Editor’s Note: The AMI Quiet Times for January and February are provided by P. Ryun Chang, Teaching and Resource Pastor of AMI.
Devotional Thoughts for This Morning
Luke 15:25-30 (NIV): “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.  ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’  The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’”
Is. 28:10 (NIV): “For it is: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there.”
During my earlier days as a Christian, I made up some good rules for myself so that I could please God. Each day in my monthly calendar, I recorded how long I prayed (timed to seconds), how many chapters of the Bible I read, etc. I felt great about myself for a while (partly because I was out-performing others), but once I couldn’t keep it up (lots of zeroes), I felt like God was displeased and even angry with me; as a result, I was joyless and felt bound.
The Pharisees, Israel’s religious leaders, to whom this parable was told (15:2), knew that the “older son,” who couldn’t stand his younger brother, represented them. They, too, couldn’t stand the sight of those whom they dubbed as “sinners,” consisting of tax collectors, who corroborated with the hated Romans, and prostitutes. Why? Because these spiritual lowlifes weren’t as holy and righteous as they who kept God’s laws. Thus, they prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evil doers, adulterers. . . . I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (18:11-2). In their zeal to further differentiate themselves, the Pharisees tagged on additional rules, “such as the washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles” (Mk. 7:4). Upon seeing those who didn’t keep their rules, the Pharisees condemned them, even saying to Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders” (7:5).
Part of the reason behind the spiritual descent of the Pharisees was because they grossly mishandled the benefits that came their way as a result of honoring God. During the intertestamental period, when Israel was under the Gentile domination, many of them died as martyrs for defending the Torah; subsequently, they became very prominent and were highly respected by the Jewish people. Liking the attention, the Pharisees looked for ways to make certain that they sustained their position. In fact, they couldn’t hand out a bag of groceries to the poor without calling in the press to make sure that everyone was aware that they were obeying God (Matt. 6:2). This is how the Pharisees and the “older son” became legalistic about their own faith, while judging the rest who couldn’t keep up with them.
As for my earlier spiritual journey, after months of feeling bad, I began to see that God’s acceptance of me is based on His acceptance of Christ’s works performed on my behalf; since I’m in Christ, God accepts me apart from my own “works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:9). Now, I can obey God out of gratitude and love towards Him instead of having to earn what has already been obtained in Christ.
Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 11-12