The Names of Jesus #12

Son of God (No. 2)

July 5, 1998 / Luke 20:9-19

One of the greatest moments in the modern Olympic Games came in 1992. Derek Redmond was the British record-holder in the 400 meters and was representing his country in the 1992 Olympics at Barcelona, Spain. With 65,000 fans in the stands and millions more watching on television around the world, he was prepared to run in the 400-meter semifinals.

The starting gun sounded, and Redmond was running with the leaders. Then a hamstring muscle in his right leg ripped. He fell onto the track a full 250 meters from the finish line. A gifted athlete who had already endured several operations on his Achilles tendons was out of the race. It would prove to be his last. Yet he tried to get up and hobble along the track toward the finish line. It was then that something wonderful and touching happened in the stands.

Derek’s father, Jim Redmond, had been watching the race from the top row of the Montjuic Olympic Stadium. He came down from his top-row seat, climbed a four and one-half foot concrete slab, and bolted onto the track. "You don’t have to do this," Jim told him. "You’ve got nothing to prove." When his son told him he had to find a way to finish, Jim said, "Well, we’ve started everything together. We’ll finish this together."

A loving, supportive father took his hurt son’s arm, drew it around his own shoulder, and the two of them began making their way along the track. The father became, to use his own words, a "human crutch" for the son. They made it to the finish line — to the rhythmic clapping of a huge crowd that was now more interested in Derek’s hobble than the winner’s 44.5-second victory. Five minutes after he had started — with the official clock turned off and Redmond’s race going into the record book as "abandoned" — Derek and Jim crossed the finish line. "It was just fatherly instinct . . . seeing your son in trouble and helping," said Jim Redmond.1

Father-son stories like these touch our hearts for what they tell about family bonds, closeness, and love. But there is no father-son story in history that begins to rival the one told in the Bible.

He Sent His Son


The Son of God motif has a wonderful power to communicate the intimacy and unique position of Jesus. Thought about from another point of view, however, it also speaks to heaven’s commitment to our salvation. There is a parable in Luke which tells a story everyone needs to hear. As Jesus reviewed the history of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel, he chose to represent it under what amounts to a Father-Son story.

A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.

Then the owner of the vineyard said, "What shall I do? . . ." (Luke 20:9-12a).

The "vineyard" of this story is God’s fertile soil of promises made to Israel about its Redeemer and Messiah. And the "farmers" or "tenants" charged with tending the vineyard stand for the spiritual leaders of the nation. As with every rented vineyard, its owner had the right to expect "fruit" — here the fruit of righteousness — from those who were tending his property. So he sent a series of "servants" (i.e., prophets) to those charted with tending his property. One by one over time, those servants were treated with increasing contempt. The owner’s final act was to send not another servant but a family member to represent him with the tenants. "I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him" (Luke 20:12b).

Do you see the critical turning point in the story here? The owner’s son has a close and intimate relationship with him (i.e., "my son, whom I love") that is without parallel among the previous servants who have represented him. Because of that relationship and because the son had the power to act in his father’s name, surely he would receive "respect" from the tenants.

You know where the story is going, don’t you? The son is going to be treated worse than any of the servants who have come before him! This was Jesus’ prediction of his fate at the hand of his own people. Before rushing to that tragic ending of the story, pause to consider the implications of the Father sending his own Son on such a mission. He must have had high regard for the tenants of his vineyard. Otherwise he would not have gone to such lengths for them. Otherwise he would not have made himself so personally vulnerable at their hands. Otherwise he would have simply evicted or destroyed those farmers. But he sent his own Beloved Son!

This is not simply the story of Israel and Yahweh. It is the story of the Philistines and God, Babylon and the Lord, or Egypt and Yahweh. It is the story of all people — ancient and modern. It is America and God. It is religion and the Lord. It is you and the Almighty.

You know what the Bible says. You know that the prophets from Moses to John to the person who faithfully teaches you the truth are servants from God. Like John, they bring the call of God for the "fruits of repentance" to us. But we resist. We balk at the right of anyone to make a demand on us — even (perhaps especially!) in the name of God. On our best days, we discover that we cannot bring what the Lord is due from us. Our best just isn’t that good. Our righteousness is tattered and pitiful compared to the perfect holiness of our God.

Someone protests, "But at least you and I weren’t the murderers of Jesus!" Really? I see myself as guilty of his blood as either Pilate or Caiaphas. It wasn’t just the sins of Jesus’ contemporaries that nailed him to a Roman cross outside Jerusalem. He died for my sins as well as theirs. Therefore I see myself as responsible for his death as they were. The accident of their temporal and spatial nearness to the event over mine is merely that — an accident of history. My moral-spiritual responsibility is fully as great as theirs.

Follow the storyline closely. The final person sent into the owner’s vineyard was not a servant hoping to become a son by executing some super-perilous mission. His sonship was prior to and independent of his mission. Indeed, it was because he was the owner’s son, representative, and heir that he had an expectation of its success. But because he was the heir, he was treated more horribly than the servants who had gone before him. "But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him" (Luke 20:14-15a).

Receiving the Son


At the conclusion of his Parable of the Wicked Tenants, Jesus summed up its lesson by citing Psalm 118:22 and called his hearers to reflect on its message.

Jesus looked directly at them and asked, "Then what is the meaning of that which is written:

‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’?

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed" (Luke 20:17-18).

Jesus remains the centerpiece of heaven’s redemptive work. Whether men accept him or reject him does not change his nature or role. There is no replacing him in the plan of God. Following his rejection and death at the hands of his contemporaries, God vindicated him by raising him up and exalting him to the highest place. Thus Paul would later write that Jesus "was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:3). If people of later generations should reject him too, the Son will be their judge at the final day (Acts 17:31).

Anyone who rejects and opposes the centerpiece stone in God’s plan will only be crushed by that stone. Though men reject him, heaven has authenticated him as the one and only Savior. There is no replacing this chosen and matchless stone, the Beloved Son of God.

But what of those who receive him? What of those who make the ancient confession that they believe in Jesus as the Son of God? The following verses from the prologue to John’s Gospel sound as if they were written as commentary on Jesus’ Parable of the Wicked Tenants:

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:11-13).

Jesus is the Son of God in a sense that none other can be. He shares the divine essence. In his very nature, he is God from eternity past through eternity future. Yet he has made it possible for us to participate in his status as children of God. We cannot share in the divine essence, but we can experience divine transformation and personal regeneration. We can be "co-heirs with Christ" to all the Father’s spiritual resources (Rom. 8:17).

Your Personal Intimacy With God


Because of the merciful love of Jesus that invites us to share his intimacy with all things divine, we have a status with God that fairly begs to be shouted from the rooftops. "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" declares John. "And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1a). And read what Paul wrote on this point:

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son (Eph. 1:3-6, The Message).

In the Roman world of Jesus’ time, a young man reaching his legal age for manhood went through a public ceremony. It was customary for his father to take him into the city Forum. There, from a public platform, he would announce to the citizens of that city: "This is my son. He has come of age. Today he inherits my name, my property, and my social position among you." Then he would take off the customary toga praetexta of a Roman boy and put on him the toga virilis, the coat of manhood. This act of public announcement and claiming of one’s son was called "adoption."

When early Christians emerged from their baptism, it was customary to place a white toga on them. Modern readers would immediately and naturally see the symbolism of a robe of purity in reading those accounts. One who had been baptized into Christ stood before God in his righteousness. But we may have missed the dual symbolism of the robe of adoption.

As God’s children through Christ, we have a standing with him that neither Greek philosophers nor Jewish rabbis dared to envision. Jesus’ offensiveness to his contemporaries in calling God "my Father" and teaching his disciples to pray "our Father" should be incredibly encouraging to us in our spiritual frailty. Yet some of us seem not to appreciate the high standing we have been given.

If you are old enough to remember the presidency of John Kennedy or if you have read anything about his White House years, you likely have those pictures of two children running free in the halls of power burned into your mind. Whatever your political affiliation or attitude toward Kennedy, you have to admit that a nation’s heart was captured by the sight of Caroline and John-John rushing past schedulers, cabinet members, and security guards to plop into their daddy’s lap. Children have access to their father’s that doesn’t have to be mediated through underlings! Do you realize that is your relationship to God in Christ Jesus?

Conclusion


A New Testament writer once compared the Christian life to a "race marked out for us" (Heb. 12:1ff). The word picture he paints invites us to envision a stadium whose stands are filled with a "great cloud of witnesses" — veterans of the race we are now running. More important still, he urges all of us running the Christian race to "fix our eyes on Jesus" — the one who has finished the race already and who has been crowned and enthroned for his victory.

Jesus "went down" during his race. He sprawled on the track, appeared to the medics to be dead, and was put in the morgue on Friday afternoon. By Sunday morning, his father had worked his way out of the stands and into the tomb with Jesus. He draped his Son’s arm around his own neck, raised him up from that grave, and walked him across his personal finish line. By that powerful act, God identified himself with Jesus and declared him to be the Son of God (cf. Rom. 1:4).

Are you getting weary in your race? Does the finish line appear too far away? Are you about to lose heart for the run? Keep your eyes on Jesus! Know that you have the deep reserves of the Indwelling Spirit for your stretch run! And if you should go down on the track from exhaustion or injury, your Father will come out of the stands and carry you by his strength across your personal finish line. And you will stand there with Jesus in glorious and eternal triumph!

Derek Redmond crossed the finish line in Barcelona under his father’s power, not his own. Jesus triumphed in his redemptive work because the Father raised him up from the dead. And that’s my assurance about the race you and I are running. No one will fail to finish the race who will lean on the Father’s everlasting arms that are so infinitely strong!

For the sake of his Incomparable and Beloved Son, God is completing in us the work he started in him. On the basis of Christ’s triumph, then, be confident of your own. Don’t look down at your tired feet. Look upward to the Son in his glory.


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1 "Father-son finish in ’92 most eloquent," USA Today, 2 August 1996, 14E.



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