Anyone who’s seen the musical Oliver! based on Dickens’ Oliver Twist will likely remember the song ‘Who will buy’. Oliver, waking up in a warm, comfortable bed for the first time in his life, looks out of the window onto the elegant London terrace in which he finds himself, and sees various street-traders selling their wares (and advertising them in song, naturally!). Oliver looks at all their produce, at the clear, blue sky above and at the luxurious surroundings, and is himself moved to sing ‘Who will buy this wonderful morning?’ It’s so beautiful and so perfect he wants to own it and keep it forever.
I heard the most fantastic illustration of God’s love yesterday, which does relate to this, honest…
The preacher, Matt Chandler, was talking about the three parables in Luke 15 and highlighting the impact they’d have had on Jesus’ audience. The whole sermon is fantastic, and I can’t possibly summarise it all, so go and download it here (Sunday 16 May). The bit that most struck me, though, was Matt’s story of attending a ‘True Love Waits’ event.
The speaker began by holding up a beautiful rose, smelling it, then handing it to someone in the crowd. ‘Smell it, he urged them, feel the soft petals, look at how beautiful it is, pass it around so everyone can see.’
As the rose began to be passed around the audience, the speaker continued his message (about which, incidentally, Matt was somewhat scathing!) about the perils of extra-marital sex. (Matt was criticising the method, by the way, not the message – rather than selling a vision of the fulfillment of God’s gift of sex within the context of marriage, the preacher delivered a more ‘hell-fire-and-brimstone’ message about the perils of sexually-transmitted diseases.)
Towards the end of the message the speaker asked where his rose had got to. Someone brought it back to him on stage. Gone were the silky-soft petals, gone was the delicate scent. The stem was broken; the head was bare and hung down, lifeless.
‘Look at this rose,’ the speaker exhorted, ‘Who would want it now?’
By now, Matt was furious. ‘JESUS!’ he wanted to yell (but didn’t because he was younger and, in his own words, ‘less aggressive’ than now), ‘Jesus would want it!!!’
That’s the whole message of the gospel, and the point of these parables. The pharisees and self-righteous listeners to Jesus’ message thought that God only loved beautiful, perfect, pure ‘roses’. They would be acceptable to him, they thought, because they had kept the law all their lives and were worthy of God’s love.
The tax collectors, prostitutes, slave-traders and lepers in the crowd agreed. They to thought that God only loved beautiful ‘roses’. People who were damaged, sinful and unclean – people like them – could surely never be acceptable to Him. Could they?
Jesus’ stories over and over again proclaimed ‘YES!’ Yes, their sin needed to be dealt with, yes, they needed to turn away from their wrong-doing and give over the kingship of their lives to God, but yes, if they turned to him in repentance he would come running from a great distance to meet them, rejoicing that they were finally home.
This was stunning, shocking, earth-shattering stuff to both groups of Jesus’ hearers, and so far I could probably have figured it out myself (though not in such graphic pictures), but then Matt unpacked something I had never really got my head around before.
Isaiah 64:6 says “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags”. In God’s sight, those people who had kept the law all their lives, working diligently for the Lord and knowing that all their hard work would endear them to God, making Him delighted to have them on His team, made them look about as beautiful as that desecrated rose.
It is no more amazing that Jesus would die to ‘buy back’ the broken, ugly, bald, crushed rose than that He would die to ‘buy’ Oliver’s ‘wonderful morning’. And the damaged rose is no less worthy of the price than the perfect one.
Jesus’ message is earth-shattering – if you think you’re so far from God He could never love you – you’re wrong.
And if you think you’re valuable to Him because of what you’ve done – you’re wrong.
He loves you both, equally. You are both equally in need of His forgiveness and His cleansing; and He offers it to you both with open arms.
Who will buy you…?