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Lost Son

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20180304 Lost Son Proverbs 22:6 (Opening) 6  Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Introduction Jesus’ parables are an interesting window into what God is like, and what the kingdom of heaven is like. But they are also a mirror that we can use to see if we’re doing the things that Jesus would want us to do in our relationships with other people. Today I want to hold up a mirror so we can do some self-evaluation. The Context This is our third Sunday looking at Luke chapter 15 and the three parables in that chapter. All three parables are related, telling different aspects of God’s relationship to us. Jesus is telling these parables because of something that happens at the beginning of the chapter. Luke 15:1-2 15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” All three of these parables are Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ comment. First, Jesus tells the story of the Lost Sheep, where the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep that are safe to look for the sheep that wandered off. Then Jesus tells a story about a woman who lost one of her ten coins and swept her house and searched with a lamp until she found that lost coin. The end of both parables was similar. Luke 15:10 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Now, let’s take a look at the third and longest of the three parables. The Story There are different names for this parable, depending on the Bible translation you’re reading from. The most common name for it is the Prodigal Son. I have a problem with that name, primarily because we don’t use the word “prodigal” in everyday speech, unless we’re talking about this parable. Seriously, when was the last time you told someone they were being prodigal? Do you know what it even means? I would guess that most people don’t. So, I looked it up, so we could all learn something. Prodigal (adjective) Wastefully or recklessly extravagant. (noun) A person who spends, or has spent, his or her money or substance with wasteful extravagance; spendthrift. I think the last definition actually came from this parable. So, the name kind of fits, but I wouldn’t say “Prodigal Son” the best name for this parable. Another name for the parable is the “Compassionate Father”. That’s accurate, because it describes one of the characters in the parable, but if you’re going to stick with the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin for the two previous parables in Luke 15, this isn’t the best name. So, I’ve settled on the Parable of the Lost Son. It keeps with the theme of the two previous parables, talking about things that are lost, and it expresses the feelings of the compassionate father at the same time. Luke 15:11-12 11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Right off the bat, we can see a difference between this parable and the previous two. The man who has two sons seems to be wealthy. He has property, and he can divide that property between his two sons. When I imagine this parable, I see the younger son as a brash 18-year-old, tired of living under his father’s roof and following his rules. There’s only one way to get away from being under dad’s thumb, and that’s to get his share of the inheritance. After all, dad’s old, so it’s no loss to him. In Jewish culture, and in most Christian cultures until recently, the oldest was given a double share of the inheritance. So, with two sons, assuming there were no daughters, the oldest would receive two thirds of the father’s property, and the youngest would receive one third. So, the father divided his property and gave the youngest his share. Luke 15:13-16 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. The younger son liquidated his assets that his father gave him. If it included property of any kind, he sold it to convert it to something he could carry with him, and then he headed off on his great adventure. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the younger son was prodigal with his inheritance. He spent everything he had. My mom would have said his money was burning a hole in his pocket. Once his wallet was empty, things got worse. There was a famine, so now the plentiful food wasn’t plentiful anymore, and the younger son began to suffer. He probably started to question the “wisdom” of spending all his money. And since he had no money left, he found a job to try to help himself. Unfortunately, the only job he could find was something that no one back home would have believed he would stoop to. He began tending pigs. When we talked about the parable of the Lost Sheep, I told you about how shepherds were usually looked down on because it was such a dirty job because the shepherd spent all his time with the sheep, and usually smelled like them. Well, tending pigs was much worse. Pigs are an unclean animal, so Jews weren’t allowed to eat pork. Because pigs were unclean, tending pigs was considered an unclean job, one that Jews should never do. But sometimes, if that’s the only work you can get, that’s what you do to survive. The famine got so bad that the younger son was actually envious of the pigs. He wanted to eat their food, because he was so hungry. No one else would give him anything to eat, and pigs are not known for being good at sharing their food. Luke 15:17-19 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ Ever have one of those moments when the lightbulb comes on and you ask yourself “Why am I being so stupid?” The younger son comes to the realization that even the servants in his father’s house had it better than he did at that very moment. The hardest part of the younger son’s solution to his problem, in my experience, was going to be admitting to his father that he was wrong, and that he messed up. He knew he had wasted his inheritance, and had done things that put him far below the standard that his father would expect from one of his sons. “Maybe if he would take me on as a servant. I know then at least I’d have something to eat, and a roof over my head.” I can hear him as he’s walking back to his father’s house, repeating over and over, rehearsing what he’s going to say when he sees his father. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you…” over and over as he trudges along so when he is finally in front of his father he won’t mess up his confession. Luke 15:20-24 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. So, here I see the twist in the story, like Jesus has in all of His parables. Jesus’ audience, the Pharisees, were probably thinking “Yes, the boy is right. He doesn’t deserve to be called a son anymore. I don’t even know if I’d hire him as a servant in my house.” But that’s not what happens. In Middle Eastern culture, it is rare to see the patriarch of a family run, but in Jesus story the father, when he sees his son in the distance, runs to him, hugs him and kisses him. The father expresses his forgiveness and joy toward his younger son before the son even gets a chance to begin his confession of guilt. And before he can finish his confession, the father interrupts him and sends his household servants to get the best robe, a ring, and shoes for his son. The robe was probably one kept for a distinguished visitor if one came to the house. The ring was to show the authority the son would have over those in the house not in the family, and the shoes were to identify him as a member of the family. Servants rarely wore shoes or sandals, but family members’ feet were protected. Then, he sent his farmyard workers to butcher the calf that was normally saved for special occasions and prepare a feast for everyone to celebrate the return of the younger son. The father’s joy is explained in verse 24. He believed he had lost his son, and the joy of seeing him returned was more than he could contain. Luke 15:25-30 25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And 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.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ Now we get to meet the older son for the first time in this parable. He’s coming back from the field, so the impression we get is that he is an industrious, hardworking man. He’s either been out supervising the workers in the field, or he’s been working with them, or both. As he gets closer to the house, he hears the music. “I don’t remember there was a party scheduled for today. I wonder what’s going on.” So, he asks one of the servants. He’s not very happy with the answer he gets. “Your brother has returned healthy and safe, so your father has thrown a party for his return, and the calf we were fattening up for a special occasion is the main course.” I can picture the steam coming out of the older brother’s ears as he’s listening to the servant tell him what’s going on. The older brother is so angry, he won’t even go into the house. When the father comes out to try to persuade him to go in, harsh words are spoken. “Nope. I’m not going near your party. I’ve always done what you wanted me to do. I’ve always been here, slaving away for you. When was the last time you threw a party for me? I don’t even get a small goat! But your son comes home after spending all his inheritance, all your money, on who knows what, and you throw the biggest party you can for him! He disrespects you, and you reward him with a party!” But the father has an answer for him. Luke 15:31-32 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” The father explains the situation to his oldest son. “Your younger brother has nothing left. He won’t get anything more in inheritance. All he has left is family. Everything I own is yours, and yes, you’ve always been here. But your brother was as good as dead. We didn’t know where he was or if he was ever coming back. Now he’s here, and we should be happy about it.” The Younger Son Now that we’ve read through the parable, I want to take a look at what Jesus is telling us through the three characters in this parable. The first person we really get to see in the story is the younger son. The younger son makes some seriously bone-headed decisions. But don’t we all? I know I’ve made a few good ones. The good news is that we can recover from them. Think about it. Think about all the important people in the Bible who made big mistakes in their lives. Jacob was a liar and a cheat. Moses was a murderer. Rahab was a prostitute. David was an adulterer. God redeemed all of them, and used them. Jesus was telling the Pharisees that these tax collectors and sinners He was spending time with were the ones that needed Him, and they could be redeemed just like these others. In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Colossae, he pointed out some of their previous faults, and the redemption they received. Colossians 1:21-23 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. Like the younger son, we all need to come home and admit what we’ve done wrong, decide to change our ways, and strive to stay that way, doing God’s will and not our own. If the younger son hadn’t decided to go home, he never would have been returned to his family. He would have remained an outcast, living a life that was unacceptable. But since he “came to his senses” and returned to his father’s house, he was accepted back into the family. He had to deal with the consequences of what he did. He had spent all his inheritance, and would never get that back. But he was forgiven and brought back into the family. James wrote it this way in his letter: James 4:8-10 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. It took a lot of humility for the younger brother to come home and admit that he was wrong; that he wronged his father by his behavior, and that he sinned because he didn’t honor his father. That’s the way we need to be when we repent of our sins to our heavenly Father, and turn away from the wrong that we’re doing. The Father What about the father in the story? What do we learn from him? We learn that God will accept us, and accept us back, if we walk away from our sinful life and ask for His forgiveness. Look at what we learn about the father in verse 20. Jesus says that while the younger son was still a long way off, the father saw him and felt compassion, and ran to him. That tells me that the father was watching and waiting for the younger son to return. He was expectantly hopeful that the son would come to his senses and realize what he had done wrong, and come back to him. The father was patiently waiting. Peter tells us in his second letter that God is patiently waiting, too. 2 Peter 3:9 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. God wants everyone to repent and come to Him. Like the father in the story, He waits patiently for us to come to Him. He doesn’t go out trying to force people to change their ways. He wants us to repent and come to Him. Then there will be great rejoicing in heaven. That’s the point of all three of these parables. The Older Son That sounds like a good place to end, but we still have one more person in the parable to talk about: the older brother. I think Jesus is using the older brother in this parable to get the Pharisees’ attention, to let them know how they are behaving toward these “tax collectors and sinners” that Jesus is eating with. We can be like the older brother when we look down at people who are doing things wrong, and not trying to help them to change their lives. When we do that, we’re just another part of the problem, not a part of the solution of bringing people to Christ, or encouraging our brothers and sisters. As Christians, we should be trying to be like Christ. Unfortunately, we often fail at that, like both the younger brother and the older brother. But Paul explained to the congregation in Colossae we should be behaving like this: Colossians 3:12-13 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. If we are compassionate, kind, humble, and patient, we’re more likely to be able to help others when they run into problems in their Christian walk, and also be able to help people to find Christ in the first place. Conclusion Some of us here are like the younger brother. We messed things up before we figured out what the right thing to do was. Some of us here are like the older brother. We thought we knew all the right things to do, and we did them, and because of that we expected that we were right. Both of the brothers in this story were just as lost. The younger was lost because he struck out on his own, to make his own rules. The older brother was lost because of his “righteous indignation” toward his father’s acceptance and forgiveness of the younger brother’s sins. As a congregation, we need to decide if we’re going to follow the behavior of the father in the parable, or the older brother. I see them as the opposite sides of the same coin. The father is forgiving and compassionate, the older brother is vindictive, angry, and self-righteous. Like Paul wrote to the Colossians, we need to be compassionate, kind, humble, patient, and forgiving. Not to the point of encouraging sin, but because we know that we all sin. God forgives us, so we need to forgive too. Ephesians 2:4-7 (Closing) 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 13
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