Holy Celebrations (a meditation on the joy of salvation)

Sometimes in popular culture Christians get the reputation of being like sticks in the mud. We’re not all that fun. While cultural (especially Hollywood) stereotypes of faithful followers of Jesus are drastically overblown (most of the time), sometimes they also bubble up with hints of truth.

In contrast to the stuffy and stoic fun-hating image that some have developed, Christians are to be the most joyful and fun-loving people on earth. Yes, there are proper times of serious contemplation; yes, we are to weep with those who weep; and yes, our sins we commit dishonoring our Savior-King should grieve us. But we should also have a great sense of joy, wonder, and awe as part of our light shining in the darkness, and especially in response to the awesome grace of God in salvation.

In Luke 15 Jesus launched into a quick series of three parables. Each spoke in response to some grumbling and whiney religious types. Jesus hung out with sinners and tax collectors (a tax collector for the Roman government, and especially a Jew who worked as a tax collector for Rome, was essentially the scum of the earth in that first century Jewish culture), people the Pharisees and scribes thought weren’t worth the time of day. So they “grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’” (15:2).

The three parables with which Jesus replied each spoke to something that had been lost: a lost coin, sheep, and son. The lost were the sinners and tax collectors. They were far from God. Like the younger son in the last parable, they had gone out, lived recklessly, and squandered everything. Yet, these things did not remain lost. The shepherd left his other 99 sheep safe in the pen to go find that one missing, the woman cleaned house until she found her coin, and the father ran to embrace his son once the son realized his desperation and started home.

And each time the lost became the found, there was joy and a call for a community celebration—it was time to party.

So Jesus said, “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (15:7).

Salvation is a reason to cut loose in holy celebration. With the lost son, Jesus described a party with music and dancing and cuts of the choicest meat. That is as far from a stick in the mud as one can get.

joyNow to be sure there are still differences between a holy celebration and many parties of the world. A holy celebration commemorates freedom from sin and therefore refuses to revel in it. So the drunkenness and sexuality that are realities of many parties would not have a place; but the joy, fun, and energy very much do. And all of this flows from the fact that God is a God of celebration. In the Old Testament he laid out the details of several feasts the people were to enjoy throughout the year to remember him, his goodness, and his love for them. In Revelation 19 eternity kicks off for God’s people with a massive marriage supper—a feast and a celebration.

Salvation is a joyous thing because it is about the lost being found, the dead coming to life. It is about the grace of God extending to those who are unworthy of it because we have spurned him and rebelled against him time and time again. Yet, he brings us into his Family and makes us his own. It is something to rejoice in and to celebrate over and over and over.

In Jesus’ story of the lost son there was also the other son, the older brother who got mad at the father for throwing the party and refused to take part. He was one who didn’t see the need for such festivities, especially to celebrate the return of the son who had squandered and wasted everything. After all, unlike his little brother, he stayed home and worked hard and did everything the father asked. He represents the religious types—the Pharisees and the scribes, the ones who thought all their devotion and rule following earned them high honor.

But they missed the point. They needed the Father just as much, and if their hearts were truly dedicated to his will and ways they would understand his love, grace, and joy. They would long to celebrate the great event of salvation.

Let us not be like those who take little joy in God and the amazing grace of his salvation of lost sinners through Jesus. Let us be people who revel in happiness and amazement at the awesomeness of God and his great love towards us. Let us join in the holy celebrations.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

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