[Various helps such as Pulpit Commentaries, Archaeological Study Bible, A Tale of Two Sons by John MacArthur and other sources were used in helping formulate this message.]
Last week we witnessed the transformation of a sinner- the lost son- from realizing his lostness to true repentance of his sins. This prodigal son cashed out his inheritance and proceeded to trash his life with wild living. When he cycled down to nothing he realized that his father might be merciful toward him and so he headed home and experienced grace.
This is us: lost sinners becoming found saints. Men and women spiritually dead until we receive Jesus Christ into our lives and then we become God's saints. Only grace can do this.
Grace is: forgiveness when forgiveness is undeserved, generosity where generosity is absurd and giving love to those before they are even ready to receive.
I can testify that before coming to Christ I was searching for love in the wrong places. My life was full of confusion and doubt. I was on my own boulevard of broken dreams. I was living somewhere between nowhere and good-bye.
But then Jesus found me. And I have never been the same. God has blessed me with a wonderful spirit filled wife, two great children who love God and now too husky grandsons. And hopefully more of those! God has blessed me and as I have testified before, if it were all to end today and if this is as good as it gets then I would consider myself the most blessed man on earth.
But I happen to know that God has more for me and my family. I tell all of this because none of this would be here- me, my wife, kids, grandkids- none of this were it not for God's amazing and wonderful grace.
This week I want us to see a picture of grace when grace doesn't make sense. And certainly this prodigal son coming home to salvation doesn't make sense. Grace doesn't make sense to those Pharisees who were waiting for the prodigal to get his "come-uppance." Grace doesn't make sense to an agency and bureaucracy that have rules and memos to live and die by. Grace only makes sense to Christians who have experienced grace and have not forgotten what it means to be saved. And even then we oftentimes find ourselves struggling to grasp this mystery of the gospel.
So what does the picture of the lost son's father tell us about our Savior's love and grace for us?
- OUR SAVIOR'S FORGIVING HEART.
Forgiveness is us getting what we don't deserve. This younger son spent all he had on wild living. He cashed out his father's deeds and titles for pennies on the dollar- or bekas on the talents. He then took his inheritance and threw the money down the sewer in all sorts of wasteful spending. When he bottomed out he knew the only place to return would be to home; home to his father.
What a fearful thing that must've been. Coming to your senses and realizing all those wasted years and opportunities.
I notice a few characteristics of this father's forgiving heart.
a)Forgiveness without question.
If one of my kids comes in late after curfew or had run off with my credit card and returned later what would I do? I'd be asking questions!
"Where were you? What were you doing? You spent all my money on what?" There would be quite an interrogation. But we don't find that here. The father asks no questions. He simply forgives.
b) Forgiveness without explanation.
The father runs to his lost son that has returned home and immediately stops him short of making any promises to do certain things or requests to become something or explaining his actions.
That is significant.
I remember being at a camp meeting where a couple of friends went to the altar seeking forgiveness and promising to become preachers if God would forgive them. Not right. That is not the way grace works. Grace asks no questions.
This son simply confesses and doesn't promise to be a good boy and to never do it again, nor does he get the chance to ask to be a hired servant (or a pastor, or a missionary or a Sunday School teacher or an audio/visual man or anything of the like). The father grants forgiveness without question.
c) Forgiveness without humiliation.
A possible scenario is that this boy was walking towards the village where this family lived. Other villagers may have already seen him coming and were ready to hurl insults at him. And so the father takes off running towards his son rather than wait for his son to come to him.
There were probably those who saw this father running towards his returning son and may have been thinking: "The boy's gonna get it now!" But instead they see this Father throw his arms around his lost son, kiss him profusely, likely weeping in the process and then walk back with his arm around this boy.
I'll bet they asked themselves, "What kind of man is this? I would have that boy publicly flogged and in stocks by sundown." However, our Savior is not about public humiliation. Yes, there is a time and place for public confession- especially by Christians seeking reconciliation with the body of Christ. But this was not that time or place.
I am reminded of Hebrews 12:2- "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
d) Forgiveness with sacrifice.
Understand the kind of forgiveness this lost sinner boy was receiving came with a sacrifice. This was no closed door forgiveness in order to save face with the public.
What we see is this father- representing our Savior Jesus Christ- taking public humiliation in order to bring forgiveness to this sinner. To run he had to lift the hem of his robe and then not simply walk at a fast pace or a jog but the Greek word is used that actually means "sprint." This father sprinted to his sinner son.
No father of those days of this man's stature would allow himself to be undignified in public in any way. But by sprinting to his sinner boy with his robe gathered up so that he could run as fast as he could, he threw off all dignity. In other words, this father took on shame in order to reach his son.
Another concept of this sacrificial forgiveness is that this father put loving hands on this boy. He touched him, not to punish him, but to heal him.
And then he kissed him. Now in that time there was the "handshake kiss" that is often still seen today in the middle east: two people would give a peck of the lips on each other's cheeks. This was a mere formality. Many times the peck never touched skin. It was a simple gesture of business or acquaintance and not necessarily friendship.
But here we see the father kissing his pig-smelling, raggedy son. The act of kissing in such a way was one of not simply friendship but one of love. This father loved his son and he was not going to be embarrassed by it.
Then as a part of the forgiveness process he gives his son gifts: a new robe, a new ring and new sandals. In a sense, outsiders must have thought this man was rewarding his son for his degenerate behavior.
But I want us to notice something.
As this father runs to his son, he is not embarrassed to do so. I think of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is not ashamed to be counted among the sinners.
As this father expresses publicly his love for his son, I think of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ expressing his love for us by dying on the cross in our place.
As this father then gives his son gifts, I think of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ giving us the gifts of being saved. The gift of eternal life, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the blessings of being in a grace relationship with him.
This is grace that doesn't make sense. But that is the way our Savior is- he does things that seems like foolishness to humanity. He forgives based on himself and not on us.
Besides our Savior's FORGIVING HEART, we also see in the picture of this father…
2. OUR SAVIOR'S GENEROUS CHARACTER.
As I had closed out the previous point we learned that the father gave his son gifts or rewards. What we see is this father's expressions of his character of generosity. This goes way beyond anything any regular father might do. I can't think of too many parents who would do as this father did. And rightfully so. The point of this parable is not to necessarily teach us about parenting skills or how to carry out Dr. Dobson's tough love concepts. But it is to point out to us the love of our Lord and in this point, more particularly, his generous character toward us.
I want us to look at the three specific gifts that this lost sinner receives:
a) The long robe of distinction.
The father saw his son coming from a distance. This son was most likely dressed in rags. It is not even realistic to think that this boy who had no money and whose last job was hog-slopping would have the money to dress nicely. He comes down the road smelly and beggarly looking.
The father's response? Put the best robe on him. What a statement to all of those witnessing the occasion. It wasn't simply, "get him some clothes" but put the best robe on him.
b) A signet ring of authority.
Putting the best robe on him wasn't enough. Now he proceeds to put a ring on his finger.
In those times rings were much like a class ring that some of you have. It identified you as an executer of the estate. On the ring would have been the family's personal insignia that was used in business dealings. When a letter would be sent, for example, the letter would be sealed with wax and then the ring pressed into the warm wax. The ring was also used as a signature of the father of the estate. He did not need to be there to sign something. Instead, those with the ring could do his business.
This father was giving his son, in a literal sense, the keys to the whole estate. He is giving him signature status. This boy can now do any kind of business he deems necessary or desirable in the name of the father's estate.
c) Sandals for a son.
And then he puts shoes on his feet. It would not due for his own son, his partner in business to go without shoes. Servants, slaves and hired hands might go without shoes but not a son.
d)Fattened calf for a special occasion.
A young goat would have certainly been less expensive than the fattened calf. But to this father the very best was all that was good enough for his son. To him, being in the family meant something.
And for you to be in God's family means something. The ground at the cross is level. Every person is the family of God is of the same status and stature. Just because I'm pastor doesn't make me better or more deserving than anyone else.
3. OUR SAVIOR'S LOVING NATURE.
What we finally get to see is the overarching and overreaching love of our Savior. This cannot and must not be missed by us- especially those of us who are Christians.
The unmistakable message that Jesus tells his audience then and now is that he loves the sinner and the saint, the Jew and the Gentile, the clean and the unclean. I do not find it a stretch in the least to make a sweeping assumption in saying that our Savior's love goes beyond anything we could imagine.
And believe you me, the Pharisees standing in the crowd that day listening to Jesus weave his parable about this lost son would never truly see Jesus for who he really was to them: a Savior who loved them far more than the people who feared them.
Isn't it like God to love someone as unlovable as the prodigal son who rejected the ways of his father, squandered his father's hard-earned money and then ended up living with pigs? And isn't it like God to love someone as unlovable as those hypocritical Pharisees who didn't have a wit of mercy in their cold bones for anyone but love to flout their obedience to the letter of each rule but lacked true obedience to the Spirit of the Law?
And isn't it like God to love someone like you and I, who have done nothing, inherited nothing and could give nothing? Let me tell you about our Savior's loving nature:
a) Jesus loves the bad son and the good son.
In this parable the father looks at the good son who is rightfully angry because he has stayed and tilled the field, obeyed the rules but yet never even had a meaningless goat offered to celebrate him. (No offense to goats but they were used for secondary type of parties; the fattened calf was used for the best of parties.) The father assures him that "you are always with me and everything I have is yours."
For those of you in families where you have made the right choices and then watched your sibling make terrible choices and then witnessed mom and dad helping them way more than you; if this upsets you then I must simply say this: get over it. Don't get jealous. Leave it in God's hands. (next week we'll deal with the angry older "good" son.)
b) Jesus came to save the Jews and the Gentiles.
I love what Romans 1:16 tells us: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew and then for the Gentile."
This gives us hope for anyone. This father understood that regardless of his son's terrible choices there was still one choice that would change everything.
And I can't help but wonder about God looking down into the Garden of Eden and watching Adam and Eve make a terrible choice of eating from the forbidden tree.
c) Jesus came to save you.
What does it mean to become a Christian?
Admit that you are a sinner. This boy came to his father with a heart of repentence and confession.
Believe that Jesus died for your sins. This prodigal son knew the only place to get salvation from his misery was his father. In the same sense, you realize that the only place you can get true salvation is by believing in Jesus Christ.
Confess Jesus as Lord. This lost sinner came to that place where he was willing to submit to his father. In a similar fashion, you now confess that Jesus is Lord of your life.
CONCLUSION: How to reach your children and grandchildren.
REMEMBER how Christ impacted your life.
- We all like sheep have gone astray. (Isaiah 53:6) We were all once sinners lost in our sin. Yes, some have committed fewer and less criminal sins than others but any sin separated us from God.
- We all needed a Savior like Jesus. No one- not any one- could ever live such a perfect as not need Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross for their sins. We needed a Savior to rescue us from our sins and grant us eternal life through him.
- We all still need Jesus- desperately- everyday. None of us could live the kind of life that the Bible calls us to live without the very life of Jesus living within us. This is important for us to remember and then to model this Spirit filled life.
Not only must we remember these
DO something about the lostness of your children and grandchildren.
We are not helpless. God has made a way for us to make a difference. These seven suggestions I believe will help all of us in making a difference in their lives.
- Love your kids- all of them. Favoritism does no favors for anyone. The favored child grows up feeling entitled and the unfavored child grows up bitter.
- Pray for them every day. Daily prayer for your children and grandchildren should be a habit.
- Watch out for them, watch for them. Have faith that God will be faithful in speaking to them.
- Pray for them at night. Are you prone to awaking during the night and have a hard time going back to sleep? Then pray for your kids. Walk to their room while they are sleeping and weep over their souls that God will protect them.
- Wait for them to hear from God. Be patient with God. He will be faithful to the fervent prayers of a righteous person. (James 5:16)
- Pray all the time for them. Did I mention prayer a couple of other times? Be diligent in prayer during the daytime and the nighttime.
- Love them with the love of Christ. Forgive them even before they ever come to you. And what if they never come to you? So what! You forgive them and not hold it against them.
Show them a grace that doesn't make sense.
One more thing this father shows us: He was not weary in well-doing. (Galatians 6:9) And when you get weary of the arguments, the bad phone calls, the frustration with their sinful lifestyle, borrowing money and not paying it back, and it seems that nothing is changing just remember the example of this father. Furthermore, remember the example of our Savior who patiently waited until we were ready to hear the good news that he and he alone saves.
An Amazing Grace that doesn't make sense.