found in the fact that the God of grace places great value on worthless humanity.
3.     The good news is that Jesus values worthless things. 
The Pharisees complained that Jesus was associating with people that they considered to have little worth.  Jesus has no time for people who want to tell him how good they are, yet he welcomes those who know that they are evil.  It is not so much your badness that will keep you from Jesus but your belief in your own goodness.  Here is great news for all people who are willing to admit that they are wicked.  Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.
Only grace explains why Jesus values something that is worthless.  He pictures himself as a woman who had lost a coin.  That coin was worth a day’s wages.  It may be a part of the woman’s dowry or the money she is given to provide for the household.  So she lights her lamp, sweeps the floor and celebrates when she finds it.
Jesus went to even greater lengths to find you.  He descended from heaven, became a man of sorrows who was familiar with grief, and he was pinned to a cross of shame to pay for your sin.  He makes beauty out of ashes.  He makes dearly loved children from depraved humanity.  He forgives, cleanses and restoes.  Paul writes that we are God’s masterpiece created in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:10a).
But haven’t we already learned this through the story of the story of the lost sheep?  Why does Jesus seem to tell the same story twice?  Maybe we need to hear it twice?  But there is also a significant difference in the main character.  Jesus portrays himself as being like a woman.  That is important!  Religious people of that time were very chauvinistic.  Pious men thanked God every day that they had not been born a woman.  The Pharisees and teachers would never have told a story that pictured them as female.
While Jesus is telling this story to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, a crowd would have been listening in.  Among that crowd were women.  Among those women were those who had sexually sinned.  As a result they were seen to have lost value to men.  Prostitutes were thought of as the least valuable of all women.  But we are all equally worthless in sin and equally valued in grace.  Jesus recreates what has been lost.

4.     The good news is that God considers you worth having a party over.
There is also a slight difference in how the celebration is described.  I don’t know if that is significant.  Here we are told that the rejoicing is before the angels of God.  Does that point to God being the one who is rejoicing or all those with him in heaven?  Certainly God is among those who rejoice.  Do you realise that God was overjoyed to find you?  Can you accept that there was a party in heaven when Jesus brought you home?  Do you know that God goes on delighting over you?  He holds you close to his heart (Isaiah 40:11).       

A woman went to her pastor.  She was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  She revealed that her father was an emotional tyrant who said, ‘if you are pretty … if you make good grades … if you are successful … if you don’t embarrass me in front of people … then I will love you.’  She spent her life trying to prove her worth.  As a result she could not grasp the fact that God is gracious.  She had become a Christian but the gospel seemed too good to be true to her.  After an hour of trying to convince her of the love of her heavenly Father, the pastor read from Zephaniah.  ‘The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing' (Zeph. 3:17).   ‘He looks at you, he thinks of you … and he sings for joy.’  He read it again, and she responded that if she could only believe that was true, she could face almost anything.

5.     The good news is that we can now live worthwhile lives.
Not only does grace give you worth, in grace God values all you do for him.  He is not like a parent who is impossible to please.  Grace enables us to live a life worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1 and Philippians 1:27).  We do not work for God to prove our worth to him.  In love, God takes pleasure in all that we do for him, even though what we do for him is so imperfect.  So we don’t lose heart!

When Bryan Chapell was a young adolescent, he came across of piece of rotten wood that he thought looked like the head of a horse.  He made a tie rack out of it and gave it to his father.  He dad delighted in it and used it for years.  In truth it looked rather odd.  Bryan later commented that his father loved it, not because it was good but because he was good.  In the same way, God now delights in of efforts to please him not because they are actually good enough, but because he is.

Conclusion—Stop trying to prove your worth!
Don’t look within yourself to find reasons why God loves you.  He loves you in his free, undeserved, unearned and unmerited grace.  He has proven his love to you by sending his Son for you.  You don’t have to prove your worth to him.  He placed great value on your worthless soul and has made you an object of his delight.  The reformer Martin Luther sums up the beautiful paradox when he comments on the verse that reads, ‘I live in faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).  Luther writes, ‘I, wretched and damnable sinner, dearly loved by the Son of God.’ 

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