The Tale of Two Sons (Updated and Expanded Sermon Transcript Version)

The Tale of Two Sons, Part 1

Luke 15:11-16            Code: 42-201

We turn now in the Word of God to Luke 15. Our text this morning is Luke chapter 15 and we begin in verse 11 with the very familiar parable of our Lord, probably His best known and most memorable parable called the parable of the prodigal son. Charles Dickens said this was the greatest short story ever written, and so did Ralph Waldo Emerson, a couple of gentlemen who could spin a fair yarn themselves. It is likely the most rich and inexhaustible of Jesus’ parables, and yet at the same time a child can grasp its basic truth.

When we come to a parable like this, it’s really critical for us to remember that the Bible is a Middle Eastern book. It is an ancient Middle Eastern book. Its truths are set in a culture that is very distant from our own. We live in the western world a couple of thousand years after this, have little first-hand experience with life in the Middle East, either ancient or modern. And it’s all too easy for us to rip this story out of its context and to transport it into our modern world and make some applications that are minimalist, at best. This deserves more than a bare-bones treatment. It is not a story that can be superficially understood as to its richness and therefore its message. There are nuances, there are subtleties, there are cultural attitudes and features here that give it its full meaning. And remember, whatever the Bible meant to the people to whom it was written, it means today. Whatever Jesus meant to the people to whom He spoke is exactly what His words mean today. And one of the sad realities of our modern world is that we’re in a hurry to read the Bible and apply the Bible without ever interpreting it. And in an effort which is rather relentless, to rather update the Bible we ignore its original context, in a hurry to push it into the twenty-first century.

But if we are to draw out of this what God intended us to know and what He intended to reveal for our edification, it is critical that we understand that we must hear it the way the audience of Jesus heard it. There were in their minds ingrained ideas, ingrained cultural attitudes, ingrained patterns, unspoken feelings and sensibilities that existed in the Middle-Eastern peasant village life. And these are the things that illuminate the story. These are the things that make it live and these are the things that will allow us to live in it. Christ spoke to a Middle-Eastern peasant people. The gospels basically address people in that context. Even most of the educated people of that time would have their root in simple agrarian village life. What went on in their culture and their social life and what was imbedded for generations in their sensibilities much still exist even today in Middle-Eastern peasant life. There were things felt but never spoken. There were deep attitudes that are never articulated, not even consciously apprehended, they have been in the subconscious for so long. And if we are to grasp the mastery of this great story and all its spiritual meaning, we’ve got to go back and do the best we can to put ourselves in that very place and time. We need to place ourselves in the attitudes, the expectations of a Middle Eastern peasant village culture, then we can begin to find the richness of this story being illuminated to our minds.

Now before we look at the story, a bit of background so that we know where we are. Christ is on His way to Jerusalem the last months of His life. He is intending to offer Himself as God’s perfect sacrifice for sin, die on the cross and then on the following Sunday rise again from the dead, having accomplished our redemption. He has been ministering now for nearly three years and preaching the message of the Kingdom of God and repentance and calling men and women to enter into the Kingdom of God through repentance and faith in Him as the Messiah and the Lord God. He has developed some relentless enemies, the Pharisees and the scribes. They are basically the architects of the popular religion of Judaism at the time. They have their influence in the synagogues, which are the local assemblies of Jewish people where they come together to be taught. They are the primary influencing force. They are legalistic. They are corrupt inwardly. They are hypocritical. They are hostile to Jesus. And yet they have the greatest amount of influence and so you have basically a populous that for the most part is either hostile or indifferent to Jesus under their influence. And that ultimately comes down upon His head as they scream for His blood in Jerusalem and take away His life.

The resentment of the Pharisees and the scribes is due to the fact that Jesus directly confronted them on their hypocrisy. He identified them as self-righteous and not truly righteous. He identified them as not truly understanding the Scripture or the will of God. He told them they did not know God. They did not know the true way of salvation. He told them they were excluded from the Kingdom of God because they were inwardly corrupt and they were headed to divine judgment. This is not what they wanted to hear. And though He said it with compassion and mercy and grace, and though He said it repeatedly in all kinds of settings, no matter how He said it, they hated it. And so wanting to attack Jesus back, they came up with the worst possible thing they could say about Him and that is that He did what He did by the power of Satan. The very opposite of representing God, they said He represents the devil himself and what He says is demonic and hellish. That was their conviction and so that is the lie that they spread throughout the land. Anyway and every way they could find to affirm that lie, they did so. And one way they found apparently to be very effective was to say to the people, “Look with whom Jesus associates. He doesn’t associate with God’s people, He associates with the Devil’s people. He associates with tax collectors, prostitutes, criminals, the general category called sinners.” And whenever they could identify Jesus as associating with sinners, they loved to do that as a way to discredit Him, to affirm that He was comfortable with Satan’s people and uncomfortable with the people of God whom they believed themselves to be.

And so that is the occasion that precipitates the stories that Jesus tells in Luke 15. In verse 1 it says, “All the tax gatherers and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.” They came because, as you noted at the end of chapter 14, the last statement, “He who has ears to hear let him hear.” They were willing to listen and so they came. “And both the Pharisees and the scribes who were the theological experts in the Pharisees’ Movement began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.'” And, of course, eating with someone was tacit affirmation and approval. And so they were outraged, they would not associate with these kinds of people. They would not eat with these people by any means. They kept themselves aloof from all of these kinds of people in some self-designed effort to protect their own imagined purity.

Despite the miracles of Jesus which were inescapable, they never did try to deny them, despite His ample evidence of His deity, despite the power and the clarity and the transforming nature of His words, they kept coming back to the fact that He was satanic and it was evident on this occasion because He was associating with the people who belonged to the Devil. He not only violated the traditions of Judaism, violated the customs of the Pharisees and the scribes, He not only had no regard for their treatment of the Sabbath or their other rules, but especially He associated Himself with the unrighteous outcasts. And so they brought this up again here as they had in chapter 5 verses 29 to 32, same complaint.

Now this sets off an answer from our Lord. And the answer is a pretty simple answer. “You don’t get it, do you? The reason I associate with these sinners is because I have come to seek and to save that which is lost,” as He says explicitly in Luke 19:10. “I do this because it is the Father’s joy, it is God’s joy to save lost sinners.” And He goes on to tell a story about a shepherd who had a hundred sheep and he lost one and went and found it. Brought the sheep back and says, “What is the point of the story?” Verse 7, “I tell you in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance.” And that is a sarcastic rebuke of the Pharisees themselves who thought they were righteous and needed no repentance. Heaven has no joy in you, heaven’s joy is in the recovery of a lost sinner who repents. And then He told a second story about a woman who had ten silver coins and lost one and went on a search until it was found. And again in verse 10, “In the same way I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

What He is saying to them is you are so far from God, you don’t even understand what makes God have joy. You don’t understand what causes God to be content, satisfied, and joyful. It is the recovery of sinners. You are so far from knowing God.

And that, of course, leads to the third story which is the main parable. We have seen the recovery of a lost sheep and a lost coin. And here is the recovery of a lost son. But this story is intended to demonstrate the same thing, the joy of God over the recovery of a lost sinner. But this story goes even beyond that and it identifies the nature of repentance. Repentance has been mentioned in verse 7 and mentioned in verse 10, but never defined. In this story it is fully defined and for the first time in this story, the Pharisees and the scribes actually appear. They are a character in this story and we see them in all their ugliness, and so did they see themselves. And that’s the surprise ending of the story. Up to that point, they were pretty much in agreement with the story. And that was always Christ’s approach, to get them to buy into the story in terms of interest and understanding, and then to get them to understand the ethical issues in the story because they celebrated their own high level of ethics. And then to take their own ethical understanding and turn it on them and make the theology of the story like a knife that penetrated their sinful hearts. All of that happens, and a lot more, in this story.

The first two stories, about the sheep and the coin, emphasize God as the seeker, the one who finds and the one who rejoices. But the third story looks not so much at the divine side, but at the human side…sin, repentance, recovery and rejection. This is a dramatic story. This is a moving story. All of it is deeply interesting and impactful on the thinking of anyone who is gripped by divine truth.

Now the story doesn’t contain everything that needs to be said about salvation. It’s not the whole of salvation theology. But it does lead us to the cross which is yet to happen because it’s a story of reconciliation and there is no reconciliation apart from the death of Christ who having paid the penalty in full for the sinner provides reconciliation. But the cross is not in the story, it’s yet to come. And so this is not a full theology of salvation, but it deals with some of the essential elements of sin and recovery and rejoicing and rejection.

Now, it falls into three characters, the younger son, the father and the older son. And really should be divided that way, I would like to be able to divide it so conveniently into three parts, this has been a goal of my life ever since I started preaching…a goal that I never achieved. So we will take it as it comes.

But we begin with the younger son…the younger son. And as we open the story of the younger son, I want to take you to two things to think about. First, a shameless request, and then a shameless rebellion. Verse 11, “And He said, ‘A certain man had two sons and the younger of them said to his father…Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.'” We’ll stop there for a moment.

The first son is not the only character. In verse 11 you have the man and both sons. That’s why I call it a tale of two sons. It’s not really the tale of one son, it’s the tale of two sons and the climax of the whole story indicates that it is the other son, the one we don’t think about, that is really the main objective in the story. But we call this younger son the prodigal son. And I suppose that you…if I asked you what prodigal meant, would probably want to look for a dictionary to find out exactly what “prodigal” means. So I can fill in a little for you. It’s a word, it’s an Olde English word, we don’t use it much, it basically meant “spend thrift.” And you know what that word means…somebody who is wasteful, a person who is senselessly extravagantly self-indulgent. And that’s a great word for this first son, that’s why it’s lasted for so long. But it’s not a word that’s in the story anywhere, it’s just a word that in the original English versions fit well. The young man is the classic illustration of wasting your life, of extravagant self-indulgence. And that is why he is called the prodigal son.

But let’s look at the story and see that it’s really a story about two sons and a loving father. Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.'” When Jesus said that, you could imagine that the Pharisees and the scribes who were His only audience went, “Ahh!!!!” This is absolutely an outrageous statement. Now he’s likely not married cause he wants to go and sow his wild oats, probably in his teens. He is utterly disrespectful toward his father. He lacks any love for his father whatsoever. There is not an ounce of gratitude in his heart for the legacy that generations of his family have provided for his father and one day for him. In fact, the truth of the matter is for a son to say that in the sensibilities of the ancient Middle East in village life would be tantamount to saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead. You are in the way of my plans, you are a barrier. I want my freedom, I want my fulfillment and I want out of this family now. I’ve got other plans, they don’t involve you, they don’t involve this family, they don’t involve this estate, they don’t involve this village. I want nothing to do with any of you. I want my inheritance now.” Which is equal to saying, “I wish you were dead.”

In a culture where honor was so important, in a culture based upon a Ten Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” this had been embellished and improved on where honoring your father was like at the top of the list of social life. And any son who made such a request, such a breath-taking request, such an outrageous request from a healthy father probably relatively young is understood by everyone to be wishing his father was dead. You see, the way it worked, you never got your inheritance until your father died. But to do this, to ask for it at this point essentially was not only to affirm your father was dead, but was also to, on your own part, commit suicide because anybody would expect that that kind of request of a father would be responded to with a slap across the face. That was a typical Jewish gesture to show rebuke for such disdain on the part of a young son who had benefitted from everything the family had and probably all the accumulated riches of the generations before and that’s the way he treats his father? He would be slapped across the face with no small force and then very likely he would be shamed publicly and perhaps dispossessed of everything he had and perhaps even considered as dead and dismissed from the family. That’s how serious the breach was and that is why in verse 24 when he comes back, the father says, “This son of mine was dead.” And he says it again in verse 32 to the older brother, “This brother of yours was dead.” It was even customary in that time and place to hold an official ceremony, a funeral, if you will, for such insolence. And you were done, and you were out of the family and you were dead. And the only way back in was some restitution, some way to earn your place back in the graces of the family for the dishonor you had brought. The system was very clear to everybody. The father was at the head of the honor list, then came the older brother, then came the younger. This is shameless at its highest level. The lowest in the family, the lowest in the line of honor expressing aggravation and irritation and hatred about his father that he’s even still alive and standing in the way of him getting what he wants is the highest degree of shame imaginable. There was no way that Jesus could portray greater shame upon a person than that act. In the social structure of Israel, that was the supreme act of shame.

And his request: “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.” Give it to me. He uses the word estate. This is a word in the Greek, tas useios(????), used only here, nowhere else in the New Testament, and it means the goods, the property, the portion. He’s asking for the material stuff, land, animals, buildings, whatever of the family possessions he is entitled to get. And in a two-brother family, according to Deuteronomy 21:17, the estate would be divided unequally. The older son gets double what the younger son gets, that means two-thirds go to the older son, one-third goes to the younger son. So whatever was one-third of everything that this family had is what he wants. And they must have had a lot. They had servants, as we find out later in the story. They hired musicians and dancers for the party. They had hired men whom they employed outside their normal family servants. They had animals, including a fattened calf. And they must have had a substantial enough estate that he thought if he could get his third he could fund his rebellion pretty well. But all he wanted was the tas useios, and that’s a very important word because the normal word for inheritance is kleronomia, that’s the normal word. But listen carefully. When you use that word and you talk about inheritance, you’re talking about everything that comes with the material. You’re talking about the management of the estate, you’re talking about leadership, you’re talking about responsibility to provide the resources for the family. When you receive your inheritance from your father, you literally are receiving the responsibility to manage all the assets of the estate on behalf of the family present to add to that, and therefore build the estate for the family in the future. So with the word inheritance comes responsibility, accountability for the future. He didn’t want any of that, so he didn’t use that word. Jesus put this word, tas useios(??), in his mouth, “I just want my stuff. I don’t want leadership, I don’t want responsibility, I don’t want accountability, I don’t want anything for the future. I’m not taking on any responsibility for this family now or ever again. I don’t want to care for anyone. I just want my stuff. No leadership, no responsibility, no accountability, no part of the family, no part of the father’s future.” All of this indicates that he is living under the father’s authority very reluctantly. He is miserable. He wants freedom, independence. He wants distance, he wants to go as far away from all restraint, all accountability that he can. He doesn’t want to obey his father. He doesn’t want to be directed by his father. He doesn’t want to have to answer to his father. He wants nothing to do with anybody who knows him. He wants out but he wants out with all that he can get to finance his leaving.

Now a father could give gifts to his children. Any father in the Jewish culture at that time could give gifts to the children as he wished. He could assign also their portions of the estate, at some point he could say, “This is the two-thirds you’re going to get as the older son. This is the one-third that you’re going to get as a younger son.” And even if he did that assignment they could never take possession until he died because in that culture of honor the father was in charge until he died. He never relinquished that to his children. So though he would say this will be your’s, he wouldn’t say, “This is your’s take it over now.” He would always be the one responsible. And if he did apportion to them and say, “Now I want you to start to learn to manage your area, and to manage this area,” according to the custom, he would have access to everything that was earned as they managed their estates. So he kept a strong and firm hand.

But the son is not asking for that. He’s not asking to know now what he’s going to get in the future. He’s asking to have now what he should wait for after his father dies. The village would probably get word of this, circulate around a village typically. They would expect the father to be angry, ashamed, dishonored. They would expect him to be furious with his son. They would expect him to slap the boy across the face, to rebuke him, to shame him, to punish him, to dismiss him from the family and perhaps even to hold a funeral.

But this is the first surprise in the story. Go back to verse 12. “And he divided his wealth between them.” He divided his wealth. You know what the word wealth is in the Greek? Bios, life, biology, this is their life, this is the family…this is what the family’s life for generations has produced. This is…this is his living. This is his source of livelihood. So he is saying he divided it. Well, some of the Pharisees and Sadducees…or scribes probably thought, “Well, yeah, he’s just telling them that, you know, this is what you’re going to get, this is going to be your’s, this is going to be your’s and you can begin to take responsibility for what’s going to be your’s now and I’ll be there to oversee it.” Maybe that’s what he meant. He was just divvying it up according to Deuteronomy 21:17, one-third, two-thirds. And yet there would be a surprise at this point. This would be pretty shocking because of the way in which this was requested. If the father had done it of his own will, because he had such respect for his sons and to trust in his sons and love for his sons, then it would be understood. But to this kind of son with this kind of request, for a father to do this was very shocking stuff and this would cause another gasp from the Pharisees. Rather than strike him across the face for his insolence, the father grants him what he wants. He extends to him this…this freedom because he is willing to endure the agony of rejected love. And this is the agony that’s the most painful of any personal agony, the agony of rejected love. The greater the love, the greater the pain when that love is rejected. This is God. This is God giving the sinner his freedom. There’s no law in the customs of Israel that would forbid a father to do this. He’s not doing this because…because he thinks this is best. He’s giving the sinner his freedom. And the sinner’s not really breaking the law but he is demonstrating the absence of a relationship. And that’s the point.

The sinner has no relationship to God whatsoever. Doesn’t love God, doesn’t care about God, wants nothing to do with God, nothing to do with the family of God, wants nothing to do with the future of the family of God, wants no accountability to God, wants no interest in God, doesn’t want to answer to God, doesn’t want to submit to God, doesn’t want any kind of relationship at all. In fact, has none. And God in the agony of rejected love lets the sinner go. It’s like Romans 1, He gave them over, gave them over, gave them over.

Now notice back at verse 12 again that he divided his wealth between them. We still have two boys in this story at this point because once it was divided then it was clear to the other brother what was his. And so they both received their portions. Though I said this was rare and there was no law forbidding it, it was very, very unusual for this to happen and it could never happen under these circumstances with that kind of son making that kind of request. Jewish law did say, according to the Mishnah which is the codification of Jewish law, that if this was done, if a father decided to do this, the sons had to hold the property until the father died and only then could they do with it what they pleased. Up until that time, the father still oversaw how they managed that property and the father had a right to everything it produced in terms of income. But that certainly wouldn’t suit the plans of the younger son. He wanted what he wanted and he wanted it now.

Well step one was to get the father to split the estate. It didn’t take long for step two, verse 13, “And not many days later.” And this begins the second thing that I told you you’d have to think about in the story, first, the shameless request, and then a shameless rebellion. Just a few days, not many days later. He didn’t wait long, he couldn’t wait, he’s waited long enough. He’s sick of being in the father’s presence. He’s sick of having any accountability or relationship with the family. He has no love for his father. He has absolutely no love for his older brother either and his older brother has no love for him. And, by the way, as a footnote, the older brother has no love for the father either. That’s right…the older brother has no love for the father. In fact, when the boy comes home and the father is happy, the older brother is angry. He has no investment in the father’s affections whatsoever. He is equally unloving, equally ungrateful even though he stays home. He is the hypocrite in the house.

So the father basically has no relationship with either son. These are two kinds of people who have no relationship with God. One is irreligious and one is religious. One is as far away from God that he can get. The other is as close as he can be.

But what did the younger son want? “After many days…it says…not many days, rather, later…it says…the younger son gathered everything together.” Literally that says he turned it all into cash. He turned it all into cash. “I want out, nothing to do with you.” Technically, by the way, he could sell the property. Once it was given to him, even though the father still had some oversight and could get the interest off it and they couldn’t actually take possession of it until the father died, there was a loophole, there was an out in the ancient tradition and that was this, he could sell it to somebody who would buy it, but not take it until the father died. You say, “Well that’s a pretty hard sell, isn’t it?” Not necessarily. He wants cash. He needs to find a buyer for his third of this estate, a buyer who will give him the cash now and not take possession until the father is dead. Now if you think that’s unusual, just remember that every day of the world people are buying what are called “futures,” commodities. And why would people buy something now that they can’t get until the future? Because they think the price might go up. So you hedge against the future by paying the purchase price now even though you can’t take possession until the future. This is buying futures, this is hedging against the future. And you know the price was going to be good because you got a desperate seller. Nothing more wonderful, right when you’re a buyer than a desperate seller. Somebody who wants out, who wants out fast. Not many days later…he wants to turn everything into cash, his property can be sold which means buildings, land, animals, whatever it was, he gets the cash now. Whoever bought it can’t take possession until the father dies. And, of course, there are people who would be glad to do that because it’s going to be a fire sale, the guy wants out, he wants out now. He takes a discounted price. And somebody is more than happy to hold on to the value of that property and wait the years until that man dies and then take it and put it into his own family’s estate and future. This is the foolishness of the sinner. He wants to get away from God, he wants to get away from God now. He wants no accountability to God. He sells cheap all of the opportunities that God has provided for him, all the good gifts, all the gospel opportunities, everything that’s good that God has put into his world. All that goodness and forbearance of God that’s meant to lead him into a relationship with God he spurns and once he gets his cash, you see what happens in verse 13, “He went on a journey into a distant country.”

Distant is the operative word, get out and get out fast and get out far. Gentile land would be distant country. Any country outside Israel is Gentile land. He went to a Gentile land which was a horror. This is another horror. How bad is this kid? This kid is as bad as anybody could be. You can’t be worse than to scorn your father and dishonor your father. And you add to that materialistic greed. And you add to that selling off the generational family estate. And you add to that going into a Gentile land as far away from anybody who knows you you can get so nobody knows or cares what you do. Outrageous conduct. And the family for sure then would have had a funeral and the village. He’s gone and he’s dead. It’s over. Only could be restored now if he were to come back and repurchase the estate which he sold. He’d have to come back and buy it back.

By the way, just as a footnote, I asked the question when I’m going through this, where’s the older son in this? Why doesn’t he ever rise to the defense of the father’s honor? Why doesn’t he ever step up and protect the father? Why isn’t there a verse in here about “But the older son went to the younger and rebuked him for dishonoring the father?” The answer: because he didn’t love the father either. He was happy to get his share, stay home. Never came to the father’s defense, he has no love for the father as we shall see.

The whole scene is filled with shame. It’s a totally dysfunctional family, a loving generous father who’s provided massive gifts to two sons. One is a flagrant rebellious irreligious sinner, the other is a religious one who stayed home but neither of them has any relationship to the father or to each other. They both hate each other and the father.

Well the rebellion is on. And it tells us, back to verse 13, “That when he got into the distant country, he there squandered his estate with loose living.” Squandered means to scatter. He just threw it away…threw it away. Hence prodigal, he wasted it. Loose living, reckless, wasteful living, zoa asotos, a dissipated life, a debauched life, a dissolute life. In fact, down in verse 30, his older brother says, “He devoured his wealth with harlots.” Wow! Some people think that might…that might just be a trumped up accusation by the older brother. But there is no older brother, this is only a story and the author of all of this is Jesus. And Jesus put that in the story because that’s an accurate reflection of what He wants to convey the young man did. What else would he do? Running as far as he could from all accountability, holding all his money in tact, he goes into this far country trying to get away from any responsibility or accountability from his father and he dissipates his life in an immoral fashion. He wastes it. He trashed his life, we would way in the contemporary vernacular.

Now obviously this young son represents open sinners, the rebels, the…the dissolute, the profligate, the dissipated, the debauched, the immoral, those who make no pretense of faith in God, no pretense of love for God. This is those in verse 1, this is the tax gatherers and the sinners, the outcasts, the irreligious. And they run as far as they can from God because they have no love for Him and no relationship with Him. They don’t want anything to do with His law, or His rule. They don’t want any accountability to Him whatsoever. They don’t darken the door of the church. They’re not interested in exposing themselves to anybody’s expectations.

But sin never works out the way it looks. Verse 14, “Now when he had spent everything.” That kind of introduces the fact that when he arrived in the far country, he was the fat cat, the fair-haired boy, the new guy in town with the big bankroll. He’s got his wad. He comes into town, he sets himself on the party trail and goes on a wild spree. Certainly collecting around him all kinds of people who wanted to cash in on his generosity, his foolish generosity. He surrounds himself with the riff-raff and the scum and the lowlifes and he runs out of money. He spent everything, verse 14 says, that’s his fault…that’s his fault.

“But a severe famine occurred in the country,” that’s not his fault, but that’s how life is. Some things are your fault and some things are not. But the conflux of those things can be devastating. Life is like that. A severe famine occurred in the country. Now you wouldn’t know what a severe famine was and neither would I. What is a severe famine? How do people act in a severe famine? Not a famine of a minor nature, a severe famine, our Lord says, and I kind of wanted to see if I could understand what a famine is. And I found a description of a famine. This famine occurred back in the 1800’s and a man wrote about it and it’s pretty characteristic of what goes on in a famine. This would be what would be happening in a village, this is what the sensibilities of the people listening to Jesus would understand. What is a famine? They would remember, for example, the times when Israel was under siege and women ate their afterbirth and even cannibalized their children. That’s in the Old Testament. That’s a famine.

But here’s from the 1800’s a description of a famine. The writer tells of children being sold into slavery to keep them from starving. He speaks of men found dead every morning on the streets. And when the numbers increased, the ruler of the city declared every man responsible for throwing the dead bodies in front of his house into the river. And not wanting to have all the dead bodies in front of their house, inhabitants of the city would drag the dead in front of other people’s houses. Every morning quarrels would ring out across the city as men fought over where the dead bodies really died. Small merchants had to keep hippopotamus hide whips nearby to drive off the maddened beggars who would attack them bodily and ravish the little they had in their shops. Small merchants with their wares on the street would throw themselves across their wares as the miserable wretches came by to steal something to eat. Men venturing out at night unarmed were attacked and eaten. Straying animals were killed and eaten raw. Shoe leather, rotten flesh and garbage were all devoured. They ate palm trees. Families in the village seeing death on them bricked up the doors of their houses and awaited death in a room to keep their own bodies from being devoured by hyenas. Entire villages were wiped out in this manner. This is a famine.

Something like that would be the picture in the minds of the listeners to Jesus…of Jesus when He told the story. You’re talking about a level of desperation that’s beyond anything that we can conceive of. So now he’s made some bad decisions himself, the worst possible and circumstances have made it even more severe. This is life at its lowest, folks. And the Pharisees and the scribes listening to the story now are feeling the weight of…of the horror of the life of this young man. From a wonderful place under a loving father in a generous environment, he has come to this. It is life at its lowest in the pits at the most desperate. He has no family. He has nobody left. He’s in a foreign land, nowhere to turn. All his resources are gone. He is destitute. He is on skid row. He is pennyless. He is alone. The party is over for sure.

But he’s still not ready to go home. That’s a big one. Still not ready to fully humble himself, to eat crow, to go back, to be shamed, to be humiliated, to face his father and the resentment of his older brother for having wasted the substance. The older brother knows that once the thing was split, he no longer could draw resources from the other third and therefore it would cheat him out of what he would get and that elevates his hatred. He doesn’t want to face any of that. He doesn’t want to face the town. He doesn’t want to face any of it.

So he does what people tend to do when they hit bottom. It says at the end of verse 14, “He began to be in need.” For the first time he can’t supply what he needs. This is the beginning. And like typical sinners, he comes up with the first plan. This is his plan A. He went, attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, first thing he said is, “I’ve got to get a job. I’ve got to pick myself up.” This is typical of the sinner, runs from God, goes out, lives a dissolute, rebellious life, sins up a storm, winds up in the pit, winds up with absolutely nothing, is completely bankrupt, bare. He’s on skid row. He’s walking the street. Has nothing but he’s going to pick himself up, I’ve got to get a job and for the first time I have to work.

Didn’t get what he wanted out of his little enterprise. He didn’t get what he wanted out of his escapade. He forfeited the easy life. He left a loving father. He ended up with a hard, hard life. He wanted unrestrained pleasure. He wanted his lusts fulfilled without interruption and without rebuke. What he got was pain and unfulfillment, loneliness. He was actually facing death. So, he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country. Citizen is a word that refers to a privileged person, not everybody was a citizen. That meant you were privileged and honored by the society, given a place on the city roll. He found somebody who had some means, a citizen, and he attached himself. That’s a great word in the Greek,kollao, to glue. He stuck himself to this guy. I’m pretty sure that the implication here is that this wasn’t the guy’s idea. If you’ve ever traveled in the Third World, if you ever travel in India, shaking the beggars is one of the greatest efforts you’ll have. You just go out on the street and it isn’t very long before they’re hanging on your coat, pulling on your arm, grabbing at your pockets and you’ve got to be protected because you really can be totally overwhelmed. The level of desperation causes people to do this. And the picture here is of a man who is now a beggar. And so he finds a citizen who has some means and he sticks to this guy to the point that the guy can’t get rid of him. And finally it says in verse 15, he sent him into his fields to feed pigs.

This isn’t really a job. I mean, it’s the lowest possible thing that anybody could ever do and as it turns out, it doesn’t pay anything, but to get rid of the guy he says, “Go to the field and feed my pigs.” And so desperate, he does it. And this point the gasp is louder than ever. This is a Jewish boy feeding pigs in a Gentile land, serving a Gentile. Leviticus 11:7, Deuteronomy 14:8, other Old Testament passages indicate that Jews could not eat pork, unclean animals. And he ends up feeding pigs. “Go feed my pigs.” This is…this is lower than low can be.

But it’s not all. Look at verse 16. So he goes, what else can he do? And he gets there and it says he was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating. Hey, did you ever try to crowd in with the pigs to get the slop? That’s what it’s saying. He was so hungry that he was not just feeding pigs and earning wages, he was trying to eat their food and battle them for it. That’s a losing battle. He was longing to fill his own stomach with the pods, carob pods is what they were, it’s a bitter black berry that sometimes the pigs ate off a bush, but was also taken…collected and then molasses was extracted from the carob pods and the pulp that was left from that was thrown to the pigs. So what he’s doing very likely eating the pulp from carobs with the pigs. When I was in high school I…a little bit in the summer I worked for people who raised pigs in the east part of our city. It was a funny job but one of my high-school friend’s father was in the business and they were the garbage collectors for the city of Los Angeles in those days, they collected all the garbage. They took it out east of the city and they boiled it in massive boilers and out came the boiled garbage and it went on to concrete floors where there were pigs. And all the boiled garbage was eaten by the pigs and then they sold the pigs, pigs were killed, bacon was made. The bacon was put in the grocery store and the people who sent the garbage bought the bacon and started the cycle all over again. That’s how it works. But in the early years in Los Angeles, the same people who collected the trash were the ones who provided all the pork because that’s how the system worked. And I can tell you, fighting pigs for something to eat would be a losing battle. They’re nasty. And here is this Jewish guy out there and the incredulous reality is he’s a pig. He’s not with them, he’s one of them only wishing that he was better at getting food, longing, epithumeo, strong desire. He’s in the struggle with the pigs. It’s just unthinkable. He’s so low, he can’t get lower. And whatever promise about job and money, verse 16 says at the end, “No one was giving anything to him.” He didn’t get anything. That’s what makes me think that he stuck himself to this guy and the guy said, “Get out of here, go feed my pigs,” and he had no other choice. He ran out there, he wasn’t being paid anything and he wound up acting like a pig, trying to eat pig slop and get enough to fill his stomach.

You cannot even begin to understand the highbrow, elitist sensitivities of the Pharisees and the scribes imagining any Jewish young man doing this. Unthinkable. And in the end, nobody gave him anything. This is the greatest tragedy that they could ever conceive of. This is the greatest rebellion, the greatest breach, the greatest waste of a life, waste of an opportunity, this is the most despicable kind of conduct that they could conceive. And that was the point. And now he’s starving to death. This is desperation. This is the sinner, poor, hungry, hopeless, trying to get a little pig slop. Nobody to help. Nobody to pity him.

What is the lesson here? The lesson is that sin is rebellion against God the Father. It is not rebellion so much against His Law, it is more rebellion against His relationship. It is the violation of His Fatherhood, His love. Sin is disdained, sure, for God’s Law, but before that it’s disdain for God’s person, God’s authority, God’s will. Sin is shunning all responsibility, all accountability. It is to deny God His place. It is to hate God. It is to wish God was dead. It is to not love Him at all, dishonor Him. It is to take all the gifts that He’s surrounded you with in life and squander them as if they were nothing. It is to run as far from God as you can get to give Him no thought, no regard, no concern. It is to waste your life in self-indulgence and dissipation and unrestrained lust. It is to shun all except what you want and it is reckless evil and selfish indulgence that ends you up in the pig slop, bankrupt spiritually, empty, destitute, nobody to help, nowhere to turn, facing death, eternal death. And then the foolish sinner has exhausted plan A, I’ll fix my own life, I’ll go to psychology, I’ll take drugs, I’ll drink alcohol, I’ll go to some self-help group, I’ll move to a new neighborhood, I’ll marry a new person. When all that stuff is exhausted, the sinner wakes up at the bottom. And this is where the young man is, a shameless request, a shameless rebellion, but it leads to a shameful repentance. And that’s for next time, and is it ever amazing. Let’s pray.

The story is not remote, our Father, it’s very close to home. It’s the story of every irreligious sinner, the story of every younger son who ran as far from God as he could get, she could get. It’s the story of the outwardly debauched, debased, immoral, self-indulgent, lustful of all sinners who come to the point where it’s over, it’s ended, lost everything. Nothing has meaning, nothing satisfies. They’re just fighting to survive. This is how it was with those tax collectors and sinners and it’s why they came. They wanted to hear from the One who had the bread of life. They wanted to hear from the One who offered forgiveness. They wanted to hear from the One who said God will restore you, God wants to reconcile you, God wants you back in His house. Like the sheep that was brought back, like the coin that was recovered, God is in the business of recovering destitute, depleted, lonely, desperate sinners. This is where He finds His joy. This is where heaven rejoices. Father, we thank You for the great message that’s in this part of the story, facing the reality of sin, desperation because this is where the sinner has to come. As long as there’s a plan A and it works at all, sinners don’t come. It’s when Plan A, B, C, every other plan fails and there’s nowhere else to go that the sinner remembers a loving Father whose character can be trusted and the sinner is willing to repent. We’re ready for that part of the story, we’ve lived it. We pray, Lord, that You will confirm to our hearts this understanding of what sin does, how horrible it is. And we understand the Pharisees. They’re agreeing. They’re saying it’s absolutely horrible, it’s terrible. But as it turns out, they were worse…they were worse. The younger son, he’s forgiven. The older one didn’t want it, didn’t think he needed it.

Father, we pray that You will help us to rejoice in the grace that is provided no matter how horrible our lives are. Jesus paints a picture here that can’t be worse to show us that no matter how low the sinner goes, he can come to God a loving Father with a repentant heart and a God who can be trusted will provide forgiveness. We rejoice in that.

Father, dismiss us now with the blessing. Bring us back with great expectancy next Sunday to hear the story unfold in its next chapter. And gather us tonight at six as we go into the glories of Romans 7 and the wonders of spiritual transformation. Give us a great day, we pray in Your Son’s name. Amen.


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/42-201
COPYRIGHT ©2010 Grace to You

The Tale of Two Sons, Part 2

Luke 15:17-21            Code: 42-202

If you will, take your Bible and turn to the fifteenth chapter of Luke. And I confess to you that my heart and mind is overflowing with things I want to say to you and I’m doing the best that I possibly can to restrain myself from saying everything to treat you in a reasonable fashion. But this is such a rich chapter, as we have come to find out already. Luke chapter 15, we’ve entitled the contents of the entire chapter, “Heaven’s Joy,” subtitled, “Recovering the lost.” And this is part six in our look at this great chapter. And we are looking at the third of three stories, three parables that our Lord tells here. The first one about a shepherd finding a lost sheep, the second about a woman finding a lost coin and the third about a loving father and two sons, familiarly known as The Prodigal Son, but this story has much more than that.

In fact, this whole chapter and this story is about the joy of God. We do not usually think of God as joyful. We think of God as restrained. We think of God as serene. We think of God as almost without emotion. We think of Him as gracious because the Bible tells us that, and merciful. We think of Him as well as severe and angry with sinners and preparing judgment and executing wrath. It’s very hard for us to understand God as exuberantly glad. And yet that is exactly the way He is portrayed here.

Earlier in our study of Luke, you remember, in chapter 10, it told us that Jesus was rejoicing greatly. And the word that is used there means to be overjoyed. And what was it that brought Jesus such joy? It was the return of the 70 who had been out preaching the gospel, and when they came back and reported the wonderful things that happened in the preaching of the gospel, Jesus was over the top with joy. That’s consistent with what we learn in this chapter. In the first story, God is the shepherd who finds the sheep and brings the sheep home and calls on everyone to rejoice. Verse 7 says there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance. And in the second story when the woman finds the coin, she calls together her friends to rejoice and in the same way, verse 10 says, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Heaven’s joy is based on repenting sinners. One sinner who repents brings joy to God and all who surround Him in glory.

The third story is the story of a son, first of all, a profligate son, a prodigal, wasteful son who came back and consequently brought his father joy…profound joy, exuberant joy, joy that called for celebration. Heaven’s joy is continually over repenting sinners.

On the opposite side of that, however, were the religious leaders of Israel. The Pharisees and the scribes, the scribes were the scholars who supported Pharisaic legalism with their research. But the Pharisees and the scribes knew nothing of God’s joy over repenting sinners. They never wanted to be anywhere near the category of sinners. They felt that they would be somehow polluted and made impure if they came into contact with them at all. They kept their distance. In fact, they basically only associated with each other in a sort of self-imposed isolation to maintain the delusion of their own holiness. And they could not comprehend the fact that Jesus associated with sinners, the worst, the most publicly scorned and outcast and unsynagogued of people. And to them this was proof that He was not of God, but that rather He was of Satan because He associated with the people who were known to be a part of the kingdom of darkness. For this one who associated with the lowest of the low and the most wicked to claim to be God and to claim to be the Messiah of Israel was nothing short of an outrageous blasphemy. And so they set out with their mantra to convince the population at every point they could that Jesus did what He did by the power of Satan as evidenced by His association continually with sinners. It is such an accusation that sets the stage for the stories that Jesus tells in this fifteenth chapter. If you go back to verses 1 and 2, all the tax collectors who were hated by the Jews because they had purchased their tax franchises from the Romans, were working for the Romans, extorting taxes from their own people, a level of betrayal that was beyond comprehension for most Jews. All the tax collectors and the rest of those in the category of sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him, both the Pharisees and scribes began to grumble saying, “This man receives sinners, He hosts them and He eats with them.” This is evidence on their side that indeed their accusation that He’s of Satan has to be true because He spends His time with Satan’s people. He is therefore a false Messiah. The fever pitch continues to escalate. They do a good job of spreading their accusation against Jesus. It ultimately mounts into a storm of hatred that screams for His blood and ends in His murder…murdered as a false Messiah.

But our Lord explains why He associates with sinners in this chapter. And He does it in these three stories. And the reason He does it is because this is a true and pure reflection of what brings God joy. The joy of God is found in the recovery of lost sinners, as we read in verse 7 and verse 10 and as we see illustrated so dramatically in the third story which ends with a massive celebration over a lost son who is home.

Now as we look at this third story, it demands careful attention. I…I feel like I’m giving you a lot but cheating you at the same time because I can’t get it all in. This is so rich and so deep. And on the surface a lot of it is lost to us because we live in the western world two-thousand years later and this is back in the time of Jesus in a Middle Eastern village and we don’t have the unconscious sensibilities, the cultural insights and the attitudes that were a part of everybody’s life and didn’t need explanation. So if you wonder why it only takes a little while to read it but so long to explain it, it’s the difficulty of filling in the blanks.

The story divides itself into three parts that overlap. The first part is about the younger son. The second part is about the father. The third part is about the older son. It is dramatic and climactic as we go along. Each of those parts overlaps. As we’re looking at the younger son, it overlaps into the father. As we’re looking at the father, it overlaps into the older son. And so we’re trying to sort it out and yet let it flow.

We looked last time at the first part, verses 11 to 16, about the younger son. And we divided that into two parts, a shameless request, verse 11. He said, “A man had two sons,” from the beginning it is a tale of two sons. “The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them.” This was an outrageous, shameless request, tantamount to wishing your father was dead because it was customary, it was acceptable only for a son to receive his inheritance after the death of his father. The son is therefore saying, “I wish you were dead, I want what is mine. I want it now.” This is shameless in its request. And it allowed him to perpetrate not only a shameless request, but a shameless rebellion. “Not many days later, after he had received his part of the estate, the younger son gathered everything together,” that means he turned it all into cash, “went on a journey into a distant country. There he squandered his estate with loose living.” Later in the story it is said that he engaged himself with harlots among other things. He squandered his estate with loose living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country. He began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating and no one was giving anything to him.

A shameless request leads to a shameless rebellion. And all of that, as I told you, pictures the irreligious, rebellious, immoral sinner, the very kind of person that Jesus was associating with. The people who are treated badly by the culture, who were scorned and made outcasts by the society, they were as bad as bad can be. This young man demonstrates someone who’s gone as low as you can go, all the way to the bottom in a Gentile country, living in an outrageous and immoral way, ending up not only taking care of pigs but eating with pigs, becoming one of them. This is as bad as it gets. And he ends up destitute and helpless.

Now at this point, the father reenters the story…the father reenters in the mind of the son, first of all. And we go from a shameless request and a shameless rebellion to a shameful repentance. We see that in verse 17 as we begin to talk about the father. Verse 17, “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s…'” Stop there just long enough to say all of a sudden his father comes to mind. I’m sure he had done everything he could to make sure he kept his father out of mind while he was indulging himself. But now left with nothing, destitute, in a famine, dying of hunger, he comes to his senses…he comes to himself. He has a conversation with himself. And what he says in his soliloquy is, “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger?” And this is where repentance really begins, it begins with an accurate assessment of your condition. It’s really important for the profligate sinner, for the prodigal, for the wasteful irreligious outcast to come to an honest assessment of his own situation or her own situation. He knows he is in a situation for which he has no resources to get out. He knows he is dying of hunger and no one will give him anything and he’s losing the battle with the pigs for what they can eat. It’s the end. And all repentance begins with an honest assessment of one’s condition of destitution, helplessness, no resources, and impending death.

And so, he thinks about his father and how many of his father’s hired men have more than enough bread while he’s dying of hunger. Now that says a lot about the father. This is where we start to learn about the father. Let me tell you a little bit about what it was to be a hired man,a misthos. A hired man was a day laborer. Sometimes you see them around, don’t you, standing on a corner waiting for somebody to come along and give them a job that day even today in our society and all around the world and all through history. They are at the lowest level. They are basically the poor, the poor who are willing to work who need to work. And everybody who was poor in these days in biblical times had to work. Day workers hoped somebody would come along and hire them. They were, for the most part, unskilled although some of them may have developed some skilled craft that they would be hired to do. But for the most part, they were just unskilled workers who were available to help in the harvest or to do something that was temporary and therefore earn a little money to survive.

Now he remembers that his father paid them more than enough. That is to say he remembered that the hired men had more than enough bread which is to say their father was…what?…generous. He remembered that his father gave them more than they generally needed to survive. His father was loving, his father was good, his father was kind, his father was generous. You see, hired men were even protected by the Old Testament law. Leviticus chapter19 verse 13 says the wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. If you hire somebody to do work and he eats on the basis of that work and that money sustains him and his family, you have to pay him the day he does the work.

Well the father was a man who not only did what the Old Testament law said, but he did more. This comes into the mind of the son and it’s very important that his father is not a hard man, his father is not an indifferent man. His father is kind and generous and good and he knows his father well enough to know that he’s a merciful man, that he’s a generous man and that he is a forgiving man. He has all of that knowledge because that has been revealed to him in the revelation of his father which he had when he was in the home. He doesn’t know anybody else like that. He doesn’t know anywhere to turn to. And somebody might say, “Well wait a minute, I mean, he would expect that his father having been so totally disgraced and dishonored in the village by such a request from such an ungrateful and profligate son would have been in shame and embarrassed and dishonored to the point where you wouldn’t want to go back to him at all. But he knows his father better than that, he knows his father is not vengeful. He knows his father is merciful and generous.

Now hired men were not slaves. Slaves lived in the family. They weren’t necessarily paid wages, typically they were just supported. They were part of the household. So if you were a slave, you worked in a family, they gave you your food and your lodging and took care of all of your needs and maybe there was a little pocket money for discretionary things. Hired men were lower than that. They had nobody continually caring for them. They were out on their own at the lowest of the low. But they received wages and those wages, believe me, were given at the discretion of the man who hired them. Do you remember when Jesus told the story about going into the marketplace in the gospel of Matthew to find some people to come and work in the harvest? Then they first found some at six o’clock, and then some at nine, and some at twelve and some at three, took them out and they didn’t negotiate at all what their wage would be, remember that? The ones who came at six, nine, twelve, three all received…what?…one denarius, the same wage, and that was due to the generosity of the man. They were not in a position to negotiate. Day workers weren’t. They took what they could get to survive. But this was a generous father. All the people who heard Him tell the story would have processed all of that which I have to fill in for you. But he’s ready to go back to this man that he knows to be merciful and generous and compassionate and kind. He is ready now because he doesn’t have an alternative. There’s nowhere left to go. All he can do is humble himself, face his shame, admit his terrible sin and disgrace. Go back and try to be treated with the same kind of mercy and compassion and kindness that he knows his father treats poor people. And maybe…maybe if he can work long enough, he can earn back what he lost and make restitution back to the family and then have a reconciliation with his father.

He’s thinking the way the people in Israel thought because that’s the way Jesus wants him to think. They would have all understood this. They would have all said, “Yep, boy, if he’s truly repentant he’ll go back, he’ll go back to his father, he’ll confess, he’ll repent, he’ll be humbled, he’ll be humiliated, he’ll be scorned, he’ll be shamed and that’s just and that’s fair and that’s right because of what he’s done to his father. Very severe in an honor/shame culture, very important to protect the honor of the old man. That’s what he needs to do and he needs to go back and then he needs to receive from that father mercy and forgiveness based on work that he does. He needs to do restitution. So they would have been with him in this story up to now. They would have been horrified at what the young man did. They would have seen him as an absolute outcast. And if there was any hope for coming back, he would have to come back, receive mercy and forgiveness and do the work to earn back his reconciliation.

Well, he’s ready. He’s broken. He’s alone. He’s sad. He’s penitent. He has nowhere to go. And he believes in his father. This is a picture of one whose repentance leads to salvation because, you see, not only repentance here but faith in his father. He trusts in his father’s goodness, compassion, generosity and mercy. Repentance is linked to faith. He knows the kind of man his father is and in spite of the horrible way he has blasphemed his father, dishonored his father, shamed his father, the horrible way he has treated his father, the terrible way he has lived his life, coming to the very bottom he knows his father is a forgiving man and penitently he trusts to go back and receive forgiveness and do whatever works he needs to do to make restitution and be reconciled.

So verse 18, “I’m not just going to stay here and die, I will get up and go to my father and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Here’s my plan, make me one of your hired men.'” That’s all good. They would…all the Pharisees and scribes would say that’s it, that’s exactly what he needs to do, that’s sensible thinking, boy. He came to his senses, he had a little dialogue with himself, he had a soliloquy, he understood, he had nowhere to go but home. He understood something about the goodness of the father. He’s ready to place himself on the mercy of the father having repented of his sins. He’s going to go back and he’s going to do what he needs to do by making himself a hired man at the lowest point on the totem pole in terms of socially, no intimacy with the father, not even a slave in the house let alone a son. He has no right to the home, no right to deplete the family resources any further. He’s just going to work when they want to invest some money in something that’s going to bring a dividend like anybody else will work. He’s ready.

His sensible thinking then moves his will. This is how repentance works. First of all the sinner comes to himself, comes to his senses, begins to really look and assess where he is and where he’s headed to the inevitable death and destruction and eternal damnation. The sinner says I can’t keep going this direction, there’s only one to whom I can turn, that’s the Father whom I have flaunted and dishonored. I have to go back to Him. I have to go back bearing my shame and full responsibility for my sin. I have to cast myself on His mercy, forgiveness and love. And I have to tell Him that I’m willing to work to do whatever I need to do to earn my way back. Everybody would have understood that.

It’s very humbling…very, very embarrassing, very shameful, but he says I’m going to do it. And listen to how severe he…he is about his own self-indictment. “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight.” Against heaven is actually eis tu ouranon. I have sinned into heaven. And it may well be that what he means by that is my sins pile up as high as heaven. This may be a reflection of Ezra 9:6, “O, my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to Thee, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens.” He’s not holding anything back. He’s genuinely penitent. He is denying himself fully. This is the stuff of real repentance. He is saying, “My life has been a total disaster. I am facing death and there’s no one to blame but myself. I rebelled, I disobeyed, I wasted my life, I dishonored my father. My sins rise to the very presence of God they stack so high.” This is true repentance, holding back nothing, no excuses, no blame anywhere but himself. And so true penitence matched with true trust in a father’s love and forgiveness starts the sinner back.

He has to go back to save himself from his sin. Empty, alienated, headed for eternal destruction, every sinner whoever repents starts with powerful conviction of his own or her own condition, destitute, empty, headed for eternal death. Every sinner who comes back takes full responsibility for that sin and sees it as an offense that rises as high as heaven. Every sinner who comes back sets his course or her course toward God to come back. And the Jews would have understood that when you come back, God will accept you if you do the work. He had no rights, forfeited them all when he took his part of the estate and liquidated it and squandered it, no rights, no worthiness. There never will be a son again, at least that’s his view, I’m no longer worthy to be called your son, just make me a hired man. Just give me a job and over all the years that it takes I’m going to work to earn back everything I lost. I have no rights, he says, I have no privileges, I lay no claim, I don’t ever expect you to receive me on my terms. Remember now, he’s dead, they had a ceremony when he left, a funeral. That’s why he’s referred to twice by the father as my son who was dead. I don’t expect to live in the home. I don’t expect to be a slave. I don’t even expect a relationship with you, father, I just want to work and I’ll earn my way back. Make me as one of your hired men.

You know, there’s real faith here in God and there’s real repentance. This is the real stuff. And those Pharisees and Sadducees at this point would be applauding. They would be…Yeah, this is right, that’s what he’s got to do. Up to now they’re generally affirming the story. They didn’t like the story at the beginning because dishonoring the father was distasteful to them. They were horrified when the young man left and conducted his life in that way. And even more horrified when he ended up with pigs who were considered, of course, utterly unclean. But since then, they liked the idea that he came to his senses, they like the idea that he’s coming back. And they know there’s no instant reconciliation, that’s not how it’s done. He’s penitent and he trusts his father but he’s going to have to earn his way back. That’s pure Pharisaic theology, along with every other religion in the world. He comes back and says I’ll take my punishment, I’ll take the exclusion from fellowship in the family. I’ll take the distance from my father. I’ll endure the humiliation of lowly work. I’ll take the pain of hard labor for years to restore what I lost. I’ll work my way back until I can be reconciled.

Oh he’s filled with remorse for the past. He’s filled with pain in the present. And he’s looking forward to even more pain in the future as he works for years to earn his way back. Everybody would get it because that was the way they thought it had to be done. All the glitter is off the gold in the far country now, right? All the free wheeling lifestyle has turned to a terrible crushing bondage. All the dreams are nightmares, all the pleasure is pain, all the fun is sorrow, all the self-fulfillment is self-deprivation. The party is over for good. The laughs are silenced, the friends are gone. It’s as bad as it can get and he’s about to die. There’s nowhere to go.

Well this is not say that every sinner who repents gets this bad. That’s not the point. Not every sinner does get that bad. Not every sinner is that wretched. Not every sinner spends his money on harlots. That’s not the point. The point is we want to know what this father is going to do to a sinner who is as bad as it can get because if he acts in grace toward the one who is as bad as possible, then there’s hope for those who aren’t. But the case has to be extreme to make the point. He’s ready to humbly come to his father. He’s ready to confess his sin without excuse. He’s ready to do whatever work he needs to do to come back.

He reminds me of that person in the story Jesus told in Matthew 18 who, you remember, embezzled money and said to the ruler, “Let me work and I’ll earn it all back?” That was the typical way. That’s the typical religious way. You get into God’s family by your works. His thoughts were of a dishonored father and he felt back. His thoughts were on the horror of his own sin and he felt bad. And he was willing to do whatever he was told to do to make restitution. Boy, that…there’s some real genuine repentance in that, no terms.

And so, shameful repentance, that comes to the fourth point in the flow, a shameful reception…a shameful reception. And that in itself may seem a little bit startling to you but you’ll see in a moment. A shameless request, a shameless rebellion, and then a shameful repentance and a shameful reception, this is amazing, this is paradoxical and this is shocking. Verse 20, “So he got up, 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.” At this point, if the Pharisees and scribes were standing on anything, they fell off. This is way beyond their sensibilities. In fact, this is a shameful reception by their assessment.

It starts out simply by saying he got up and came to his father. The son, the sinner, ready to face the shame he deserves. He wants restoration, he wants a new start. He needs his father. He needs his father’s resources. His father can give him life instead of death. He has hope in the goodness and kindness and forgiveness of his father. He’s truly penitent. He doesn’t even want to be a slave, he’ll work as a hired man to be paid to earn his way back. He doesn’t want anything he doesn’t deserve. And he will work to earn it.

That’s pretty much how people feel. That’s how the Jews felt. And the Pharisees and scribes listening to Jesus, along with anybody else at that time who heard this story would say, “Yeah, that’s right.” And you know what? When he does come to his father they would know what the father would do. First of all, the father would not be available. He had been dishonored. His respect had been tarnished in the community. He had been shamed by such an outrageous and rebellious son, and he had brought shame upon himself in some ways by even allowing him to do that. And here comes the son with another outrageous request after he has already cost a great portion of the family its fortune and the father his honor. So the Jews would expect this, they would expect, and this would be what would be done in the Middle East then and perhaps even today in some places, the father would refuse to meet him. The father would make him sit outside the gate of the home somewhere in that village for days in public view. Nobody would take him in so that the whole town could heap scorn on him, so that the whole town could bring the retribution upon his head that he deserved for the way he dishonored his father. Scorn and abuse and slander against him and people mocking him and perhaps even spitting on him. And the son would expect it. He would expect it, he knew it could come and he would sit there and take it. The Pharisees and scribes would expect that he had to be justifiably shamed before everybody as part of the retribution for the shame he had brought upon his father.

And when the father did let him in after a certain period of time, it would be a very cool reception and he would be required to bow low and kiss the father’s feet. Then the father would tell him with a measure of indifference what works he would have to do and for how long he would have to work to demonstrate that his repentance was real. And if he did work as long as he needed to and did all the reparations and all the restitution and paid back in full what he owed, then he could be reconciled and only then. All the rabbis taught that. All the rabbis taught that repentance was work a man does to earn God’s favor when he feels sorry for his sin. That’s what repentance was, you feel sorry for your sin, you want to be restored to God so you do work and by that work you gain favor with God by making restitution. Everybody knew that was the way it was done. And the village would even after they had heaped scorn on him for long enough would let him work there with a measure of dignity.

But that is not what happened. In fact, what happened could only be described as shameful, shameful. What happened while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Now I just got to take that apart a little bit. While he was still a long way off…hadn’t reached the entrance to the village, down some dusty road way out of town…a long way off, his father sees him which is an indication of the father seeking, isn’t it? Everybody would know that. The father looking. They would assume he had been looking a lot very often, that he knew the kind of life that his son was headed toward would end up the way it ended and that he hoped that he would survive it so that he could come back and the father bearing a private pain and a suffering love all alone in his own heart looking, and looking and looking and looking.

It’s daylight, has to be daylight in the story because he sees him a long way off, which means the town is full of people, the town is crowded, the town is busy. It’s a hubbub, it’s bustling with women and children and older people and everybody who’s not out in the field. That means it’s a busy place. And the father is looking and looking.

Why? Very simple, he wants to reach his son before his son reaches the village. He not only wants to initiate the reconciliation as the shepherd did when he found the sheep and the woman when she found the coin, but he wants not just to initiate the reconciliation, listen, he wants to get to his son before his son gets to the village. Why? He wants to protect him from the shame. He wants to protect him from the scorn and the abuse and the slander. He wants to bear the shame, take the abuse. He’s willing to have the people say, “What’s he doing? This man who has been dishonored now dishonors himself by embracing this wretched boy.” But he wants to protect the son from the scorn, the slander, the taunting which was expected, which was just, which was part of the culture, which was expected.

How does he do it? How does he protect the boy? He sees him, it says, when he’s still a long way off from the village, it says he felt compassion. Not just compassion for his past sin, not just compassion for his present filth, and he was in rags and smelled like a pig, but compassion for what he was about to experience. And the word compassion is splanchnizomai, comes from a root that means your intestines, or your bowel or your abdomen. He felt a sick feeling in his stomach when he saw the boy and knew he was headed toward this unleashing of scorn. And so it says he ran.

Now I’ve got to tell you something, folks, Middle Eastern noblemen don’t run. That’s just basic. The word running here literally it says, “And running,” is dromon(?), it is the Greek word that is a technical word for racing in a stadium. He sprinted, is what he did. It’s almost as if he’s impatient, he can’t get there fast enough. This word doesn’t indicate a trot or a shuffle, or a middle-aged scoot. He sprinted. And this is beneath his dignity, folks. O my, if you only knew. I’ll tell you. Kenneth Bailey has made a study of life in the Middle East, having lived there for many, many years, collected material which is rich in its understanding in the Middle East. He writes this, “One of the main reasons why Middle Easterners of rank do not run is that traditionally they all have worn long robes. This is true of both men and women. No one can run in a long robe without taking it up into his or her hands. When this occurs the legs are exposed which is considered humiliating. Clearly…he writes…exposure of the legs was considered shameful. The robes themselves reached to the ground to make sure this didn’t happen. A quaint ruling for the Sabbath states that if a bird crawls under your robes on the Sabbath, you may not catch it.” Now there’s a problem. “Because you might have to expose your leg to do that.” So it says, “The suggested alternative is to sit very quietly and wait for sundown so no one can see and then seize the bird. Further, on the Sabbath you could smooth out your robe to make it look nice but you couldn’t lift it up. If your robe did not reach the ground, and you didn’t have a longer one for the Sabbath, you had to take the hem of it out so that it touched the ground. Also, no one should jump or take long strides. One foot should be on the ground at all times. The reason for this last ruling is to assure that no part of the leg is ever exposed. Rabbi Hizdah(?) while walking between thorns and thistles would lift up his garments to keep them from being torn and he had to offer his followers a defense of this unacceptable exposure of his legs.”

In another tractate, ancient tractate, Abba Hilkiah(?) lifts his robes to avoid thorns while walking in the country. He is asked to explain these mysterious acts which are bewildering to us. Outer robes themselves are called makabedut(??), meaning that which brings me honor. Honor was connected to the robe. Priests making the sacrifices were not allowed to lift their long robes to keep them out of the blood on the pavement, for fear their legs would be exposed.

Listen, this is so much a part of Middle Eastern culture that in Arabic versions of the Bible, the New Testament, there is just an utter unwillingness to have this father run. In some Syriac versions, translations, the father runs. But in the Arabic, the older Arabic translations say he went, he presented himself, he hastened and he hurried. They just can’t put down what the word says which is run. For a thousand years of Arabic translations of this account, a wide range of such phrases were employed, almost as if there was a conspiracy to avoid the humiliating truth of the text that the father ran. The explanation for all of this is simple, the tradition itself identified the father as God and running in public is too humiliating to attribute to a person who symbolizes God.

Finally, in 1860 in what’s called the Vandyke Arabic Bible, the father runs. The worksheets, however, of the translators are still available and the first worksheets indicate they put, “He hurried” only in the last worksheet did they take it, “He ran.”

What is God running for? Why does He bring shame and scorn on Himself for exposing Himself? It’s just shocking. The reason, the Father runs taking the shame to protect the son from taking the shame. He takes the scorn and the mockery and the slander so that his son doesn’t have to bear it. And then when he finally gets there, even more shockingly, he embraced him, literally fell on his neck, just collapsed in a massive hug, buried his head on the neck of his son, stinking and dirty and ragged as he was. And now we know that the father has been suffering silently for the whole time he’s been gone. He’s been suffering quietly, loving that boy while he was gone and now that quiet silent suffering love has become publicly displayed as he runs through the street bringing shame on himself to embrace his son and spare him from shame. Everybody now knows how much that father loves that son. So much that he takes his shame, that he empties himself of any pride, of any rights, of any honor and in a self-emptying display of love brings shame on himself in order to throw his arms around that returning sinner and protect him from being shamed by anyone else. By the time the boy walked into the village, he was a fully reconciled son.

I cannot tell you what shock would go through the listeners. And if that’s not enough, it says, “And he kissed him,” kata phileorepeatedly…repeatedly on the corner of the lips, on the cheek, anywhere. This is amazing. You want to know how eager God is to receive a sinner? He will run through the dirt and bear the shame, He will embrace the sinner with all His strength and plant kisses all over the sinner’s head. Some people think that God is a reluctant Savior. No, He’s not. This is the kiss of affection repeated and repeated. He’s ready to kiss his Father’s feet, but His Father is kissing his head. This is a gesture in the culture of acceptance, friendship, love, forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation, all the above. And all of that before the son says one word. What does he have to say? He’s there, that’s enough to indicate his faith in the father and his repentance. He came knowing he had to cast himself on the father’s mercy and he came knowing he had to be ready to bear the shame. And he came.

This is radical stuff, folks…radical, totally unorthodox. Hence, absolutely unexpected, and this is where the story has its huge surprise. The father condescends, humbles himself out of this deep love for this son, comes all the way down from his house to the dirt of the village, runs through bearing the scorn and the shame, throws his arms around the penitent believing sinner who is coming to him in his filthy unclean rags, that father is doing exactly what Jesus did…exactly what He did. He came down into our village to run the gauntlet and bear the shame and the slander and the mockery to throw His arms around us and kiss us and reconcile with us.

The shock is all this happened without any…what?…works. That’s the shock. It was all grace as the next verse makes clear. “The son understood it and the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven,'” or up to the heaven, “‘and in Your sight I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'” End of speech. But he left something out. What did he leave out? Go back to verse 19, he left out the last one, “Make me as one of your hired men.” Why? Because there’s no need for works. He’s just received grace. This is the jolt. The father is so eager, he receives and embraces and reconciles with the son before the son can say anything. But when he does speak, he leaves out the works part, full repentance, full faith and no works. Why? Because he’s already been received as a son. He’s already been forgiven. He’s already received mercy. He’s already been reconciled. His repentance is real. His faith is true. And his father responds with complete forgiveness and reconciliation. Now he knows I don’t have to work my way back, he embraced me, he kissed me, he took my shame.

Beloved, that’s all the sinner ever has to do is come penitently, trusting in God. And the Savior runs to the sinner asking nothing, throwing His arms of love, mercy and grace around the sinner, kissing him repeatedly because that is the joy of God. The son starts out and so do the listeners with a Jewish understanding of repentance and faith and works. And the son ends up and so do we with a divine understanding of repentance and faith and grace. He’s ready to suffer for his sins. He feels its right. But it’s not necessary, doesn’t belong. The father has come down from the honored place in the mansion, he’s come down the dusty streets in humiliation, he’s borne the shame to forgive, embrace, restore and protect his beloved son. The son offers no plan for work, that would be an insult to grace…an insult to love,….an insult to the shame the father bore. He has just seen grace in its fullness, and so have we. He knows he’s accepted with full love, he’s accepted as a son, no conversation about a hired hand. He will gladly become a son to this loving, forgiving father and leave his future in his father’s hands.

That points, folks, to the experience that each of us has had who are believers. There was a day when we came to the Father and He ran to embrace us. We aren’t worthy of that as bad as we were, as bad as this boy was, there was no limitation, hesitation, hesitance at all on the Father’s part to give full reconciliation. The Father is waiting for some of you and there’s nothing you can do but confess your desperation, nothing you can do but confess your sinfulness, your unworthiness and cast yourself on the grace and the mercy and the forgiveness of a loving God who has come down from His throne on high to this dusty village and has run the gauntlet on the cross to throw His arms around you to protect you from shame and to give you sonship. This is an exuberant God. This is a God who is lavish in His love and lavish in His embrace and His kisses. And as we’re going to see next time, He’s so filled with joy that He throws a party for this one penitent sinner. Let’s pray together.

What can we say? This is to us, our Father, in some ways a presentation that changes how we think of You. We think of You as austere, and serene and sometimes even severe, though calculatingly gracious. And now we find out that You’re over the top with joy, that You’re exuberant, that You’re glad, that You’re happy, that You’re thrilled, that You’re overjoyed when a sinner comes, that You are so eager that You’re looking and looking and then when you get a glimpse of a penitent sinner, You run to bear the shame, protect the returning sinner. Then You lavish him with love and affection and reconciliation. And then You start the party, the heavenly celebration, the ring, the seal, the robe, fattened calf, the singing. Heaven’s joy in the repentance of one sinner, so magnificently pictured for us here. How grateful are we that heaven has had that joy over us? O how we thank You because You are the seeker, we would not be found had You not sought us. We thank You for salvation. We thank You that we have become a part of heaven’s joy. We know there are some who as yet have not come to their senses, not had that soliloquy that honestly evaluates where they are, and not had their will moved to go back to the one they have rebelled against, seek for mercy with a penitent heart. Father, we pray that You’ll move on those hearts and whatever the inner may be thinking about, what he has to do or she has to do to make it right. May they know that just coming with repentant faith they will find that You will run to them, smother them in loving grace and never will there be anything that they must do to earn that reconciliation. This is pure grace and pure glory for you with joy and gratitude, we pray in Your name. Amen.


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/42-202
COPYRIGHT ©2010 Grace to You

The Tale of Two Sons, Part 3

Luke 15:22-24            Code: 42-203

We are studying together the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of Luke, Luke’s record of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, one of the four records, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Luke is a very careful historian and there are elements of his gospel that are unique to him and the fifteenth chapter is one of them. Luke chapter 15, in this chapter Jesus tells three stories, three parables that are indelibly impressed upon our minds by now, wonderfully rich and important for us to learn.

We are looking at the third and final of these three parables which is very familiar to most people, it’s called the story of the prodigal son. I have taken the liberty to break with tradition a little bit and to retitle it, “A Tale of Two Sons, and a Loving Father,” because it’s much more than just a story about one son, it’s a story about both sons and particularly a story about their loving father.

As we come back to the fifteenth chapter of Luke, I just want to say to you that Jesus told this third story obviously in one setting. And that’s really the way the story should be told. But unfortunately we are two-thousand years removed from this culture. We are two-thousand years removed from the attitudes, conventional thinking, the common understanding, conscious and subconscious, of the people who heard Him tell the story. And so we are unable because we don’t think the way they think to grasp its depth of meaning initially. And so I’m here week by week to sort of fill in the blanks and to help you to think the way people thought at that time so you can extract the meaning from it. The upside is that in the end you’re going to understand the story. The downside is it’s going to take a while. And I hate to have a week in between each segment, that’s almost like cruel and unusual punishment. But maybe down the way, and I apologize for that, maybe down the way there will be a time when I’ll take a few hours, you know, who knows, maybe some Sunday evening or something and just retell the whole story in one setting for those of you who maybe have found it difficult to piece it all together.

One other apology, and that is the fact that I have to review a little bit each time because I don’t want to bring somebody into the story who hasn’t been here. It is possible that someone doesn’t come every week, I can’t conceive of such behavior, but I’ve heard of it and so in deference to that kind of behavior which may or may not exist in this church, I feel the need to fill in what has gone before.

Now by way of introduction, our Lord Jesus was, of course, the master of story tellers, unequaled with profound connections to spiritual truth, divine truth. And Jesus’ stories in their essence were conveying supernatural information. They were conveying divine revelation. Even though they have a spiritual intent, they are real stories. Even though they deal with the Kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of God, the realm of the divine, they are natural stories that relate to all of us and to common human experience. Jesus was a realist, that’s for sure. And I might say as a footnote, I am a realist. I like things that are real. I have very little interest in fantasy worlds of any kind. I have very little interest, almost no interest at all in art that isn’t real. I like music that is consistent with the laws of music. I’m a realist and I think I learned that from Jesus. Jesus never made up stories about worlds that didn’t exist. Now I don’t want to argue or debate the genius of J.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis and the kinds of fanciful worlds that create and within those fanciful worlds there are spiritual implications. But I’m simply saying Jesus was a realist, He never made up any stories about worlds that didn’t exist. He never had any stories that contained alien beings. He never had stories with talking animals or creatures with supernatural powers. He never told stories about life and conflict in some other place in some other time and some other dimension of existence. All His stories were about real people in real places in real life in common experiences that everybody at His time in the world and His place would fully understand. In fact, there are no other world fantasies in the Bible except for visions are spiritual where God occasionally revealed His truth through some spiritual vision. All the stories told in the Bible, all the record of illustrations that are given by Jesus and other teachers in the Bible are always true to fact and true to natural experience.

It is perhaps important to note that false religions are almost all born out of myth and fantasy. Teachers of Scripture and Jesus Himself only speak of a real world. The Bible then is a real world book, stories about life, stories about people, things you can get a handle on and understand because they’re part of your own experience. Even when Jesus told stories to hide things, and sometimes He did. Sometimes His stories were intended to become riddles that never were solved. Sometimes His stories were intended to conceal. And when He did that He was by doing that pronouncing a judgment on His audience. He was saying that your unbelief and your indifference to the truth has reached a point where I’m not going to explain this to you anymore. And He would speak a story and they would not know what it meant and He would not tell them. And then later He would explain it to His disciples. But even then, even when He was endeavoring to conceal, the story was comprehensible. The story was clear. The story was simple. It could be easily understood and it was normal and natural and real and consistent with their experience every day. They just didn’t know the meaning of it unless He explained it. And when He didn’t explain it, it was a kind of judgment on them.

Now you would assume that if there was any group of people that Jesus would want to pronounce a judgment on, it would be the Pharisees and the scribes. They were the religious architects of the populous religion of Israel at the time of Jesus. They were the power people in terms of religion. They had the influence because they plied their religious system through the local synagogues of which there were many in every town and village. And they had pretty much captured the people and captured them to their form of legalism, that you work your way to salvation and you work your way to God by your good deeds, your morality and your devotion to religious ceremony and ritual. They saw Jesus as the enemy because Jesus came preaching forgiveness by grace. They saw Jesus as a threat to their system. And so they went on a massive campaign to discredit Jesus throughout the land of Israel and the basic bottom line slogan of their campaign was, “He does what He does by the power of Satan.” That was their mantra. And that is what they tried to convince the people was true concerning Jesus. He was not of God as He claimed. He was really of the devil. And one of the proofs that He was of the Devil was He hung around with all the people who were outcasts, all the people who were tax collectors, bought tax franchises so they could extort money out of their own people, that kind of traitor was the lowest of the low. And the people who were tax collectors gathered around Him and so did the general category of riff-raff comes under the word sinners. They were outcasts. They had been put out of the synagogue and they were dispossessed of any participation in social life. And because Jesus spent so much time with tax collectors and sinners, this to them was evidence that He was of Satan because He was always hanging around Satan’s people. And so that’s what they told everybody. There was a sense in which they liked to see Jesus in that setting because then they had more grist for their little propaganda mill. And that’s how chapter 15 begins, doesn’t it? All the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near to Jesus to listen to Him and so the Pharisees and scribes who are watching say this man receives sinners and eats with them.

There it is, folks. He’s satanic, look at Him, He’s with Satan’s people, that’s who He spends His time with. That was their indictment of Jesus that launched this chapter. From verse 3 on clear to verse 32 He answers this charge and He answers it in a most profound and powerful and rich way. If I could sum up His answer, take it sort of out of the parable form, it might go like this, this would be what His answer is in conceptual language. “Gentlemen, I understand you’re accusing Me of eating with sinners, with the hamartolos, the lowlifes. You are correct. That is exactly what I do and I do not merely allow them to eat with Me, I do not only invite them but like a good shepherd searching for a lost sheep,” parable number one, “or like a good woman looking for a lost coin,” parable number two, “or like a good father running through the village to welcome a lost son, I go out with costly love seeking these sinners whom you so despise. In fact, I am ready to pay any price to win them and to bring them home to eat with Me, to live with Me, and I will celebrate their homecoming.” Now that’s conceptually His answer.

But He doesn’t give them that, He gives them stories that are unforgetable in which this becomes crystal clear. The whole point of it is this, God is interested in recovering lost sinners and you’re not. How far from God are you? The whole of history, the whole of human history since the Fall is about recovering lost sinners, that’s God’s chief business. That’s His highest joy. That’s why in verse 7 after the little story about the man who found a lost sheep, it says there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than 99 who don’t. And in verse 10, there’s joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Don’t you get it? How far are you from God? I am in the business of doing God’s work because God’s work is recovering lost sinners which causes all of heaven to celebrate. They were absolutely dead wrong. They said, “Look, He hangs around those lost sinners, proves He’s satanic.” He says, “I hang around those lost sinners because I am divine and I am doing the work of God and the work of God is to recover lost sinners.”

Well the third story is really the main story, the first two are just kind of preludes. The spiritual implications in this third story are just amazing, profound. And that’s why we have to fill in so much because we don’t think like a first-century Pharisee or scribe. We don’t even think like a first-century common peasant villager, which is the setting for the story. We would miss so much, you would just get the bare bones, kind of the bare structure without understanding some of the experiences, some of the nuances, some of the attitudes, some of the conscious and subconscious elements of their thinking. But when you understand that, and that’s why I’m trying to fill it in, and I apologize for kind of going back over it, but that’s the only way we can stay in the flow of the story, but when you understand all these nuances, then the story just takes on a life that it never would have otherwise. All of a sudden you really see what salvation is in this story because in this story, talk about theology, in this story we see sin, unworthiness, repentance, incarnation, atonement, forgiveness, reconciliation, love, peace, sonship, blessing and above all we see saving grace. You would expect in a story about salvation or a presentation of salvation to have all of those components, and they’re all here…they’re all here. And that’s what we’ve been looking at for the last several weeks.

Let’s catch up on the story, beginning in verse 11. “A man had two sons,” they’re the three participants right there, a man and two sons. It’s not a story about a prodigal son, it’s a story about a man and two sons. That’s pretty clear from the beginning. One of the sons is younger, and the other is older, obviously. And the father is the central character. The story starts out looking at the younger son, ends up looking at the older son and all of it overlaps in this incredible story. They all interact with each other and yet each is very, very clearly defined.

Now one of the dominant elements of the culture of the first century in Israel was the shame/honor perspective. Above everything, you did what you could do to maintain honor. There was a conventional kind of code of honor. There was a conventional kind of wisdom. There was a conventional attitude. There was an expected kind of conduct that related to honor and shame. At all costs you avoided anything that would bring shame upon you, so you always endeavored to act within the conventions and the expectations of the culture…and they had a very, very highly developed and sophisticated moral code. And I’m not just talking about theology or their view of Scripture, I’m just talking about all the implications of their religion had developed into a very sophisticated moral code of conduct. And people wanted to live within those confines so that they would be viewed with honor and not with shame. You avoided shame at any cost and you pursued honor at all costs. This is central to ancient Middle Eastern life. And by the way, it is still a part of the Middle East even today. Any violation of the cultural norm was deemed shameful. That was the worst thing that could ever happen to somebody.

So I’ve kind of constructed the story around the concept of shame and honor. In fact, each of the points so far has contained the word “shame” because as it starts out, it’s a very shameful story. And you can be sure that as this story unfolds, there’s just one electrifying shock after another that hits these Pharisees and scribes. They are the architects of the honor/shame culture. They have the highest and most sensitive attitudes toward this and so whenever their sensibilities are assaulted, they’re going to roll their legalistic eyes and shake their legalistic heads in incredulity at the conduct that Jesus describes.

It all begins with the younger son, making a shame, shameful request. He comes to his father, verse 12, he says, “Give me the share of the estate that falls to me. Give me my half of this estate.” He is a product of his father but he has no relationship to his father at all…none. Father brought him into being, that’s it. He has no relationship to him beyond that because the only way that the Jew listening to this story would understand that kind of a request would be the son is saying, “Father, you need to be dead.” Cause nobody gets the inheritance in that situation until the father is dead, since you’re not dying, could you just act like you’re dead? Get out of my way, get out of my life, give me what’s mine. He wants to eliminate any of his father’s influence, control, scrutiny, restraint, requirements, disciplines, expectations, even knowledge. I don’t want anything to do with you, I wish you were dead, just give me what’s mine. He is thoroughly thankless, selfish, has no concern for his father’s honor, and that would be the first gasp.

What son would ever do that? First of all the Ten Commandments are clear, Honor your father and your mother if you want to live a long life. I mean, that’s like suicide. What son would do that? That’s the first shock. And why is he asking? He’s impatient, he wants his estate, he wants to turn it into cash fast, which Jesus says he does in the story down in verse 13, “He gathered everything together” is a Greek phrase meaning he turned it into cash and which means he sold short, dumped it just to get the cash because he was in a hurry to sin. He wanted to sin every way he could, every desire to be fulfilled, every lust pandered to. He wanted to be as far away from his father, away from scrutiny where nobody knew him, where nobody judged him, where nobody disciplined him. Give me my estate, I’ll turn it into cash and I’ll go do what I want to do without having to answer to you or anybody else that knows me. This is an outrageous request, blatant, shameful dishonor of the father.

In the Middle Eastern culture, the father would be expected to slap him across the face, say, “You insolent child.” The father would display public anger in order to maintain his own honor. The father would then act disciplinary toward his son, doing something to discipline that kind of attitude. And then the father would refuse to give him what he so shamefully requests.

There’s a footnote. The people listening to this story would be saying, “By the way, where is the older brother here?” Because in that culture the older brother, the one who had the right to inherit the estate, the one who really stood alongside the father, he had one great responsibility in the family and in the culture, and that was to protect the honor of his father. Where is he? And also, as a responsible older brother, to do something about protecting the well-being of his brother. And what we find out here is he couldn’t care less about his brother’s well-being and he couldn’t care less about his father’s honor because he isn’t even there. But in the minds of the audience, they would be saying, “Where’s the older brother? Hey, the story’s got to bring the older brother in, the older brother has a responsibility, where is he?” The older brother was to be the mediator. The older brother was to be the reconciler. The older brother was to be the protector of his father’s honor and hopefully of his brother’s well-being. The only conclusion is, the older brother has no love for his brother, the older brother has no love for his father.

The shameless request, the shameful request leads to a shameless rebellion. He takes what is his, verse 13, turns it into cash. Goes on a journey to a distant country, a Gentile land which, of course, was a horrible thing to do. He squanders his complete estate with loose living and later on it says with harlots, prostitutes. Literally waste the whole thing. That’s where the word prodigal comes from, it means waste. And when he spent everything, verse 14, a severe famine occurred. His fault he spent the money, not his fault the famine came, but that’s life. Bad timing, he would say…bad timing. So there his condition is as bad as it can be, he’s as low as you can go. He’s as bad as it gets. You can’t get worse than this. In the mind of a Pharisee, to dishonor your father was at the head of the list and then to turn your estate into cash, which was a stupid economic move, would show how foolish you really were, and then to go take it and just spend it on immoral living wastefully with nothing to show for it, shows the depth of this sin. And then to reach the level where you’ve exhausted all of it and have nowhere to turn, now it gets even worse. He hires himself out in verse 15, he glues himself is what it means in the Greek. He glues himself to some Gentile citizen in the country which probably meant he hung on the guy until the guy had to get rid of him so told him to go into a field and feed pigs. Well for a Jew to feed pigs, pretty serious fall, unclean animals. And when he gets out there to feed the pigs, nobody gives him anything so whatever he expected the man to give him for feeding the pigs, the man didn’t give him. So what’s he finally ending up doing? It says, “He would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods the swine were eating.” He gets in the crush of the pigs trying to eat the slop to survive. At this point, you talk about the eyes rolling?: This is as bad as it gets. This is as bad as it can possibly be. He is defiled morally. He is defiled economically. He is defiled socially. He is defiled relationally. This is the collapse of a whole life. He’s not on skid row, he’s through the skid, he’s at the bottom.

This leads from a shameful request and a shameful rebellion to a shameful repentance, verse 20…or verse 17, “He came to his senses.” That’s good, that’s where repentance always starts, when you start thinking clearly about what your situation is. He came to his senses, disastrous deadly condition, nowhere to go, has no hope, has no resources. He’s dying. So he starts to think about his father. “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread and I’m dying here with hunger?” Now this tells us a little about the father.

Hired men were the lowest on the social structure. They were day laborers. You had land owners and then you had servants who were basically employed in the household, they were part of the family. They lived there, they were cared for, fed, housed, all their needs were met. And then you had the hired people who just showed up in the city square in the morning and hoped somebody hired them. If they didn’t work, they didn’t eat. They were the low. They were the poor. He says about his father that even hired men have more than enough bread, which says his father was generous, he paid more than they needed. He took good care of them which tells us about the generosity of his father. He knows his father to be generous. He knows him to be kind even with the poor. Here I am and I’m dying with hunger. He confesses the true plight that he is in, he’s at the bottom. “I will get up and go to my father, say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and in your sight, I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me one of your hired men.” Ah, for the first time the Pharisees and scribes are saying, “That’s what he needs to do.” They would affirm this, yes sir, because in their shame/honor culture the only way you can get your honor back was to go back and work for restitution. So you come to your senses, you say, “Wow, made horrible mistakes, I’m in this terrible mess, I’m going to go back, I’m going to plead to my father whom I know to be a good man because he overpays even the hired people so they have more than enough bread. I’m going to go back and I’m going to work and I’m going to work as long as it takes to earn back the whole estate that I have lost. And then when I’ve repaid my father everything, then my father will reconcile with me.” And that was a true Jewish rabbinic understanding of repentance. Repentance was a process by which you earned back what you had lost and you gained the right to be reconciled by your work.

He was ready. He was ready. And then in verse 20 we moved from a shameful repentance to a shameful reception. When he comes back, instead of his father protecting his honor, instead of the father saying, “Whoa, wait a minute, whew…you say my son’s in town? Let him sit there for five days. My son who shamed me, my son who dishonored me, dishonored himself, dishonored God who piled his sins as high as heaven, this wretched boy, you say he’s there, you say he smells like pigs? You say he stinks like hogs? You say he’s sitting there in rags? Let him sin, let him sit and think about what he did while I work out a plan of restitution, how he can earn it back and be reconciled.” That’s what they expected the father to say. They were ready for that. The father’s going to protect his honor. The father eventually after a few days is going to kick the door open and say, “You can now bring him in.” And he’s going to keep him at arm’s length and he’s going to rebuke him severely and he’s going to punish him and he’s going to tell him what his required restitution is and he’s going to tell him how much he’ll pay him and how long it’s going to take to earn it before he can ever come back to the house. He can’t be a servant in the house. He can’t be a son in the house. But he can be a hired man, work there day in and day out until he earns it all back. And if he’s faithful to the end, he can be reconciled. That’s what they would expect.

And here comes the real jolt, verse 20, the shameful reception. “So he got up, came to his father. While he was still a long way off,” he hasn’t even gotten to town yet. “His father saw him, felt compassion for him, ran, embraced him and kissed him.”

What? This is ridiculous, this is absolutely bizarre. This guy has had enough dishonor, has enough shame heaped upon him by his son, now he’s heaping shame upon himself by the way he treats the son. This is completely non-conventional…completely unexpected…absolutely shocking. For one moment there they thought the story might make sense. Who is this? What kind of father does this? What kind of father empties himself of all remaining honor? What kind of father condescends?

His father had been sitting in his house with a private heartache, with a private love, private pain, private suffering, waiting for the boy to come home. That’s why he was looking. And all of a sudden it becomes public pain, and public suffering, and public love as he sees him afar off and goes running through town. You remember what I told you last week? Middle Eastern noblemen don’t run anywhere, it’s beneath their dignity and also, as you well know, and I read you a whole lot of material on it, you don’t run because if you do you pull your robe up and you have to show your legs and that is shameful.

Why is he running? Cause he knows when the son reaches the town, he knows what the town is going to do. They’re going to heap scorn on him, they’re going to mock him. They’re going to ridicule him. They’re going to taunt him. And they would be expected to do that, it’s just and it’s fair. And he’s got to sit there for days and take it. But instead, the father wants to protect him from ever being taunted, ever being mocked, ever being rebuked, he runs through, takes the shame that they would heap on him for doing that so that he can catch the son before he ever reaches the gate and embrace him in his arms and reconcile with him and walk into town, having reconciled the son. The father then condescends to take the shame the son deserves. He bears in his own body the shame of the son.

Wow. That’s exactly what the gospel is. The sinner comes back, he’s got a plan…I’ll work it off…I’ll work it off…I’ll work it off. He’s ready to face the shame. He’s ready to face the older brother. He’s ready to face the father. He’s ready to face the village and all the scorn and the rebuke. And God comes rushing down, God in Christ, reconciling the sinner, runs the gauntlet, takes the shame, takes the rebuke, takes the taunt, take the mockery. They spit on Him. They abused Him. They beat Him. They crucified Him. He goes through, as it were, the dusty world in order to embrace that son and save him from the shame he really deserves. That’s the gospel. And the son sees in the action of the father, look at it, he felt compassion for him. He ran. He embraced him. And then he kept kissing him repeatedly on the forehead, on the cheek, on the side of the mouth, as Middle Eastern men do. Loving lavish affection to the penitent, this is the incarnation, folks. This is God in Christ embracing the sinner having borne his shame and He pours out love upon him. Complete forgiveness. Complete reconciliation. And the son says in verse 21, “I’ve sinned against heaven and in your sight, I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.” But what he doesn’t say is, “Make me one of your hired men,” because he knows he doesn’t have to work off anything, it’s all just been given to him by grace, right? That would be an insult. That would be a blasphemy of his father’s affection. And he now realizes it’s not about the money, it’s not about the estate, it’s about the relationship. It wasn’t the money that broke my father’s heart, it was the rejection. And a broken relationship can’t be fixed with money. A broken relationship can only be fixed when the offended person is willing to be reconciled. And God, the offended person, who is continually offended by the sinner is willing to be reconciled. And if the sinner will come and trust Him and ask for mercy, and come with a repentant heart, God will reconcile on the spot at that moment with the sinner apart from works by pure grace. The son is stunned by the suffering love of the Father. The son has to be stunned by the fact that the father has come down and borne his shame in his place. He is stunned by the momentary immediate forgiveness and the mercy of his father.

If you think in the story the son would be stunned, just look at the Pharisees and the scribes shaking their heads saying, “What in the world is this?” Because they don’t get it. The father is God and the son is the sinner, and this is what God does. He runs to redeem penitent sinners who come to Him for mercy. And Jesus explaining exactly why He spends His time with those people. It is God in Christ bearing our shame to protect us from Himself. It was the father who came and poured out his love and said the terms of reconciliation have been met. What are they? You came, you repented, you asked for mercy. Salvation by grace alone apart from works.

A shameless request, shameless rebellion, a shameful repentance, and a shameful reception by that father in their minds, led to a shameless reconciliation. Let’s come to verse 22. This is the last little section about the father. “The father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe, put it on him, put a ring on his hand, sandals on his feet,” we’ll stop there for a minute.

And here again the eyes roll. The father has no shame. He did a shameful run and now he’s shamelessly heaps blessing on this reconciled son. They wouldn’t understand this at all, just absolutely mind boggling that a father wouldn’t be more protective of his own honor. He gives him three things, a robe, a ring, and sandals. They all understood the implications of that. All of them did. They would have expected that he would say to him at best, “Look, okay, I want to forgive you, maybe it’s not going to take a lifetime of work, but I want to watch you for a year or two years and see what’s going on in your life and see if you’ve really repented and if you really mean that you want a restored relationship.” But there’s none of that. There is this immediacy. The father says to his slaves, and the picture would be this, the father comes out of the house, comes running down the dusty street in town and along behind him are the servants who are running to figure out where he’s going and why he’s running the way he is. And they know he shouldn’t be doing that, but they’re coming along because they’re his servants from his household. And finally he reaches the son, he embraces his stinking garments and he kisses him all over the place. And he turns to the servants who by then are huffing and puffing along with him. And he says, “Quickly, tachu, immediately, hastily, speedily with no delay, get that best robe.”

Humph…no father would act like that because, you know, every…every nobleman had a best robe. I mean, you’ve got one, you know, when you’re going to go to the fancy place, maybe you pull the old tux out or whatever the super suit is that you wear for special occasions, big occasions. You ladies all have a special garment that you wear for special occasions. If you don’t, you go buy one because the occasion calls for it. Well the families in those days had a special robe and it was the robe that was the most beautiful robe, the most finely crafted. In fact, it says actually that in the Greek. I mean, it even calls it a stole tain(?) proton, which means the first ranking garment, the first ranking stolen, stole, robe. And he puts it on him. And then he puts a ring on his hand. They would all understand that. That would again be mind boggling because a ring was a signet ring and it had on the ring the family crest or seal so that when you stamped your ring into the melted wax on a document, it was an authentication of that document and it had authority. Wherever you stamped that then you were bound by that. And the hired men went barefoot and servants went barefoot and only masters and sons wore shoes, sandals. They understand what he’s saying. This is the full honor of sonship. He’s giving him honor by putting this robe on him.

By the way, the robe belonged to the father, it was the robe that belonged to the most prominent member of the family to wear in the most prominent setting at the most prominent event. The father is about to call for the greatest celebration that’s ever occurred in that family and in that village and he’s giving away the garment that he would normally wear. This is a way of saying to the son, “Everything I have is yours.” This is a token of saying, “The best that I have is yours. The best of everything I have is yours,” as symbolized in the robe. It’s even more than that, you now have become fully restored as a son. It’s as if the king passes his robe to the prince, another self-emptying act by the father, clothing the son in his own glorious garment. No father would ever do that. Again, this father just seems not to be at all concerned about his own honor. But see, they don’t understand that God’s honor comes in his loving grace and forgiveness. All they know about is His works and Law. He came in stinking, he came in rags, he came unclean and nobody was ever going to see him that way again. That’s the picture. He came with nothing. He didn’t come with a suitcase. He came in his own stinking clothing. He had barely been able to arrive. He had nothing. That’s how the sinner comes. That’s how we all came cause God justifies the ungodly, Romans 4:5 says, those with nothing, those who are just wretched and nothing else.

And this is precisely the kind of thing Jesus is doing with these sinners. This is the kind of thing, this is the very thing the Pharisees and scribes refuse to see as the activity of God. They refuse to see it as the work of God. But it is the work of God. It’s the work of God to give everything He has to the penitent sinner immediately, not after some time gap but immediately.

And then the father in doing this practices what is called historically, it’s an old word, usufruct. You may have heard it if you ever worked in the financial world. Usufruct is a term used to speak of the right to exercise control over property that’s been irrevokably given to the older son. Even though the father has already irrevokably given that part of the estate to the older son who’s still in the home, the father can apply the right of usufruct to use that at his own discretion since he is still the patriarch of the family. He has authority to do that. And so essentially what he does is lay claim to all that belongs potentially to the older son and say it’s all yours. And they would be saying, “What in…how could you reward this kid for the way he behaved and tapped the stuff that belongs to the guy who stayed home?” This again is just beyond their comprehension. But that’s exactly what the father says. That older son would have worn that robe. That older son probably would have worn that robe first at his wedding cause that’s when that robe would come out. That was the single greatest event that could happen in a family, the wedding of the older son. He would have worn it but now the younger brother has it. That older son should have been able to act in behalf of his father by having his father’s ring and therefore being able to sign all the documents authentically that related to the possession of the family. This doesn’t make any sense. He don’t reward somebody who does that. You reward this guy who stayed home, right? Wrong.

Quickly, without hesitation, not even a blink, put the robe on him, nobody will ever see him in rags again. And by the way, he doesn’t say to the younger son, “Why don’t you go home and take a bath. After hugging you I come to the conclusion that this is a great necessity.” He doesn’t say that. He treats him like a prince. He says, look what he says to his slaves, “You get the robe and put it on him, you take him, you clean him, treat him like a king, treat him like a prince. You put the ring on his hand. You put the sandals on his feet.” It’s like royalty. And, of course, again this is just beyond imagination. The message is clear, full reconciliation, full rights, privileges, authority, honor, respect, responsibility as a son.

The whole crowd would just be stunned with incredulity. This is just completely opposite the way they thought. And then not only are you giving him the robe which essentially gives him the honor in the family, but you’re giving him the ring which gives him the authority to act with regard to all that the family possesses, all the assets of the family, all the treasures of the family, all the possessions of the family can be moved around by whoever has the stamp. Wow. He has authority to act in behalf of his father. He has authority to act in the place of his father. He has authority to dispense all the family resources.

There’s no waiting period here. There’s no test period. There’s no reentry time. There’s no limit on the privileges. This is full-blown sonship at the highest level. And it comes swiftly. All of this should have gone to the older son. Sandals on his feet, a sign that he’s the master now, he’s not a hired man, he’s not even a slave, he’s the master. He has authority. He has honor. He has responsibility. He has respect. He is a fully-vested son who can act in the place of his father and who has a right to access all the family treasures. Wow.

What’s the message here? Grace, triumphs over sin at its worse. The story isn’t saying that every sinner reaches the level he did, but when sinners do, grace still triumphs. This is a completely new idea, you have to understand, right? Completely new idea…undeserved forgiveness, undeserved sonship, undeserved salvation, undeserved honor, respect, responsibility, fully vested son without any restitution, without any works. This kind of lavish love, this kind of grace bestowed upon a penitent trusting sinner is a bizarre idea in a legalistic mind.

And then the attention focuses from the son to the father. And there is a shameless rejoicing, verse 23. The father holds nothing back, he knows no shame. He calls for a party to end all parties. “Bring the fattened calf, kill it, let’s eat and celebrate for this son of mine was dead, has come to life again. He was lost and has been found. And they began to celebrate.”

Every family that had animals, if they were a noble family like this one obviously, and had some means, would have a special calf in that day would fatten. The word fatten, by the way, in English…the Greek equivalent in the original text is the word for corn or grain. This is grain-fed veal. This is prime veal. And they kept that calf around for such a thing as the wedding of the older brother or some very significant dignitary who came, some monumental event which would call for a massive mega feast. This was it…this was it. This is…this is the biggest event that has ever happened in the history of the family or the village from the perspective of the father. This is it. And here we have the picture of heaven, don’t we, rejoicing…just one lost sinner comes home and God puts on a mega feast. Bring that fattened calf, that corn-fed prime veal, kill it. And all that butchery would go on getting ready for dinner later that evening. The animal had been long before selected, fed, cared for, kept for this special occasion. Meat, by the way, was rarely eaten in the Middle East in Jesus’ day, very rarely eaten. Only on special occasions did you eat meat at all and only on very, very special occasions did you eat the fattened calf. But this was a celebration to end all, “Let us eat and celebrate…let us eat and be merry.” There was a fool earlier in the gospel of Luke, remember, who said he just wanted to eat, drink and be merry and his soul was required that night of him. He was a fool. He celebrated his own possessions. If you’re going to celebrate, celebrate the redemptive work of God. That’s a legitimate celebration.

By the way, a calf like this could feed up to 200 people. And it should, because everybody in the village would be there. It would be an insult to the villagers to have a whole calf and not invite everybody. And it had to be eaten at one sitting. They didn’t preserve those things. Everybody come on and join the party. That’s back to verse 6 when the sheep was brought home on the shoulders of the shepherd, he called his friends and neighbors and said, “Rejoice with me, I found my sheep.” And in verse 9, when the lady found the coin, she called her friends and neighbors, “Rejoice with me, I found the coin.” And the father when he found the son, “Rejoice with me, I found my son.” Verse 24 he says, “The son of mine was dead.” You remember, I told you, when the son left they would have had…what?…a funeral. It was as if he was dead. He had wished his father dead and so they treated him as if he were dead. The one that was dead has come to life. Who brought him to life? Who gave him his life back? Did he earn it back? No. His father gave it back with all the rights and privileges. He was lost but who made him to be found? Who embraced him and kissed him and made him fully a son? His father did, they began to celebrate.

This is not so much the celebration of the son. This is the celebration of the father. The feast honors the father. It honors the father for what he has done. It is the father who gave him back his life. It is the father who made him a son. It is the father who restored him to blessing by merciful forgiveness and gracious love. And the whole village comes to rejoice with this shameless father who celebrates his own grace and his own mercy. This father has exhibited unheard of kindness, unheard of goodness, sacrificial love, sacrificial grace. The son who was dead, literally the Greek says, is up and alive. The one who was lost is found. The son has new life, new status and new attitude. He has for the first time a real relationship with a loving, forgiving father who has made him heir of everything he possesses to whom he has been reconciled and to whom he will eagerly give his love, his service in response. The son entrusts his life to the father and the father entrusts his resources to the son. The son is finally home. He’s in the father’s house. He’s in the family. He has full access to all the riches of the father. And he joins with everyone in celebrating the greatness of this event.

I love it, it says at the end of verse 24, “They began to be merry.” Because this party never ends. That’s what heaven’s all about. It’s the endless celebration of the grace of a loving Father to penitent, believing sinners. That’s what eternity is. Heaven’s joy will never end when a sinner comes home.

In conclusion, what are the lessons? I don’t spell them all out to you because I think you can figure them out as we go. But just a few reminders. God receives the penitent sinner who comes repenting and believing. “Him that comes to Me I’ll never cast out.” There is mercy with Him. There’s a throne of grace where we can go and obtain mercy. God gives forgiving grace that is lavish. God replaces the filthy stinking rags of the sinner with His own robe of righteousness. As the prophet Isaiah said, “He covers us with a robe of righteousness.” God gives the child of His love forgiveness, honor, authority, respect, responsibility, full access to all His treasures and the full right to represent Him. We come bringing to the people around us the treasures of God as His ambassadors. God is almost impatient in His desire to give. He runs to embrace. He runs to kiss. Quickly put the robe, quickly give him the ring, quickly get the shoes. He wants all that He has to be given to the repentant sinner and He wants to start the party immediately and call all who live in heaven to come around and celebrate Him as the reconciling Father who welcomes a penitent son. God treats the sinner as if he was royalty, making him an heir and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ. And God holds a heavenly celebration for every wretched sinner who comes to Him and it never, ever ends.

Listen, in conclusion, God rejoices not because the world’s problem of sin have been solved. Heaven is not up there saying, “Well, we’d like to have a party up here but so much is going on that’s not good, we can’t really start the party until things get a lot better than they are now.” They’re not up there saying, “There’s so much suffering in the world, there’s so much trauma, there’s so much pain, there’s so much disappointment, it’s such a troubled world. Wow, we’d like to have a party but we just can’t get on the upside of this whole problem.” No, and God doesn’t hold off the party for some big event when ten-thousand people get saved in some stadium somewhere. No. The party starts when how many sinners repent? One. And every time…and every time and the party for every sinner never ends because it’s a party in honor of God, not the sinner. And the more and more, day in and day out as the Lord saves people, the party is extended and extended and enriched and enriched and the angels and the redeemed saints are praising God for being such a gracious and reconciling Father.

And I guess the question to ask us is…what contribution do we make to the party? First of all, if you’re not a Christian, this is a time to receive the love of the Father who waits for you to return. But for those of us who are Christians, are we pursuing the joy of God by doing everything we can to take this glorious gospel of forgiveness to the people we meet? Some people never understand this. And they’re religious people who don’t get it. The Pharisees hated the idea that the Father treated a sinner this way. And we’re going to see their reaction next time. Let’s pray together.

Father, if this is such powerful truth imbedded in this great story, we thank You for it, thank You for how enriching it is to us and what it tells us is about You. We love You. We love You more when we know these things. We see You in a fresh way. It’s so incarnational. It’s so real. It’s life. Thanks for telling us this story not in a fantasy, not in some mystical other world, not with things which we can’t identify which doubly removes us from understanding, but in simple ways that we can grasp. Thank You for being the God You are. We praise You. We shall praise You forever and ever and ever in Your presence in heaven. We’ll be there at the party, celebrating such a reconciling God who is in the end honored by being willing to bear shame. And isn’t that always the way? None of us will ever be honored by You until we have confronted the shame of our sin.

Father, thanks for a great morning and a wonderful time of worship. We are overjoyed as we think about the fact that it was the birth of Christ when You first left Your home and came down to the dusty road, to the village where we live, this world, and You took the shame, You ran the gauntlet, You soiled Yourself, as it were, with the dust of this world’s suffering in order that You can embrace us and through Your cross take our shame and make us Your sons. It all began for us here at Bethlehem. No wonder we celebrate, no wonder we rejoice. May our joy be true and real as we express our love to You. We thank You. Amen.


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/42-203
COPYRIGHT ©2010 Grace to You

The Tale of Two Sons, Part 4

Luke 15:25-28            Code: 42-204

Normally on a Sunday when we celebrate the Lord’s birth, I redirect myself away from whatever series we’re doing and give a special Christmas message, but there were many who prevailed upon me to continue our unfolding story of the parable of Luke 15. And so that’s what we’re going to do this morning. Turn in your Bible to the fifteenth chapter (baby crying)…there’s one complaint already. I regret that. I hope there aren’t very many more. But for those of you who are guests with us today, you’ll accept my apologies. We go verse-by-verse through the Word of God and we are in the middle of such a compelling and dramatic story that we would find it very difficult to put it off for a couple of weeks, we’d lose so much ground. And so Luke 15 is our text and back to the story that Jesus told, the parable starting in verse 11 and running to the end of the chapter. And with our message, this morning and next Sunday morning, we will bring this story to a conclusion.

It is a simple story. Jesus told it on one occasion but for us it’s taken about five or six to get it down. And that’s because we have to fill in so many cultural gaps and we have to learn how people at the time thought and responded in order to capture the meaning of it, it’s been so very, very rich. It is known as the story of the prodigal son, but it is really a story about three people who are identified at the beginning in verse 11. Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons.” It is the tale of two sons and a loving father and in a sense it is the story of salvation. It is the story of why God came into the world, why He was born in Bethlehem, why He entered humanity. He came to bring us salvation. He came to bring us forgiveness. He came to bring us reconciliation. In the end, He came to bring us joy and to bring Himself joy.

So many of the songs that are sung at Christmas celebrate joy…the joy of salvation. Not only our joy in salvation, but the joy of God. Not only the joy of being reconciled but the joy of being the reconciler. As much joy as we experience on earth because of our salvation in Christ, there is far greater joy around the throne of God in heaven as God Himself rejoices over the salvation of sinners. That is the theme of this whole chapter. And in fact there are three stories in the chapter. You probably know the first one is about a shepherd who lost a sheep and found it and had a celebration. The celebration is indicated in verse 7, “Joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” The second story is about a woman who lost a very valuable coin and found it. Called her friends to rejoice and in the same way, says verse 10, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

When the angel said on that Christmas morning to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you good new of a great joy,” it was exactly so. Joy not only for sinners saved, but joy for saving God. All of heaven celebrates the salvation of one sinner. And I ended our message last week by saying God is not waiting for the end of sin and suffering in the world to start the party in heaven. God is not waiting for some great event in which a million people are saved or a hundred thousand or ten thousand or a thousand, or even a hundred. Heaven celebrates one sinner who is recovered, one sinner who is saved. And as sinners are saved day after day after day, as the redemptive purposes of God go on in the world, the joy never ends, the joy of heaven never ceases. Heaven’s joy, as this whole series tells us, is found in recovering the lost. We rejoice in our salvation through Christ and He rejoices and God rejoices and the Holy Spirit rejoices and the angels rejoice and all the glorified saints around the throne rejoice. And so we sing at Christmas, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” He came to bring salvation to bring joy to us and joy to the angels and most importantly, joy to Himself. The salvation provided in the gift of Jesus Christ produces the joy of God, and that’s what this story is about. It’s illustrated in a shepherd’s joy when he finds his sheep, a woman’s joy when she finds a coin, and a father’s joy when a wayward son comes home.

Verses 11 to 32, probably the most familiar of Jesus’ stories, the story of the prodigal son. Everybody knows a little bit about that story, but it really is not the story of the prodigal son, that’s just one third of it. It’s about a prodigal son, a loving father and a very dutiful son. A younger son who lives openly in wickedness and immorality and disregard for all conventional thinking, all moral standards, doing only what he wants to do when he wants to do it, the way he wants to do it, and pays the consequences, it’s also about an older son who’s very devout apparently to his father, stays home, does everything that he’s supposed to do, does it the way his father wants him to do it. Fits into the conventional expectations of the religious community around him. Performs admirably. One would be classically the bad son, and the other would be the good son. And in the middle, touching both lives profoundly is this amazing figure of the loving father.

Now it is important in understanding this story, we’ve been telling you this, to understand that these people were highly sensitive to the idea of honor and shame. You did everything in your life basically in order to sustain your own honor, or to achieve your own honor, because that’s what was so important. It was very, very important to be an honorable person, it was a works/righteousness system. You earned your way into favor with God by being good and being religious and being moral and toeing the mark and walking the line and dotting all your I’s and crossing all your T’s in terms of the standard for behavior in the community. Very important that you maintained your honor that way and that you were respectable and honorable and that you didn’t do anything to shame yourself. The Pharisees, who believed themselves to be honorable, they were the leaders of Jewish religion. They believed they were the architects of what honor was and they also were the definers of what shame was. They had concluded that Jesus was a shameful false Messiah, that He was in fact not of God at all, but of Satan. They said the worst about Him that could be said. They said He did what He did by the power of Satan. And for their evidence, they said look at the kind of people He hangs around. We see at the beginning of the fifteenth chapter another occasion where all the tax gatherers and the sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. He attracted the worst remnant or element of the society, the outcasts, the flotsam and the jetsam, the scum, the nobodies, the lowlifes, those who had been excommunicated from the synagogue, socially untouchable. People that the Pharisees wouldn’t go near lest their supposed purity be somehow polluted. In fact, that was their criticism, wasn’t it, in verse 2 about Jesus, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Anybody who socializes with sinners betrays that he belongs there. And so as they are of Satan, so must He be of Satan.

Well, Jesus needs to defend Himself. He needs to defend Himself that He is not of Satan, He is of God. And so He’s telling them three stories to demonstrate this. He is among them because they’re lost like the sheep the shepherd had to go and find. He is among them because they’re lost like the coin the woman had to go and find. He is among them because they’re lost like the sinful prodigal son that the father receives and embraces because he was lost and now he’s find. Do they not understand the heart of God? No they don’t. Don’t they understand that heaven’s joy is not in the self-righteous 99 sinners who think they need no repentance? Don’t they understand that God’s joy is found in the salvation of sinners? How far from God they are. They don’t know God at all, these Pharisees and scribes who criticize and malign Jesus. And these stories are intended to make that clear.

The third story is really the main one and I won’t go through all of it. You know the story. But everything in it is a shameful thing as the Pharisees sort of sit back and listen to Jesus, they’re the audience, telling the story. It’s a head shaker and an eye roller from the beginning. Oh, it’s one outrageous thing after another that violates all their conventional sensibilities.

First of all, the younger son makes a shameful request. He asks for his estate now. Well you didn’t get it in that culture until your father died. This is tantamount to saying, “You’re in my way, I wish you were dead. Since you’re not dead, act like you’re dead. Give me what’s mine.” Shameful, unthinkable in that culture of high honor for of all people the father of a family. And then the father acts in a shameful way with a shameful response. He gives him what he asks. What father would do that? A father should slap him across the face and punish him, tell him, “Absolutely not. I will not be so dishonored.” But a shameful request is followed by a shameful response, the father gives him what he wants. This is the request of the sinner to be as free as he can be from God, as free as he wants to be to fulfill his desires and his lusts. And you now what? God gives the sinner just that freedom. You can take your sin as far as you want. You can take it as deep as you want, as high and as wide as you want. You can go into every nook and corner that you choose to go into. You have that freedom.

And so he does. The shameful request and the shameful response is followed by a shameful rebellion. We know the story in verses 13 to 16. The son goes away into a far country, leaves Israel, as it were, goes into a forbidden Gentile land, unclean. So unclean that a Jew coming back would shake Gentile dirt off his clothes so he didn’t bring it into the land of Israel. He ends up trying to eat the food of pigs, the unclean animal, working for a Gentile for no pay but just the right to fight the pigs for the carob pods that they’re eating. It is a rebellion that hits rock bottom. He wastes his substance, involving himself with prostitutes and whatever other wasteful things he can do. Runs completely out of a fortune which his father gave him which he turned into cash as fast as he could at a discount sale. And now he’s got his cash, he wastes it and it’s gone and then a famine hits and he has no resources and he ends up with the pigs. The shameful rebellion is followed by a legitimate shameful repentance. He feels badly in verses 17 and 19. He says, “Look, I have nowhere to turn, I’m going to die. I’m hungry. My father pays the people who are day laborers who work for him and he pays them more than they need,” which is to say he’s kind, he’s generous, he’s a good man and I know my father and I know he’s compassionate, and I know he loves me and I know if I go back he’ll be willing to accept me on some terms. So I, he says, will go back, verse 18, to my father and I’ll say, “Father, I sinned against heaven,” that is another way of saying my sins have piled as high as heaven, this is a full confession, holds back nothing. “And I’m telling you I have sinned as high as heaven, you know it, I’ve done it right in your face. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” This is the stuff of real repentance. Comes to his senses, evaluates his sin, evaluates where it’s taken him, evaluates that he has no resource within himself to change it. I’ll go back, I trust my father. He will accept me on some terms. I’ll offer to work for him as a hired man. Not a household servant, that would be too much, not a son, that would be way too much, I’m not worthy of it. But I’ll earn my living day wage, the lowest person on the social-economic ladder. That was the Jewish view of repentance. You feel sorry, you go to God and you say, “Okay, God, what do I need to do?” And God says, “Well, you’re going to have to make restitution. You’re going to have to work it all off. And if you work long enough and you’re faithful and you do your religious duty and you do your righteous works and you’re moral and you’re good, then maybe down the road somewhere when you’ve brought it all back and you can completely restore what you’ve wasted, we’ll have potential reconciliation. But you’ve got to do it to the end.” That’s the way they viewed repentance.

Salvation in the legalistic system of Judaism, and in any other legalistic system in the world and all religions are a form of works/salvation except true Christianity, they’re all the same, good people go to heaven, people who are religious who do good things. If you do them long enough and well enough, that’s going to be how you get to God. And he had that conventional kind of thinking in the story, Jesus makes him a Jew subject to Jewish thinking and so he says I’m going to go back and earn my way into the favor of my father. I’m going to earn my salvation. I’m going to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to get my way back into my father’s house and into his treasures and into his heaven. And so he comes back.

Now remember, the Pharisees are listening to all this and they’re saying, “This whole thing is a big story of shame…a shameful request, a shameful response, a shameful rebellion, a shameful repentance.” He’s going to come back, “Ah, now the father’s going to do something honorable.” But the father gives the son a shameful reception. Amazing, verse 20, “He gets up, comes to his father. He arrives in stinking garments that smell like a pig.” He has nothing at all, he’s destitute, absolutely bankrupt, absolutely nothing. His father seems him a long way off which indicates the father’s actually been waiting for him, hoping for him, suffering in silence in his absence, loving him even while he’s gone. The father sees him, feels compassion for him and ran…he runs right through town, which a nobleman in the Middle East do not do. That is unacceptable shameful behavior. First of all, you don’t let your legs be shown in public. And we went into that in detail. But he runs and he runs through town to get to the boy before the boy gets to town because when he arrives in town, the whole community is going to heap scorn and disdain and mockery on him because that’s what they’re supposed to do. That’s part of his penalty for the way he behaved toward his father. The father takes the shame that should belong to the son. He does a scandalous and shameful thing, runs through town before the son ever gets there, saves him from the shame, throws his arms around him, kisses him all over the head, which is tantamount to saying, “You’re a son and I receive you as a son. All is forgiven, all is past. Trusting in me and coming, repenting of your sin is all I ask.” And all that can come out of the boy’s mouth in verse 21 is, “I’ve sinned against heaven and in your sight, I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.” And he drops the part about being your hired man because that’s irrelevant now he has been reconciled. And here is the glory of salvation, folks, God forgives the one who asks and who repents without any works, with nothing to commend him in his filthy rotten stinking rags as a beggar who possesses nothing and who can earn nothing. This is gracious salvation.

But to the Pharisees, it was ridiculous. They didn’t understand grace at all. All they understood was you earn your way in. This was outrageous, shameful, shocking. This father just continues to do dishonorable things. Nobody would do that. When the son comes back, you don’t see him for a few days, you make him sit in town and take the scorn for a few days. And finally you might give him an audience and all you’re going to say is, “This is what it’s going to take, you do this, you do it for this many years and you give me everything you earn and we’ll see if you can ever earn back the part of the estate that you wasted. And if you do, then we’ll be reconciled.” That’s what they would expect. That’s what was honorable. That’s what he deserved. That’s what he should get. That’s not what the father gave him. The father’s reception was a shameful thing in their minds.

And the shameful reception goes into a shameful reconciliation in verse 22. The father not only takes him back as a son, but he gives him full privileges. Bring the best robe, put a ring on his hand, sandals on his feet. What is the robe? Honor, this is the most important garment in the family owned by the father, worn by the father at the most prestigious events the family ever conducted or was engaged in. Give him all the family honor that is possible to give him. Then take the signet ring which you used to stamp official documents which gives him freedom to act and authoritatively to act on behalf of the family with all the family resources. And then put shoes on his feet. Servants are barefoot, hired men are barefoot, but masters and rulers and sons wear shoes. Give him full sonship. Give him full power of that sonship, full authority and full honor. This is a picture of salvation. When the sinner comes bankrupt with absolutely nothing, cast himself on his father’s mercy, says, “I’ve wasted everything, my sin is as high as the heaven. I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned against you. I can offer you nothing. I’m willing to work.” Then the father embraces him in love and says, “You don’t need to work, I give you full sonship with all rights and privileges, all honors, all authority. That’s salvation.

Why does the father do that? Because it gives him joy. In verse 23, what the Pharisees would see is a shameful celebration, “Bring the fattened calf, kill it, let’s eat and be merry.” The father’s joy, the heavenly Father’s joy is found in the sinner who comes home and repents and is forgiven. This is the joy of God. Verse 24 says, “This son of Mine was dead.” You remember, I told you when he left they had a funeral for him, he was out of the family. But he’s come to life, he was lost, he’s been found and they began to be merry.

This is the third party in this chapter. There was a party when the sheep was found. There was a party when the coin was found. And there’s a huge celebration when the son that was lost is found. That’s the whole point. What makes heaven rejoice is the salvation of sinners and that’s why God sent His Son into the world. The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost, not just for the joy of the sinner, not just for the joy of Christ, but for the joy of God and the joy of the Holy Spirit, the whole Kingdom of God, says Paul the apostle, is joy. And when we get to heaven it’s going to be one long everlasting celebration.

Now that gets us up to speed. And at this point, the third character enters the scene, the older son. Verse 25, it’s going to take us two weeks to dig into this because it’s really interesting. Now most people say the older son, oh yeah, he was the Christian. Yeah, he was the believer who was at home doing what he should. That’s not true. No, that’s not true at all. The older son, fascinating what Jesus does here, the older son…now you’ve got to understand, you’re the Pharisees and the scribes, the legalists, you’re sitting there listening to the story, everything everybody has done up to now is shameful, everything. You’re just waiting for somebody to do what you perceive as the right thing. The son did shameful things when he treated his father. The father shamefully gave him what he asked for and shamefully took him back and shamefully lavished love on him and shamefully forgave him and made him a son without any works and shamed himself again by giving him all honor, all authority, all power, all leadership. And then shamed himself further by calling the whole community to come together and celebrate a massive feast over this wonderful reconciliation. I mean, the whole thing is shameful. Now here comes somebody who will do something that the Pharisees think is the honorable thing to do. This is our boy. This is our guy.

Verse 25, “And in…” By the way, meeting him, they meet themselves. This is their guy. This is they. “His older son was in the field.” Now he’s been out in the field working that day as much as landowners work, sitting under a shade tree making sure everybody else does what they need to, overseeing is what they do. In fact, noblemen in the Middle East didn’t usually work. That was somehow beneath their dignity at a certain point. But anyway, he was out in the field. What strikes me is that the father hasn’t told him anything. The father certainly hasn’t been looking for him. The father hasn’t sent a messenger out to the field wherever he was to say, “Hey, hey, hey, your brother’s back and we’re going to have a party, come on in, greet your brother, embrace your brother, rejoice with me and help me get this party off the ground.” Because, look, he was the number one primary party planner in the family. That was the job of the firstborn son, he had the responsibility to carry off all the events of the family, particularly those that were designed to be in honor of the family. And the party was in honor of the family, not so much the son who came back, but the father who took him back, reconciled him. And the whole village game together to give honor to such a loving gracious merciful forgiving reconciling father. But nobody bothered to tell him.

The father doesn’t go to him. Why not? Wouldn’t you listening to the story? You say, “Why didn’t somebody go get him and bring him back?” The answer is, he has no relationship to the father. The father knows he has no interest in his brother, he proved that at the beginning of the story when he didn’t try to stop his brother from doing what was terrible. He had no interest in his father, proved that by not intervening between his brother and his father to stop his brother from such a dishonorable act toward his father. In fact, he took his part of the inheritance gladly, never defending his father’s honor. He has no relationship to anybody in the family. Being out in the field is sort of a metaphor for where he was in terms of that family. The younger son was in a far country, this guy’s in a far field. But the symbolism there is they’re both way off from the father. They both come home but to very different receptions.

So he’s out in the field. The day ends. It says he came and approached the house. And since he hadn’t up to that point heard anything, there must have been an indication it was a pretty big estate. This father has a great estate where someone can actually be far enough away you don’t even know when a huge celebration involving hundreds of people is going on at your house, which is a way to indicate the greatness of the Kingdom of God. But he comes back and he approaches the house. And he says, “He heard music and dancing.” Now again, everything up to this point has been shameful. Shameful request by a younger son, granted in a perceived shameful reply by the father, the son acts in a shameful rebellion, ends up making a shameful repentance, the father gives him what they perceive as a shameful reception, reconciliation, a big rejoicing celebration…it’s all just against what all of them believe to be right. They’re drawn into the story now. They’ve been making critical judgments all the way along. Jesus was a master at this. He pulled his audience right into the story. They had to make ethical judgments all the way. Simple story, understandable, ethical elements of the story, they sit in the position of making the ethical judgments. There they are, the experts on honor and shame, having been surprised and shocked and outraged by the conduct of everybody, they are about to find somebody they like who turns out to be them. It’s brilliant stuff…brilliant stuff. They understand nothing of divine grace, they resent divine grace, they don’t understand the loving heart of God. They don’t understand His mercy and tenderness, compassion, forgiveness and desire to reconcile with sinners. They know nothing of that. That’s why they don’t understand why Jesus, God in human flesh, spends His time with sinners. This is the one guy that makes sense to them. They resent the unholy son. They see him as the opposite of their own self-righteous selves and they think the father is some kind of a fool for shaming himself in the way he treats this simple son.

But finally they have somebody they can identify with, somebody who knows what honor is. And he comes to approach the house.

Not having been included in anything at all. The father knows that. He knows he has no interest in him. He knows he has no concern for his joy. He knows he doesn’t care about his younger brother. He knows that. He has no love for his father, no desire to honor his father, no respect for his father, no interest in what pleases his father. He has no compassion on his father’s grieving heart for the wayward son. He doesn’t care at all about his brother. He’s a Pharisee, he is a Pharisee. He pretends to stay in the father’s house, to be dutiful, to do what the father says, to hang around, to get what he wants, to get approval and affirmation and wealth and land and community prestige. He wants to appear religious. On the outside he upholds all the conventional modes of external honor. So he comes and he hears the music and the dancing, the sumphonias(?) and the choros, from which we get symphony and chorus. It’s a party. There’s music and in those days the men danced in a circle, men only, and there was clapping and singing. There would be instruments included in the music. In fact, sumphoniasis originally a double pipe but it also in some Arabic translations is used to refer to voices together. So voices, instruments, dancing, the whole thing is going on. It’s a celebration. The fattened calf has been killed. What they did was not filet it, but they chopped it up into slabs of meat and they would cook it in chunks in the bread ovens. And they would start the party in a very imprecise way, life was not nearly as by the clock as it is today. The day was over, the work was over, the announcement would go out, come, killing the fattened calf. The son is home and people would begin to come when they arrived and they would come and they would eat and the meat would continue to be cooked. And it would be continually cooked for hours and the singing and the celebrating would go on into the night as the ebb and flow of this wonderful celebration took place. Well it’s already on its way. It’s already full-blown when the older son arrives. And again an indication that he probably came a long way, indicating the greatness of the father’s estate. He is stunned. He is shocked. He is surprised. He is confused. But mostly he is suspicious, because legalists are always suspicious, particularly of joyful people.

And by the way, something this big wasn’t ever planned in a day. This was planned by months and months and months of preparation. And not with him as the center of it. He is, after all, the owner of the land because the estate has already been divided, though he doesn’t take possession of his part until his father’s death, it is already assigned to him. These are his resources. This is then his calf and all the rest of the things that are going on are using the things that actually belong to him and he hasn’t even been consulted. Here’s the biggest event that the village has ever known, the biggest event the family’s ever known and he doesn’t even know anything about it. He doesn’t even know it’s happening until he shows up. This too is another outrageous act on the part of the father who just continues to do shameful things in their minds. It’s an insult.

And so, he arrives. “And when he approached the house he heard music and dancing,”and then it should say, “And he rushed in to his father and said, ‘Father, what’s all the joy about?'” But he doesn’t do that. If he loved his father, he would have rushed into the house and said, “What’s going on? What’s going on?” And his father would have said, “Your brother’s home,” and he would have embraced his father and rejoiced with tears because he knew his father loved his brother. He knew he had ached in his heart as long as he was gone, and he knew he had gone out to look for him day after day, even though he didn’t know he was back…noone had told him yet. Whatever made his father rejoice would make him rejoice if he loved his father. But he has no love for his father at all, he has a love for himself. It’s all about him and his property and his reputation and his prestige.

So in verse 26 it says, “He summoned one of the servants.” Servant actually is paidion here and it’s from paisin the Greek which means a young boy. All the family servants would be inside. They would be taking care of all the guests. As I said, a hundred to two-hundred guests wouldn’t be unusual to eat a fattened calf. Not everybody ate a huge 16-ounce piece. And the fact is they didn’t eat a lot of meat except on special occasions and then not a lot. But on the outside there were young boys and what this tells us a little bit about that Middle Eastern culture, the adults would all be inside, they would all be in the house having…in the courtyard of the house having this great celebration at some point, and out on the fringes would be the kids that didn’t get to come, but they were sort of the perimeter celebrators, you know? The fringe participants, the young boys would all hang out on the edges because this is a huge event. And this would be the first group that he would meet as he comes in and the first ones he runs into after he hears all this are these young boys. So, verse 26, “He began inquiring what these things might be.” This is shocking. What in the world…I go to work, it’s a day like any other day. I go out there to sit under the tree and make sure everybody’s does what they’re supposed to. I come in and you’ve got the biggest celebration ever. What is going on? And why wasn’t I consulted? And how is it that I don’t know about this?

And he says to him, verse 27, “Oh, your brother has come.” Oh-oh, that should have filled his heart with joy. That should have been enough that after that was said he rushed in because he knew how his brother’s life had started out when he left. He must have been so anxious and excited to find out how that whole thing had ended up. He knew his father’s heart had been broken when his brother left. He knew how he regularly looked for him and longed for him. If he loved his father at that point, he would have immediately run in. But it really was fear that his brother would come back. “Your brother has come and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.” His worst fears, his brother came back, oh, and his father…what?…received him.

This outrageous conduct is more than this older brother can bear. Look at the phrase “safe and sound,” that’s a funny thing, isn’t it? An Old English colloquialism that seems to last in our modern translations. It’s actually hugiainoin the Greek from which we get hygiene and it basically means wholeness, well-being. But in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, that word is almost always connected to Shalomwhich means…what?…peace. That’s really what he’s saying. It’s not that he’s not physically hurt, it’s not limited to that. He’s received him back in peace. This is not just good health, this is Shalom, this is peace of a full reconciliation between a father and son. It isn’t his son came back and the father told him to sit at the edge of town for a week and think about what he had done until he gained a right to talk to his father and then he’d give him the things he needed to do to earn back his reconciliation. Not that. The father received him and he received him in Shalom, he’s made peace. Shalomforever. That’s why there’s a party. There wouldn’t be a party if he had come back and had to work for the next twenty years. This…this is the worst possible scenario because now the father is using his resources on this party. The son has already depleted the whole family treasury by taking his half, selling cheaply and leaving which meant that that whole thing couldn’t grow so that the older son when the father did die would have more. Now he’s back depleting more of our family resources. And the foolish father is using those resources on him. The son is the favorite guest at the banquet but the banquet is really in honor of the father. The town is there to celebrate a father who’s that merciful and gracious and kind and loving in reconciling. You see, that’s the picture of heaven’s joy. And a legalist who thinks you earn your way to heaven doesn’t understand that God’s joy is found in justifying the ungodly, that God’s joy is found in forgiving the sinner who is bankrupt and has nothing. The older son, that’s why his worst fears have come true. His brother’s back, his father has embraced him, this is outrageous. And for the first time in the story the Pharisees are saying, “Yep, that’s exactly the right attitude, that’s exactly what he should feel. He should be outraged. We are outraged. This whole story is just one outrage after another.”

And so he can’t be a part of a shameful event. His son has shamed himself. His father has continually shamed himself. He’s gotten the whole community involved in this shameful celebration. And he’s not going to be a part of it, verse 28, “He became angry and was not willing to go in.”

Of course not. And that’s the answer to the original issue, isn’t it? The Pharisees said, “Look, you receive and eat with sinners. You have a banquet with sinners. How can you do that?” They didn’t understand that God’s joy and God in Christ, Christ’s joy was in receiving repentant sinners, prodigals, profligates, the immoral, the outcasts. But for a legalist, that’s outrageous conduct, absolutely outrageous. But what you see is he had no love for his brother. He didn’t rejoice in his brother coming back, anymore than he cared when his brother left. He had no love for his father. He didn’t rejoice with his father anymore than he defended his father at the beginning when his father was hearing the request from his younger son. This is no believer. This is no Christian. This is a typical religious hypocrite standing on the outside condemning the gracious work of salvation. He’s angry. That’s the only emotion he feels. And you know what? The Pharisees and scribes think it’s right and they’re saying, “Yeah, we’re angry too, we’d be angry too. We’d feel exactly the same way. This is absolutely unacceptable conduct.”

Legalists don’t believe in grace. They don’t understand unmerited favor. They don’t understand free forgiveness. They don’t understand the removal of punishment. They don’t understand somebody else bearing their shame, taking their scorn. They don’t get that. And he will not go in. And so here is a public display of private hatred. He’d probably done a better job of hiding his hatred than that in the past. He probably had the community believing that he was very respectful of his father, honored his father, maybe even cared for his father. And he stuck around the house. He did whatever his father wanted him to do. And everybody probably thought he had some love for his father. But here his real attitude comes out. He cannot enter into this joy because he has no love for God and he has no love for the sinners God is recovering. This is religious hypocrisy. It’s still in the world today, it’s everywhere. They’re all over the place. People who look like they hang around the house of God but they don’t know the heart of God. They’re trying to earn their way to heaven which is the greatest deception that Satan has ever invented and it is the characteristic of every false religion on the planet. When salvation comes only to those that are spiritually bankrupt, destitute, impoverished and fall on their faces as beggars before a God they trust will be willing to forgive them, and repent of their sins, and then they receive His lavish love and all that comes with it. But legalists don’t like that. How can you do that? How can you just do that when he didn’t deserve it? It’s all about what you deserve and what you earn and what you gain and how good you are.

So the older son has the perfect opportunity if he chose to to honor his father. But the truth is, he’s a rebel. He’s not an outward rebel, he’s an inward one and they’re worse. He’s a secret sinner. He feels all the same lusts that his brother felt, but he hides them because legalism never changes your flesh. He feels the same lusts, the same longings, the same desires, but he caps them and never fulfills them because he has a stronger desire for prestige and honor and to gain his father’s estate and to be well thought of. And so he’s driven by pride more than he’s driven by baser things. But the base things are still there. And now all of a sudden we know that he hates his father and hates his brother. We know that he’s indifferent to the recovery of his brother and indifferent to the compassion of his father. He can’t rejoice with either one. And that’s exactly the way the Pharisees were.

When you think about a hypocrite, you have to think a little more deeply than the surface. Hypocrites stay near the house of God. They hang around. They’re religious. They’re moral. They have no relationship to God. They have no desire to honor Him. They have no interest in His honor or heaven’s joy. It’s all about their own self-promotion thinking somehow they can earn their way into the good will of people and even God. The truth is, they’re completely alienated from God, no part of what God does like the son in the field, not even consulted about the things that move the heart of God. Religious hypocrites do what’s expected on the outside. They follow the external religious and moral patterns. But inside they’re just filled with secret sins. Jesus said about them, on the outside they’re painted white, inside they stink and they’re full of deadmen’s bones, like rotting corpses. Under the surface they are filled with bitterness, hatred, jealousy, anger, lust. And then as I said, the older son is likely in real life envying the prodigal. The prodigal gets to do what he would never do, but desires secretly to do. He would hate seeing his brother live it up in the very sins that he openly condemns but inwardly desires.

He’s like all hypocrites…sad, morose, melancholy, empty, unfulfilled, hiding his heart under the burden of a superficial religion. And he feels like he earned his praise. He earns his position. He earns his reward. He earns his honor by his rigorous painful loveless obedience, performing the duties while capping his secret sin. Well the truth is, the hypocrite is lost and more profoundly lost because he spent his whole life convincing everybody he’s good and it’s a long ways from there to admitting you’re really wretched. Whereas if you’re like the prodigal and you have made it clear that you’re wretched, it’s a short step to admit it. Self-righteous hypocrites hate the idea of salvation by grace alone. They hate the idea of full forgiveness for repentant sinners. They will not come to that party. They will celebrate. Hypocrites are more deadly to any religious environment because they set a tone for the kind of conduct that kills spiritually and eternally.

You don’t need to repent. You’re good. The 99, back in verse 7, so-called righteous persons who don’t need to repent, and as long as you don’t need to repent like the prodigal, you can’t be saved. You can’t enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to save sinners, self-confessed, repenting sinners. Repentance is the key to everything. This son, he has no interest in that. He has no knowledge of God, no love for Him and no love for sinners.

Really there are two kinds of sinners in the world…the religious ones and the irreligious, the moral and the immoral, those that hang around the things of God and try to keep the Law, and those that run as far as they can and live in wild wasteful immoral living. But the Father is there for both. Whatever kind of sinner you are, Jesus came into this world, born into this world in order to live and to die and to provide salvation for both kinds of sinners and all those in the mix in between.

Well the story isn’t over. There’s one final scene, when the father goes out to confront the older son. And at this point, the ending is so shocking, you don’t want to miss it next Sunday. Join me in prayer.

It’s an incredible thing, Father, to dig into these great truths. How such a simple story can have such profound meaning. O Lord, how we thank You for sending Jesus Christ into this world for that great event which we celebrate today on this lovely Christmas day. And may it be a day when our thoughts are toward Christ, the Savior, born into the world, born that He might die for us, born that He might run the gauntlet for us, bear our shame, our scorn, bear our punishment, to throw His arms around us and kiss us and reconcile us as sons. We pray, God for the prodigals who are here, the younger sons who haven’t yet come to their senses, who haven’t yet realized that they’re in a foreign land and they’re bankrupt spiritually and they’re bankrupt morally and they’re left with nothing but to crowd in with the pigs to eat the scraps when they could come to You to a loving forgiving reconciling Father who has everything they need and more and who waits to put a robe of honor and a ring of authority and shoes of power and responsibility on their feet and start another heavenly celebration for their homecoming.

I pray for those, Father, who might be hearing me now who are out in that far country having wasted their lives and I pray, O God, that You would prompt them to come now to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to come in the name of Christ to a God who forgives completely and instantly lavishly pours out on the sinner eternal blessing. Shalom forever, full sonship. And, Lord, also I’m sure there are some of those older brothers here this morning who have been religious and dutiful and moral and gone to church and kept the Law and done all the little religious duties that their prescribed religion required and they kind of feel like they’re on the upside of more good than bad and they just think it’s all kind of adding up to their benefit and they’re going to earn their way back. They’re going to be one of Your hired men and they’re going to go out there and they’re going to work and they’re going to be good and religious and in the end you’re going to give them reconciliation because they earned it. Father, may they see themselves in the Pharisee, may they see how horrible it is and how distant such an attitude is from You. They don’t know Your heart. They don’t know what pleases You. They don’t know that You wait to forgive sinners when they repent and believe in You, apart from anything they do. There are religious sinners who need to come to the celebration, come and repent and have You throw Your arms around them and kiss them. We pray, Lord, that You would work Your work in the heart of all who have not yet returned to the Father’s house. May they know He’s waiting if you come in the name of His Son, seeking forgiveness and salvation, He gives it with all the rights and privileges. This is the glory of the Christmas gift in Christ.

Father, we thank You that You sent Your Son to be our Savior, Jehovah saves, Jesus, to give His life for us. We thank You that it is because of His sacrifice and His bearing of shame, because He was willing to take the just, the right punishment for our acts of dishonor and rebellion we have acceptance now with You in His name. We celebrate this Christmas the gift of Christ, not as a babe in a manger only, but as a Man dying on the cross. He came, He was laid most likely in a wooden manger and at the end He was nailed to a wooden cross and therein is the great reality of the incarnation that is at the heart of the redemption that You desire because it brings You eternal joy. We rejoice with You, Father, and we can’t wait till the heavenly party, until we’re there to celebrate with all the hosts of glory. Until then may we be faithful to proclaim the message of Your forgiveness in Christ’s name. Amen. Have a blessed Christmas.


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/42-204
COPYRIGHT ©2010 Grace to You

The Tale of Two Sons, Part 5

Luke 15:28-32            Code: 42-205

I want you to open to Luke 15 again as we return to the family in our story of a father and two sons. I will tell you mercifully this will be the last in this series. The final segment in the study of the Lord’s most famous story and perhaps arguably the most fascinating parable that He ever told, it is a parable about salvation. It is a parable that contains all the rich elements of salvation. Tucked into this incredibly straightforward and clear story is the issue of sin, freedom, disgrace, shame, desperation, repentance, faith, atonement, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, sonship and blessing. It’s all here as we have been learning. It is the story of a father who compassionately loves his two sons. Unfortunately, his sons do not love him. They are both rebels. Neither of them has any relationship with him in a personal sense, though they’ve been brought to life by him, obviously physically. They dishonor him and they do so publicly. It is really the story of a loving, compassionate, gracious, merciful, forgiving, reconciling father and how his two sons responded to him.

You can look at it the other way, it is also the story of two kinds of sinners. One who is openly and outwardly and manifestly wicked and immoral and irreligious and rebellious and the other who is inwardly immoral and rebellious, but outwardly conforms. He is moral on the surface, he is religious on the surface. But neither of these two have any relationship whatsoever to their father. And that manifests itself, as we have already seen, through the whole story. And the irony of the story is that the one who openly disobeyed, the one who flagrantly dishonored his father winds up being reconciled and the one who appeared to obey and honor his father ends up unreconciled.

It is very much like another story Jesus told in Matthew 21 verses 28 to 32. I just remind you of that story because it’s somewhat similar. In that story Jesus said, “What do you think? A man had two sons, he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go to work today in the vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will, sir,’ and didn’t go. Came to the second and said the same thing, he answered and said, ‘I will not,’ and yet afterward regretted it and went. Which of the two did the will of his father? They said the latter, the one who said he wouldn’t but did, not the one who said he would but didn’t. And Jesus then said, ‘Truly I say to you that the tax gatherers and the harlots will get into the Kingdom of God before you.” Pretty clear what the two sons were pointing to, isn’t it? Jesus at the time was talking to the leaders of Israel. They were like the son who said he would go and didn’t, and the tax gatherers and the sinners were like the son who said he wouldn’t go and did. And in the end, they were the ones who entered the Kingdom of God. That’s very similar to the story in Luke 15 to which you can return.

Again, both sons are rebels. In the Middle East, there’s an old Arabic phrase and it goes like this. A man had two sons and each one was worse than the other. And this is the story of a man who had two sons and each one was worse than the other. They are alike in many ways. Each has the same source of life, the father. Each resents his father and has no love for him. Each wants his share of his father’s wealth and feels entitled to it. They take different approaches to get it, one asks for it and the other waits to get it, but each wants his share of the father’s wealth. And each wants to do with it whatever he will with whomever he wishes. Each dishonors the father. Each insults the father. Each tries to live in separate worlds from the father, the younger son in a far country, the older son near the house, but has his own collection of friends. Each is loved by the father. And on behalf of each, the father makes a shameful public demonstration of that love. Each is given the opportunity to receive the father’s forgiveness and reconciliation. Each is given the opportunity to repent, be forgiven, enter into the full richness of a genuine relationship and full access to all the father’s wealth.

But they’re different in some ways also. One was immoral, the other was moral. One was away, the other was near. One was publicly scorned and the other was publicly respected. The father reaches out in mercy and grace to both because they illustrate two kinds of sinners; the immoral and the moral, the irreligious and the religious, the blatant and the hypocrite.

Now as we have learned because it’s unmistakably clear, the father is God in Christ. The father is the loving, life-giving Redeemer of sinners, the Savior, the reconciler who forgives those who repent and believe. The sons are sinners. And some are irreligious and blatant and some are religious and hidden. But they are both sinners who are void of a relationship with God. In each case what we learn is that God gives sinners the freedom to sin whatever way they want. That’s the choice that sinners have. It’s not whether they can choose to sin or not to sin, it’s just that they can choose what category of sin they will engage in. There are some who choose to sin flagrantly and blatantly and immorally and irreligiously and without any regard for public courtesy or public evaluation. They don’t care what people think. There are other sinners who choose to conform to certain ethical moral standards to gain their position in society by being perceived to be good people. But those are the only choices the sinner and all the mixing of the choices in the middle. The sinner can’t choose whether to sin or not to sin, but he can be free to choose what kind of sinner he will be. Don’t think that sinners have anymore freedom than that, they don’t. But that is the realm in which they function freely.

And the amazing reality of the story is this, that God loves sinners religious or irreligious, moral or immoral, outward or inward. He loves them both. He offers them both grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, sonship and eternal blessing whether they are extremely wicked or extremely moral, which these two sons illustrate. The one son doesn’t care about anything but fulfilling his lusts to the max and is as bad as you can get. The other son to the very end parades his self-righteousness and that’s why he thinks everything his father is doing is a violation of what is just and right and is shameful. So you have the extremely wicked and the extremely moral and the point is, God loves sinners at the extremity of those two different categories of sin and therefore every sinner in the middle. The younger son comes to the father when he is destitute. He repents for his sins. He trusts in his father’s goodness and mercy and kindness and compassion and love and receives therefore his forgiveness freely by grace, is reconciled and enters into lavish blessing. That’s the picture of the sinner who repents. He is the picture of the one who comes for salvation. He is the illustration of the very people Jesus is associating with as we remember back in verse 1, the tax gatherers and the sinners, the public outcasts. They were the ones coming to Him. Of course Jesus is condemned then in verse 2 by the Pharisees and scribes for receiving them and eating with them.

He goes on to say, “You don’t understand, this is the heart of God. God is by nature a Savior.” Verse 7, the end of the story about a shepherd finding his sheep, He says, “There’s joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” Verse 10 at the end of a story about a woman who finds a lost coin, again there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. The dominating great truth of this story is that God finds His joy when sinners repent whatever kind of sinners they are categorically. And all heaven celebrates with Him. The feast is in the honor of God. The feast is in the honor of the gracious, loving father who reconciled the unworthy, undeserving, sinning son based on nothing but his trust and repentance, no works. He came back, he didn’t have to make restitution. He didn’t have to do anything. And he was given the full rights and privileges of sonship. It’s a story about the mercy of God, the compassion of God, the love and forgiveness of God who finds His joy when one sinner repents. God delights in saving sinners.

Now at the point when the feast is in full motion, the older son steps onto the scene and that’s where we are in the story. We find him in verse 25. And we’re going to conclude by looking at him and seeing how the story ends. The story, as I’ve been telling you, is full of shame. It started with a shameful request, and a shameful response, and a shameful rebellion, and a shameful repentance, and a shameful reception, and then in the eyes, of course, of the Pharisees who are listening to this story, the father gives a shameful reconciliation and a shameful celebration.

We come to verse 25 and there are three more shameful things here…a shameful reaction, a shameful response, and a shameful resolution. These involve the older son. The shameful reaction, verse 25, “His older son was in the field. When he came and approached the house he heard music and dancing. Summoned one of the servants, began inquiring what these things might be. He said to him, ‘Your brother has come and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.'”

And we meet the older brother. He comes wandering in. He hasn’t been a part of anything, none of the planning which indicates that he had no relationship to the father. This would be impossible for the people listening to the story to believe that a father would put on a celebration like this without consulting his older son who had already been given the estate and should have weighed in on all the events. But he has no relationship with him. The father knows that he will not enter into this event. He will not want this event. He has no interest in the well-being of his brother nor in the joy of his father. He shows up on the outside, the party is in full sway. He asks one of the boys, the Greek word there, one of the young boys, the perimeter kids that are kind of hanging around the outside of the celebration while the adults are on the inside, “What is going on?” and he tells him his brother has come back and his father has killed the fattened calf, which of course was kept for the very most important occasion the family ever had. And this was it because he was back and he was back whole. He was back having made Shalom with his father, peace.

Now the reaction of the older brother is so important, “He became angry.” And right there the Pharisees meet themselves. They consistently were angry about Jesus associating with sinners, embracing sinners, forgiving sinners, reconciling wicked outcasts that they wouldn’t go near or touch or speak to. Here they meet themselves. This is the very attitude that they showed back in chapter 5 when they asked the disciples why in the world Jesus ate meals with such outcasts, such wicked sinful people. This is the same attitude they had in chapter 19 when they grumbled again because Jesus went to be the guest of a man who was a sinner, namely Zacchaeus the tax collector. They were continually outraged by the conduct of Jesus associating with sinners, which indicated they had no idea of the heart of God, no understanding of God as a Savior, and no understanding of how heaven rejoiced in the salvation of sinners. They became angry and that is how the older son reacts in verse 28, “He became angry.” They don’t believe in grace. They don’t believe in forgiveness. They believe in righteousness and justice and restitution. And you earn your way back. There’s no such thing in their system as free forgiveness as the removal of punishment apart from any works. It has to be earned. You earn your place with God. You keep the law. You toe the line. You walk the mark.

By the way, this is the damning lie that holds the religious world captive and sends them all plummeting into hell. And if the banquet symbolizes…the Messianic banquet…if the banquet symbolizes the feast of the redeemed, if the banquet symbolizes the Kingdom of God, if the banquet symbolizes everlasting life, of course he didn’t go in. And that’s what it says. “He was not willing to go in.”

Boy, I’m reminded of Matthew 23, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the Kingdom of Heaven from men and you do not enter in yourselves or do you allow those who are entering to go in.” You don’t have any way into that Kingdom because your understanding of salvation is so warped. That was perhaps the most significant indictment in the Matthew 23 diatribe against them, that they did not enter the Kingdom and nor where they leading anyone else into it. Later in that same chapter He said, “Outwardly you appear righteous to men, inwardly you’re full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Hypocrites are all sinners on the inside because hypocrisy has no way to constrain the flesh internally.

Of course he wouldn’t go in. He hated the idea of grace. He resented this mercy and this instant reconciliation. And he says all of this, as we will see. But before we listen to his speech, let me help you define this kind of sinner. Augustine said, “Free will without grace has the power to do nothing but sin. Free will without grace has the power to do nothing but sin.” And long ago he was right and that is still true. As I said, the sinner can choose his category but he can’t choose anything other than sin.

Now let me just follow that a little bit. And this, just to give you a little historical footnote, this is the kind of thinking that set Martin Luther going in the right direction. Just over the last few days I read a treatment of his various theological emphases and it pointed again to this very important element. He came up with this glorious truth that all of us know to be the substantial heart of the gospel, salvation by grace alone through faith alone, the great doctrine of substitution imputed righteousness and all of that which had been lost in the Dark Ages. But what led to that was an understanding of the inability of works to do anything. Let me help you to understand this. Works may appear good. They may appear good. And they may be on a human level good, that is they help people, they’re kind, they relieve people’s suffering, they’re charitable, they’re philanthropic, whatever. But they are really sinful when they are done by the unregenerate because they lack purity and they lack true motive which is the glory of God. And anything that is not done to the glory of God is done then to the glory of man and that is the sin of all sins. They are really expressions of human pride. We’re glad for them because they’re better than other kinds of expressions of human pride. We appreciate what we call the milk of human kindness. But it is really a form of sinful expression done for the well-being of the sinner. And as such, good works, especially when they proliferate in the life of an unregenerate person, tend to layer the deception so that the person instead of seeing himself as wretched, begins to convince himself by his goodness that he is far better than he really is. So anybody who thinks that by their good works they are somehow doing what is meritorious and earning favor with God is just making the deception further and further buried in their hearts and layer and layer and layer of good work makes it harder to get to reality. The works of sinners may not all be crimes, but they are not without sinfulness because they are done for personal and selfish motive and gain. They bring honor to man. They produce self-satisfaction. They produce self-gratification. They produce pride and a sense of well-being and that deceives the sinner and that increases sin because it is proud and pride is at the head of all sins and so we really in doing good apart from God, apart from grace are adding to our pride which is to compound our sinfulness at its most devastating point.

And then when you add…that’s not enough…you add the next element, and that is this, that if you think by doing those good deeds you are obtaining salvation, now you have added another sin to your pride. You have added the sin of a misunderstanding of the revelation of God and the gospel. You have added the damnable lie of a works/righteousness system to your pride. It’s bad enough…let’s look at the three again…to do works that you think are good but they’re not because they’re for yourself, and then add to that that you proliferate those works which builds up your sense of pride and well-being and feeling of self-satisfaction which increases your pride which makes the sin all the worse, but add to that the illusion that somehow you’re gaining favor with God and you have added the ultimately damning sin that somehow you can earn your salvation. And the further you go down that road, and the more you do that, the more blind you become and that is why Jesus said to the Pharisees, “They are…what?…blind leaders of the blind. On the outside they are painted white, on the inside they’re filthy.” This is what happens to extremely religious people. So you see extremely profligate evil people in the story and extremely religious people in the story and the point is not that everybody is either one of those extremes, the point is that God opens His compassionate, forgiving, reconciling love to those who are at those extremes and everybody in between. And you see that because at this point the Lord in telling the story has the father, who is God in Him, in Christ, mercifully humble Himself.

It’s amazing. It says in verse 28, “And his father came out and began entreating him.” Here we see God the initiator again. Here we see God in Christ the seeker, just as in the case of the younger son, the father came down out of his house and ran right down to the middle of town for all to see, bearing the scorn and the shame of the embarrassment of violating public common conventional behavior. And he did it to embrace the sinner and protect him from the shame. Here the father leaves the festival, goes out and does what you would never expect God to do, beg a sinner, beg a hypocrite. But He is the one who seeks to save the lost.

When the information, obviously, about the older son reaches the father, the word comes to him that his son is on the outside and he’s not going to come in. He now knows he has his second rebel son and we’re now going to find out how God feels about religious hypocrites. What they would have expected…what they would have expected was that the father would be absolutely insulted by this. It is a blatant insult. It is an utter disregard for the father’s honor, the father’s joy, the brother’s well-being. He shows himself as having no love for either of them. And the traditional Middle Eastern response would be to take the son and give him a public beating for such dishonor. But nothing goes the way you’d think it’s going to go in this story. It’s just one breach of perceived honor after another after another, after another, after another. But instead of the father ordering him to be beaten and locked in a room somewhere until he can be dealt with, the insulted dishonored father comes out. And he starts begging him. Here he shows up again in condescension. Here he shows up again in mercy. Here he shows up again in compassion and love and humility and kindness, leaves the party, comes out, goes into the night with everybody watching and the buzz sure is going to go through and they know what’s going on. Another act of selfless love kindly toward this son in the same way that he ran to embrace the younger son. He goes out in mercy and he reaches to the hypocrite the same way he reached to the rebel.

I want you to notice the word “entreating” there. It says that he began entreating him, parakaleo, that’s a very, very common word, it’s actually a word that comes in a noun form. The paracletemeaning the Holy Spirit, the one who comes alongside, entreating is to come alongside to speak to, to come right alongside someone. That is he comes right out and goes alongside his son. And he pleads with him, and he calls him to come to the kingdom, to come to his house, to come to the celebration. And this son with whom the Pharisees and scribes are so clearly identified should have brought them face-to-face with themselves and their complete ignorance of the father whom they said they served. Oh, they were in the house, they were around, they were the religious ones, they were the dutiful ones, they were the moral ones. But they didn’t know God, they didn’t know the heart of God. They had no understanding of the joy of God. They had no interest in the recovery of lost sinners. They refused to honor God for saving grace which has always been the way God saved. They see Jesus, in fact, as satanic. And as Jesus said in John 5:23, “If they honored the Father, they would honor Me.” They refused to go in.

But here is this wonderful compassionate grace of God reaching out to these angry hypocrites. And the response of the older son, verse 29, “He answered and said to his father, ‘Look…'” let me stop there.

Everybody would take a breath there. Ahhhh! I mean, even the prodigal came back and said, “Father, father,” just as he had said father at the beginning when he asked him for his estate. You don’t address your father, “Look…” There’s no title. There’s no respect. And then he says, “For so many years I have been serving you,” douleuo, slave language, doulos.

“For so many years I have been your slave.” Now there’s a legalist mentality. That’s a no-fun posture, no joy. And what it indicates is that in the heart of this guy he has seen this as a horrible, grit-your-teeth, grind your way through these years and years of slugging out your slavery to this guy so that when he finally dies you can get what you’re after. He was no different than the younger son. He wanted what he wanted, he just had a different way to get it. He didn’t have the courage of his younger brother. He didn’t have, you might say, the shootsbah(??), moxie. Now he decided the safe ground was to hang around and wait till the father dies and then get it. It’s all nothing but slavery to him…bitter, resentful, angry for so many years. And he piles on the descriptives.

And then if you want to know the self-image of a hypocrite, here it is. “And I have never neglected a command of yours.” Wow! Now if that isn’t the language of a self-righteous hypocrite, I don’t know what is. Who does that sound like? It sounds like the rich young ruler, doesn’t it? It sounds exactly like the rich young ruler. Matthew 19, Luke 18 where Jesus says, “Here are the commandments,” and he responds by saying, “I’ve kept all those. I’ve kept all those.” Here is the proud hypocrite. Here is the guy who because he has done good is under the illusion that he is good, because he has done good for self-satisfaction and pride he has buried the truth of who he is deep, because he has done good for satisfaction and pride as a way to earn salvation, he has pushed it so far down that he can’t even touch it any longer, it’s completely buried in his subconscious. And he lives with this illusion that he has never ever neglected a command that his father had given him. There is the amazing self-deception of a hypocrite. He’s perfect. I’m perfect, which is to say to the father, “And look, buddy, you’re not. I am perfect. I understand what perfection is. I understand what perfect righteousness is and perfect justice and I know what perfect honor is and I know how you’re supposed to behave and you’re in violation of it. Again and again you’re in violation of it. You took him back, you ran, you shamed yourself. You protected him from shame. You forgave him. You embraced him. You kissed him. You gave him full sonship. You gave him honor. You gave him authority. You gave him responsibility. You hold this massive celebration for an absolutely unworthy sinner. I’m perfect and you’re not.”

By the way, this is why Paul went around killing Christians because he hated grace. It was Paul, you remember, in Philippians 3 who says, “Blameless according to the law, that’s how I live my life, under the illusion that I was absolutely blameless and these Christians with their message of grace were violators of God’s holy law.” And he went everywhere he could breathing threatening and slaughter and imprisoning and killing them.

He has no love for the father. He has no interest in the father’s love for his younger brother. He has no desire to share in his father’s joy. He has no joy period in anything. But he’s still perfect and needs no repentance. How about that? What a classic illustration of a hypocrite. Angry, bitter, slave mentality, I’ve done all this to get what I expect to get, but he sees himself as perfect and needing no repentance. You want to know something? Nobody goes into the Kingdom of God without repentance. This is classic hypocrisy. His heart is wretched. His heart is wicked. His heart is alienated. His heart is selfish and he’s blind to spiritual reality. And again, here are the Pharisees and the scribes, here’s the religious sinner in the home of God, in the house of God, if you will, making a public display of affection for God, wearing clerical garb, or attending a certain kind of ritual, certain religious activities, moral on the public front, outwardly good, outwardly obeying the law, keeping all the rules. But no relationship to God. No concern for the honor of God. No joy. No understanding of grace.

The son isn’t finished. He’s going to dig his claws deeper into his father whom he sees as a sinner. He sees his father as a violator of righteous standards of which he is the source and says to him this. “I have never neglected a command of yours and yet you have never given me a kid, or a goat, that I might be merry with my friends. I’ve been the worker and I don’t even get a goat. He’s done nothing for you and he gets the fattened calf. This is not fair. This is not equitable. This is not just. This is not righteous.”

You know what the son is really saying? “Father, I don’t need to ask you for forgiveness, I haven’t done anything. But I’ll tell you something, you need to ask me for forgiveness for what you’ve done.” That is the outrage of hypocrisy. That is the outrage of legalism. It demands that God forgive us for a violation of our understanding. He thinks the father needs to ask him for forgiveness.

And the Pharisees are going to identify with him. Yeah, this is right, this is the right posture. This is outrageous conduct by the father. The father is the culprit. The father is the bad guy here,. The son is a bad guy, son number one, sure he’s a bad guy, the younger son, but the father’s really the bad one, he’s the one who has completely violated all conventional standards of respect and honor.

The son gives himself away a little bit here, he says…because he says, “You’ve never given me a kid that I might be merry with my friends.” MY friends. He’s accusing the father of favoritism and he’s accusing the father of an unjust favoritism. But he’s also pointing out the fact that when he has a party, it’s not going to include his brother, it’s not going to include his father. He lives in a completely different world. He has a completely different group of friends. He’s at home but he has no relationship to the family. All his friends are outside the family. He parties with those who thinks the way he thinks. He parties with those who have no connection to the father. He doesn’t understand the father’s love, compassion, kindness, mercy, forgiveness and joy. He has no fellowship with the father. He is angry, resentful, jealous, envious, impenitent, and greedy. He thinks he’s worked as a slave so long and what has he gotten? Nothing. And when he does get what he wants, it’s not going to be a celebration with the family because he has no relationship to them. His father is nothing more than a slave master. He’s going to have his party with his buddies. So classic in his description of the Pharisees who associated only with themselves, as we have seen in other texts.

This is the time when the older brother wishes the father were dead, probably wished it a lot if this were a real person. But in the story it comes out. “I haven’t had my party. I haven’t had anybody kill a kid for me so that I could have a party with my friends.” He doesn’t care about his father and now his father is wasting assets on this other son, a wicked son who by his own admission is unworthy. If his father was just dead, all of this would be over. If his father was just dead, then he would possess everything and he could start the party with his own buddies. Get the father out of the picture and everything is good, everything is as it should be, everything is honorable again. Let’s get back to an honorable world here. We’ve got to get rid of all this shameful stuff.

Verse 30 carries on a further assault on his father’s character, integrity and virtue. “But when this son of yours,” he won’t even say my brother, so much disdain in him, “When this son of yours came who has devoured your wealth with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him. You don’t give me a goat, but you kill the fattened calf for him, this son of yours.” Wow, you can cut that contempt with a knife.

How did he know…how did he know that he had used all that money with harlots? Because Jesus said he knew in the story. Just a little insight that tells us more about the behavior of the first son in the story and there, of course, characters that Jesus has fabricated. And so this is part of the story. This is to emphasize again that this man has lived as low as low gets. Add that to all the rest of the horror of his behavior. Some people have suggested that he made this up just out of scorn. But there’s nothing in the text that says that. We assume that if Jesus puts it in his mouth, it was a reflection of what Jesus wanted us to know about the behavior of the younger son.

So here is something juxtaposed against a celebration that’s pretty stark. You’ve got a celebration going on with music and dancing and the younger son and the feast and it’s just a high time of joy. And out in the dark of the night you’ve got this horrific assault going on and the older brother is attacking the virtue, the integrity, the character of his father. All that he had kept in for all those years explodes out of him, all that fake respect and honor is gone. The facade is off. The cover is blown. And while they’re all inside honoring that father, he’s on the outside heaping contempt on him. This is the Pharisees. They saw themselves as righteous. They saw themselves as just. They therefore sat in judgment on God in Christ and they condemned Jesus for His mercy, compassion, love, and the gospel of grace. And the Pharisees would see this older brother, yeah, and this is righteous indignation, this is for finally in the story we have somebody who holds up honor.

You know, in his mind a Pharisee would think that son should be dead. If you spend your money on harlots, you get killed. Deuteronomy 21:18 to 21, you get stoned to death. He should be dead. Instead of dead, look at the party. This is incongruous. This is outrageous. This is shameful, everything about it. It’s a shameful reaction by the son who is looking at the whole thing as shameful.

By the way, a little note here. You killed the fattened calf for him…not really…not really. The fattened calf wasn’t really killed for the son, he was killed for the father. The father is the one who gives the credit…gets the credit, I should say, he’s the reconciler. He determines who is going to be reconciled and under what terms. He’s the one who ran and embraced and kissed. It really was a celebration of the father. But his anger has completely blinded him. And he has no knowledge of his father. The father is the main figure at the feast. The father is the one they’re all honoring for such loving forgiveness. And the people will accept the younger son because it’s against convention to accept him. It would be against the norm to accept him back under those conditions. But they will because the father has. And so it’s really the father who is being celebrated, just as in the end, in heaven, the joy of heaven, the eternal joy of the angels and all the redeemed that gather around the throne of God and even the joy of God is the joy that comes to God Himself for being the reconciler. When we go to heaven, the direction of our praise isn’t going to be toward the sinners, it’s going to be toward the Savior.

So here is this great feast and all the celebration honoring the father. And here at the same time is this son who heaps dishonor on the father simultaneously. It’s the picture, the party symbolizes all the sinners who have collected around God to honor Him for their salvation. And outside are the Pharisees who are heaping scorn upon the Father God in Christ.

Then there’s a shameful response. From another angle, verse 31, “He said to him, ‘My child, you’ve always been with me, all that’s mine is yours.'” What a tender response. That would be…that would be shameful in the eyes of the villagers. They would say, “Wait, you should finally somebody slap this guy. I mean, enough is enough, this mercy is getting a little over the top here. Please.” But he says, “My child,” teknon, eight times in this section huios, the more formal word for son. Tekna, my boy, my child, it’s speaking in grieving, painful, agonizing, compassionate love and mercy. He speaks to him in endearing terms and that’s the heart of God toward a wretched hypocrite. Wow, is there any question about God being a loving, compassionate Savior? The son uses no title, no respect. The son attacks the virtue, the integrity, the justice and the righteousness of the father. The son is saying in effect, “You need to be forgiven by me for the outrageous and unjust and dishonorable conduct that you have perpetrated.” And here you see the patience of God with the sinners, even hypocrites. Sometimes, you know, it’s easier to be patient with prodigals than it is with hypocrites. I will confess that. We all love a great story about a wicked, outrageous sinner who is converted, but we aren’t nearly as excited about a hypocrite that’s converted. And, of course, that’s even more rare. People who are in false religion don’t come as often. In fact, this is a footnote, it never say sin all four gospels that a Pharisee believed on Jesus and was saved. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and it implies that he came. Later on, Paul the Pharisee, was saved on the Damascus road, those are the only two. But he says to him, “Look, my child,” endearing terms. “You’ve been around.”

The father knows he’s estranged. You’ve been around here superficially. Everything has always been available, it’s all here. I always think of that when I think of people who misinterpret the Scripture. You know, cults, false religions, it’s here. It’s all here. You’ve always had it. If you ever wanted a relationship with Me, I was here and everything I have was here. And look what he says, “All that is mine is yours. I don’t ever have to split it up.” And here’s the picture of the magnanimity of God and the endlessness of His grace and His resources, it’s all for all who come to Him. It will never be yours with your attitude. It will never be yours by works. You’ll never earn it. But it’s here if you ever want to establish a relationship with Me.

And verse 32 goes back to the main theme. “We had to be merry and rejoice. We had to.” It’s not like we had an option. “For this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live and was lost and has been found.” We had no choice…why? This is what causes joy to God. This is heaven’s joy. It can’t be restrained. It can’t be delayed. It can’t be postponed. It can’t be subdued. It can’t be mitigated. It can’t be lessened. Divine joy is released when one sinner repents and is reconciled. And heaven’s joy will be released not just for a prodigal, not just for someone who’s immoral and irreligious and blatantly sinful, but for secret sinners, rebels, the religious, the moral, the hypocrites, the ones whose lawlessness is all on the inside. God is saying here, Christ is saying, “I go out into the street for the prodigal and I go out into the courtyard for you. I humble Myself and take on public shame for the prodigal. And I humble Myself and take on public shame for you. I come with compassion and love and forgiveness and I am ready to embrace you and to kiss you and to give you full sonship with all its privileges, not just if you’re the prodigal, but even if you’re the hypocrite.” He’s really inviting him to salvation. You can come to the party if you choose, if you recognize your true spiritual condition, if you come home you can take possession of everything that’s always been there.

The younger son was overwhelmed with his father’s grace. Immediately confessed his sin, confessed his unworthiness in the very most magnanimous ways and he received instantaneous forgiveness, reconciliation, sonship all the rights and privileges that the father had at his disposal to give. He entered into the celebration of the father’s joy, that is eternal salvation. And as I’ve been saying, that joy goes on in heaven forever.

The older son, the same tenderness, the same kindness, the same mercy, offered the same grace, reacts with bitter resentment, attacks the virtue, the integrity of the father. And his father makes one final appeal. “My child, it’s all here. We had to celebrate, implied, and we will celebrate for you too if you come.”

And it stops in verse 32, isn’t that strange? What do you have hanging in your mind right now? Do you have a question there? I do. This is not an ending. What happened? Right? What did he do. You don’t end a story without an ending, it’s…and I guess this is another one of a series of shocks. After all of this you’re waiting, you’re waiting, you’re waiting and it stops. And, you know, if you had been listening to the whole thing you’d say, “Come on.” It’s like a joke with no punch line that lasts a long time. We’re all saying the same thing, what did he do? What did the older son do? The guests are all there. They’re waiting. They know what’s going on outside because the word is going in. What did he do? The guests are waiting, they want to know if he comes in. Having embraced and kissed his older son who repented, they want to know if he humbled himself, if he fell down before his father and sought grace for his long hypocrisy and bitter service. They want to know if he was forgiven and reconciled and they would love to see the father come in with his arm around his son, bringing him to the head table and sitting him next to his brother. Wouldn’t that be great?

Now that’s…you know, there are a lot of stories like this, you just sort of write your own ending. By the way, just from a technical standpoint. The story is divided into two halves. The first half has eight stanzas and they feature the younger brother. The second half has eight stanzas and they…has seven stanzas, I should say, and they feature the older brother. It should be eight and eight, but it’s eight and seven. And in the symmetry of the story there’s a lot of technical things that show you the symmetry of the story that I haven’t pointed out, but you have eight and then all of a sudden strangely you have seven. And so even in hearing the story, reading the story you would say it should be eight and eight, because that would be the symmetry that would be designed into that kind of Middle Eastern prose. The end isn’t there. There’s one section missing.

Now I would love to write one. I think maybe this would be good, “And the older son fell on his knees before his father saying, ‘I repent for my loveless cold service, my pride and selfishness. Forgive me, father, make me a true son, take me to the feast.’ At which point the father embraced and kissed him, took him in and seated him at his table by his brother and all rejoiced in the sons who had been reconciled to their loving father.”

I like that. Or maybe another shorter one. “The son seeing his father’s love, compassion and grace came to his senses about his wicked heart, was humbled, repented and reconciled.”

But you know what? I don’t get to write the end. Who wrote the end? The Pharisees wrote the end. Here’s the end they wrote. “And the older son being outraged at his father, picked up a piece of wood and beat him to death in front of everyone.” That’s the ending they wrote. That’s the cross and that’s what they did just a few months after this. And, by the way, congratulated themselves on their righteous act that preserved the honor of Israel and Judaism and true religion and God. Let’s pray.

What an ironic thing it is, God, that the father should have beaten the son, is beaten by the son to death in the greatest act of evil the world has ever seen. And yet, and yet, O God, out of that horrible ending of killing Your Son with wood came our redemption. The final shameful resolution of the story is the cross but out of that You have wrought our redemption for on that cross He died to bear our sins and what the leaders of Israel meant for evil, You meant for good. We thank You for this glorious salvation.

While your heads are bowed for just a moment. I don’t know where you see yourself in this story, we’re all there, either you’re the open sinner or the hidden one, or some degree of that, or you’re restored to the Father and you really do identify with the Father’s heart. You’re one of those folks at the party. You have gathered around Him as one of the redeemed to celebrate. I hope that’s true. But if you’re still estranged from God living in sin, or estranged from God living in secret lawlessness, corrupt on the inside, come to the Father who has borne shame for you, who has come down and run the gauntlet to embrace you and protect you from the shame you deserve, who has come out into the night, who’s left his throne to plead with a hypocrite, this is our gracious and good God who delights in mercy and finds His joy in forgiveness.


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/42-205
COPYRIGHT ©2010 Grace to You 

The Tale of Two Sons, Part 2

Luke 15:17-21            Code: 42-202

If you will, take your Bible and turn to the fifteenth chapter of Luke. And I confess to you that my heart and mind is overflowing with things I want to say to you and I’m doing the best that I possibly can to restrain myself from saying everything to treat you in a reasonable fashion. But this is such a rich chapter, as we have come to find out already. Luke chapter 15, we’ve entitled the contents of the entire chapter, “Heaven’s Joy,” subtitled, “Recovering the lost.” And this is part six in our look at this great chapter. And we are looking at the third of three stories, three parables that our Lord tells here. The first one about a shepherd finding a lost sheep, the second about a woman finding a lost coin and the third about a loving father and two sons, familiarly known as The Prodigal Son, but this story has much more than that.

In fact, this whole chapter and this story is about the joy of God. We do not usually think of God as joyful. We think of God as restrained. We think of God as serene. We think of God as almost without emotion. We think of Him as gracious because the Bible tells us that, and merciful. We think of Him as well as severe and angry with sinners and preparing judgment and executing wrath. It’s very hard for us to understand God as exuberantly glad. And yet that is exactly the way He is portrayed here.

Earlier in our study of Luke, you remember, in chapter 10, it told us that Jesus was rejoicing greatly. And the word that is used there means to be overjoyed. And what was it that brought Jesus such joy? It was the return of the 70 who had been out preaching the gospel, and when they came back and reported the wonderful things that happened in the preaching of the gospel, Jesus was over the top with joy. That’s consistent with what we learn in this chapter. In the first story, God is the shepherd who finds the sheep and brings the sheep home and calls on everyone to rejoice. Verse 7 says there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance. And in the second story when the woman finds the coin, she calls together her friends to rejoice and in the same way, verse 10 says, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Heaven’s joy is based on repenting sinners. One sinner who repents brings joy to God and all who surround Him in glory.

The third story is the story of a son, first of all, a profligate son, a prodigal, wasteful son who came back and consequently brought his father joy…profound joy, exuberant joy, joy that called for celebration. Heaven’s joy is continually over repenting sinners.

On the opposite side of that, however, were the religious leaders of Israel. The Pharisees and the scribes, the scribes were the scholars who supported Pharisaic legalism with their research. But the Pharisees and the scribes knew nothing of God’s joy over repenting sinners. They never wanted to be anywhere near the category of sinners. They felt that they would be somehow polluted and made impure if they came into contact with them at all. They kept their distance. In fact, they basically only associated with each other in a sort of self-imposed isolation to maintain the delusion of their own holiness. And they could not comprehend the fact that Jesus associated with sinners, the worst, the most publicly scorned and outcast and unsynagogued of people. And to them this was proof that He was not of God, but that rather He was of Satan because He associated with the people who were known to be a part of the kingdom of darkness. For this one who associated with the lowest of the low and the most wicked to claim to be God and to claim to be the Messiah of Israel was nothing short of an outrageous blasphemy. And so they set out with their mantra to convince the population at every point they could that Jesus did what He did by the power of Satan as evidenced by His association continually with sinners. It is such an accusation that sets the stage for the stories that Jesus tells in this fifteenth chapter. If you go back to verses 1 and 2, all the tax collectors who were hated by the Jews because they had purchased their tax franchises from the Romans, were working for the Romans, extorting taxes from their own people, a level of betrayal that was beyond comprehension for most Jews. All the tax collectors and the rest of those in the category of sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him, both the Pharisees and scribes began to grumble saying, “This man receives sinners, He hosts them and He eats with them.” This is evidence on their side that indeed their accusation that He’s of Satan has to be true because He spends His time with Satan’s people. He is therefore a false Messiah. The fever pitch continues to escalate. They do a good job of spreading their accusation against Jesus. It ultimately mounts into a storm of hatred that screams for His blood and ends in His murder…murdered as a false Messiah.

But our Lord explains why He associates with sinners in this chapter. And He does it in these three stories. And the reason He does it is because this is a true and pure reflection of what brings God joy. The joy of God is found in the recovery of lost sinners, as we read in verse 7 and verse 10 and as we see illustrated so dramatically in the third story which ends with a massive celebration over a lost son who is home.

Now as we look at this third story, it demands careful attention. I…I feel like I’m giving you a lot but cheating you at the same time because I can’t get it all in. This is so rich and so deep. And on the surface a lot of it is lost to us because we live in the western world two-thousand years later and this is back in the time of Jesus in a Middle Eastern village and we don’t have the unconscious sensibilities, the cultural insights and the attitudes that were a part of everybody’s life and didn’t need explanation. So if you wonder why it only takes a little while to read it but so long to explain it, it’s the difficulty of filling in the blanks.

The story divides itself into three parts that overlap. The first part is about the younger son. The second part is about the father. The third part is about the older son. It is dramatic and climactic as we go along. Each of those parts overlaps. As we’re looking at the younger son, it overlaps into the father. As we’re looking at the father, it overlaps into the older son. And so we’re trying to sort it out and yet let it flow.

We looked last time at the first part, verses 11 to 16, about the younger son. And we divided that into two parts, a shameless request, verse 11. He said, “A man had two sons,” from the beginning it is a tale of two sons. “The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them.” This was an outrageous, shameless request, tantamount to wishing your father was dead because it was customary, it was acceptable only for a son to receive his inheritance after the death of his father. The son is therefore saying, “I wish you were dead, I want what is mine. I want it now.” This is shameless in its request. And it allowed him to perpetrate not only a shameless request, but a shameless rebellion. “Not many days later, after he had received his part of the estate, the younger son gathered everything together,” that means he turned it all into cash, “went on a journey into a distant country. There he squandered his estate with loose living.” Later in the story it is said that he engaged himself with harlots among other things. He squandered his estate with loose living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country. He began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating and no one was giving anything to him.

A shameless request leads to a shameless rebellion. And all of that, as I told you, pictures the irreligious, rebellious, immoral sinner, the very kind of person that Jesus was associating with. The people who are treated badly by the culture, who were scorned and made outcasts by the society, they were as bad as bad can be. This young man demonstrates someone who’s gone as low as you can go, all the way to the bottom in a Gentile country, living in an outrageous and immoral way, ending up not only taking care of pigs but eating with pigs, becoming one of them. This is as bad as it gets. And he ends up destitute and helpless.

Now at this point, the father reenters the story…the father reenters in the mind of the son, first of all. And we go from a shameless request and a shameless rebellion to a shameful repentance. We see that in verse 17 as we begin to talk about the father. Verse 17, “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s…'” Stop there just long enough to say all of a sudden his father comes to mind. I’m sure he had done everything he could to make sure he kept his father out of mind while he was indulging himself. But now left with nothing, destitute, in a famine, dying of hunger, he comes to his senses…he comes to himself. He has a conversation with himself. And what he says in his soliloquy is, “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger?” And this is where repentance really begins, it begins with an accurate assessment of your condition. It’s really important for the profligate sinner, for the prodigal, for the wasteful irreligious outcast to come to an honest assessment of his own situation or her own situation. He knows he is in a situation for which he has no resources to get out. He knows he is dying of hunger and no one will give him anything and he’s losing the battle with the pigs for what they can eat. It’s the end. And all repentance begins with an honest assessment of one’s condition of destitution, helplessness, no resources, and impending death.

And so, he thinks about his father and how many of his father’s hired men have more than enough bread while he’s dying of hunger. Now that says a lot about the father. This is where we start to learn about the father. Let me tell you a little bit about what it was to be a hired man,a misthos. A hired man was a day laborer. Sometimes you see them around, don’t you, standing on a corner waiting for somebody to come along and give them a job that day even today in our society and all around the world and all through history. They are at the lowest level. They are basically the poor, the poor who are willing to work who need to work. And everybody who was poor in these days in biblical times had to work. Day workers hoped somebody would come along and hire them. They were, for the most part, unskilled although some of them may have developed some skilled craft that they would be hired to do. But for the most part, they were just unskilled workers who were available to help in the harvest or to do something that was temporary and therefore earn a little money to survive.

Now he remembers that his father paid them more than enough. That is to say he remembered that the hired men had more than enough bread which is to say their father was…what?…generous. He remembered that his father gave them more than they generally needed to survive. His father was loving, his father was good, his father was kind, his father was generous. You see, hired men were even protected by the Old Testament law. Leviticus chapter19 verse 13 says the wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. If you hire somebody to do work and he eats on the basis of that work and that money sustains him and his family, you have to pay him the day he does the work.

Well the father was a man who not only did what the Old Testament law said, but he did more. This comes into the mind of the son and it’s very important that his father is not a hard man, his father is not an indifferent man. His father is kind and generous and good and he knows his father well enough to know that he’s a merciful man, that he’s a generous man and that he is a forgiving man. He has all of that knowledge because that has been revealed to him in the revelation of his father which he had when he was in the home. He doesn’t know anybody else like that. He doesn’t know anywhere to turn to. And somebody might say, “Well wait a minute, I mean, he would expect that his father having been so totally disgraced and dishonored in the village by such a request from such an ungrateful and profligate son would have been in shame and embarrassed and dishonored to the point where you wouldn’t want to go back to him at all. But he knows his father better than that, he knows his father is not vengeful. He knows his father is merciful and generous.

Now hired men were not slaves. Slaves lived in the family. They weren’t necessarily paid wages, typically they were just supported. They were part of the household. So if you were a slave, you worked in a family, they gave you your food and your lodging and took care of all of your needs and maybe there was a little pocket money for discretionary things. Hired men were lower than that. They had nobody continually caring for them. They were out on their own at the lowest of the low. But they received wages and those wages, believe me, were given at the discretion of the man who hired them. Do you remember when Jesus told the story about going into the marketplace in the gospel of Matthew to find some people to come and work in the harvest? Then they first found some at six o’clock, and then some at nine, and some at twelve and some at three, took them out and they didn’t negotiate at all what their wage would be, remember that? The ones who came at six, nine, twelve, three all received…what?…one denarius, the same wage, and that was due to the generosity of the man. They were not in a position to negotiate. Day workers weren’t. They took what they could get to survive. But this was a generous father. All the people who heard Him tell the story would have processed all of that which I have to fill in for you. But he’s ready to go back to this man that he knows to be merciful and generous and compassionate and kind. He is ready now because he doesn’t have an alternative. There’s nowhere left to go. All he can do is humble himself, face his shame, admit his terrible sin and disgrace. Go back and try to be treated with the same kind of mercy and compassion and kindness that he knows his father treats poor people. And maybe…maybe if he can work long enough, he can earn back what he lost and make restitution back to the family and then have a reconciliation with his father.

He’s thinking the way the people in Israel thought because that’s the way Jesus wants him to think. They would have all understood this. They would have all said, “Yep, boy, if he’s truly repentant he’ll go back, he’ll go back to his father, he’ll confess, he’ll repent, he’ll be humbled, he’ll be humiliated, he’ll be scorned, he’ll be shamed and that’s just and that’s fair and that’s right because of what he’s done to his father. Very severe in an honor/shame culture, very important to protect the honor of the old man. That’s what he needs to do and he needs to go back and then he needs to receive from that father mercy and forgiveness based on work that he does. He needs to do restitution. So they would have been with him in this story up to now. They would have been horrified at what the young man did. They would have seen him as an absolute outcast. And if there was any hope for coming back, he would have to come back, receive mercy and forgiveness and do the work to earn back his reconciliation.

Well, he’s ready. He’s broken. He’s alone. He’s sad. He’s penitent. He has nowhere to go. And he believes in his father. This is a picture of one whose repentance leads to salvation because, you see, not only repentance here but faith in his father. He trusts in his father’s goodness, compassion, generosity and mercy. Repentance is linked to faith. He knows the kind of man his father is and in spite of the horrible way he has blasphemed his father, dishonored his father, shamed his father, the horrible way he has treated his father, the terrible way he has lived his life, coming to the very bottom he knows his father is a forgiving man and penitently he trusts to go back and receive forgiveness and do whatever works he needs to do to make restitution and be reconciled.

So verse 18, “I’m not just going to stay here and die, I will get up and go to my father and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Here’s my plan, make me one of your hired men.'” That’s all good. They would…all the Pharisees and scribes would say that’s it, that’s exactly what he needs to do, that’s sensible thinking, boy. He came to his senses, he had a little dialogue with himself, he had a soliloquy, he understood, he had nowhere to go but home. He understood something about the goodness of the father. He’s ready to place himself on the mercy of the father having repented of his sins. He’s going to go back and he’s going to do what he needs to do by making himself a hired man at the lowest point on the totem pole in terms of socially, no intimacy with the father, not even a slave in the house let alone a son. He has no right to the home, no right to deplete the family resources any further. He’s just going to work when they want to invest some money in something that’s going to bring a dividend like anybody else will work. He’s ready.

His sensible thinking then moves his will. This is how repentance works. First of all the sinner comes to himself, comes to his senses, begins to really look and assess where he is and where he’s headed to the inevitable death and destruction and eternal damnation. The sinner says I can’t keep going this direction, there’s only one to whom I can turn, that’s the Father whom I have flaunted and dishonored. I have to go back to Him. I have to go back bearing my shame and full responsibility for my sin. I have to cast myself on His mercy, forgiveness and love. And I have to tell Him that I’m willing to work to do whatever I need to do to earn my way back. Everybody would have understood that.

It’s very humbling…very, very embarrassing, very shameful, but he says I’m going to do it. And listen to how severe he…he is about his own self-indictment. “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight.” Against heaven is actually eis tu ouranon. I have sinned into heaven. And it may well be that what he means by that is my sins pile up as high as heaven. This may be a reflection of Ezra 9:6, “O, my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to Thee, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens.” He’s not holding anything back. He’s genuinely penitent. He is denying himself fully. This is the stuff of real repentance. He is saying, “My life has been a total disaster. I am facing death and there’s no one to blame but myself. I rebelled, I disobeyed, I wasted my life, I dishonored my father. My sins rise to the very presence of God they stack so high.” This is true repentance, holding back nothing, no excuses, no blame anywhere but himself. And so true penitence matched with true trust in a father’s love and forgiveness starts the sinner back.

He has to go back to save himself from his sin. Empty, alienated, headed for eternal destruction, every sinner whoever repents starts with powerful conviction of his own or her own condition, destitute, empty, headed for eternal death. Every sinner who comes back takes full responsibility for that sin and sees it as an offense that rises as high as heaven. Every sinner who comes back sets his course or her course toward God to come back. And the Jews would have understood that when you come back, God will accept you if you do the work. He had no rights, forfeited them all when he took his part of the estate and liquidated it and squandered it, no rights, no worthiness. There never will be a son again, at least that’s his view, I’m no longer worthy to be called your son, just make me a hired man. Just give me a job and over all the years that it takes I’m going to work to earn back everything I lost. I have no rights, he says, I have no privileges, I lay no claim, I don’t ever expect you to receive me on my terms. Remember now, he’s dead, they had a ceremony when he left, a funeral. That’s why he’s referred to twice by the father as my son who was dead. I don’t expect to live in the home. I don’t expect to be a slave. I don’t even expect a relationship with you, father, I just want to work and I’ll earn my way back. Make me as one of your hired men.

You know, there’s real faith here in God and there’s real repentance. This is the real stuff. And those Pharisees and Sadducees at this point would be applauding. They would be…Yeah, this is right, that’s what he’s got to do. Up to now they’re generally affirming the story. They didn’t like the story at the beginning because dishonoring the father was distasteful to them. They were horrified when the young man left and conducted his life in that way. And even more horrified when he ended up with pigs who were considered, of course, utterly unclean. But since then, they liked the idea that he came to his senses, they like the idea that he’s coming back. And they know there’s no instant reconciliation, that’s not how it’s done. He’s penitent and he trusts his father but he’s going to have to earn his way back. That’s pure Pharisaic theology, along with every other religion in the world. He comes back and says I’ll take my punishment, I’ll take the exclusion from fellowship in the family. I’ll take the distance from my father. I’ll endure the humiliation of lowly work. I’ll take the pain of hard labor for years to restore what I lost. I’ll work my way back until I can be reconciled.

Oh he’s filled with remorse for the past. He’s filled with pain in the present. And he’s looking forward to even more pain in the future as he works for years to earn his way back. Everybody would get it because that was the way they thought it had to be done. All the glitter is off the gold in the far country now, right? All the free wheeling lifestyle has turned to a terrible crushing bondage. All the dreams are nightmares, all the pleasure is pain, all the fun is sorrow, all the self-fulfillment is self-deprivation. The party is over for good. The laughs are silenced, the friends are gone. It’s as bad as it can get and he’s about to die. There’s nowhere to go.

Well this is not say that every sinner who repents gets this bad. That’s not the point. Not every sinner does get that bad. Not every sinner is that wretched. Not every sinner spends his money on harlots. That’s not the point. The point is we want to know what this father is going to do to a sinner who is as bad as it can get because if he acts in grace toward the one who is as bad as possible, then there’s hope for those who aren’t. But the case has to be extreme to make the point. He’s ready to humbly come to his father. He’s ready to confess his sin without excuse. He’s ready to do whatever work he needs to do to come back.

He reminds me of that person in the story Jesus told in Matthew 18 who, you remember, embezzled money and said to the ruler, “Let me work and I’ll earn it all back?” That was the typical way. That’s the typical religious way. You get into God’s family by your works. His thoughts were of a dishonored father and he felt back. His thoughts were on the horror of his own sin and he felt bad. And he was willing to do whatever he was told to do to make restitution. Boy, that…there’s some real genuine repentance in that, no terms.

And so, shameful repentance, that comes to the fourth point in the flow, a shameful reception…a shameful reception. And that in itself may seem a little bit startling to you but you’ll see in a moment. A shameless request, a shameless rebellion, and then a shameful repentance and a shameful reception, this is amazing, this is paradoxical and this is shocking. Verse 20, “So he got up, 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.” At this point, if the Pharisees and scribes were standing on anything, they fell off. This is way beyond their sensibilities. In fact, this is a shameful reception by their assessment.

It starts out simply by saying he got up and came to his father. The son, the sinner, ready to face the shame he deserves. He wants restoration, he wants a new start. He needs his father. He needs his father’s resources. His father can give him life instead of death. He has hope in the goodness and kindness and forgiveness of his father. He’s truly penitent. He doesn’t even want to be a slave, he’ll work as a hired man to be paid to earn his way back. He doesn’t want anything he doesn’t deserve. And he will work to earn it.

That’s pretty much how people feel. That’s how the Jews felt. And the Pharisees and scribes listening to Jesus, along with anybody else at that time who heard this story would say, “Yeah, that’s right.” And you know what? When he does come to his father they would know what the father would do. First of all, the father would not be available. He had been dishonored. His respect had been tarnished in the community. He had been shamed by such an outrageous and rebellious son, and he had brought shame upon himself in some ways by even allowing him to do that. And here comes the son with another outrageous request after he has already cost a great portion of the family its fortune and the father his honor. So the Jews would expect this, they would expect, and this would be what would be done in the Middle East then and perhaps even today in some places, the father would refuse to meet him. The father would make him sit outside the gate of the home somewhere in that village for days in public view. Nobody would take him in so that the whole town could heap scorn on him, so that the whole town could bring the retribution upon his head that he deserved for the way he dishonored his father. Scorn and abuse and slander against him and people mocking him and perhaps even spitting on him. And the son would expect it. He would expect it, he knew it could come and he would sit there and take it. The Pharisees and scribes would expect that he had to be justifiably shamed before everybody as part of the retribution for the shame he had brought upon his father.

And when the father did let him in after a certain period of time, it would be a very cool reception and he would be required to bow low and kiss the father’s feet. Then the father would tell him with a measure of indifference what works he would have to do and for how long he would have to work to demonstrate that his repentance was real. And if he did work as long as he needed to and did all the reparations and all the restitution and paid back in full what he owed, then he could be reconciled and only then. All the rabbis taught that. All the rabbis taught that repentance was work a man does to earn God’s favor when he feels sorry for his sin. That’s what repentance was, you feel sorry for your sin, you want to be restored to God so you do work and by that work you gain favor with God by making restitution. Everybody knew that was the way it was done. And the village would even after they had heaped scorn on him for long enough would let him work there with a measure of dignity.

But that is not what happened. In fact, what happened could only be described as shameful, shameful. What happened while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Now I just got to take that apart a little bit. While he was still a long way off…hadn’t reached the entrance to the village, down some dusty road way out of town…a long way off, his father sees him which is an indication of the father seeking, isn’t it? Everybody would know that. The father looking. They would assume he had been looking a lot very often, that he knew the kind of life that his son was headed toward would end up the way it ended and that he hoped that he would survive it so that he could come back and the father bearing a private pain and a suffering love all alone in his own heart looking, and looking and looking and looking.

It’s daylight, has to be daylight in the story because he sees him a long way off, which means the town is full of people, the town is crowded, the town is busy. It’s a hubbub, it’s bustling with women and children and older people and everybody who’s not out in the field. That means it’s a busy place. And the father is looking and looking.

Why? Very simple, he wants to reach his son before his son reaches the village. He not only wants to initiate the reconciliation as the shepherd did when he found the sheep and the woman when she found the coin, but he wants not just to initiate the reconciliation, listen, he wants to get to his son before his son gets to the village. Why? He wants to protect him from the shame. He wants to protect him from the scorn and the abuse and the slander. He wants to bear the shame, take the abuse. He’s willing to have the people say, “What’s he doing? This man who has been dishonored now dishonors himself by embracing this wretched boy.” But he wants to protect the son from the scorn, the slander, the taunting which was expected, which was just, which was part of the culture, which was expected.

How does he do it? How does he protect the boy? He sees him, it says, when he’s still a long way off from the village, it says he felt compassion. Not just compassion for his past sin, not just compassion for his present filth, and he was in rags and smelled like a pig, but compassion for what he was about to experience. And the word compassion is splanchnizomai, comes from a root that means your intestines, or your bowel or your abdomen. He felt a sick feeling in his stomach when he saw the boy and knew he was headed toward this unleashing of scorn. And so it says he ran.

Now I’ve got to tell you something, folks, Middle Eastern noblemen don’t run. That’s just basic. The word running here literally it says, “And running,” is dromon(?), it is the Greek word that is a technical word for racing in a stadium. He sprinted, is what he did. It’s almost as if he’s impatient, he can’t get there fast enough. This word doesn’t indicate a trot or a shuffle, or a middle-aged scoot. He sprinted. And this is beneath his dignity, folks. O my, if you only knew. I’ll tell you. Kenneth Bailey has made a study of life in the Middle East, having lived there for many, many years, collected material which is rich in its understanding in the Middle East. He writes this, “One of the main reasons why Middle Easterners of rank do not run is that traditionally they all have worn long robes. This is true of both men and women. No one can run in a long robe without taking it up into his or her hands. When this occurs the legs are exposed which is considered humiliating. Clearly…he writes…exposure of the legs was considered shameful. The robes themselves reached to the ground to make sure this didn’t happen. A quaint ruling for the Sabbath states that if a bird crawls under your robes on the Sabbath, you may not catch it.” Now there’s a problem. “Because you might have to expose your leg to do that.” So it says, “The suggested alternative is to sit very quietly and wait for sundown so no one can see and then seize the bird. Further, on the Sabbath you could smooth out your robe to make it look nice but you couldn’t lift it up. If your robe did not reach the ground, and you didn’t have a longer one for the Sabbath, you had to take the hem of it out so that it touched the ground. Also, no one should jump or take long strides. One foot should be on the ground at all times. The reason for this last ruling is to assure that no part of the leg is ever exposed. Rabbi Hizdah(?) while walking between thorns and thistles would lift up his garments to keep them from being torn and he had to offer his followers a defense of this unacceptable exposure of his legs.”

In another tractate, ancient tractate, Abba Hilkiah(?) lifts his robes to avoid thorns while walking in the country. He is asked to explain these mysterious acts which are bewildering to us. Outer robes themselves are called makabedut(??), meaning that which brings me honor. Honor was connected to the robe. Priests making the sacrifices were not allowed to lift their long robes to keep them out of the blood on the pavement, for fear their legs would be exposed.

Listen, this is so much a part of Middle Eastern culture that in Arabic versions of the Bible, the New Testament, there is just an utter unwillingness to have this father run. In some Syriac versions, translations, the father runs. But in the Arabic, the older Arabic translations say he went, he presented himself, he hastened and he hurried. They just can’t put down what the word says which is run. For a thousand years of Arabic translations of this account, a wide range of such phrases were employed, almost as if there was a conspiracy to avoid the humiliating truth of the text that the father ran. The explanation for all of this is simple, the tradition itself identified the father as God and running in public is too humiliating to attribute to a person who symbolizes God.

Finally, in 1860 in what’s called the Vandyke Arabic Bible, the father runs. The worksheets, however, of the translators are still available and the first worksheets indicate they put, “He hurried” only in the last worksheet did they take it, “He ran.”

What is God running for? Why does He bring shame and scorn on Himself for exposing Himself? It’s just shocking. The reason, the Father runs taking the shame to protect the son from taking the shame. He takes the scorn and the mockery and the slander so that his son doesn’t have to bear it. And then when he finally gets there, even more shockingly, he embraced him, literally fell on his neck, just collapsed in a massive hug, buried his head on the neck of his son, stinking and dirty and ragged as he was. And now we know that the father has been suffering silently for the whole time he’s been gone. He’s been suffering quietly, loving that boy while he was gone and now that quiet silent suffering love has become publicly displayed as he runs through the street bringing shame on himself to embrace his son and spare him from shame. Everybody now knows how much that father loves that son. So much that he takes his shame, that he empties himself of any pride, of any rights, of any honor and in a self-emptying display of love brings shame on himself in order to throw his arms around that returning sinner and protect him from being shamed by anyone else. By the time the boy walked into the village, he was a fully reconciled son.

I cannot tell you what shock would go through the listeners. And if that’s not enough, it says, “And he kissed him,” kata phileorepeatedly…repeatedly on the corner of the lips, on the cheek, anywhere. This is amazing. You want to know how eager God is to receive a sinner? He will run through the dirt and bear the shame, He will embrace the sinner with all His strength and plant kisses all over the sinner’s head. Some people think that God is a reluctant Savior. No, He’s not. This is the kiss of affection repeated and repeated. He’s ready to kiss his Father’s feet, but His Father is kissing his head. This is a gesture in the culture of acceptance, friendship, love, forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation, all the above. And all of that before the son says one word. What does he have to say? He’s there, that’s enough to indicate his faith in the father and his repentance. He came knowing he had to cast himself on the father’s mercy and he came knowing he had to be ready to bear the shame. And he came.

This is radical stuff, folks…radical, totally unorthodox. Hence, absolutely unexpected, and this is where the story has its huge surprise. The father condescends, humbles himself out of this deep love for this son, comes all the way down from his house to the dirt of the village, runs through bearing the scorn and the shame, throws his arms around the penitent believing sinner who is coming to him in his filthy unclean rags, that father is doing exactly what Jesus did…exactly what He did. He came down into our village to run the gauntlet and bear the shame and the slander and the mockery to throw His arms around us and kiss us and reconcile with us.

The shock is all this happened without any…what?…works. That’s the shock. It was all grace as the next verse makes clear. “The son understood it and the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven,'” or up to the heaven, “‘and in Your sight I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'” End of speech. But he left something out. What did he leave out? Go back to verse 19, he left out the last one, “Make me as one of your hired men.” Why? Because there’s no need for works. He’s just received grace. This is the jolt. The father is so eager, he receives and embraces and reconciles with the son before the son can say anything. But when he does speak, he leaves out the works part, full repentance, full faith and no works. Why? Because he’s already been received as a son. He’s already been forgiven. He’s already received mercy. He’s already been reconciled. His repentance is real. His faith is true. And his father responds with complete forgiveness and reconciliation. Now he knows I don’t have to work my way back, he embraced me, he kissed me, he took my shame.

Beloved, that’s all the sinner ever has to do is come penitently, trusting in God. And the Savior runs to the sinner asking nothing, throwing His arms of love, mercy and grace around the sinner, kissing him repeatedly because that is the joy of God. The son starts out and so do the listeners with a Jewish understanding of repentance and faith and works. And the son ends up and so do we with a divine understanding of repentance and faith and grace. He’s ready to suffer for his sins. He feels its right. But it’s not necessary, doesn’t belong. The father has come down from the honored place in the mansion, he’s come down the dusty streets in humiliation, he’s borne the shame to forgive, embrace, restore and protect his beloved son. The son offers no plan for work, that would be an insult to grace…an insult to love,….an insult to the shame the father bore. He has just seen grace in its fullness, and so have we. He knows he’s accepted with full love, he’s accepted as a son, no conversation about a hired hand. He will gladly become a son to this loving, forgiving father and leave his future in his father’s hands.

That points, folks, to the experience that each of us has had who are believers. There was a day when we came to the Father and He ran to embrace us. We aren’t worthy of that as bad as we were, as bad as this boy was, there was no limitation, hesitation, hesitance at all on the Father’s part to give full reconciliation. The Father is waiting for some of you and there’s nothing you can do but confess your desperation, nothing you can do but confess your sinfulness, your unworthiness and cast yourself on the grace and the mercy and the forgiveness of a loving God who has come down from His throne on high to this dusty village and has run the gauntlet on the cross to throw His arms around you to protect you from shame and to give you sonship. This is an exuberant God. This is a God who is lavish in His love and lavish in His embrace and His kisses. And as we’re going to see next time, He’s so filled with joy that He throws a party for this one penitent sinner. Let’s pray together.

What can we say? This is to us, our Father, in some ways a presentation that changes how we think of You. We think of You as austere, and serene and sometimes even severe, though calculatingly gracious. And now we find out that You’re over the top with joy, that You’re exuberant, that You’re glad, that You’re happy, that You’re thrilled, that You’re overjoyed when a sinner comes, that You are so eager that You’re looking and looking and then when you get a glimpse of a penitent sinner, You run to bear the shame, protect the returning sinner. Then You lavish him with love and affection and reconciliation. And then You start the party, the heavenly celebration, the ring, the seal, the robe, fattened calf, the singing. Heaven’s joy in the repentance of one sinner, so magnificently pictured for us here. How grateful are we that heaven has had that joy over us? O how we thank You because You are the seeker, we would not be found had You not sought us. We thank You for salvation. We thank You that we have become a part of heaven’s joy. We know there are some who as yet have not come to their senses, not had that soliloquy that honestly evaluates where they are, and not had their will moved to go back to the one they have rebelled against, seek for mercy with a penitent heart. Father, we pray that You’ll move on those hearts and whatever the inner may be thinking about, what he has to do or she has to do to make it right. May they know that just coming with repentant faith they will find that You will run to them, smother them in loving grace and never will there be anything that they must do to earn that reconciliation. This is pure grace and pure glory for you with joy and gratitude, we pray in Your name. Amen.


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/42-202
COPYRIGHT ©2010 Grace to You

The Tale of Two Sons, Part 3

Luke 15:22-24            Code: 42-203

We are studying together the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of Luke, Luke’s record of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, one of the four records, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Luke is a very careful historian and there are elements of his gospel that are unique to him and the fifteenth chapter is one of them. Luke chapter 15, in this chapter Jesus tells three stories, three parables that are indelibly impressed upon our minds by now, wonderfully rich and important for us to learn.

We are looking at the third and final of these three parables which is very familiar to most people, it’s called the story of the prodigal son. I have taken the liberty to break with tradition a little bit and to retitle it, “A Tale of Two Sons, and a Loving Father,” because it’s much more than just a story about one son, it’s a story about both sons and particularly a story about their loving father.

As we come back to the fifteenth chapter of Luke, I just want to say to you that Jesus told this third story obviously in one setting. And that’s really the way the story should be told. But unfortunately we are two-thousand years removed from this culture. We are two-thousand years removed from the attitudes, conventional thinking, the common understanding, conscious and subconscious, of the people who heard Him tell the story. And so we are unable because we don’t think the way they think to grasp its depth of meaning initially. And so I’m here week by week to sort of fill in the blanks and to help you to think the way people thought at that time so you can extract the meaning from it. The upside is that in the end you’re going to understand the story. The downside is it’s going to take a while. And I hate to have a week in between each segment, that’s almost like cruel and unusual punishment. But maybe down the way, and I apologize for that, maybe down the way there will be a time when I’ll take a few hours, you know, who knows, maybe some Sunday evening or something and just retell the whole story in one setting for those of you who maybe have found it difficult to piece it all together.

One other apology, and that is the fact that I have to review a little bit each time because I don’t want to bring somebody into the story who hasn’t been here. It is possible that someone doesn’t come every week, I can’t conceive of such behavior, but I’ve heard of it and so in deference to that kind of behavior which may or may not exist in this church, I feel the need to fill in what has gone before.

Now by way of introduction, our Lord Jesus was, of course, the master of story tellers, unequaled with profound connections to spiritual truth, divine truth. And Jesus’ stories in their essence were conveying supernatural information. They were conveying divine revelation. Even though they have a spiritual intent, they are real stories. Even though they deal with the Kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of God, the realm of the divine, they are natural stories that relate to all of us and to common human experience. Jesus was a realist, that’s for sure. And I might say as a footnote, I am a realist. I like things that are real. I have very little interest in fantasy worlds of any kind. I have very little interest, almost no interest at all in art that isn’t real. I like music that is consistent with the laws of music. I’m a realist and I think I learned that from Jesus. Jesus never made up stories about worlds that didn’t exist. Now I don’t want to argue or debate the genius of J.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis and the kinds of fanciful worlds that create and within those fanciful worlds there are spiritual implications. But I’m simply saying Jesus was a realist, He never made up any stories about worlds that didn’t exist. He never had any stories that contained alien beings. He never had stories with talking animals or creatures with supernatural powers. He never told stories about life and conflict in some other place in some other time and some other dimension of existence. All His stories were about real people in real places in real life in common experiences that everybody at His time in the world and His place would fully understand. In fact, there are no other world fantasies in the Bible except for visions are spiritual where God occasionally revealed His truth through some spiritual vision. All the stories told in the Bible, all the record of illustrations that are given by Jesus and other teachers in the Bible are always true to fact and true to natural experience.

It is perhaps important to note that false religions are almost all born out of myth and fantasy. Teachers of Scripture and Jesus Himself only speak of a real world. The Bible then is a real world book, stories about life, stories about people, things you can get a handle on and understand because they’re part of your own experience. Even when Jesus told stories to hide things, and sometimes He did. Sometimes His stories were intended to become riddles that never were solved. Sometimes His stories were intended to conceal. And when He did that He was by doing that pronouncing a judgment on His audience. He was saying that your unbelief and your indifference to the truth has reached a point where I’m not going to explain this to you anymore. And He would speak a story and they would not know what it meant and He would not tell them. And then later He would explain it to His disciples. But even then, even when He was endeavoring to conceal, the story was comprehensible. The story was clear. The story was simple. It could be easily understood and it was normal and natural and real and consistent with their experience every day. They just didn’t know the meaning of it unless He explained it. And when He didn’t explain it, it was a kind of judgment on them.

Now you would assume that if there was any group of people that Jesus would want to pronounce a judgment on, it would be the Pharisees and the scribes. They were the religious architects of the populous religion of Israel at the time of Jesus. They were the power people in terms of religion. They had the influence because they plied their religious system through the local synagogues of which there were many in every town and village. And they had pretty much captured the people and captured them to their form of legalism, that you work your way to salvation and you work your way to God by your good deeds, your morality and your devotion to religious ceremony and ritual. They saw Jesus as the enemy because Jesus came preaching forgiveness by grace. They saw Jesus as a threat to their system. And so they went on a massive campaign to discredit Jesus throughout the land of Israel and the basic bottom line slogan of their campaign was, “He does what He does by the power of Satan.” That was their mantra. And that is what they tried to convince the people was true concerning Jesus. He was not of God as He claimed. He was really of the devil. And one of the proofs that He was of the Devil was He hung around with all the people who were outcasts, all the people who were tax collectors, bought tax franchises so they could extort money out of their own people, that kind of traitor was the lowest of the low. And the people who were tax collectors gathered around Him and so did the general category of riff-raff comes under the word sinners. They were outcasts. They had been put out of the synagogue and they were dispossessed of any participation in social life. And because Jesus spent so much time with tax collectors and sinners, this to them was evidence that He was of Satan because He was always hanging around Satan’s people. And so that’s what they told everybody. There was a sense in which they liked to see Jesus in that setting because then they had more grist for their little propaganda mill. And that’s how chapter 15 begins, doesn’t it? All the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near to Jesus to listen to Him and so the Pharisees and scribes who are watching say this man receives sinners and eats with them.

There it is, folks. He’s satanic, look at Him, He’s with Satan’s people, that’s who He spends His time with. That was their indictment of Jesus that launched this chapter. From verse 3 on clear to verse 32 He answers this charge and He answers it in a most profound and powerful and rich way. If I could sum up His answer, take it sort of out of the parable form, it might go like this, this would be what His answer is in conceptual language. “Gentlemen, I understand you’re accusing Me of eating with sinners, with the hamartolos, the lowlifes. You are correct. That is exactly what I do and I do not merely allow them to eat with Me, I do not only invite them but like a good shepherd searching for a lost sheep,” parable number one, “or like a good woman looking for a lost coin,” parable number two, “or like a good father running through the village to welcome a lost son, I go out with costly love seeking these sinners whom you so despise. In fact, I am ready to pay any price to win them and to bring them home to eat with Me, to live with Me, and I will celebrate their homecoming.” Now that’s conceptually His answer.

But He doesn’t give them that, He gives them stories that are unforgetable in which this becomes crystal clear. The whole point of it is this, God is interested in recovering lost sinners and you’re not. How far from God are you? The whole of history, the whole of human history since the Fall is about recovering lost sinners, that’s God’s chief business. That’s His highest joy. That’s why in verse 7 after the little story about the man who found a lost sheep, it says there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than 99 who don’t. And in verse 10, there’s joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Don’t you get it? How far are you from God? I am in the business of doing God’s work because God’s work is recovering lost sinners which causes all of heaven to celebrate. They were absolutely dead wrong. They said, “Look, He hangs around those lost sinners, proves He’s satanic.” He says, “I hang around those lost sinners because I am divine and I am doing the work of God and the work of God is to recover lost sinners.”

Well the third story is really the main story, the first two are just kind of preludes. The spiritual implications in this third story are just amazing, profound. And that’s why we have to fill in so much because we don’t think like a first-century Pharisee or scribe. We don’t even think like a first-century common peasant villager, which is the setting for the story. We would miss so much, you would just get the bare bones, kind of the bare structure without understanding some of the experiences, some of the nuances, some of the attitudes, some of the conscious and subconscious elements of their thinking. But when you understand that, and that’s why I’m trying to fill it in, and I apologize for kind of going back over it, but that’s the only way we can stay in the flow of the story, but when you understand all these nuances, then the story just takes on a life that it never would have otherwise. All of a sudden you really see what salvation is in this story because in this story, talk about theology, in this story we see sin, unworthiness, repentance, incarnation, atonement, forgiveness, reconciliation, love, peace, sonship, blessing and above all we see saving grace. You would expect in a story about salvation or a presentation of salvation to have all of those components, and they’re all here…they’re all here. And that’s what we’ve been looking at for the last several weeks.

Let’s catch up on the story, beginning in verse 11. “A man had two sons,” they’re the three participants right there, a man and two sons. It’s not a story about a prodigal son, it’s a story about a man and two sons. That’s pretty clear from the beginning. One of the sons is younger, and the other is older, obviously. And the father is the central character. The story starts out looking at the younger son, ends up looking at the older son and all of it overlaps in this incredible story. They all interact with each other and yet each is very, very clearly defined.

Now one of the dominant elements of the culture of the first century in Israel was the shame/honor perspective. Above everything, you did what you could do to maintain honor. There was a conventional kind of code of honor. There was a conventional kind of wisdom. There was a conventional attitude. There was an expected kind of conduct that related to honor and shame. At all costs you avoided anything that would bring shame upon you, so you always endeavored to act within the conventions and the expectations of the culture…and they had a very, very highly developed and sophisticated moral code. And I’m not just talking about theology or their view of Scripture, I’m just talking about all the implications of their religion had developed into a very sophisticated moral code of conduct. And people wanted to live within those confines so that they would be viewed with honor and not with shame. You avoided shame at any cost and you pursued honor at all costs. This is central to ancient Middle Eastern life. And by the way, it is still a part of the Middle East even today. Any violation of the cultural norm was deemed shameful. That was the worst thing that could ever happen to somebody.

So I’ve kind of constructed the story around the concept of shame and honor. In fact, each of the points so far has contained the word “shame” because as it starts out, it’s a very shameful story. And you can be sure that as this story unfolds, there’s just one electrifying shock after another that hits these Pharisees and scribes. They are the architects of the honor/shame culture. They have the highest and most sensitive attitudes toward this and so whenever their sensibilities are assaulted, they’re going to roll their legalistic eyes and shake their legalistic heads in incredulity at the conduct that Jesus describes.

It all begins with the younger son, making a shame, shameful request. He comes to his father, verse 12, he says, “Give me the share of the estate that falls to me. Give me my half of this estate.” He is a product of his father but he has no relationship to his father at all…none. Father brought him into being, that’s it. He has no relationship to him beyond that because the only way that the Jew listening to this story would understand that kind of a request would be the son is saying, “Father, you need to be dead.” Cause nobody gets the inheritance in that situation until the father is dead, since you’re not dying, could you just act like you’re dead? Get out of my way, get out of my life, give me what’s mine. He wants to eliminate any of his father’s influence, control, scrutiny, restraint, requirements, disciplines, expectations, even knowledge. I don’t want anything to do with you, I wish you were dead, just give me what’s mine. He is thoroughly thankless, selfish, has no concern for his father’s honor, and that would be the first gasp.

What son would ever do that? First of all the Ten Commandments are clear, Honor your father and your mother if you want to live a long life. I mean, that’s like suicide. What son would do that? That’s the first shock. And why is he asking? He’s impatient, he wants his estate, he wants to turn it into cash fast, which Jesus says he does in the story down in verse 13, “He gathered everything together” is a Greek phrase meaning he turned it into cash and which means he sold short, dumped it just to get the cash because he was in a hurry to sin. He wanted to sin every way he could, every desire to be fulfilled, every lust pandered to. He wanted to be as far away from his father, away from scrutiny where nobody knew him, where nobody judged him, where nobody disciplined him. Give me my estate, I’ll turn it into cash and I’ll go do what I want to do without having to answer to you or anybody else that knows me. This is an outrageous request, blatant, shameful dishonor of the father.

In the Middle Eastern culture, the father would be expected to slap him across the face, say, “You insolent child.” The father would display public anger in order to maintain his own honor. The father would then act disciplinary toward his son, doing something to discipline that kind of attitude. And then the father would refuse to give him what he so shamefully requests.

There’s a footnote. The people listening to this story would be saying, “By the way, where is the older brother here?” Because in that culture the older brother, the one who had the right to inherit the estate, the one who really stood alongside the father, he had one great responsibility in the family and in the culture, and that was to protect the honor of his father. Where is he? And also, as a responsible older brother, to do something about protecting the well-being of his brother. And what we find out here is he couldn’t care less about his brother’s well-being and he couldn’t care less about his father’s honor because he isn’t even there. But in the minds of the audience, they would be saying, “Where’s the older brother? Hey, the story’s got to bring the older brother in, the older brother has a responsibility, where is he?” The older brother was to be the mediator. The older brother was to be the reconciler. The older brother was to be the protector of his father’s honor and hopefully of his brother’s well-being. The only conclusion is, the older brother has no love for his brother, the older brother has no love for his father.

The shameless request, the shameful request leads to a shameless rebellion. He takes what is his, verse 13, turns it into cash. Goes on a journey to a distant country, a Gentile land which, of course, was a horrible thing to do. He squanders his complete estate with loose living and later on it says with harlots, prostitutes. Literally waste the whole thing. That’s where the word prodigal comes from, it means waste. And when he spent everything, verse 14, a severe famine occurred. His fault he spent the money, not his fault the famine came, but that’s life. Bad timing, he would say…bad timing. So there his condition is as bad as it can be, he’s as low as you can go. He’s as bad as it gets. You can’t get worse than this. In the mind of a Pharisee, to dishonor your father was at the head of the list and then to turn your estate into cash, which was a stupid economic move, would show how foolish you really were, and then to go take it and just spend it on immoral living wastefully with nothing to show for it, shows the depth of this sin. And then to reach the level where you’ve exhausted all of it and have nowhere to turn, now it gets even worse. He hires himself out in verse 15, he glues himself is what it means in the Greek. He glues himself to some Gentile citizen in the country which probably meant he hung on the guy until the guy had to get rid of him so told him to go into a field and feed pigs. Well for a Jew to feed pigs, pretty serious fall, unclean animals. And when he gets out there to feed the pigs, nobody gives him anything so whatever he expected the man to give him for feeding the pigs, the man didn’t give him. So what’s he finally ending up doing? It says, “He would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods the swine were eating.” He gets in the crush of the pigs trying to eat the slop to survive. At this point, you talk about the eyes rolling?: This is as bad as it gets. This is as bad as it can possibly be. He is defiled morally. He is defiled economically. He is defiled socially. He is defiled relationally. This is the collapse of a whole life. He’s not on skid row, he’s through the skid, he’s at the bottom.

This leads from a shameful request and a shameful rebellion to a shameful repentance, verse 20…or verse 17, “He came to his senses.” That’s good, that’s where repentance always starts, when you start thinking clearly about what your situation is. He came to his senses, disastrous deadly condition, nowhere to go, has no hope, has no resources. He’s dying. So he starts to think about his father. “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread and I’m dying here with hunger?” Now this tells us a little about the father.

Hired men were the lowest on the social structure. They were day laborers. You had land owners and then you had servants who were basically employed in the household, they were part of the family. They lived there, they were cared for, fed, housed, all their needs were met. And then you had the hired people who just showed up in the city square in the morning and hoped somebody hired them. If they didn’t work, they didn’t eat. They were the low. They were the poor. He says about his father that even hired men have more than enough bread, which says his father was generous, he paid more than they needed. He took good care of them which tells us about the generosity of his father. He knows his father to be generous. He knows him to be kind even with the poor. Here I am and I’m dying with hunger. He confesses the true plight that he is in, he’s at the bottom. “I will get up and go to my father, say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and in your sight, I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me one of your hired men.” Ah, for the first time the Pharisees and scribes are saying, “That’s what he needs to do.” They would affirm this, yes sir, because in their shame/honor culture the only way you can get your honor back was to go back and work for restitution. So you come to your senses, you say, “Wow, made horrible mistakes, I’m in this terrible mess, I’m going to go back, I’m going to plead to my father whom I know to be a good man because he overpays even the hired people so they have more than enough bread. I’m going to go back and I’m going to work and I’m going to work as long as it takes to earn back the whole estate that I have lost. And then when I’ve repaid my father everything, then my father will reconcile with me.” And that was a true Jewish rabbinic understanding of repentance. Repentance was a process by which you earned back what you had lost and you gained the right to be reconciled by your work.

He was ready. He was ready. And then in verse 20 we moved from a shameful repentance to a shameful reception. When he comes back, instead of his father protecting his honor, instead of the father saying, “Whoa, wait a minute, whew…you say my son’s in town? Let him sit there for five days. My son who shamed me, my son who dishonored me, dishonored himself, dishonored God who piled his sins as high as heaven, this wretched boy, you say he’s there, you say he smells like pigs? You say he stinks like hogs? You say he’s sitting there in rags? Let him sin, let him sit and think about what he did while I work out a plan of restitution, how he can earn it back and be reconciled.” That’s what they expected the father to say. They were ready for that. The father’s going to protect his honor. The father eventually after a few days is going to kick the door open and say, “You can now bring him in.” And he’s going to keep him at arm’s length and he’s going to rebuke him severely and he’s going to punish him and he’s going to tell him what his required restitution is and he’s going to tell him how much he’ll pay him and how long it’s going to take to earn it before he can ever come back to the house. He can’t be a servant in the house. He can’t be a son in the house. But he can be a hired man, work there day in and day out until he earns it all back. And if he’s faithful to the end, he can be reconciled. That’s what they would expect.

And here comes the real jolt, verse 20, the shameful reception. “So he got up, came to his father. While he was still a long way off,” he hasn’t even gotten to town yet. “His father saw him, felt compassion for him, ran, embraced him and kissed him.”

What? This is ridiculous, this is absolutely bizarre. This guy has had enough dishonor, has enough shame heaped upon him by his son, now he’s heaping shame upon himself by the way he treats the son. This is completely non-conventional…completely unexpected…absolutely shocking. For one moment there they thought the story might make sense. Who is this? What kind of father does this? What kind of father empties himself of all remaining honor? What kind of father condescends?

His father had been sitting in his house with a private heartache, with a private love, private pain, private suffering, waiting for the boy to come home. That’s why he was looking. And all of a sudden it becomes public pain, and public suffering, and public love as he sees him afar off and goes running through town. You remember what I told you last week? Middle Eastern noblemen don’t run anywhere, it’s beneath their dignity and also, as you well know, and I read you a whole lot of material on it, you don’t run because if you do you pull your robe up and you have to show your legs and that is shameful.

Why is he running? Cause he knows when the son reaches the town, he knows what the town is going to do. They’re going to heap scorn on him, they’re going to mock him. They’re going to ridicule him. They’re going to taunt him. And they would be expected to do that, it’s just and it’s fair. And he’s got to sit there for days and take it. But instead, the father wants to protect him from ever being taunted, ever being mocked, ever being rebuked, he runs through, takes the shame that they would heap on him for doing that so that he can catch the son before he ever reaches the gate and embrace him in his arms and reconcile with him and walk into town, having reconciled the son. The father then condescends to take the shame the son deserves. He bears in his own body the shame of the son.

Wow. That’s exactly what the gospel is. The sinner comes back, he’s got a plan…I’ll work it off…I’ll work it off…I’ll work it off. He’s ready to face the shame. He’s ready to face the older brother. He’s ready to face the father. He’s ready to face the village and all the scorn and the rebuke. And God comes rushing down, God in Christ, reconciling the sinner, runs the gauntlet, takes the shame, takes the rebuke, takes the taunt, take the mockery. They spit on Him. They abused Him. They beat Him. They crucified Him. He goes through, as it were, the dusty world in order to embrace that son and save him from the shame he really deserves. That’s the gospel. And the son sees in the action of the father, look at it, he felt compassion for him. He ran. He embraced him. And then he kept kissing him repeatedly on the forehead, on the cheek, on the side of the mouth, as Middle Eastern men do. Loving lavish affection to the penitent, this is the incarnation, folks. This is God in Christ embracing the sinner having borne his shame and He pours out love upon him. Complete forgiveness. Complete reconciliation. And the son says in verse 21, “I’ve sinned against heaven and in your sight, I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.” But what he doesn’t say is, “Make me one of your hired men,” because he knows he doesn’t have to work off anything, it’s all just been given to him by grace, right? That would be an insult. That would be a blasphemy of his father’s affection. And he now realizes it’s not about the money, it’s not about the estate, it’s about the relationship. It wasn’t the money that broke my father’s heart, it was the rejection. And a broken relationship can’t be fixed with money. A broken relationship can only be fixed when the offended person is willing to be reconciled. And God, the offended person, who is continually offended by the sinner is willing to be reconciled. And if the sinner will come and trust Him and ask for mercy, and come with a repentant heart, God will reconcile on the spot at that moment with the sinner apart from works by pure grace. The son is stunned by the suffering love of the Father. The son has to be stunned by the fact that the father has come down and borne his shame in his place. He is stunned by the momentary immediate forgiveness and the mercy of his father.

If you think in the story the son would be stunned, just look at the Pharisees and the scribes shaking their heads saying, “What in the world is this?” Because they don’t get it. The father is God and the son is the sinner, and this is what God does. He runs to redeem penitent sinners who come to Him for mercy. And Jesus explaining exactly why He spends His time with those people. It is God in Christ bearing our shame to protect us from Himself. It was the father who came and poured out his love and said the terms of reconciliation have been met. What are they? You came, you repented, you asked for mercy. Salvation by grace alone apart from works.

A shameless request, shameless rebellion, a shameful repentance, and a shameful reception by that father in their minds, led to a shameless reconciliation. Let’s come to verse 22. This is the last little section about the father. “The father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe, put it on him, put a ring on his hand, sandals on his feet,” we’ll stop there for a minute.

And here again the eyes roll. The father has no shame. He did a shameful run and now he’s shamelessly heaps blessing on this reconciled son. They wouldn’t understand this at all, just absolutely mind boggling that a father wouldn’t be more protective of his own honor. He gives him three things, a robe, a ring, and sandals. They all understood the implications of that. All of them did. They would have expected that he would say to him at best, “Look, okay, I want to forgive you, maybe it’s not going to take a lifetime of work, but I want to watch you for a year or two years and see what’s going on in your life and see if you’ve really repented and if you really mean that you want a restored relationship.” But there’s none of that. There is this immediacy. The father says to his slaves, and the picture would be this, the father comes out of the house, comes running down the dusty street in town and along behind him are the servants who are running to figure out where he’s going and why he’s running the way he is. And they know he shouldn’t be doing that, but they’re coming along because they’re his servants from his household. And finally he reaches the son, he embraces his stinking garments and he kisses him all over the place. And he turns to the servants who by then are huffing and puffing along with him. And he says, “Quickly, tachu, immediately, hastily, speedily with no delay, get that best robe.”

Humph…no father would act like that because, you know, every…every nobleman had a best robe. I mean, you’ve got one, you know, when you’re going to go to the fancy place, maybe you pull the old tux out or whatever the super suit is that you wear for special occasions, big occasions. You ladies all have a special garment that you wear for special occasions. If you don’t, you go buy one because the occasion calls for it. Well the families in those days had a special robe and it was the robe that was the most beautiful robe, the most finely crafted. In fact, it says actually that in the Greek. I mean, it even calls it a stole tain(?) proton, which means the first ranking garment, the first ranking stolen, stole, robe. And he puts it on him. And then he puts a ring on his hand. They would all understand that. That would again be mind boggling because a ring was a signet ring and it had on the ring the family crest or seal so that when you stamped your ring into the melted wax on a document, it was an authentication of that document and it had authority. Wherever you stamped that then you were bound by that. And the hired men went barefoot and servants went barefoot and only masters and sons wore shoes, sandals. They understand what he’s saying. This is the full honor of sonship. He’s giving him honor by putting this robe on him.

By the way, the robe belonged to the father, it was the robe that belonged to the most prominent member of the family to wear in the most prominent setting at the most prominent event. The father is about to call for the greatest celebration that’s ever occurred in that family and in that village and he’s giving away the garment that he would normally wear. This is a way of saying to the son, “Everything I have is yours.” This is a token of saying, “The best that I have is yours. The best of everything I have is yours,” as symbolized in the robe. It’s even more than that, you now have become fully restored as a son. It’s as if the king passes his robe to the prince, another self-emptying act by the father, clothing the son in his own glorious garment. No father would ever do that. Again, this father just seems not to be at all concerned about his own honor. But see, they don’t understand that God’s honor comes in his loving grace and forgiveness. All they know about is His works and Law. He came in stinking, he came in rags, he came unclean and nobody was ever going to see him that way again. That’s the picture. He came with nothing. He didn’t come with a suitcase. He came in his own stinking clothing. He had barely been able to arrive. He had nothing. That’s how the sinner comes. That’s how we all came cause God justifies the ungodly, Romans 4:5 says, those with nothing, those who are just wretched and nothing else.

And this is precisely the kind of thing Jesus is doing with these sinners. This is the kind of thing, this is the very thing the Pharisees and scribes refuse to see as the activity of God. They refuse to see it as the work of God. But it is the work of God. It’s the work of God to give everything He has to the penitent sinner immediately, not after some time gap but immediately.

And then the father in doing this practices what is called historically, it’s an old word, usufruct. You may have heard it if you ever worked in the financial world. Usufruct is a term used to speak of the right to exercise control over property that’s been irrevokably given to the older son. Even though the father has already irrevokably given that part of the estate to the older son who’s still in the home, the father can apply the right of usufruct to use that at his own discretion since he is still the patriarch of the family. He has authority to do that. And so essentially what he does is lay claim to all that belongs potentially to the older son and say it’s all yours. And they would be saying, “What in…how could you reward this kid for the way he behaved and tapped the stuff that belongs to the guy who stayed home?” This again is just beyond their comprehension. But that’s exactly what the father says. That older son would have worn that robe. That older son probably would have worn that robe first at his wedding cause that’s when that robe would come out. That was the single greatest event that could happen in a family, the wedding of the older son. He would have worn it but now the younger brother has it. That older son should have been able to act in behalf of his father by having his father’s ring and therefore being able to sign all the documents authentically that related to the possession of the family. This doesn’t make any sense. He don’t reward somebody who does that. You reward this guy who stayed home, right? Wrong.

Quickly, without hesitation, not even a blink, put the robe on him, nobody will ever see him in rags again. And by the way, he doesn’t say to the younger son, “Why don’t you go home and take a bath. After hugging you I come to the conclusion that this is a great necessity.” He doesn’t say that. He treats him like a prince. He says, look what he says to his slaves, “You get the robe and put it on him, you take him, you clean him, treat him like a king, treat him like a prince. You put the ring on his hand. You put the sandals on his feet.” It’s like royalty. And, of course, again this is just beyond imagination. The message is clear, full reconciliation, full rights, privileges, authority, honor, respect, responsibility as a son.

The whole crowd would just be stunned with incredulity. This is just completely opposite the way they thought. And then not only are you giving him the robe which essentially gives him the honor in the family, but you’re giving him the ring which gives him the authority to act with regard to all that the family possesses, all the assets of the family, all the treasures of the family, all the possessions of the family can be moved around by whoever has the stamp. Wow. He has authority to act in behalf of his father. He has authority to act in the place of his father. He has authority to dispense all the family resources.

There’s no waiting period here. There’s no test period. There’s no reentry time. There’s no limit on the privileges. This is full-blown sonship at the highest level. And it comes swiftly. All of this should have gone to the older son. Sandals on his feet, a sign that he’s the master now, he’s not a hired man, he’s not even a slave, he’s the master. He has authority. He has honor. He has responsibility. He has respect. He is a fully-vested son who can act in the place of his father and who has a right to access all the family treasures. Wow.

What’s the message here? Grace, triumphs over sin at its worse. The story isn’t saying that every sinner reaches the level he did, but when sinners do, grace still triumphs. This is a completely new idea, you have to understand, right? Completely new idea…undeserved forgiveness, undeserved sonship, undeserved salvation, undeserved honor, respect, responsibility, fully vested son without any restitution, without any works. This kind of lavish love, this kind of grace bestowed upon a penitent trusting sinner is a bizarre idea in a legalistic mind.

And then the attention focuses from the son to the father. And there is a shameless rejoicing, verse 23. The father holds nothing back, he knows no shame. He calls for a party to end all parties. “Bring the fattened calf, kill it, let’s eat and celebrate for this son of mine was dead, has come to life again. He was lost and has been found. And they began to celebrate.”

Every family that had animals, if they were a noble family like this one obviously, and had some means, would have a special calf in that day would fatten. The word fatten, by the way, in English…the Greek equivalent in the original text is the word for corn or grain. This is grain-fed veal. This is prime veal. And they kept that calf around for such a thing as the wedding of the older brother or some very significant dignitary who came, some monumental event which would call for a massive mega feast. This was it…this was it. This is…this is the biggest event that has ever happened in the history of the family or the village from the perspective of the father. This is it. And here we have the picture of heaven, don’t we, rejoicing…just one lost sinner comes home and God puts on a mega feast. Bring that fattened calf, that corn-fed prime veal, kill it. And all that butchery would go on getting ready for dinner later that evening. The animal had been long before selected, fed, cared for, kept for this special occasion. Meat, by the way, was rarely eaten in the Middle East in Jesus’ day, very rarely eaten. Only on special occasions did you eat meat at all and only on very, very special occasions did you eat the fattened calf. But this was a celebration to end all, “Let us eat and celebrate…let us eat and be merry.” There was a fool earlier in the gospel of Luke, remember, who said he just wanted to eat, drink and be merry and his soul was required that night of him. He was a fool. He celebrated his own possessions. If you’re going to celebrate, celebrate the redemptive work of God. That’s a legitimate celebration.

By the way, a calf like this could feed up to 200 people. And it should, because everybody in the village would be there. It would be an insult to the villagers to have a whole calf and not invite everybody. And it had to be eaten at one sitting. They didn’t preserve those things. Everybody come on and join the party. That’s back to verse 6 when the sheep was brought home on the shoulders of the shepherd, he called his friends and neighbors and said, “Rejoice with me, I found my sheep.” And in verse 9, when the lady found the coin, she called her friends and neighbors, “Rejoice with me, I found the coin.” And the father when he found the son, “Rejoice with me, I found my son.” Verse 24 he says, “The son of mine was dead.” You remember, I told you, when the son left they would have had…what?…a funeral. It was as if he was dead. He had wished his father dead and so they treated him as if he were dead. The one that was dead has come to life. Who brought him to life? Who gave him his life back? Did he earn it back? No. His father gave it back with all the rights and privileges. He was lost but who made him to be found? Who embraced him and kissed him and made him fully a son? His father did, they began to celebrate.

This is not so much the celebration of the son. This is the celebration of the father. The feast honors the father. It honors the father for what he has done. It is the father who gave him back his life. It is the father who made him a son. It is the father who restored him to blessing by merciful forgiveness and gracious love. And the whole village comes to rejoice with this shameless father who celebrates his own grace and his own mercy. This father has exhibited unheard of kindness, unheard of goodness, sacrificial love, sacrificial grace. The son who was dead, literally the Greek says, is up and alive. The one who was lost is found. The son has new life, new status and new attitude. He has for the first time a real relationship with a loving, forgiving father who has made him heir of everything he possesses to whom he has been reconciled and to whom he will eagerly give his love, his service in response. The son entrusts his life to the father and the father entrusts his resources to the son. The son is finally home. He’s in the father’s house. He’s in the family. He has full access to all the riches of the father. And he joins with everyone in celebrating the greatness of this event.

I love it, it says at the end of verse 24, “They began to be merry.” Because this party never ends. That’s what heaven’s all about. It’s the endless celebration of the grace of a loving Father to penitent, believing sinners. That’s what eternity is. Heaven’s joy will never end when a sinner comes home.

In conclusion, what are the lessons? I don’t spell them all out to you because I think you can figure them out as we go. But just a few reminders. God receives the penitent sinner who comes repenting and believing. “Him that comes to Me I’ll never cast out.” There is mercy with Him. There’s a throne of grace where we can go and obtain mercy. God gives forgiving grace that is lavish. God replaces the filthy stinking rags of the sinner with His own robe of righteousness. As the prophet Isaiah said, “He covers us with a robe of righteousness.” God gives the child of His love forgiveness, honor, authority, respect, responsibility, full access to all His treasures and the full right to represent Him. We come bringing to the people around us the treasures of God as His ambassadors. God is almost impatient in His desire to give. He runs to embrace. He runs to kiss. Quickly put the robe, quickly give him the ring, quickly get the shoes. He wants all that He has to be given to the repentant sinner and He wants to start the party immediately and call all who live in heaven to come around and celebrate Him as the reconciling Father who welcomes a penitent son. God treats the sinner as if he was royalty, making him an heir and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ. And God holds a heavenly celebration for every wretched sinner who comes to Him and it never, ever ends.

Listen, in conclusion, God rejoices not because the world’s problem of sin have been solved. Heaven is not up there saying, “Well, we’d like to have a party up here but so much is going on that’s not good, we can’t really start the party until things get a lot better than they are now.” They’re not up there saying, “There’s so much suffering in the world, there’s so much trauma, there’s so much pain, there’s so much disappointment, it’s such a troubled world. Wow, we’d like to have a party but we just can’t get on the upside of this whole problem.” No, and God doesn’t hold off the party for some big event when ten-thousand people get saved in some stadium somewhere. No. The party starts when how many sinners repent? One. And every time…and every time and the party for every sinner never ends because it’s a party in honor of God, not the sinner. And the more and more, day in and day out as the Lord saves people, the party is extended and extended and enriched and enriched and the angels and the redeemed saints are praising God for being such a gracious and reconciling Father.

And I guess the question to ask us is…what contribution do we make to the party? First of all, if you’re not a Christian, this is a time to receive the love of the Father who waits for you to return. But for those of us who are Christians, are we pursuing the joy of God by doing everything we can to take this glorious gospel of forgiveness to the people we meet? Some people never understand this. And they’re religious people who don’t get it. The Pharisees hated the idea that the Father treated a sinner this way. And we’re going to see their reaction next time. Let’s pray together.

Father, if this is such powerful truth imbedded in this great story, we thank You for it, thank You for how enriching it is to us and what it tells us is about You. We love You. We love You more when we know these things. We see You in a fresh way. It’s so incarnational. It’s so real. It’s life. Thanks for telling us this story not in a fantasy, not in some mystical other world, not with things which we can’t identify which doubly removes us from understanding, but in simple ways that we can grasp. Thank You for being the God You are. We praise You. We shall praise You forever and ever and ever in Your presence in heaven. We’ll be there at the party, celebrating such a reconciling God who is in the end honored by being willing to bear shame. And isn’t that always the way? None of us will ever be honored by You until we have confronted the shame of our sin.

Father, thanks for a great morning and a wonderful time of worship. We are overjoyed as we think about the fact that it was the birth of Christ when You first left Your home and came down to the dusty road, to the village where we live, this world, and You took the shame, You ran the gauntlet, You soiled Yourself, as it were, with the dust of this world’s suffering in order that You can embrace us and through Your cross take our shame and make us Your sons. It all began for us here at Bethlehem. No wonder we celebrate, no wonder we rejoice. May our joy be true and real as we express our love to You. We thank You. Amen.


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/42-203
COPYRIGHT ©2010 Grace to You

The Tale of Two Sons, Part 4

Luke 15:25-28            Code: 42-204

Normally on a Sunday when we celebrate the Lord’s birth, I redirect myself away from whatever series we’re doing and give a special Christmas message, but there were many who prevailed upon me to continue our unfolding story of the parable of Luke 15. And so that’s what we’re going to do this morning. Turn in your Bible to the fifteenth chapter (baby crying)…there’s one complaint already. I regret that. I hope there aren’t very many more. But for those of you who are guests with us today, you’ll accept my apologies. We go verse-by-verse through the Word of God and we are in the middle of such a compelling and dramatic story that we would find it very difficult to put it off for a couple of weeks, we’d lose so much ground. And so Luke 15 is our text and back to the story that Jesus told, the parable starting in verse 11 and running to the end of the chapter. And with our message, this morning and next Sunday morning, we will bring this story to a conclusion.

It is a simple story. Jesus told it on one occasion but for us it’s taken about five or six to get it down. And that’s because we have to fill in so many cultural gaps and we have to learn how people at the time thought and responded in order to capture the meaning of it, it’s been so very, very rich. It is known as the story of the prodigal son, but it is really a story about three people who are identified at the beginning in verse 11. Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons.” It is the tale of two sons and a loving father and in a sense it is the story of salvation. It is the story of why God came into the world, why He was born in Bethlehem, why He entered humanity. He came to bring us salvation. He came to bring us forgiveness. He came to bring us reconciliation. In the end, He came to bring us joy and to bring Himself joy.

So many of the songs that are sung at Christmas celebrate joy…the joy of salvation. Not only our joy in salvation, but the joy of God. Not only the joy of being reconciled but the joy of being the reconciler. As much joy as we experience on earth because of our salvation in Christ, there is far greater joy around the throne of God in heaven as God Himself rejoices over the salvation of sinners. That is the theme of this whole chapter. And in fact there are three stories in the chapter. You probably know the first one is about a shepherd who lost a sheep and found it and had a celebration. The celebration is indicated in verse 7, “Joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” The second story is about a woman who lost a very valuable coin and found it. Called her friends to rejoice and in the same way, says verse 10, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

When the angel said on that Christmas morning to the shepherds, “Behold, I bring you good new of a great joy,” it was exactly so. Joy not only for sinners saved, but joy for saving God. All of heaven celebrates the salvation of one sinner. And I ended our message last week by saying God is not waiting for the end of sin and suffering in the world to start the party in heaven. God is not waiting for some great event in which a million people are saved or a hundred thousand or ten thousand or a thousand, or even a hundred. Heaven celebrates one sinner who is recovered, one sinner who is saved. And as sinners are saved day after day after day, as the redemptive purposes of God go on in the world, the joy never ends, the joy of heaven never ceases. Heaven’s joy, as this whole series tells us, is found in recovering the lost. We rejoice in our salvation through Christ and He rejoices and God rejoices and the Holy Spirit rejoices and the angels rejoice and all the glorified saints around the throne rejoice. And so we sing at Christmas, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” He came to bring salvation to bring joy to us and joy to the angels and most importantly, joy to Himself. The salvation provided in the gift of Jesus Christ produces the joy of God, and that’s what this story is about. It’s illustrated in a shepherd’s joy when he finds his sheep, a woman’s joy when she finds a coin, and a father’s joy when a wayward son comes home.

Verses 11 to 32, probably the most familiar of Jesus’ stories, the story of the prodigal son. Everybody knows a little bit about that story, but it really is not the story of the prodigal son, that’s just one third of it. It’s about a prodigal son, a loving father and a very dutiful son. A younger son who lives openly in wickedness and immorality and disregard for all conventional thinking, all moral standards, doing only what he wants to do when he wants to do it, the way he wants to do it, and pays the consequences, it’s also about an older son who’s very devout apparently to his father, stays home, does everything that he’s supposed to do, does it the way his father wants him to do it. Fits into the conventional expectations of the religious community around him. Performs admirably. One would be classically the bad son, and the other would be the good son. And in the middle, touching both lives profoundly is this amazing figure of the loving father.

Now it is important in understanding this story, we’ve been telling you this, to understand that these people were highly sensitive to the idea of honor and shame. You did everything in your life basically in order to sustain your own honor, or to achieve your own honor, because that’s what was so important. It was very, very important to be an honorable person, it was a works/righteousness system. You earned your way into favor with God by being good and being religious and being moral and toeing the mark and walking the line and dotting all your I’s and crossing all your T’s in terms of the standard for behavior in the community. Very important that you maintained your honor that way and that you were respectable and honorable and that you didn’t do anything to shame yourself. The Pharisees, who believed themselves to be honorable, they were the leaders of Jewish religion. They believed they were the architects of what honor was and they also were the definers of what shame was. They had concluded that Jesus was a shameful false Messiah, that He was in fact not of God at all, but of Satan. They said the worst about Him that could be said. They said He did what He did by the power of Satan. And for their evidence, they said look at the kind of people He hangs around. We see at the beginning of the fifteenth chapter another occasion where all the tax gatherers and the sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. He attracted the worst remnant or element of the society, the outcasts, the flotsam and the jetsam, the scum, the nobodies, the lowlifes, those who had been excommunicated from the synagogue, socially untouchable. People that the Pharisees wouldn’t go near lest their supposed purity be somehow polluted. In fact, that was their criticism, wasn’t it, in verse 2 about Jesus, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Anybody who socializes with sinners betrays that he belongs there. And so as they are of Satan, so must He be of Satan.

Well, Jesus needs to defend Himself. He needs to defend Himself that He is not of Satan, He is of God. And so He’s telling them three stories to demonstrate this. He is among them because they’re lost like the sheep the shepherd had to go and find. He is among them because they’re lost like the coin the woman had to go and find. He is among them because they’re lost like the sinful prodigal son that the father receives and embraces because he was lost and now he’s find. Do they not understand the heart of God? No they don’t. Don’t they understand that heaven’s joy is not in the self-righteous 99 sinners who think they need no repentance? Don’t they understand that God’s joy is found in the salvation of sinners? How far from God they are. They don’t know God at all, these Pharisees and scribes who criticize and malign Jesus. And these stories are intended to make that clear.

The third story is really the main one and I won’t go through all of it. You know the story. But everything in it is a shameful thing as the Pharisees sort of sit back and listen to Jesus, they’re the audience, telling the story. It’s a head shaker and an eye roller from the beginning. Oh, it’s one outrageous thing after another that violates all their conventional sensibilities.

First of all, the younger son makes a shameful request. He asks for his estate now. Well you didn’t get it in that culture until your father died. This is tantamount to saying, “You’re in my way, I wish you were dead. Since you’re not dead, act like you’re dead. Give me what’s mine.” Shameful, unthinkable in that culture of high honor for of all people the father of a family. And then the father acts in a shameful way with a shameful response. He gives him what he asks. What father would do that? A father should slap him across the face and punish him, tell him, “Absolutely not. I will not be so dishonored.” But a shameful request is followed by a shameful response, the father gives him what he wants. This is the request of the sinner to be as free as he can be from God, as free as he wants to be to fulfill his desires and his lusts. And you now what? God gives the sinner just that freedom. You can take your sin as far as you want. You can take it as deep as you want, as high and as wide as you want. You can go into every nook and corner that you choose to go into. You have that freedom.

And so he does. The shameful request and the shameful response is followed by a shameful rebellion. We know the story in verses 13 to 16. The son goes away into a far country, leaves Israel, as it were, goes into a forbidden Gentile land, unclean. So unclean that a Jew coming back would shake Gentile dirt off his clothes so he didn’t bring it into the land of Israel. He ends up trying to eat the food of pigs, the unclean animal, working for a Gentile for no pay but just the right to fight the pigs for the carob pods that they’re eating. It is a rebellion that hits rock bottom. He wastes his substance, involving himself with prostitutes and whatever other wasteful things he can do. Runs completely out of a fortune which his father gave him which he turned into cash as fast as he could at a discount sale. And now he’s got his cash, he wastes it and it’s gone and then a famine hits and he has no resources and he ends up with the pigs. The shameful rebellion is followed by a legitimate shameful repentance. He feels badly in verses 17 and 19. He says, “Look, I have nowhere to turn, I’m going to die. I’m hungry. My father pays the people who are day laborers who work for him and he pays them more than they need,” which is to say he’s kind, he’s generous, he’s a good man and I know my father and I know he’s compassionate, and I know he loves me and I know if I go back he’ll be willing to accept me on some terms. So I, he says, will go back, verse 18, to my father and I’ll say, “Father, I sinned against heaven,” that is another way of saying my sins have piled as high as heaven, this is a full confession, holds back nothing. “And I’m telling you I have sinned as high as heaven, you know it, I’ve done it right in your face. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” This is the stuff of real repentance. Comes to his senses, evaluates his sin, evaluates where it’s taken him, evaluates that he has no resource within himself to change it. I’ll go back, I trust my father. He will accept me on some terms. I’ll offer to work for him as a hired man. Not a household servant, that would be too much, not a son, that would be way too much, I’m not worthy of it. But I’ll earn my living day wage, the lowest person on the social-economic ladder. That was the Jewish view of repentance. You feel sorry, you go to God and you say, “Okay, God, what do I need to do?” And God says, “Well, you’re going to have to make restitution. You’re going to have to work it all off. And if you work long enough and you’re faithful and you do your religious duty and you do your righteous works and you’re moral and you’re good, then maybe down the road somewhere when you’ve brought it all back and you can completely restore what you’ve wasted, we’ll have potential reconciliation. But you’ve got to do it to the end.” That’s the way they viewed repentance.

Salvation in the legalistic system of Judaism, and in any other legalistic system in the world and all religions are a form of works/salvation except true Christianity, they’re all the same, good people go to heaven, people who are religious who do good things. If you do them long enough and well enough, that’s going to be how you get to God. And he had that conventional kind of thinking in the story, Jesus makes him a Jew subject to Jewish thinking and so he says I’m going to go back and earn my way into the favor of my father. I’m going to earn my salvation. I’m going to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to get my way back into my father’s house and into his treasures and into his heaven. And so he comes back.

Now remember, the Pharisees are listening to all this and they’re saying, “This whole thing is a big story of shame…a shameful request, a shameful response, a shameful rebellion, a shameful repentance.” He’s going to come back, “Ah, now the father’s going to do something honorable.” But the father gives the son a shameful reception. Amazing, verse 20, “He gets up, comes to his father. He arrives in stinking garments that smell like a pig.” He has nothing at all, he’s destitute, absolutely bankrupt, absolutely nothing. His father seems him a long way off which indicates the father’s actually been waiting for him, hoping for him, suffering in silence in his absence, loving him even while he’s gone. The father sees him, feels compassion for him and ran…he runs right through town, which a nobleman in the Middle East do not do. That is unacceptable shameful behavior. First of all, you don’t let your legs be shown in public. And we went into that in detail. But he runs and he runs through town to get to the boy before the boy gets to town because when he arrives in town, the whole community is going to heap scorn and disdain and mockery on him because that’s what they’re supposed to do. That’s part of his penalty for the way he behaved toward his father. The father takes the shame that should belong to the son. He does a scandalous and shameful thing, runs through town before the son ever gets there, saves him from the shame, throws his arms around him, kisses him all over the head, which is tantamount to saying, “You’re a son and I receive you as a son. All is forgiven, all is past. Trusting in me and coming, repenting of your sin is all I ask.” And all that can come out of the boy’s mouth in verse 21 is, “I’ve sinned against heaven and in your sight, I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.” And he drops the part about being your hired man because that’s irrelevant now he has been reconciled. And here is the glory of salvation, folks, God forgives the one who asks and who repents without any works, with nothing to commend him in his filthy rotten stinking rags as a beggar who possesses nothing and who can earn nothing. This is gracious salvation.

But to the Pharisees, it was ridiculous. They didn’t understand grace at all. All they understood was you earn your way in. This was outrageous, shameful, shocking. This father just continues to do dishonorable things. Nobody would do that. When the son comes back, you don’t see him for a few days, you make him sit in town and take the scorn for a few days. And finally you might give him an audience and all you’re going to say is, “This is what it’s going to take, you do this, you do it for this many years and you give me everything you earn and we’ll see if you can ever earn back the part of the estate that you wasted. And if you do, then we’ll be reconciled.” That’s what they would expect. That’s what was honorable. That’s what he deserved. That’s what he should get. That’s not what the father gave him. The father’s reception was a shameful thing in their minds.

And the shameful reception goes into a shameful reconciliation in verse 22. The father not only takes him back as a son, but he gives him full privileges. Bring the best robe, put a ring on his hand, sandals on his feet. What is the robe? Honor, this is the most important garment in the family owned by the father, worn by the father at the most prestigious events the family ever conducted or was engaged in. Give him all the family honor that is possible to give him. Then take the signet ring which you used to stamp official documents which gives him freedom to act and authoritatively to act on behalf of the family with all the family resources. And then put shoes on his feet. Servants are barefoot, hired men are barefoot, but masters and rulers and sons wear shoes. Give him full sonship. Give him full power of that sonship, full authority and full honor. This is a picture of salvation. When the sinner comes bankrupt with absolutely nothing, cast himself on his father’s mercy, says, “I’ve wasted everything, my sin is as high as the heaven. I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned against you. I can offer you nothing. I’m willing to work.” Then the father embraces him in love and says, “You don’t need to work, I give you full sonship with all rights and privileges, all honors, all authority. That’s salvation.

Why does the father do that? Because it gives him joy. In verse 23, what the Pharisees would see is a shameful celebration, “Bring the fattened calf, kill it, let’s eat and be merry.” The father’s joy, the heavenly Father’s joy is found in the sinner who comes home and repents and is forgiven. This is the joy of God. Verse 24 says, “This son of Mine was dead.” You remember, I told you when he left they had a funeral for him, he was out of the family. But he’s come to life, he was lost, he’s been found and they began to be merry.

This is the third party in this chapter. There was a party when the sheep was found. There was a party when the coin was found. And there’s a huge celebration when the son that was lost is found. That’s the whole point. What makes heaven rejoice is the salvation of sinners and that’s why God sent His Son into the world. The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost, not just for the joy of the sinner, not just for the joy of Christ, but for the joy of God and the joy of the Holy Spirit, the whole Kingdom of God, says Paul the apostle, is joy. And when we get to heaven it’s going to be one long everlasting celebration.

Now that gets us up to speed. And at this point, the third character enters the scene, the older son. Verse 25, it’s going to take us two weeks to dig into this because it’s really interesting. Now most people say the older son, oh yeah, he was the Christian. Yeah, he was the believer who was at home doing what he should. That’s not true. No, that’s not true at all. The older son, fascinating what Jesus does here, the older son…now you’ve got to understand, you’re the Pharisees and the scribes, the legalists, you’re sitting there listening to the story, everything everybody has done up to now is shameful, everything. You’re just waiting for somebody to do what you perceive as the right thing. The son did shameful things when he treated his father. The father shamefully gave him what he asked for and shamefully took him back and shamefully lavished love on him and shamefully forgave him and made him a son without any works and shamed himself again by giving him all honor, all authority, all power, all leadership. And then shamed himself further by calling the whole community to come together and celebrate a massive feast over this wonderful reconciliation. I mean, the whole thing is shameful. Now here comes somebody who will do something that the Pharisees think is the honorable thing to do. This is our boy. This is our guy.

Verse 25, “And in…” By the way, meeting him, they meet themselves. This is their guy. This is they. “His older son was in the field.” Now he’s been out in the field working that day as much as landowners work, sitting under a shade tree making sure everybody else does what they need to, overseeing is what they do. In fact, noblemen in the Middle East didn’t usually work. That was somehow beneath their dignity at a certain point. But anyway, he was out in the field. What strikes me is that the father hasn’t told him anything. The father certainly hasn’t been looking for him. The father hasn’t sent a messenger out to the field wherever he was to say, “Hey, hey, hey, your brother’s back and we’re going to have a party, come on in, greet your brother, embrace your brother, rejoice with me and help me get this party off the ground.” Because, look, he was the number one primary party planner in the family. That was the job of the firstborn son, he had the responsibility to carry off all the events of the family, particularly those that were designed to be in honor of the family. And the party was in honor of the family, not so much the son who came back, but the father who took him back, reconciled him. And the whole village game together to give honor to such a loving gracious merciful forgiving reconciling father. But nobody bothered to tell him.

The father doesn’t go to him. Why not? Wouldn’t you listening to the story? You say, “Why didn’t somebody go get him and bring him back?” The answer is, he has no relationship to the father. The father knows he has no interest in his brother, he proved that at the beginning of the story when he didn’t try to stop his brother from doing what was terrible. He had no interest in his father, proved that by not intervening between his brother and his father to stop his brother from such a dishonorable act toward his father. In fact, he took his part of the inheritance gladly, never defending his father’s honor. He has no relationship to anybody in the family. Being out in the field is sort of a metaphor for where he was in terms of that family. The younger son was in a far country, this guy’s in a far field. But the symbolism there is they’re both way off from the father. They both come home but to very different receptions.

So he’s out in the field. The day ends. It says he came and approached the house. And since he hadn’t up to that point heard anything, there must have been an indication it was a pretty big estate. This father has a great estate where someone can actually be far enough away you don’t even know when a huge celebration involving hundreds of people is going on at your house, which is a way to indicate the greatness of the Kingdom of God. But he comes back and he approaches the house. And he says, “He heard music and dancing.” Now again, everything up to this point has been shameful. Shameful request by a younger son, granted in a perceived shameful reply by the father, the son acts in a shameful rebellion, ends up making a shameful repentance, the father gives him what they perceive as a shameful reception, reconciliation, a big rejoicing celebration…it’s all just against what all of them believe to be right. They’re drawn into the story now. They’ve been making critical judgments all the way along. Jesus was a master at this. He pulled his audience right into the story. They had to make ethical judgments all the way. Simple story, understandable, ethical elements of the story, they sit in the position of making the ethical judgments. There they are, the experts on honor and shame, having been surprised and shocked and outraged by the conduct of everybody, they are about to find somebody they like who turns out to be them. It’s brilliant stuff…brilliant stuff. They understand nothing of divine grace, they resent divine grace, they don’t understand the loving heart of God. They don’t understand His mercy and tenderness, compassion, forgiveness and desire to reconcile with sinners. They know nothing of that. That’s why they don’t understand why Jesus, God in human flesh, spends His time with sinners. This is the one guy that makes sense to them. They resent the unholy son. They see him as the opposite of their own self-righteous selves and they think the father is some kind of a fool for shaming himself in the way he treats this simple son.

But finally they have somebody they can identify with, somebody who knows what honor is. And he comes to approach the house.

Not having been included in anything at all. The father knows that. He knows he has no interest in him. He knows he has no concern for his joy. He knows he doesn’t care about his younger brother. He knows that. He has no love for his father, no desire to honor his father, no respect for his father, no interest in what pleases his father. He has no compassion on his father’s grieving heart for the wayward son. He doesn’t care at all about his brother. He’s a Pharisee, he is a Pharisee. He pretends to stay in the father’s house, to be dutiful, to do what the father says, to hang around, to get what he wants, to get approval and affirmation and wealth and land and community prestige. He wants to appear religious. On the outside he upholds all the conventional modes of external honor. So he comes and he hears the music and the dancing, the sumphonias(?) and the choros, from which we get symphony and chorus. It’s a party. There’s music and in those days the men danced in a circle, men only, and there was clapping and singing. There would be instruments included in the music. In fact, sumphoniasis originally a double pipe but it also in some Arabic translations is used to refer to voices together. So voices, instruments, dancing, the whole thing is going on. It’s a celebration. The fattened calf has been killed. What they did was not filet it, but they chopped it up into slabs of meat and they would cook it in chunks in the bread ovens. And they would start the party in a very imprecise way, life was not nearly as by the clock as it is today. The day was over, the work was over, the announcement would go out, come, killing the fattened calf. The son is home and people would begin to come when they arrived and they would come and they would eat and the meat would continue to be cooked. And it would be continually cooked for hours and the singing and the celebrating would go on into the night as the ebb and flow of this wonderful celebration took place. Well it’s already on its way. It’s already full-blown when the older son arrives. And again an indication that he probably came a long way, indicating the greatness of the father’s estate. He is stunned. He is shocked. He is surprised. He is confused. But mostly he is suspicious, because legalists are always suspicious, particularly of joyful people.

And by the way, something this big wasn’t ever planned in a day. This was planned by months and months and months of preparation. And not with him as the center of it. He is, after all, the owner of the land because the estate has already been divided, though he doesn’t take possession of his part until his father’s death, it is already assigned to him. These are his resources. This is then his calf and all the rest of the things that are going on are using the things that actually belong to him and he hasn’t even been consulted. Here’s the biggest event that the village has ever known, the biggest event the family’s ever known and he doesn’t even know anything about it. He doesn’t even know it’s happening until he shows up. This too is another outrageous act on the part of the father who just continues to do shameful things in their minds. It’s an insult.

And so, he arrives. “And when he approached the house he heard music and dancing,”and then it should say, “And he rushed in to his father and said, ‘Father, what’s all the joy about?'” But he doesn’t do that. If he loved his father, he would have rushed into the house and said, “What’s going on? What’s going on?” And his father would have said, “Your brother’s home,” and he would have embraced his father and rejoiced with tears because he knew his father loved his brother. He knew he had ached in his heart as long as he was gone, and he knew he had gone out to look for him day after day, even though he didn’t know he was back…noone had told him yet. Whatever made his father rejoice would make him rejoice if he loved his father. But he has no love for his father at all, he has a love for himself. It’s all about him and his property and his reputation and his prestige.

So in verse 26 it says, “He summoned one of the servants.” Servant actually is paidion here and it’s from paisin the Greek which means a young boy. All the family servants would be inside. They would be taking care of all the guests. As I said, a hundred to two-hundred guests wouldn’t be unusual to eat a fattened calf. Not everybody ate a huge 16-ounce piece. And the fact is they didn’t eat a lot of meat except on special occasions and then not a lot. But on the outside there were young boys and what this tells us a little bit about that Middle Eastern culture, the adults would all be inside, they would all be in the house having…in the courtyard of the house having this great celebration at some point, and out on the fringes would be the kids that didn’t get to come, but they were sort of the perimeter celebrators, you know? The fringe participants, the young boys would all hang out on the edges because this is a huge event. And this would be the first group that he would meet as he comes in and the first ones he runs into after he hears all this are these young boys. So, verse 26, “He began inquiring what these things might be.” This is shocking. What in the world…I go to work, it’s a day like any other day. I go out there to sit under the tree and make sure everybody’s does what they’re supposed to. I come in and you’ve got the biggest celebration ever. What is going on? And why wasn’t I consulted? And how is it that I don’t know about this?

And he says to him, verse 27, “Oh, your brother has come.” Oh-oh, that should have filled his heart with joy. That should have been enough that after that was said he rushed in because he knew how his brother’s life had started out when he left. He must have been so anxious and excited to find out how that whole thing had ended up. He knew his father’s heart had been broken when his brother left. He knew how he regularly looked for him and longed for him. If he loved his father at that point, he would have immediately run in. But it really was fear that his brother would come back. “Your brother has come and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.” His worst fears, his brother came back, oh, and his father…what?…received him.

This outrageous conduct is more than this older brother can bear. Look at the phrase “safe and sound,” that’s a funny thing, isn’t it? An Old English colloquialism that seems to last in our modern translations. It’s actually hugiainoin the Greek from which we get hygiene and it basically means wholeness, well-being. But in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, that word is almost always connected to Shalomwhich means…what?…peace. That’s really what he’s saying. It’s not that he’s not physically hurt, it’s not limited to that. He’s received him back in peace. This is not just good health, this is Shalom, this is peace of a full reconciliation between a father and son. It isn’t his son came back and the father told him to sit at the edge of town for a week and think about what he had done until he gained a right to talk to his father and then he’d give him the things he needed to do to earn back his reconciliation. Not that. The father received him and he received him in Shalom, he’s made peace. Shalomforever. That’s why there’s a party. There wouldn’t be a party if he had come back and had to work for the next twenty years. This…this is the worst possible scenario because now the father is using his resources on this party. The son has already depleted the whole family treasury by taking his half, selling cheaply and leaving which meant that that whole thing couldn’t grow so that the older son when the father did die would have more. Now he’s back depleting more of our family resources. And the foolish father is using those resources on him. The son is the favorite guest at the banquet but the banquet is really in honor of the father. The town is there to celebrate a father who’s that merciful and gracious and kind and loving in reconciling. You see, that’s the picture of heaven’s joy. And a legalist who thinks you earn your way to heaven doesn’t understand that God’s joy is found in justifying the ungodly, that God’s joy is found in forgiving the sinner who is bankrupt and has nothing. The older son, that’s why his worst fears have come true. His brother’s back, his father has embraced him, this is outrageous. And for the first time in the story the Pharisees are saying, “Yep, that’s exactly the right attitude, that’s exactly what he should feel. He should be outraged. We are outraged. This whole story is just one outrage after another.”

And so he can’t be a part of a shameful event. His son has shamed himself. His father has continually shamed himself. He’s gotten the whole community involved in this shameful celebration. And he’s not going to be a part of it, verse 28, “He became angry and was not willing to go in.”

Of course not. And that’s the answer to the original issue, isn’t it? The Pharisees said, “Look, you receive and eat with sinners. You have a banquet with sinners. How can you do that?” They didn’t understand that God’s joy and God in Christ, Christ’s joy was in receiving repentant sinners, prodigals, profligates, the immoral, the outcasts. But for a legalist, that’s outrageous conduct, absolutely outrageous. But what you see is he had no love for his brother. He didn’t rejoice in his brother coming back, anymore than he cared when his brother left. He had no love for his father. He didn’t rejoice with his father anymore than he defended his father at the beginning when his father was hearing the request from his younger son. This is no believer. This is no Christian. This is a typical religious hypocrite standing on the outside condemning the gracious work of salvation. He’s angry. That’s the only emotion he feels. And you know what? The Pharisees and scribes think it’s right and they’re saying, “Yeah, we’re angry too, we’d be angry too. We’d feel exactly the same way. This is absolutely unacceptable conduct.”

Legalists don’t believe in grace. They don’t understand unmerited favor. They don’t understand free forgiveness. They don’t understand the removal of punishment. They don’t understand somebody else bearing their shame, taking their scorn. They don’t get that. And he will not go in. And so here is a public display of private hatred. He’d probably done a better job of hiding his hatred than that in the past. He probably had the community believing that he was very respectful of his father, honored his father, maybe even cared for his father. And he stuck around the house. He did whatever his father wanted him to do. And everybody probably thought he had some love for his father. But here his real attitude comes out. He cannot enter into this joy because he has no love for God and he has no love for the sinners God is recovering. This is religious hypocrisy. It’s still in the world today, it’s everywhere. They’re all over the place. People who look like they hang around the house of God but they don’t know the heart of God. They’re trying to earn their way to heaven which is the greatest deception that Satan has ever invented and it is the characteristic of every false religion on the planet. When salvation comes only to those that are spiritually bankrupt, destitute, impoverished and fall on their faces as beggars before a God they trust will be willing to forgive them, and repent of their sins, and then they receive His lavish love and all that comes with it. But legalists don’t like that. How can you do that? How can you just do that when he didn’t deserve it? It’s all about what you deserve and what you earn and what you gain and how good you are.

So the older son has the perfect opportunity if he chose to to honor his father. But the truth is, he’s a rebel. He’s not an outward rebel, he’s an inward one and they’re worse. He’s a secret sinner. He feels all the same lusts that his brother felt, but he hides them because legalism never changes your flesh. He feels the same lusts, the same longings, the same desires, but he caps them and never fulfills them because he has a stronger desire for prestige and honor and to gain his father’s estate and to be well thought of. And so he’s driven by pride more than he’s driven by baser things. But the base things are still there. And now all of a sudden we know that he hates his father and hates his brother. We know that he’s indifferent to the recovery of his brother and indifferent to the compassion of his father. He can’t rejoice with either one. And that’s exactly the way the Pharisees were.

When you think about a hypocrite, you have to think a little more deeply than the surface. Hypocrites stay near the house of God. They hang around. They’re religious. They’re moral. They have no relationship to God. They have no desire to honor Him. They have no interest in His honor or heaven’s joy. It’s all about their own self-promotion thinking somehow they can earn their way into the good will of people and even God. The truth is, they’re completely alienated from God, no part of what God does like the son in the field, not even consulted about the things that move the heart of God. Religious hypocrites do what’s expected on the outside. They follow the external religious and moral patterns. But inside they’re just filled with secret sins. Jesus said about them, on the outside they’re painted white, inside they stink and they’re full of deadmen’s bones, like rotting corpses. Under the surface they are filled with bitterness, hatred, jealousy, anger, lust. And then as I said, the older son is likely in real life envying the prodigal. The prodigal gets to do what he would never do, but desires secretly to do. He would hate seeing his brother live it up in the very sins that he openly condemns but inwardly desires.

He’s like all hypocrites…sad, morose, melancholy, empty, unfulfilled, hiding his heart under the burden of a superficial religion. And he feels like he earned his praise. He earns his position. He earns his reward. He earns his honor by his rigorous painful loveless obedience, performing the duties while capping his secret sin. Well the truth is, the hypocrite is lost and more profoundly lost because he spent his whole life convincing everybody he’s good and it’s a long ways from there to admitting you’re really wretched. Whereas if you’re like the prodigal and you have made it clear that you’re wretched, it’s a short step to admit it. Self-righteous hypocrites hate the idea of salvation by grace alone. They hate the idea of full forgiveness for repentant sinners. They will not come to that party. They will celebrate. Hypocrites are more deadly to any religious environment because they set a tone for the kind of conduct that kills spiritually and eternally.

You don’t need to repent. You’re good. The 99, back in verse 7, so-called righteous persons who don’t need to repent, and as long as you don’t need to repent like the prodigal, you can’t be saved. You can’t enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to save sinners, self-confessed, repenting sinners. Repentance is the key to everything. This son, he has no interest in that. He has no knowledge of God, no love for Him and no love for sinners.

Really there are two kinds of sinners in the world…the religious ones and the irreligious, the moral and the immoral, those that hang around the things of God and try to keep the Law, and those that run as far as they can and live in wild wasteful immoral living. But the Father is there for both. Whatever kind of sinner you are, Jesus came into this world, born into this world in order to live and to die and to provide salvation for both kinds of sinners and all those in the mix in between.

Well the story isn’t over. There’s one final scene, when the father goes out to confront the older son. And at this point, the ending is so shocking, you don’t want to miss it next Sunday. Join me in prayer.

It’s an incredible thing, Father, to dig into these great truths. How such a simple story can have such profound meaning. O Lord, how we thank You for sending Jesus Christ into this world for that great event which we celebrate today on this lovely Christmas day. And may it be a day when our thoughts are toward Christ, the Savior, born into the world, born that He might die for us, born that He might run the gauntlet for us, bear our shame, our scorn, bear our punishment, to throw His arms around us and kiss us and reconcile us as sons. We pray, God for the prodigals who are here, the younger sons who haven’t yet come to their senses, who haven’t yet realized that they’re in a foreign land and they’re bankrupt spiritually and they’re bankrupt morally and they’re left with nothing but to crowd in with the pigs to eat the scraps when they could come to You to a loving forgiving reconciling Father who has everything they need and more and who waits to put a robe of honor and a ring of authority and shoes of power and responsibility on their feet and start another heavenly celebration for their homecoming.

I pray for those, Father, who might be hearing me now who are out in that far country having wasted their lives and I pray, O God, that You would prompt them to come now to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to come in the name of Christ to a God who forgives completely and instantly lavishly pours out on the sinner eternal blessing. Shalom forever, full sonship. And, Lord, also I’m sure there are some of those older brothers here this morning who have been religious and dutiful and moral and gone to church and kept the Law and done all the little religious duties that their prescribed religion required and they kind of feel like they’re on the upside of more good than bad and they just think it’s all kind of adding up to their benefit and they’re going to earn their way back. They’re going to be one of Your hired men and they’re going to go out there and they’re going to work and they’re going to be good and religious and in the end you’re going to give them reconciliation because they earned it. Father, may they see themselves in the Pharisee, may they see how horrible it is and how distant such an attitude is from You. They don’t know Your heart. They don’t know what pleases You. They don’t know that You wait to forgive sinners when they repent and believe in You, apart from anything they do. There are religious sinners who need to come to the celebration, come and repent and have You throw Your arms around them and kiss them. We pray, Lord, that You would work Your work in the heart of all who have not yet returned to the Father’s house. May they know He’s waiting if you come in the name of His Son, seeking forgiveness and salvation, He gives it with all the rights and privileges. This is the glory of the Christmas gift in Christ.

Father, we thank You that You sent Your Son to be our Savior, Jehovah saves, Jesus, to give His life for us. We thank You that it is because of His sacrifice and His bearing of shame, because He was willing to take the just, the right punishment for our acts of dishonor and rebellion we have acceptance now with You in His name. We celebrate this Christmas the gift of Christ, not as a babe in a manger only, but as a Man dying on the cross. He came, He was laid most likely in a wooden manger and at the end He was nailed to a wooden cross and therein is the great reality of the incarnation that is at the heart of the redemption that You desire because it brings You eternal joy. We rejoice with You, Father, and we can’t wait till the heavenly party, until we’re there to celebrate with all the hosts of glory. Until then may we be faithful to proclaim the message of Your forgiveness in Christ’s name. Amen. Have a blessed Christmas.


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/42-204
COPYRIGHT ©2010 Grace to You

The Tale of Two Sons, Part 5

Luke 15:28-32            Code: 42-205

I want you to open to Luke 15 again as we return to the family in our story of a father and two sons. I will tell you mercifully this will be the last in this series. The final segment in the study of the Lord’s most famous story and perhaps arguably the most fascinating parable that He ever told, it is a parable about salvation. It is a parable that contains all the rich elements of salvation. Tucked into this incredibly straightforward and clear story is the issue of sin, freedom, disgrace, shame, desperation, repentance, faith, atonement, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, sonship and blessing. It’s all here as we have been learning. It is the story of a father who compassionately loves his two sons. Unfortunately, his sons do not love him. They are both rebels. Neither of them has any relationship with him in a personal sense, though they’ve been brought to life by him, obviously physically. They dishonor him and they do so publicly. It is really the story of a loving, compassionate, gracious, merciful, forgiving, reconciling father and how his two sons responded to him.

You can look at it the other way, it is also the story of two kinds of sinners. One who is openly and outwardly and manifestly wicked and immoral and irreligious and rebellious and the other who is inwardly immoral and rebellious, but outwardly conforms. He is moral on the surface, he is religious on the surface. But neither of these two have any relationship whatsoever to their father. And that manifests itself, as we have already seen, through the whole story. And the irony of the story is that the one who openly disobeyed, the one who flagrantly dishonored his father winds up being reconciled and the one who appeared to obey and honor his father ends up unreconciled.

It is very much like another story Jesus told in Matthew 21 verses 28 to 32. I just remind you of that story because it’s somewhat similar. In that story Jesus said, “What do you think? A man had two sons, he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go to work today in the vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will, sir,’ and didn’t go. Came to the second and said the same thing, he answered and said, ‘I will not,’ and yet afterward regretted it and went. Which of the two did the will of his father? They said the latter, the one who said he wouldn’t but did, not the one who said he would but didn’t. And Jesus then said, ‘Truly I say to you that the tax gatherers and the harlots will get into the Kingdom of God before you.” Pretty clear what the two sons were pointing to, isn’t it? Jesus at the time was talking to the leaders of Israel. They were like the son who said he would go and didn’t, and the tax gatherers and the sinners were like the son who said he wouldn’t go and did. And in the end, they were the ones who entered the Kingdom of God. That’s very similar to the story in Luke 15 to which you can return.

Again, both sons are rebels. In the Middle East, there’s an old Arabic phrase and it goes like this. A man had two sons and each one was worse than the other. And this is the story of a man who had two sons and each one was worse than the other. They are alike in many ways. Each has the same source of life, the father. Each resents his father and has no love for him. Each wants his share of his father’s wealth and feels entitled to it. They take different approaches to get it, one asks for it and the other waits to get it, but each wants his share of the father’s wealth. And each wants to do with it whatever he will with whomever he wishes. Each dishonors the father. Each insults the father. Each tries to live in separate worlds from the father, the younger son in a far country, the older son near the house, but has his own collection of friends. Each is loved by the father. And on behalf of each, the father makes a shameful public demonstration of that love. Each is given the opportunity to receive the father’s forgiveness and reconciliation. Each is given the opportunity to repent, be forgiven, enter into the full richness of a genuine relationship and full access to all the father’s wealth.

But they’re different in some ways also. One was immoral, the other was moral. One was away, the other was near. One was publicly scorned and the other was publicly respected. The father reaches out in mercy and grace to both because they illustrate two kinds of sinners; the immoral and the moral, the irreligious and the religious, the blatant and the hypocrite.

Now as we have learned because it’s unmistakably clear, the father is God in Christ. The father is the loving, life-giving Redeemer of sinners, the Savior, the reconciler who forgives those who repent and believe. The sons are sinners. And some are irreligious and blatant and some are religious and hidden. But they are both sinners who are void of a relationship with God. In each case what we learn is that God gives sinners the freedom to sin whatever way they want. That’s the choice that sinners have. It’s not whether they can choose to sin or not to sin, it’s just that they can choose what category of sin they will engage in. There are some who choose to sin flagrantly and blatantly and immorally and irreligiously and without any regard for public courtesy or public evaluation. They don’t care what people think. There are other sinners who choose to conform to certain ethical moral standards to gain their position in society by being perceived to be good people. But those are the only choices the sinner and all the mixing of the choices in the middle. The sinner can’t choose whether to sin or not to sin, but he can be free to choose what kind of sinner he will be. Don’t think that sinners have anymore freedom than that, they don’t. But that is the realm in which they function freely.

And the amazing reality of the story is this, that God loves sinners religious or irreligious, moral or immoral, outward or inward. He loves them both. He offers them both grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, sonship and eternal blessing whether they are extremely wicked or extremely moral, which these two sons illustrate. The one son doesn’t care about anything but fulfilling his lusts to the max and is as bad as you can get. The other son to the very end parades his self-righteousness and that’s why he thinks everything his father is doing is a violation of what is just and right and is shameful. So you have the extremely wicked and the extremely moral and the point is, God loves sinners at the extremity of those two different categories of sin and therefore every sinner in the middle. The younger son comes to the father when he is destitute. He repents for his sins. He trusts in his father’s goodness and mercy and kindness and compassion and love and receives therefore his forgiveness freely by grace, is reconciled and enters into lavish blessing. That’s the picture of the sinner who repents. He is the picture of the one who comes for salvation. He is the illustration of the very people Jesus is associating with as we remember back in verse 1, the tax gatherers and the sinners, the public outcasts. They were the ones coming to Him. Of course Jesus is condemned then in verse 2 by the Pharisees and scribes for receiving them and eating with them.

He goes on to say, “You don’t understand, this is the heart of God. God is by nature a Savior.” Verse 7, the end of the story about a shepherd finding his sheep, He says, “There’s joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” Verse 10 at the end of a story about a woman who finds a lost coin, again there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. The dominating great truth of this story is that God finds His joy when sinners repent whatever kind of sinners they are categorically. And all heaven celebrates with Him. The feast is in the honor of God. The feast is in the honor of the gracious, loving father who reconciled the unworthy, undeserving, sinning son based on nothing but his trust and repentance, no works. He came back, he didn’t have to make restitution. He didn’t have to do anything. And he was given the full rights and privileges of sonship. It’s a story about the mercy of God, the compassion of God, the love and forgiveness of God who finds His joy when one sinner repents. God delights in saving sinners.

Now at the point when the feast is in full motion, the older son steps onto the scene and that’s where we are in the story. We find him in verse 25. And we’re going to conclude by looking at him and seeing how the story ends. The story, as I’ve been telling you, is full of shame. It started with a shameful request, and a shameful response, and a shameful rebellion, and a shameful repentance, and a shameful reception, and then in the eyes, of course, of the Pharisees who are listening to this story, the father gives a shameful reconciliation and a shameful celebration.

We come to verse 25 and there are three more shameful things here…a shameful reaction, a shameful response, and a shameful resolution. These involve the older son. The shameful reaction, verse 25, “His older son was in the field. When he came and approached the house he heard music and dancing. Summoned one of the servants, began inquiring what these things might be. He said to him, ‘Your brother has come and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.'”

And we meet the older brother. He comes wandering in. He hasn’t been a part of anything, none of the planning which indicates that he had no relationship to the father. This would be impossible for the people listening to the story to believe that a father would put on a celebration like this without consulting his older son who had already been given the estate and should have weighed in on all the events. But he has no relationship with him. The father knows that he will not enter into this event. He will not want this event. He has no interest in the well-being of his brother nor in the joy of his father. He shows up on the outside, the party is in full sway. He asks one of the boys, the Greek word there, one of the young boys, the perimeter kids that are kind of hanging around the outside of the celebration while the adults are on the inside, “What is going on?” and he tells him his brother has come back and his father has killed the fattened calf, which of course was kept for the very most important occasion the family ever had. And this was it because he was back and he was back whole. He was back having made Shalom with his father, peace.

Now the reaction of the older brother is so important, “He became angry.” And right there the Pharisees meet themselves. They consistently were angry about Jesus associating with sinners, embracing sinners, forgiving sinners, reconciling wicked outcasts that they wouldn’t go near or touch or speak to. Here they meet themselves. This is the very attitude that they showed back in chapter 5 when they asked the disciples why in the world Jesus ate meals with such outcasts, such wicked sinful people. This is the same attitude they had in chapter 19 when they grumbled again because Jesus went to be the guest of a man who was a sinner, namely Zacchaeus the tax collector. They were continually outraged by the conduct of Jesus associating with sinners, which indicated they had no idea of the heart of God, no understanding of God as a Savior, and no understanding of how heaven rejoiced in the salvation of sinners. They became angry and that is how the older son reacts in verse 28, “He became angry.” They don’t believe in grace. They don’t believe in forgiveness. They believe in righteousness and justice and restitution. And you earn your way back. There’s no such thing in their system as free forgiveness as the removal of punishment apart from any works. It has to be earned. You earn your place with God. You keep the law. You toe the line. You walk the mark.

By the way, this is the damning lie that holds the religious world captive and sends them all plummeting into hell. And if the banquet symbolizes…the Messianic banquet…if the banquet symbolizes the feast of the redeemed, if the banquet symbolizes the Kingdom of God, if the banquet symbolizes everlasting life, of course he didn’t go in. And that’s what it says. “He was not willing to go in.”

Boy, I’m reminded of Matthew 23, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the Kingdom of Heaven from men and you do not enter in yourselves or do you allow those who are entering to go in.” You don’t have any way into that Kingdom because your understanding of salvation is so warped. That was perhaps the most significant indictment in the Matthew 23 diatribe against them, that they did not enter the Kingdom and nor where they leading anyone else into it. Later in that same chapter He said, “Outwardly you appear righteous to men, inwardly you’re full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Hypocrites are all sinners on the inside because hypocrisy has no way to constrain the flesh internally.

Of course he wouldn’t go in. He hated the idea of grace. He resented this mercy and this instant reconciliation. And he says all of this, as we will see. But before we listen to his speech, let me help you define this kind of sinner. Augustine said, “Free will without grace has the power to do nothing but sin. Free will without grace has the power to do nothing but sin.” And long ago he was right and that is still true. As I said, the sinner can choose his category but he can’t choose anything other than sin.

Now let me just follow that a little bit. And this, just to give you a little historical footnote, this is the kind of thinking that set Martin Luther going in the right direction. Just over the last few days I read a treatment of his various theological emphases and it pointed again to this very important element. He came up with this glorious truth that all of us know to be the substantial heart of the gospel, salvation by grace alone through faith alone, the great doctrine of substitution imputed righteousness and all of that which had been lost in the Dark Ages. But what led to that was an understanding of the inability of works to do anything. Let me help you to understand this. Works may appear good. They may appear good. And they may be on a human level good, that is they help people, they’re kind, they relieve people’s suffering, they’re charitable, they’re philanthropic, whatever. But they are really sinful when they are done by the unregenerate because they lack purity and they lack true motive which is the glory of God. And anything that is not done to the glory of God is done then to the glory of man and that is the sin of all sins. They are really expressions of human pride. We’re glad for them because they’re better than other kinds of expressions of human pride. We appreciate what we call the milk of human kindness. But it is really a form of sinful expression done for the well-being of the sinner. And as such, good works, especially when they proliferate in the life of an unregenerate person, tend to layer the deception so that the person instead of seeing himself as wretched, begins to convince himself by his goodness that he is far better than he really is. So anybody who thinks that by their good works they are somehow doing what is meritorious and earning favor with God is just making the deception further and further buried in their hearts and layer and layer and layer of good work makes it harder to get to reality. The works of sinners may not all be crimes, but they are not without sinfulness because they are done for personal and selfish motive and gain. They bring honor to man. They produce self-satisfaction. They produce self-gratification. They produce pride and a sense of well-being and that deceives the sinner and that increases sin because it is proud and pride is at the head of all sins and so we really in doing good apart from God, apart from grace are adding to our pride which is to compound our sinfulness at its most devastating point.

And then when you add…that’s not enough…you add the next element, and that is this, that if you think by doing those good deeds you are obtaining salvation, now you have added another sin to your pride. You have added the sin of a misunderstanding of the revelation of God and the gospel. You have added the damnable lie of a works/righteousness system to your pride. It’s bad enough…let’s look at the three again…to do works that you think are good but they’re not because they’re for yourself, and then add to that that you proliferate those works which builds up your sense of pride and well-being and feeling of self-satisfaction which increases your pride which makes the sin all the worse, but add to that the illusion that somehow you’re gaining favor with God and you have added the ultimately damning sin that somehow you can earn your salvation. And the further you go down that road, and the more you do that, the more blind you become and that is why Jesus said to the Pharisees, “They are…what?…blind leaders of the blind. On the outside they are painted white, on the inside they’re filthy.” This is what happens to extremely religious people. So you see extremely profligate evil people in the story and extremely religious people in the story and the point is not that everybody is either one of those extremes, the point is that God opens His compassionate, forgiving, reconciling love to those who are at those extremes and everybody in between. And you see that because at this point the Lord in telling the story has the father, who is God in Him, in Christ, mercifully humble Himself.

It’s amazing. It says in verse 28, “And his father came out and began entreating him.” Here we see God the initiator again. Here we see God in Christ the seeker, just as in the case of the younger son, the father came down out of his house and ran right down to the middle of town for all to see, bearing the scorn and the shame of the embarrassment of violating public common conventional behavior. And he did it to embrace the sinner and protect him from the shame. Here the father leaves the festival, goes out and does what you would never expect God to do, beg a sinner, beg a hypocrite. But He is the one who seeks to save the lost.

When the information, obviously, about the older son reaches the father, the word comes to him that his son is on the outside and he’s not going to come in. He now knows he has his second rebel son and we’re now going to find out how God feels about religious hypocrites. What they would have expected…what they would have expected was that the father would be absolutely insulted by this. It is a blatant insult. It is an utter disregard for the father’s honor, the father’s joy, the brother’s well-being. He shows himself as having no love for either of them. And the traditional Middle Eastern response would be to take the son and give him a public beating for such dishonor. But nothing goes the way you’d think it’s going to go in this story. It’s just one breach of perceived honor after another after another, after another, after another. But instead of the father ordering him to be beaten and locked in a room somewhere until he can be dealt with, the insulted dishonored father comes out. And he starts begging him. Here he shows up again in condescension. Here he shows up again in mercy. Here he shows up again in compassion and love and humility and kindness, leaves the party, comes out, goes into the night with everybody watching and the buzz sure is going to go through and they know what’s going on. Another act of selfless love kindly toward this son in the same way that he ran to embrace the younger son. He goes out in mercy and he reaches to the hypocrite the same way he reached to the rebel.

I want you to notice the word “entreating” there. It says that he began entreating him, parakaleo, that’s a very, very common word, it’s actually a word that comes in a noun form. The paracletemeaning the Holy Spirit, the one who comes alongside, entreating is to come alongside to speak to, to come right alongside someone. That is he comes right out and goes alongside his son. And he pleads with him, and he calls him to come to the kingdom, to come to his house, to come to the celebration. And this son with whom the Pharisees and scribes are so clearly identified should have brought them face-to-face with themselves and their complete ignorance of the father whom they said they served. Oh, they were in the house, they were around, they were the religious ones, they were the dutiful ones, they were the moral ones. But they didn’t know God, they didn’t know the heart of God. They had no understanding of the joy of God. They had no interest in the recovery of lost sinners. They refused to honor God for saving grace which has always been the way God saved. They see Jesus, in fact, as satanic. And as Jesus said in John 5:23, “If they honored the Father, they would honor Me.” They refused to go in.

But here is this wonderful compassionate grace of God reaching out to these angry hypocrites. And the response of the older son, verse 29, “He answered and said to his father, ‘Look…'” let me stop there.

Everybody would take a breath there. Ahhhh! I mean, even the prodigal came back and said, “Father, father,” just as he had said father at the beginning when he asked him for his estate. You don’t address your father, “Look…” There’s no title. There’s no respect. And then he says, “For so many years I have been serving you,” douleuo, slave language, doulos.

“For so many years I have been your slave.” Now there’s a legalist mentality. That’s a no-fun posture, no joy. And what it indicates is that in the heart of this guy he has seen this as a horrible, grit-your-teeth, grind your way through these years and years of slugging out your slavery to this guy so that when he finally dies you can get what you’re after. He was no different than the younger son. He wanted what he wanted, he just had a different way to get it. He didn’t have the courage of his younger brother. He didn’t have, you might say, the shootsbah(??), moxie. Now he decided the safe ground was to hang around and wait till the father dies and then get it. It’s all nothing but slavery to him…bitter, resentful, angry for so many years. And he piles on the descriptives.

And then if you want to know the self-image of a hypocrite, here it is. “And I have never neglected a command of yours.” Wow! Now if that isn’t the language of a self-righteous hypocrite, I don’t know what is. Who does that sound like? It sounds like the rich young ruler, doesn’t it? It sounds exactly like the rich young ruler. Matthew 19, Luke 18 where Jesus says, “Here are the commandments,” and he responds by saying, “I’ve kept all those. I’ve kept all those.” Here is the proud hypocrite. Here is the guy who because he has done good is under the illusion that he is good, because he has done good for self-satisfaction and pride he has buried the truth of who he is deep, because he has done good for satisfaction and pride as a way to earn salvation, he has pushed it so far down that he can’t even touch it any longer, it’s completely buried in his subconscious. And he lives with this illusion that he has never ever neglected a command that his father had given him. There is the amazing self-deception of a hypocrite. He’s perfect. I’m perfect, which is to say to the father, “And look, buddy, you’re not. I am perfect. I understand what perfection is. I understand what perfect righteousness is and perfect justice and I know what perfect honor is and I know how you’re supposed to behave and you’re in violation of it. Again and again you’re in violation of it. You took him back, you ran, you shamed yourself. You protected him from shame. You forgave him. You embraced him. You kissed him. You gave him full sonship. You gave him honor. You gave him authority. You gave him responsibility. You hold this massive celebration for an absolutely unworthy sinner. I’m perfect and you’re not.”

By the way, this is why Paul went around killing Christians because he hated grace. It was Paul, you remember, in Philippians 3 who says, “Blameless according to the law, that’s how I live my life, under the illusion that I was absolutely blameless and these Christians with their message of grace were violators of God’s holy law.” And he went everywhere he could breathing threatening and slaughter and imprisoning and killing them.

He has no love for the father. He has no interest in the father’s love for his younger brother. He has no desire to share in his father’s joy. He has no joy period in anything. But he’s still perfect and needs no repentance. How about that? What a classic illustration of a hypocrite. Angry, bitter, slave mentality, I’ve done all this to get what I expect to get, but he sees himself as perfect and needing no repentance. You want to know something? Nobody goes into the Kingdom of God without repentance. This is classic hypocrisy. His heart is wretched. His heart is wicked. His heart is alienated. His heart is selfish and he’s blind to spiritual reality. And again, here are the Pharisees and the scribes, here’s the religious sinner in the home of God, in the house of God, if you will, making a public display of affection for God, wearing clerical garb, or attending a certain kind of ritual, certain religious activities, moral on the public front, outwardly good, outwardly obeying the law, keeping all the rules. But no relationship to God. No concern for the honor of God. No joy. No understanding of grace.

The son isn’t finished. He’s going to dig his claws deeper into his father whom he sees as a sinner. He sees his father as a violator of righteous standards of which he is the source and says to him this. “I have never neglected a command of yours and yet you have never given me a kid, or a goat, that I might be merry with my friends. I’ve been the worker and I don’t even get a goat. He’s done nothing for you and he gets the fattened calf. This is not fair. This is not equitable. This is not just. This is not righteous.”

You know what the son is really saying? “Father, I don’t need to ask you for forgiveness, I haven’t done anything. But I’ll tell you something, you need to ask me for forgiveness for what you’ve done.” That is the outrage of hypocrisy. That is the outrage of legalism. It demands that God forgive us for a violation of our understanding. He thinks the father needs to ask him for forgiveness.

And the Pharisees are going to identify with him. Yeah, this is right, this is the right posture. This is outrageous conduct by the father. The father is the culprit. The father is the bad guy here,. The son is a bad guy, son number one, sure he’s a bad guy, the younger son, but the father’s really the bad one, he’s the one who has completely violated all conventional standards of respect and honor.

The son gives himself away a little bit here, he says…because he says, “You’ve never given me a kid that I might be merry with my friends.” MY friends. He’s accusing the father of favoritism and he’s accusing the father of an unjust favoritism. But he’s also pointing out the fact that when he has a party, it’s not going to include his brother, it’s not going to include his father. He lives in a completely different world. He has a completely different group of friends. He’s at home but he has no relationship to the family. All his friends are outside the family. He parties with those who thinks the way he thinks. He parties with those who have no connection to the father. He doesn’t understand the father’s love, compassion, kindness, mercy, forgiveness and joy. He has no fellowship with the father. He is angry, resentful, jealous, envious, impenitent, and greedy. He thinks he’s worked as a slave so long and what has he gotten? Nothing. And when he does get what he wants, it’s not going to be a celebration with the family because he has no relationship to them. His father is nothing more than a slave master. He’s going to have his party with his buddies. So classic in his description of the Pharisees who associated only with themselves, as we have seen in other texts.

This is the time when the older brother wishes the father were dead, probably wished it a lot if this were a real person. But in the story it comes out. “I haven’t had my party. I haven’t had anybody kill a kid for me so that I could have a party with my friends.” He doesn’t care about his father and now his father is wasting assets on this other son, a wicked son who by his own admission is unworthy. If his father was just dead, all of this would be over. If his father was just dead, then he would possess everything and he could start the party with his own buddies. Get the father out of the picture and everything is good, everything is as it should be, everything is honorable again. Let’s get back to an honorable world here. We’ve got to get rid of all this shameful stuff.

Verse 30 carries on a further assault on his father’s character, integrity and virtue. “But when this son of yours,” he won’t even say my brother, so much disdain in him, “When this son of yours came who has devoured your wealth with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him. You don’t give me a goat, but you kill the fattened calf for him, this son of yours.” Wow, you can cut that contempt with a knife.

How did he know…how did he know that he had used all that money with harlots? Because Jesus said he knew in the story. Just a little insight that tells us more about the behavior of the first son in the story and there, of course, characters that Jesus has fabricated. And so this is part of the story. This is to emphasize again that this man has lived as low as low gets. Add that to all the rest of the horror of his behavior. Some people have suggested that he made this up just out of scorn. But there’s nothing in the text that says that. We assume that if Jesus puts it in his mouth, it was a reflection of what Jesus wanted us to know about the behavior of the younger son.

So here is something juxtaposed against a celebration that’s pretty stark. You’ve got a celebration going on with music and dancing and the younger son and the feast and it’s just a high time of joy. And out in the dark of the night you’ve got this horrific assault going on and the older brother is attacking the virtue, the integrity, the character of his father. All that he had kept in for all those years explodes out of him, all that fake respect and honor is gone. The facade is off. The cover is blown. And while they’re all inside honoring that father, he’s on the outside heaping contempt on him. This is the Pharisees. They saw themselves as righteous. They saw themselves as just. They therefore sat in judgment on God in Christ and they condemned Jesus for His mercy, compassion, love, and the gospel of grace. And the Pharisees would see this older brother, yeah, and this is righteous indignation, this is for finally in the story we have somebody who holds up honor.

You know, in his mind a Pharisee would think that son should be dead. If you spend your money on harlots, you get killed. Deuteronomy 21:18 to 21, you get stoned to death. He should be dead. Instead of dead, look at the party. This is incongruous. This is outrageous. This is shameful, everything about it. It’s a shameful reaction by the son who is looking at the whole thing as shameful.

By the way, a little note here. You killed the fattened calf for him…not really…not really. The fattened calf wasn’t really killed for the son, he was killed for the father. The father is the one who gives the credit…gets the credit, I should say, he’s the reconciler. He determines who is going to be reconciled and under what terms. He’s the one who ran and embraced and kissed. It really was a celebration of the father. But his anger has completely blinded him. And he has no knowledge of his father. The father is the main figure at the feast. The father is the one they’re all honoring for such loving forgiveness. And the people will accept the younger son because it’s against convention to accept him. It would be against the norm to accept him back under those conditions. But they will because the father has. And so it’s really the father who is being celebrated, just as in the end, in heaven, the joy of heaven, the eternal joy of the angels and all the redeemed that gather around the throne of God and even the joy of God is the joy that comes to God Himself for being the reconciler. When we go to heaven, the direction of our praise isn’t going to be toward the sinners, it’s going to be toward the Savior.

So here is this great feast and all the celebration honoring the father. And here at the same time is this son who heaps dishonor on the father simultaneously. It’s the picture, the party symbolizes all the sinners who have collected around God to honor Him for their salvation. And outside are the Pharisees who are heaping scorn upon the Father God in Christ.

Then there’s a shameful response. From another angle, verse 31, “He said to him, ‘My child, you’ve always been with me, all that’s mine is yours.'” What a tender response. That would be…that would be shameful in the eyes of the villagers. They would say, “Wait, you should finally somebody slap this guy. I mean, enough is enough, this mercy is getting a little over the top here. Please.” But he says, “My child,” teknon, eight times in this section huios, the more formal word for son. Tekna, my boy, my child, it’s speaking in grieving, painful, agonizing, compassionate love and mercy. He speaks to him in endearing terms and that’s the heart of God toward a wretched hypocrite. Wow, is there any question about God being a loving, compassionate Savior? The son uses no title, no respect. The son attacks the virtue, the integrity, the justice and the righteousness of the father. The son is saying in effect, “You need to be forgiven by me for the outrageous and unjust and dishonorable conduct that you have perpetrated.” And here you see the patience of God with the sinners, even hypocrites. Sometimes, you know, it’s easier to be patient with prodigals than it is with hypocrites. I will confess that. We all love a great story about a wicked, outrageous sinner who is converted, but we aren’t nearly as excited about a hypocrite that’s converted. And, of course, that’s even more rare. People who are in false religion don’t come as often. In fact, this is a footnote, it never say sin all four gospels that a Pharisee believed on Jesus and was saved. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and it implies that he came. Later on, Paul the Pharisee, was saved on the Damascus road, those are the only two. But he says to him, “Look, my child,” endearing terms. “You’ve been around.”

The father knows he’s estranged. You’ve been around here superficially. Everything has always been available, it’s all here. I always think of that when I think of people who misinterpret the Scripture. You know, cults, false religions, it’s here. It’s all here. You’ve always had it. If you ever wanted a relationship with Me, I was here and everything I have was here. And look what he says, “All that is mine is yours. I don’t ever have to split it up.” And here’s the picture of the magnanimity of God and the endlessness of His grace and His resources, it’s all for all who come to Him. It will never be yours with your attitude. It will never be yours by works. You’ll never earn it. But it’s here if you ever want to establish a relationship with Me.

And verse 32 goes back to the main theme. “We had to be merry and rejoice. We had to.” It’s not like we had an option. “For this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live and was lost and has been found.” We had no choice…why? This is what causes joy to God. This is heaven’s joy. It can’t be restrained. It can’t be delayed. It can’t be postponed. It can’t be subdued. It can’t be mitigated. It can’t be lessened. Divine joy is released when one sinner repents and is reconciled. And heaven’s joy will be released not just for a prodigal, not just for someone who’s immoral and irreligious and blatantly sinful, but for secret sinners, rebels, the religious, the moral, the hypocrites, the ones whose lawlessness is all on the inside. God is saying here, Christ is saying, “I go out into the street for the prodigal and I go out into the courtyard for you. I humble Myself and take on public shame for the prodigal. And I humble Myself and take on public shame for you. I come with compassion and love and forgiveness and I am ready to embrace you and to kiss you and to give you full sonship with all its privileges, not just if you’re the prodigal, but even if you’re the hypocrite.” He’s really inviting him to salvation. You can come to the party if you choose, if you recognize your true spiritual condition, if you come home you can take possession of everything that’s always been there.

The younger son was overwhelmed with his father’s grace. Immediately confessed his sin, confessed his unworthiness in the very most magnanimous ways and he received instantaneous forgiveness, reconciliation, sonship all the rights and privileges that the father had at his disposal to give. He entered into the celebration of the father’s joy, that is eternal salvation. And as I’ve been saying, that joy goes on in heaven forever.

The older son, the same tenderness, the same kindness, the same mercy, offered the same grace, reacts with bitter resentment, attacks the virtue, the integrity of the father. And his father makes one final appeal. “My child, it’s all here. We had to celebrate, implied, and we will celebrate for you too if you come.”

And it stops in verse 32, isn’t that strange? What do you have hanging in your mind right now? Do you have a question there? I do. This is not an ending. What happened? Right? What did he do. You don’t end a story without an ending, it’s…and I guess this is another one of a series of shocks. After all of this you’re waiting, you’re waiting, you’re waiting and it stops. And, you know, if you had been listening to the whole thing you’d say, “Come on.” It’s like a joke with no punch line that lasts a long time. We’re all saying the same thing, what did he do? What did the older son do? The guests are all there. They’re waiting. They know what’s going on outside because the word is going in. What did he do? The guests are waiting, they want to know if he comes in. Having embraced and kissed his older son who repented, they want to know if he humbled himself, if he fell down before his father and sought grace for his long hypocrisy and bitter service. They want to know if he was forgiven and reconciled and they would love to see the father come in with his arm around his son, bringing him to the head table and sitting him next to his brother. Wouldn’t that be great?

Now that’s…you know, there are a lot of stories like this, you just sort of write your own ending. By the way, just from a technical standpoint. The story is divided into two halves. The first half has eight stanzas and they feature the younger brother. The second half has eight stanzas and they…has seven stanzas, I should say, and they feature the older brother. It should be eight and eight, but it’s eight and seven. And in the symmetry of the story there’s a lot of technical things that show you the symmetry of the story that I haven’t pointed out, but you have eight and then all of a sudden strangely you have seven. And so even in hearing the story, reading the story you would say it should be eight and eight, because that would be the symmetry that would be designed into that kind of Middle Eastern prose. The end isn’t there. There’s one section missing.

Now I would love to write one. I think maybe this would be good, “And the older son fell on his knees before his father saying, ‘I repent for my loveless cold service, my pride and selfishness. Forgive me, father, make me a true son, take me to the feast.’ At which point the father embraced and kissed him, took him in and seated him at his table by his brother and all rejoiced in the sons who had been reconciled to their loving father.”

I like that. Or maybe another shorter one. “The son seeing his father’s love, compassion and grace came to his senses about his wicked heart, was humbled, repented and reconciled.”

But you know what? I don’t get to write the end. Who wrote the end? The Pharisees wrote the end. Here’s the end they wrote. “And the older son being outraged at his father, picked up a piece of wood and beat him to death in front of everyone.” That’s the ending they wrote. That’s the cross and that’s what they did just a few months after this. And, by the way, congratulated themselves on their righteous act that preserved the honor of Israel and Judaism and true religion and God. Let’s pray.

What an ironic thing it is, God, that the father should have beaten the son, is beaten by the son to death in the greatest act of evil the world has ever seen. And yet, and yet, O God, out of that horrible ending of killing Your Son with wood came our redemption. The final shameful resolution of the story is the cross but out of that You have wrought our redemption for on that cross He died to bear our sins and what the leaders of Israel meant for evil, You meant for good. We thank You for this glorious salvation.

While your heads are bowed for just a moment. I don’t know where you see yourself in this story, we’re all there, either you’re the open sinner or the hidden one, or some degree of that, or you’re restored to the Father and you really do identify with the Father’s heart. You’re one of those folks at the party. You have gathered around Him as one of the redeemed to celebrate. I hope that’s true. But if you’re still estranged from God living in sin, or estranged from God living in secret lawlessness, corrupt on the inside, come to the Father who has borne shame for you, who has come down and run the gauntlet to embrace you and protect you from the shame you deserve, who has come out into the night, who’s left his throne to plead with a hypocrite, this is our gracious and good God who delights in mercy and finds His joy in forgiveness.


Available online at: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/42-205
COPYRIGHT ©2010 Grace to You

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