In Tim Keller’s amazing book entitled, “The Prodigal God,” Keller shares this illustration as a means of helping us understand the sin of the elder brother in the parable that he calls “The Two Lost Sons.”
The story illustrates the difference between doing “good works” for selfish—what can I get out of it—reasons and true obedience born out of love and gratitude.
One day, without any explanation, Jesus said to His apostles, “I’d like you to carry a stone for Me.” So the disciples all began looking around to find a stone to carry. Since Jesus gave no further instructions as to the weight or size of the stone, Peter grabbed a small one he found lying nearby and stuck it away in his pocket. That being done, Jesus said, “Follow Me,” and they headed out on a journey. They traveled until about noon when Jesus stopped and had everyone take a seat. Then without saying anything to the apostles, He raised his hands heavenward, offered a word of prayer, and turned all of the stones into bread. Turning now to the men, He said, “It’s time for lunch. Enjoy.” Needless to say, Peter’s lunch was barely more than a couple of bites. When the lunch break was over, Jesus once again said to everyone, “I’d like you to carry a stone for Me.” This time Peter said to himself, “Aha! Now I get it.” And he began looking around until he found what could only be described as a small boulder. Hoisting it up to his shoulder and staggering under the weight, he muttered, “I can’t wait for supper.” Then Jesus said, “Follow Me,” and headed back out on their journey. Peter was barely able to keep up under the weight of his huge rock. Around supper time, Jesus led them to the banks of a beautiful quiet river, where He told everyone, “Throw your stones into the water.” After they all did, He said, “Follow Me,” and began to walk back up to the trail. Peter and the others looked at Him dumbfounded. Jesus just sighed and said, “Don’t you remember what I asked you to do? Who were you carrying the stone for?”
Here’s the point. Peter, like the elder brother in the parable, and by extension, many Christians, expect “goodness” to pay off for them. And if it doesn’t, there is often confusion and even anger. Those who think that “good deeds,” “legalistic, moral living,” and “religious ritual” is the way to merit or earn a good life from God, like the elder brother in the parable, usually become disgruntled and critical. And, like the elder brother, become separated from the joy of the Father’s love and grace.
In Keller’s story, Jesus’ request was, “Carry a stone for Me.” In Matthew 28, His command is “Go and make disciples.” In both cases, the activity is to be done out of love and for Jesus, not for personal gain.
It might not be a bad idea to start carrying a stone with us every day to remind ourselves who we’re living for.
Written by Jim De Horn