by Andy Huette
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I invite you to open to Luke chapter 15.
The first words that Luke records of Jesus in his Gospel are in Luke chapter 4 when he visits a synagogue. Jesus picks the scroll of Isaiah, and he reads Isaiah 61 which says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor: he has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And with these words, Jesus gives us his mission for the rest of Luke. He’s going to preach good news, and give hope to the poor, and deliverance to captives, liberty to the oppressed. Jesus is the BRINGER OF GOOD NEWS. We see this all throughout Luke’s Gospel: In Luke 5 he’s good news when he touches a leper and makes him clean, In Luke 7 he brings good news to a prostitute who is ashamed and weeping at his feet but he pardons her sin, in Luke 8 he gives liberty to a demon-possessed man by freeing him from oppression, Jesus is the bringer of GOOD NEWS.
And in Luke 15, Jesus tells a story that is INDEED very GOOD NEWS. In fact, out of the whole entire Bible, Luke 15 may be the most vivid picture of the Good NEWS of God’s Love. It’s the story that has become known as the Prodigal Son. Prodigal means “lavish”—it’s a story about a son who wastes his father’s money on “lavish living” but as we will see, the story is not so much about Son’s lavish life, as it is about the Lavish Love of God.
If you’ve been raised in church, you’ve likely heard this story before, and as a result, you may have lost some of your awe for just how astonishingly Good this story is. I was reminded of the beauty of this story last Sunday.
Each month, on the first Sunday of the month, our church gets to lead the church service at the Livingston County jail. And last week, it was our turn, and I was scheduled to lead the teaching, and the first group that came in the room was a group of six women. And they came in the room and sat down and I invited them to open to Luke 15, and I said, “I have a question for you: Have you ever done something stupid in your life that you really, really regret?” And they all kind of smirked, looked at me and were like “HELLO! We’re in jail! Of course we have!” and I said, “Well, today we’re going to look at a story in the Bible about a man who did something stupid, it was shameful and he regretted it, it’s the story of that’s called the Prodigal Son—have you ever heard of it?” And the six women sitting there all shook their heads.
None of them had heard this story before.
And I’m telling you, I saw with my own eyes, that these words of Jesus from Luke 15—this story of God’s love that they heard for the FIRST TIME was and is TRULY GOOD NEWS. I saw, right in front my eyes, Luke 4 happening. That Jesus Christ, has good news for Captives. Jesus Christ has good news for the poor in spirit. I saw that this message, right here in Luke 15, the message of God’s Love is the best message there is. And as we walked through this story together, one woman in particular would begin to cry, and then she’d gather herself, and then she’d begin to cry some more as we kept unpacking the story. For the first time in her life, she heard the story of the Prodigal Son, and it was Good News—it showed her a picture of God, who is a Father, who rejoices, REJOICES, CELEBRATES SHAMELESSLY, when sinners turn and come home to him in repentance.
I share that because this morning, as we dive into Luke 15, I know that many of you have heard it before, but I’d ask you—as far as you able, to consider this story anew, fresh, as though you’re hearing about what God is like for the very first time.
Beginning in Luke 15:11, we read, “11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to[b] one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.”
Let’s stop and consider the situation.
A. Journey to the Far Country
Jesus is telling a parable, which is a fictional story shared to illustrate a point. This is a story of a Father, who represents God, and two sons. While all of us have traits of both sons, in general, most of us will relate to one of the sons more than the other. So we’re actually going to spend this week on the younger son, and another week on the older son we read about in v. 25-32.
The younger son leaves his father. So the younger son is a metaphor, for a sinner a person who walks away from God the Father. This younger son represents a person who rejects relationship with God and goes off to do his own thing.
The story begins with
1.) Freedom: The son coming his Father and asks him for his “share of the property.” The son wants his inheritance early. His dad is evidently well off, by other indicators we’ll read later in the story, and the son says, “I don’t want to wait until you die to get my share of the inheritance, I want it now.” And many commentators talk about how offensive this would have been in the first century Patriarchal culture of honor toward the Father of the household. But my take is that it doesn’t really matter what culture you’re in, this is offensive to any father, at any time. It’s the son saying, “I wish you were dead. I just want your money.” I don’t value our relationship, I don’t really care about living here and being near to you. You’re rich, I want your money and I want to leave and do my own thing. I want to do what I want to do, and I don’t even care if that means that I never see you again.” That’s universally hurtful to a Father.
And as audacious as the son’s request is, what is perhaps more astonishing that the Father says, “O.k., you can have your inheritance.” The Father permits this ridiculous request. The father, though hurt and ashamed by his son’s request, GRANTS him what he asks for.
And there’s a point to be made here. In Scripture, we see that God often PERMITS US to have what we want, even when what we want is sin. Romans 1, talks about how when people worshipped and served, God gave them over to their lusts. It’s the idea that God, sometimes, perhaps often times, says to us, “O.k. that’s what you want. I’ll let you have that. You want to ignore me? You want to ignore my word? You want to walk away? Then I’ll give you over to that. I’ll let you walk down that path.” That is the case here. The Son wants to leave, and the Father say,s “O.k., I’m going to honor that—I’m going to give you over to your folly and your sin.”
2.) Selfishness Takes Us Away From Loving Community
A second truth that we see in these verses is one that is often overlooked. But it is that Selfishness draws us out of loving community. Sin—which is selfishness at the core—fractures our relationship with community. This parable is about a father and two sons, but it was spoken in a day when most Jewish communities lived inside a walled city, with farmland outside the walls. The average size for a Jewish settlement in the first century was 6 acres. That’s not very big, that’s the size of our church property perhaps, if you count the spare lots next to the parking lot. And, families lived together in multigenerational housing. Every family, was like Everybody Loves Raymond. Everyone’s living all smooshed together; everyone is in everyone else’s business; it’s a community.
And here this guy takes his money, and he leaves to go party—where? In a FAR COUNTRY. He abandons his people. His selfish desires, take him away from the people that know him, and love him.
It’s been like this from the very beginning in Genesis. Our sin fractures our relationships. All sin is in some way selfish. It’s us saying, “ME FIRST.” Sin is when we say, “I want to do what I want to do. It’s assertion of our freedom, outside the confines of God’s authority. And when we say ME FIRST through any sin in our lives, we are not able to love others because love is saying, “You first. Not me, but you first.” Our selfishness TAKES AWAY FROM LOVING COMMUNITY.
And here’s the other thing about sin—is that when we sin, we love DARKNESS, so the reality is WE DON’T WANT COMMUNITY when we are in sin. There’s a reason this guy goes to a FAR OFF COUNTRY to party with prostitutes. He doesn’t want anyone in his hometown knowing. When we walk in sin, we love darkness. Jesus says this in John 3: He says people “loved darkness because their works were evil.” This is why he goes to a far off country—he exchanges his loving community with God and others, a community who will hold him accountable and speak truth in love to him—he exchanges that for a new group of people in the far country who are walking in darkness with him. Right, I want to be clear on that it’s not that everyone in the far country or everyone in darkness is lonely, they might just be in darkness together. But the point is, the FAR COUNTRY is where people love to go when they are sin.
I think of a friend of mine back in college, who had an ongoing dating relationship that was Suuuper unhealthy. It was just bad in a lot of ways, and he knew it was bad, and he’d tell us how bad it was when they broke up, but then a few weeks would go by and he’d start talking on the phone away from us, (this was in ancient times, before texting), and I’d see him on the phone shutting the door, and standing outside away from everyone talking on the phone, and if you asked about the girl, he’d change subject, and he’d just get real shifty and shady—and guess what? They were back together. This whole thing happened like 6 times. On again, off again, and finally he came to me and he said, “Hey man, I know I shouldn’t be with this girl, we’re bad for each other, and I’m not going to get back together with her and I want you to hold me accountable.” And said, “No you don’t. You don’t want me to hold you accountable. Because you’ve asked me that before, but every time I try to ask you something about her, you hide, you dodge, you lie, you cover up your relationship. You don’t want accountability, you want to hide from me.”
When we are in sin, we LOVE the far country. We love hiding. We love being anonymous.
The Far Country is an appealing place, when we want to live ME FIRST. But the far country comes at the price of loving community.
3.) Deceptive Power of Sin
There’s a third truth we see here about our sin. Sin is so DECEPTIVE. Our selfish desires, our me-first actions, the path of walking away from the Father is SO DECEPTIVE.
It promises fullness, and it leads to emptiness.
It promises freedom, and it leads to captivity.
It promises pleasure, and it leads to pain.
This young son runs off to the far country, and in anonymity, he lives it up. The text says that he “squandered his property in reckless living.” Reckless—he was seeking temporary highs. He sold his father’s land, he had a pocket full of cash, no one to tell him how to live, and lived it up. He partied hard. Later in verse 30 his older brother says that he devoured his father’s money by spending it on prostitutes. This guy went off the deep end. He just lived for the moment, for temporary pleasure. Who knows exactly what this guy did with his money, but in two millennia human nature hasn’t changed much. In the first century they had brothels, they had booze, and they had fine food and fancy possessions. This guy goes out and parties hard, and he gets his hits of dopamine, he gets the thrill of the moment. We gotta be honest here that sin is MOMENTARILY thrilling. Adam and Eve weren’t tempted with leftover Brussels sprouts. They were tempted with fruit that was “a delight to the eyes.” Don’t think that every prodigal hates his/her life. There are a lot of prodigal sons in the far country that would tell you in the moment: “I’m happy.” Children rebel against their parents all the time while their laughing and smiling, and it’s no different with the prodigal. Sin is so DECEPTIVE that You can actually feel like you’re having fun, while you trash your life and rebel against God.
Maybe there were some moments when he was in the far country, and he rolled out of bed late with a headache after a hard night of partying, and he wondered, “What am I doing here?”, but away from his community, away from the people who could help him, the thought didn’t last long, and he kept walking the lonely road, and ended up back at the bar, the brothel, or both later that night.
And one night, when he went to close out his tab at the bar, the bartender handed him his VISA card back and said, “the card has been rejected.” His money had run out. Verse 14 says he “had spent everything” and “began to be in need.” Uh oh. He’s in the far country. He doesn’t have any connections there. All his so-called “friends” from the bar—all those tabs he picked up, all those people are no where to be found. Verse 16 says “no one gave him anything.” He’s looked for help, but he finds himself all alone. Times get tough, there’s a famine in the land, and people are not in a very generous mood. He’s stuck. He needs money, he needs to eat, but there’s no good solution. He doesn’t have connections in the far country, and he certainly can’t go back home. After what he’s done, he dead to them. There’s no way his family, his community would take him back, he thinks. That’s not an option. He’s gotta make something work in the far country, and it turns out that his best option is to work for a pig farmer.
There are a few people in the church family who know what it’s like to work with pigs. In the past or currently, you raise pigs, and you know—your nostrils testify—to the reality that pig farming can be a pretty nasty job. There are some rough days out there in the pig pen. There’s a reason that I tell my kids their bedrooms look like a pigsty. Pigs live in filthy conditions. And more to the point of this story, Jesus is telling this to a largely Jewish audience. So here, this Son is in a far away country—GENTILE TERRITORY—and he’s working with PIGS, animals that are unclean by Jewish law, and on top of all that, verse 16 tells us that he was so hungry that he “was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate.”
Think about that. One afternoon when he was out filling up the feeding trough with pods, pig food, pig slop, his stomach growled. It had been a few days since he had eaten, and he looked over his shoulder; didn’t see one around, and he reached down, and—he didn’t have any other choice. He had to, he was hungry.
The UNTHINKABLE, had become thinkable.
The UNDESIRABLE, had become desirable.
The foul, the dirty, the disgusting, the abhorrent, all of a sudden didn’t seem so bad anymore. That’s the definition of PERVERSION. When a bad thing, doesn’t seem so bad anymore. Sin perverts, distorts, twists our perspective. Jesus calls it “blindness.” We don’t see how bad things are.
-People who love their families, really truly love them, walk down a road of sin, and before long they’re telling lies and more lies, and unthinkable lies that they never thought they’d tell to people they love.
-Or here’s one: There was a stat that came out a few years back—maybe 6-7 years ago, that something like 90% of home burglaries in Bloomington/Normal were drug related. The people broke in to get money for drugs. Do you think that the first time those people ever took a hit to get a temporary high—do you think that they ever imagined that in a few years they’d be breaking into someone’s house to pay for their addiction? When we walk in sin, the UNTHINKABLE becomes THINKABLE.
We could go on a list a hundred more examples, but we don’t need to because you know from own life or the life of loved ones that THE FAR COUNTRY IS a DANGEROUS PLACE. It promises one thing, but the promise fades, the fun is temporary, the satisfaction fizzles, and sooner or later, we find ourselves in a pigsty of consequences. Sooner or later it’s all a lie. Sin is so DECEPTIVE. Sooner a later, we reap what we sow.
In verse 17, the story continues:
B. He Came to His Senses.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants. And he arose and came to his father.”
1.) He came to himself
It’s a powerful line. Jesus says, “He came to himself.” He came to his senses. He woke up, he wised up, he came to himself.” He had a moment of clarity, a moment when he realized what he had walked away from and how bitter his life had become. We don’t know what God used to give him this clarity. Maybe he woke and remembered it was his dad’s birthday and started about home. Maybe he was walking down the street and saw a family sitting together at a table, and thought about some of the good times he had had with his family sitting at a table. Maybe he couldn’t sleep, and he was lying there staring at the ceiling, and the aftertaste of pig pods in his mouth, and he remembered the favorite food that his mom used to make. Maybe one of his friends from the bar tried to hit him up for money, and he realized, “This guy’s not my friend. He’s just using me,” and he longed his old community.
We don’t know how, but somehow or another, this guy WOKE UP. He came to his senses. His eyes were opened, and I would submit to you that this was God PURSUING HIM. 10 weeks ago, we saw that Luke 15 contains three stories, and each story makes the same point. The first story is of a shepherd. One of his sheep is lost, and he leaves 99 behind and goes out and searches for the lost sheep and rescues it. The next story is a woman who has 10 coins, each worth about a day’s wages, and she loses one coin, and she sweeps all over the house and then find the coin and rejoices, celebrates and has party when she finds it. This story—the story of the son is the third, climactic story of the three, and the point is the same—God is a God who pursues the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.
He is not indifferent to our lostness. He does not look at this wayward son, and say, “Told him so.” No, he pursues. In the words of C.S. Lewis that I mentioned 10 weeks ago, he continues to “Woo” us, to pursue. And often, the way that God gets our attention, gives us clarity, makes us wake up and come to our senses, often it is through Pain, Suffering, and Despair. It’s what some have called God’s “violent mercy.”
This guy finds himself in a pigsty longing to eat pig slop, and life is terrible, but from heaven’s perspective that pig slop is God’s violent mercy. It’s God saying, “Wake up!”
God uses pain to draw us to repentance. Throughout the prophetic books, time and time again, we read that the Lord sends judgment. He says, “I sent famine to you, “YET, even then you did not repent.” What was the Lord’s purpose in the famine? Violent mercy. To wake people up. To beckon them to return to him.
Here the man came to his senses, and what I’m suggesting is that the famine, the pigsty, the growling stomach, are all demonstrations of violent mercy. God’s gracious means of drawing this man to repentance. Sometimes it’s these worst moments in our lives that actually turn out to be some of the best, defining moments of our lives from the perspective of heaven.
This guy is at his worst, and he comes to his senses. He returns to his father. This return to the Father is a picture of REPENTANCE.
Some Bible commentators have questioned whether or not this guy is really, truly repentant or if he’s just plain hungry and wants some food. There’s not enough information in the parable to tell the motives in this guy’s heart, but given that verse 7 and verse 10 in the previous two parables about the sheep and the coin talk about the God’s response to repentance, it seems that we are supposed to read this third story as one of sincere repentance.
The word “Repent” means to turn away from one thing and to turn toward another. It’s to do a U-turn. To turn away from self and sin and turn to him and righteousness. And from the outset of the Gospels, Jesus calls people to repent and believe the good news. He’s calling people to turn away from something and turn towards him. To turn away from self and sin, and turn to him and righteousness.
Notice two aspects of the young son’s repentance. There is CONFESSION and there is ACTION.
When he comes to his senses, he thinks about what he will say to his father. Which is that he has sinned against both heaven (God) and his father. There’s a vertical, or Godward confession, and a horizontal confession to his father. This is key to confession, because sometimes when a person is in a bad situation in life, they hit proverbial rock bottom and they realize they’ve hurt other people, they may try to mend things with those who they’ve hurt, which is a good thing to do, but it’s not the ultimate problem.
Our sin is first and foremost against our creator. We hurt others with our sin in this world, but ultimately, our sin separates from God and our primary need for all eternity is to be made right with God. So repentance is acknowledging sin as transgressing, violating, rebelling against God’s plan for our lives. We’ve lived independently from him. The Far country is not just far from our family and friends, it’s far from our relationship to God.
And often when we think of repentance, we think of renouncing the bad things we’ve done. So for this guy, it’s him renouncing sleeping with prostitutes. And that’s true, certainly he should renounce that, but repentance is EVEN DEEPER THAN THAT. It’s not just having sorrow for the bad things we’ve done, it’s actually acknowledging that we’ve lived completely for the wrong purpose. We’ve lived for the kingdom of self, we’ve worshipped the idol of self, of self glory, self fulfillment, self anything, we’ve been all about me, myself and I, and it’s not just that we’ve done a few bad things, it’s that our lives were completely lived for the wrong purpose. We wanted nothing of God. We had no room for him, we only wanted to fulfill self. Repentance is confessing these core truths, heart-level realities, that we worshiped self over God.
But repentance doesn’t stop with just a few words. The second half of repentance is ACTION. The text says that “he arose and went to his father.” This would not be a story of repentance if he remained in the far country. In order for repentance to occur, he had to walk away from darkness, he had to act.
And this is where repentance gets really tough because the action of repentance is humbling. I suppose that many people know they’ve sinned against God and others, but they never arose from their sin, they never owned it and acted because to do so would be humiliating. Consider this young man. He is going to travel back home, and walk into a community where everyone knows that he’s the kid who basically told his dad that he wishes he were dead, he cashed out his inheritance—something that you never do—and now here he is walking back into town empty handed after squandering it on prostitutes and booze.
The SHAME of that act—of walking back into town in humility—keeps people from repenting. There are people drinking alone all over this country who know they’ve done something wrong, that they’ve sinned, but their shame is too great, their pride keeps them from humbly turning and returning to God, to the Church, and to those they’ve hurt.
We can see this guy’s shame right here in verse 18—he’s already rehearsing his speech. He says that he’ll go to his father and say to him, “Father I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”
Imagine you’re this young son—you’re heading back home, you have a speech in your head about how you’re not worthy and you just want to work as a servant. You’re going to walk into town, probably you’re going to find the time of day when the least amount of people are going to see you, you’re going to go to your home, and knock on the door, and YOU HAVE NO IDEA what your dad is going to say. He could literally shut the door in your face. He could say, “Don’t say a word to me, unless you have every penny that I gave you.” Keep in mind this is a first century middle eastern culture based on honor and shame. It would not be strange at all for a Father in to open the door and see this prodigal son, and say, “Who do you think you are? Do you know how many people you’ve hurt? Don’t you know that the second you walked out of this door, our family disowned you. You are dead to us. Get out. Get out, and don’t you ever show your face in this town again.”
This guy is traveling home, and he doesn’t know what to expect. He’s only hoping that he can beg for his father to allow him to work as a servant, to make some small little repayment of all that he has lost.
But in verse 20, we begin to see, that this young man, DID NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT HIS FATHER IS LIKE. HE DID NOT KNOW HIS FATHER’S CHARACTER.
Verse 20 “20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[c]22 But the father said to his servants,[d]‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
If you’re confused about what Christianity is, this is it. This is the filet of Scripture.
Consider what Jesus is saying here. A son who walked away from his father, his family, his community, he lived it up in reckless partying, squandered everything, who lost a massive amount of money, he is a disgrace to his family, who is full of shame and embarrassment and SHOULD BE, walks back into town absolutely humiliated, but the most humiliating character in the story is no longer this son . . . it’s the FATHER.
The father sees him a long way off, and he takes off running. Again this is the first century, where Patriarchs, the Fathers, wore robes and were respected and served, and it would be considered undignified to run, but this father starts running toward his son, and he gives him a huge bear hug and kisses him. And we assume he’s weeping tears of joy and saying, “Son, how I’ve missed you. Praise God, you are here, I’m so glad you’re here. Praise God.”
And the son begins his speech. “Father, I’ve sinned against heaven, and against you. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son, just let me be a servant.” And the Father says, “SHHHHH. None of that. You’re my SON! You were dead and now you’re alive! You were lost; you’re found! WELCOME HOME SON!!! Welcome home! QUICK!” he shouts to his servant, “Tell everyone. Invite the neighbors. Slaughter the fattened calf. We are having a party! Go get this son some clothes. Give my credit card take him to get a suit, get him a haircut, make him a bedroom, and welcome him home.”
Don’t forget, this Father has reason to be ashamed. This guy’s own son wished him dead. This Father has heard neighbors whispering about his son at the coffee shop when his son was in the far country. This Father sent out a family Christmas card last year and his son wasn’t in the photo. This Father had to put up a for sale sign on his family land, this guy lived day in and day in the community with people wondering and asking and now: What are they going to think?
How would you handle this situation? Even a loving, gracious father would at the very least say, “O.k. you’re my son, I’ll let you come home, but you gotta live in the servant’s quarters for a least a year or two until you earn back some of the money you lost.”
That’d seem to be plenty gracious.
But this Father is RIDICULOUSLY GRACIOUS. I mean that in the most literal sense—his grace and love and acceptance of his son is son immense that he will certainly be ridiculed by others. There will be people who go, “That guy’s insane. He’s having a party for that kid? Are you kidding me? He gave him a new ring, a new robe, new shoes, and he slaughtered the fattened calf for that kid? This is ridiculous.
GRACE offends our sense of justice.
GRACE—true GRACE—is scandalous.
Our ingrained sense of justice says people should get what they deserve. And we have a sense of what is deserved. Grace is when God does not treat us as we deserve. At best this guy deserves nothing, at worst he deserves to be rejected by the community he has already rejected. But Grace is when the loving Father celebrates his return, throws a celebration, and doesn’t hang this over his son’s head. What matters to the father is not what his son did, but that HIS SON IS HOME. He was lost and now he is found.
And so he pours out his grace, and celebrates the return of his son. And God’s grace is so lavish that it is offensive to our sense of justice.
And it’s in this celebration of the returning son that we see the VERY HEART OF GOD. All throughout Scripture, God’s heart, his character, his nature is that of a Father who has his arms outstretched to those in sin.
-Zechariah 1:3, “Return to me,” says the Lord, “and I will return to you.”
-Isaiah 65, “All day long, I held out my arms to an obstinate and rebellious people.”
-Exodus 34, “The Lord, the LORD, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and ABOUNDING in steadfast love.”
-Lamentations 3, “The steadfast love of the LORD NEVER ceases.”
-Micah 7 “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression. He does not retain his anger forever because he DELIGHTS in steadfast love.”
We know this about God, for it’s his nature all over the pages of Scripture, but the shame of sin clouds out the character of God for the prodigal and the scandal of grace clouds out the true nature of God’s love for those who can’t believe the lavish love of the Father.
Many of the people who heard Jesus tell this story just couldn’t quite understand the fact that God welcomes sinners to come home. They were scandalized by the thought. You see, if you look at Luke 15:1 with me, we see that these religious folks are the very people to whom Jesus speaks this story of the Prodigal Son. Luke 15:1-2 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes grumbled saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
The religious people in Jesus’ day didn’t understand that God loves sinners. He rejoices in repentance and that Jesus’ very mission was to seek and save sinners, the lost.
And this is the subtle twist in the story of the Prodigal Son. The story is a story about God the Father, and his love for the wayward son, but at the end of the story—the Father is eating, feasting, and celebrating with the “sinner,” the returned son. The twist is that Jesus is not merely talking about God the Father, he’s talking about himself. Jesus is telling a story about his own heart, and his own mission. He is the King, who receives sinners.
This is GOOD news.
When we go to the far away country in sin, Jesus is the King who leaves his home to go to the far country to redeem us from sin.
We feel the guilt and shame and humiliation of sin, and Jesus goes to the cross, bears our, rids us of our shame, and is humiliated in our place.
We reject the Father, Jesus is rejected by the Father on the cross in order that we might be received by him.
We hide in the darkness of sin, Jesus enters the darkness as the light of the world to beckon us home to the Father.
We who were dead in sin, are made alive in repentance and faith, because Jesus died for our sin, and rose from the grave, giving life to all who repent and believe.
The Good News is that our Father has sent his Son into this world on a mission to call sinners home to him by repentance and faith.
It doesn’t matter what far country you’ve visited. The Father not only receives you in repentance, he CELEBRATES YOUR REPENTANCE! Verse 7 says there is “JOY IN HEAVEN” over repentance. Verse 10 says there’s “Joy before the angels of God” when a sinner repents. And here we see the image of God is not and image a Father at the door with a glare and his arms crossed, but a father who in his Joy is a foolish sight, a humiliated man as he runs down the road weeping, shouting, hugging, kissing, and declaring “WELCOME HOME MY SON. Welcome home.”
This morning we all sit here with different stories and at different places in life.
1.) (Heading Toward the Far Country)
There may be some here right now, or perhaps someone listening or reading online, or someone who listens to or reads this 3 years down the road, and you know in your heart that you are LIVING IN THE FAR COUNTRY. Right now, you know that your back is to God the Father, you’re dodging people who love you, you’re living for yourself. You are me-first, you’re covering over your sin by finding people who celebrate sin with you, and you’re on the run. You know it. Maybe you’ve been on the run so long that you’re comfortable with the far country, or maybe you’re not even to the far country yet, but it’s where you want to go—you’re headed toward it.
If that’s you, know for certain today that the Far Country is a dangerous place. It does not satisfy, it will not last, and you don’t have to go there or stay there. There are dozens and dozens of people in our church family who have spent a long time in the far country, and every one of them today would stand up here and beg you to return home. The broad path leads to destruction. The far country leads to pain, and worst of all, it’s away from the Presence of God the Father. Today, if you are in the far country or headed that way, DO A U-TURN. I plead with you, RETURN TO THE LORD. Confess that you have sinned against God and man, and leave your place of sin, and RUN HOME. Run home. Return to the Lord today. Zechariah 1, says “Thus says the Lord, “Return to me, and I will return to you.”
2.) (Sons Acting like Servants)
There are others here today—who PRAISE GOD—have fled the Far Country. By the gracious WOO of God, but the violent mercy of God, you’ve come to your senses, and you’ve turned home to God to others. You’ve confessed your sin, you’ve taken action, you’ve burned bridges in the far country, and you’re rebuilding bridges at home. Praise God.
And if that’s you today, I want to remind you of one simple truth: By the grace of God, given to you in Jesus Christ, received by faith, YOU ARE A SON—You’re not a slave. What I mean is this: Because of your sin and your shame and pride, you’re not going to feel like you deserve the grace of God and so you’re going to live in the servant’s quarters in your soul and try to work really hard to pay back God and others. And eventually you might think, “Ok, I’ve done my time, I’m good enough again, All is well.”
But that’s not the Gospel of Grace. The Gospel of Grace is that WE NEVER DESERVE the FATHER’S LOVE.
The Gospel of GRACE is that NONE OF US CAN PAY OFF OUR DEBT.
The Gospel of GRACE is that the Father RUNS TO US, we don’t crawl our way back to him.
Our Sins from the Far Country become WHITE AS SNOW, NOT because we log overtime in the servants’ house, but because the Father says to us, “Welcome Home” in the person of Jesus Christ.
By Grace we are Sons and Daughters, not servants, in the Father’s house.
For the past few months I’ve been listening to a song called “At the Table” by Josh Garrels, and it’s the story of the prodigal son. A wayward son runs from home and the Father is saying “Return to me. For you will always have a seat at my table.”
This morning before we sing our final song, we’re going to listen to the song At the Table and this is a time for all who are in the far country to hear the call of God saying, “Return home. There’s a place for you. Turn back and be received.” And for everyone here to remember and rejoice in the Lavish Love of our Heavenly Father.
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