This morning we’re beginning a five week series looking at different passages that highlight Jesus’ pursuit of those who many would label as “Outcasts” but whom he would invite to be friends. Today we’re going to look at a text which teaches us that it doesn’t matter what we’ve done, or how far we’ve wandered, because God is actively pursuing us to come back to him. This text is an amazingly detailed look at the biblical doctrine of grace, directly from the mouth of the son of God, and this story from Luke chapter 15. The story of the Prodigal Son is a story that many consider to be Jesus’ most powerful teaching on grace.
This week, I read a quote from actor Brad Pitt that originally appeared in Rolling Stone magazine some years ago. According to Brad Pitt, the story of the Prodigal Son is just an authoritarian tale told to keep people in line. But let me assure you that Jesus didn’t tell this story to scare people into staying in line. He told the story to let people know that they could come back home. It’s unfortunate that Brad missed the point, because the prodigal son is not the story of a young man finding his way, but it’s the story of a young man losing his way, a man who had received a great fortune from his father and blew it on parties and prostitutes. And yet amazingly the father graciously welcomed the boy back home.
C.S. Lewis was once asked, “What was Christianity’s unique contribution among of the world religions?” Lewis replied, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
The truth is, that there are many who are uncomfortable with grace. Either they feel that grace makes forgiveness too easy or on the other hand that God’s mercy is limited, his love is conditional, and that forgiveness is something you receive only when you prove yourself worthy. And most people both inside and outside the church think that Christianity is about following a set of rules and regulations, but honestly that couldn’t be any farther from the truth, because if Christianity were about following a list of do’s and don’ts, none of us would be able to keep the list. I know that I certainly haven’t been able to and I’ve never met anyone who could. Therefore, my prayer is that in this message today that you would see the love of the father and know his grace as you never have before.
As we look at the story of the prodigal son in Luke chapter 15 we’re going to get a picture of the greatest father who’s ever lived, because really that’s what the story is about. I don’t know who chose the subtitle somewhere back in history, but the story is really about two sons and an amazing father. Now some of you may have had an amazing father, but most likely you had a dad who wasn’t quite perfect, not nearly as involved, supportive, or as engaged as you would’ve preferred. This morning I want you to look past whatever kind of earthly father you had and look with me to our Heavenly Father as we learn about the greatest father ever.
We’re going to start at verse 11, in chapter 15, as Jesus had been telling different stories about the love of our Heavenly Father. He had begun telling about 99 sheep and of the one which was lost. He told a story about a woman who had 10 silver coins, lost one, and then went to great lengths to find that one. And each story concludes with a statement of how much rejoicing there is in heaven, in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Each story describes the value of the one which was lost and the subsequent rejoicing when it’s found. In verse 11,
“Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.
"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:11-24).
Now typically the rule is, once you receive your inheritance, that’s it, there is no more, right? But maybe you’ve seen Superman 2, many years ago; I think it was 1980, and there’s one part of the story that illustrates this grace shown to the prodigal son. If you remember, Superman and Lois Lane decided that they’re in love and Superman chooses to surrender his superpowers in order to marry her. However, he was warned that if he gives up his powers he can never have them back. Regardless of the consequences, he chooses to give up his powers and become the plain and ordinary Clark Kent.
However, shortly afterwards, he discovers that three villains from his home planet of Krypton have taken control the White House and are establishing themselves as rulers of planet Earth. Now more than ever the world needs Superman but it’s too late! The disheartened and powerless Clark Kent hikes through a raging blizzard back to Superman’s former fortress of solitude. He discovers that it’s now in ruins and as he walks through the rubble, he cries out loud, “Father, I have failed.”
Suddenly the scene changes back to Metropolis; the bad guys are wreaking havoc terrorizing the townspeople when suddenly the music starts to play and up in the sky… Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Superman! Somehow, someway, he regained his superpowers and he’s back. I don’t think I’m spoiling it for anyone when I say that the story ends with Superman defeating the villains and winning the fight for truth, justice, and the American way.
Now what happened here was that the writers of this film had put themselves in a bit of a bind, because they had established a rule that if Superman surrenders his superpowers he could never get them back. When he surrendered his superpowers, if they had stuck to the rules, the movie would’ve ended right there. So, what the writers did was they changed the rules in the middle of the story in order to get Superman off the hook.
Now isn’t that like the grace of God? Isn’t that the gospel? Right here in Luke chapter 15, the father changes the rules in the middle of the story, in order to let his son off the hook, in order to give him a chance to come home, a chance to be his son again. That’s what grace is: our Father God rewrites the story in order to give you another chance.
That’s what the Bible tells us in Romans chapter 3. “We know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:19-23).
Grace is God making a way to get you off the hook.
Today, what I want to do is share with you a few qualities of our Heavenly Father that often sound too good to be true. You know, when you’re feeling like an outcast, when you’ve just gone too far, you’re past the point of return, and you wonder, will God really forgive me? Will he really wipe away the past? Will he really give me a fresh start and a new life? Is it really possible?
First, let me share with you this Scripture found in the Apostle Peter’s second letter to the Church. Chapter 3, verse nine tells us,
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Isn’t that beautiful? So number one, our God is a patient father.
1. God is a Patient Father
He’s patient with you because he doesn’t want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Those of you who are parents know how difficult it is to wait on your children to do the right thing, to make the right decision, but as we see in Luke chapter 15, that’s exactly what the father did. He waited and waited and waited some more. Now I don’t doubt that he’d probably heard about what his son was doing, because his other son had heard. The Bible tells us that when the older son came near the house and heard the music and dancing, he asked what was going on, and when he heard that his father was celebrating his brother back safe and sound he became angry and refused to go in because he states in verse 30,
“This son of yours has squandered your property with prostitutes” (Luke 15:30).
It’s very likely that there was all this stuff, all these rumors, all these bad reports, that the father was hearing, but he waited patiently.
Now notice what he didn’t do. He loved his son enough to not bail him out, to not interrupt the downward spiral that his son was experiencing, and I’m sure from the perspective of a father that with everything in him he wanted to intervene. The father would’ve wanted to come to the rescue if he’d heard that his son was hungry, his son needed to be bailed out, or whatever he needed. You know, he probably wanted to say, “I know I already gave you your inheritance, but here’s a little more..” But he didn’t do that.
The father loved him enough to wait, and Jesus describes the father watching and waiting. You can almost imagine the father walking to the edge of town every day, looking off in the distance, wondering if today is going to be the day. Praying that this is the day that he comes to his senses and comes home. Praying that this is the day that his son wakes up and realizes that a bad day at his father’s house is better than a good day anywhere else. As the Psalmist said,
“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Psalms 84:10).
So, the Father walks to the edge of town, wondering if today is going to be the day? Or maybe tomorrow, or the next day, and so every day he’s going out and looking, he’s wondering, “Is that him I see in the distance?” It’s the love of a patient father.
And you know what’s amazing, is that there are some of you right now, and God is looking and wondering if today is going to be the day? He’s like, “Oh, they’re back in church, they’re hearing about my love, they’re hearing about my grace, maybe today is the day? And maybe today is the day that you’re going to hear his voice calling you? Maybe this week you crashed hard, you’re at the bottom, and you can’t take it anymore? Today will you turn and come back? Your Father in Heaven is waiting patiently, maybe today is the day for you, maybe that’s why you’re here. He’s waiting and waiting, he cares that much about you. Our Heavenly Father is a very patient father.
That’s what the apostle Paul said. He’d experienced the patience of God firsthand. You see, Paul described himself as the “worst of sinners” because he did a lot of bad things. He didn’t just say bad words, he didn’t just slander people, but before he knew Jesus he actually went and killed Christians. He hated Christians, he thought they were worshiping a false God, and thought he was doing God a favor by killing followers of Christ. But here’s what he said in first Timothy,
“For that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16).
Now, here we are 2000 years later, and if God waited on Paul, if he could forgive Paul, then he’s most certainly waiting patiently for you too. Because number one, God is a patient Father. And number two, God is a forgiving Father.
2. God is a Forgiving Father
The second Scripture I want to share with you that describes the insatiable loving character of God that we can see in this story is found in Ephesians chapter 1. As you read through the story about this father’s love for his son what do you see the son do? Well, he has sinned against his father, he brings shame on his father’s name, he disgraces him with his lifestyle, he totally abuses his father’s name and actually didn’t do a single right thing. But Ephesians chapter 1 tells us in verse seven.
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:7-8).
Now imagine, the father has lived a lifetime of integrity saving up his money so that he was able to leave a sizeable inheritance for his son. But his son didn’t have any respect for his father, didn’t have any respect for his inheritance, and he takes it and spends it until he has nothing left.
Verse 17 tells us, “When he came to his senses,” he decided to go home. He didn’t do anything to earn his father’s love. He didn’t apologize for what he had done. He just came home and said in verse 21,
'Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
And what did his father do? Immediately the father said to his servants,
“Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate” (Luke 15:22-23).
So, the father covers him up with the “best robe”, covering the shame, covering the sin, covering the guilt, and now all you can see is the robe. The son stands there in his father’s righteousness, he’s totally forgiven which is exactly what God did for us. The Father became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ and Jesus became sin for us on the cross where he shed his blood and rose again. So when you hear of the forgiveness of your sins you know and understand what it cost the Father. We have a God who desires so much to forgive us, to know us, and to be in a relationship with us that he took the punishment for us. He is a forgiving father.
As a matter of fact, God describes himself that way in Isaiah chapter 43,
"I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25).
Now I want you to notice that there are very few things that God can’t do and yet here he tells us that he remembers our sins no more. Every sin that you’ve confessed, every sin that you brought under the blood of Jesus Christ, he will not remember, because they’re removed as the psalmist tells us “As far as the east is from the west” (Psalms 103:12). Our God is that good of a father. He is a Father who is waiting and watching today, hoping this is the day that you come home. Maybe today is the day. He’s patiently waiting to forgive you.
And the third thing I want you to notice is found in verse 20. When the son got up, when he was coming home, the Bible says,
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
Number three, God is a compassionate Father… who welcomes us and invites us to come back home.
3. God Is a Compassionate Father
At the risk of exposing himself in his robe, of shaming himself, this patient, forgiving father ran and compassionately embraced his son, an outcast of society, the lowest of the low. He didn’t care what others thought as he sprinted to welcome his son, throwing his arms around him, and embracing him with an intimate hug, kissing him, and welcoming him home again.
You know, it took me being a father to truly even begin to understand the love of God. For the first 30 years of my life I never understood that God could love me for who I was and not for what I did. Today, as we close in prayer, God wants you to know how much he loves you, to know him as an intimate father, who is patient and forgiving. As we close in prayer, maybe today is the day that you fall into God’s arms, receiving his forgiveness, and losing yourself in his embrace as the angels rejoice. Our God and father says, in verse 24,
“For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24).
As we close, I want to continue in an atmosphere where God can minister to you, because there are those of you who’ve been here week after week and God has been setting the stage for something greater and today you’re here because God wanted you here. You see, some of you, you’ve walked with God intimately before, you knew him, you were in fellowship with him but something happened and you wandered away and now you’re realizing that it’s not so good to be away from God and you’re wondering if I come back will he receive me? If I come back will he forgive me? And if you’re wrestling with those thoughts right now I want to encourage you that you’re here because God is waiting on you. You’re here because God is pursuing you. You’re here because God loves you and it’s time for you to come home.
There are others of you, that you barely even know the story of God and you’ve lived much of your life far away from God, but there’s something that’s drawing you toward him today and that’s God the Holy Spirit reaching out to you. That’s his voice speaking to you, his presence loving you and drawing you to himself so that through his Son and by his Spirit he can reveal just who he is to you. He wants to be the father that you’ve always longed for. A father greater than any father you could ever know on earth. A father without fault, sin or any imperfection. A father who is patient, forgiving, and compassionate. He is all good, all there, all love and always reaching out to you.
There are those of you who know right now that you’ve strayed from him and it’s time to come home. He’s waiting for you. There are others of you who are coming to him for the first time. You’ve never responded to his love. You’ve never received his Son Jesus Christ. But today you’ve heard his voice deep in your soul, and you’re turning from your sin, you’re turning toward him, and you’re calling on the name of Jesus to forgive you.
And God says to you, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you’re mine” (Isaiah 43:1). "Those who were not my people, I now call my people. I’ll love those whom I didn’t know before, they’ll be called 'children of the living God'" (Romans 9:24-26). “You’re my son, you’re my daughter, and I gave my life so that you could know me.”
As we close, would you respond to God today? Tell him, “Father, I’m coming home.”
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
March 12, 2017
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.