Sermon on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Text: Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “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. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “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! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20 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.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “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. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Over the past few Sundays, we have looked at repentance. We have seen that those who refused to repent are lost forever. Last week, we saw that repentance is absolutely necessary for the Christian. For, where there is no repentance, there is no forgiveness, and where there is no forgiveness, there can be no salvation. We have been urged to heed Christ’s call for repentance and to produce the fruits of repentance that God looks for. This week we shift our attention from our repentance and what we do to the love that God the Father shows us when we repent. We will do so on the basis of the well-known parable of the Lost Son. Although it is called the parable of the Lost Son, the focus really is on the love of the Father. Let us BEHOLD THE LOVE OF THE FATHER 1. For The Son Who Ran Away and 2. For The Son Who Stayed Home.
Verses 1&2 of our text give us vital information for the understanding of the parable. “Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” Jesus was preaching to the social outcasts of his day. He spent time with them, teaching them the way of salvation. However, this was too much for the religious leaders of the day. The people that Jesus was associating with did not keep all of the Old Testament laws, as well as all of the other laws that they had added, as well as they did. They looked down their noses at these people. They were beneath the dignity of the leaders. They thought to themselves, ‘Any self-respecting person wouldn’t have anything to do with these people.’ They found fault with Jesus for doing so.
Jesus’ heart reached out to these Pharisees and teachers of the law, just as it did for these “sinners.” He wanted to teach them something very important. So, he told them a series of parables. As you may recall, a parable is a story using everyday elements to teach a spiritual truth. The parable of the Lost Son is the last of the parables that Jesus told them. All three dealt with the attitude God has to those people who are brought to repentance.
The parable begins with a request from the younger son of two brothers. He said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” Jesus points to a custom of the day. When the shares of inheritance were split up, it was the custom to divide the estate by one more than the number of sons you had. The eldest son would receive double the amount of the others. So, in this case, the father was asked to split his estate three ways between his two sons. The eldest son was expected to stay and carry on the family business, while the others went elsewhere. There was one thing that was unusual about this request. It was customary to wait until the father had died, before you got your share. However, the younger son is impatient to get away from his family, and he demanded it right now. The father granted his request.
Isn’t the attitude of the younger son easy to find today? So often, children can’t wait to get away from home, away from their parents’ rules and watchful eyes and start living life the way that they want to. Our sinful natures also want to get away from God’s commands and go out, having a good time. We feel like we are our own boss, that we are accountable only to ourselves. We want to be free from all of the oppressive rules that God has laid out and have fun instead. The devil tricks us into thinking that God’s way is bad, stifling and that sinning is true freedom.
The younger son thought he had found true freedom once he got his share of the estate. We are told that he “set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.” You can be sure that, according to the world’s standards, this young man had a good time. You can imagine that he ate the very best foods, drank the choicest of wines, wore the finest clothes. He, very likely, had quite a number of friends, as is usually the case when money is being spent wildly and foolishly. He had a great time, until the money ran out. All of a sudden, it was gone; the fine foods, the fancy clothes. The friends suddenly disappeared, forgetting all about this young man. He was broke and alone. To make matters worse, a famine came upon the land. Now the people would be even less likely to help him out. So, he hired himself out to a man who sent him out to take care of his pigs. This would have been extremely distasteful for a Jew, because pigs were ceremonially unclean. He longed to eat the food that the pigs were fed, but no one gave him anything. He was starving. Here we have a picture of a person who reached the lowest level of his life. He was as low as he could go. When the wealth was gone, he sank like a stone.
Here we have pictured a person who has followed Satan’s lies. Suddenly the glitter of the sin is gone. Now he sits, seeing the consequences of his actions. He knows he has sinned. He knows he is deserving of eternal punishment. He feels the effects of every single sinful thought, word and action that he has ever committed. No one offers any help. Indeed, no one can offer help or a way out. We are just as helpless as this son.
As the son sits there, he comes up with a plan. He remembers the days at home, where there was food to spare. So he decided, “‘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.’” The son offers no excuses while he is sitting there. He says it very plainly, “I have sinned.” He doesn’t feel worthy to be called a son. ‘Just make me a servant,’ he plans to say to his father. He begins his long journey home.
So also, you and I, after some soul-searching, see that we have wandered from God’s paths to ways that lead to hell. We, too, are helpless to change things on our own. So we, too, confess to God, ‘I have sinned against you. I am not worthy to be forgiven. I am deserving of your wrath.’ When the Holy Spirit leads us to this point, we have started the journey home.
The father, in the parable, apparently had hoped that, someday, his son would return home. He was constantly on the lookout for his son. One day his patience was rewarded. “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.” He threw his arms around his son and held him close. One can well imagine the tears that were streaming down his face. The son began the speech that he had prepared, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” He doesn’t get a chance to finish the speech, though. His father interrupted him. He ordered 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.” The father didn’t lecture the young man, as we might expect that he would have done. Instead, he treats him as an honored guest. He clothes his son, gives him a ring and prepares a feast to celebrate. Why? As the father said, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” He rejoiced that his son had returned home at last.
So also, our heavenly Father rejoices when we return from our sinful ways. He doesn’t lecture us. He doesn’t bear any grudges. Instead, he treats us as special guests. He, too, gives us special clothes to wear. We are clothed in garments that have been washed clean in Jesus’ blood. Jesus’ suffering and death brings us forgiveness. That robe covers over the filthy rags of our sins and makes us saints in God’s sight. He puts the ring of sonship on our hands, the ring that signifies that we are his children. He and the angels in heaven rejoice when we return from our sins and come back to him. We, who were dead in our sins, have been made alive by the working of the Holy Spirit. We, too, were lost, wandering about in the darkness of sin, until we were found and brought to God. The younger son in the story represents us, when we repent of our sins. Our heavenly Father waits for us with open arms. Let us not delay in returning to our God. Let us behold our Father’s love for us, the runaway children, as he tells us that all is forgiven. Behold the Father’s love for the children who have run away.
When Jesus told the parable, it quickly became obvious that the runaway son was the “sinners” that the Pharisees looked down upon. Jesus wanted to show them that they, too, could be saved. However, Jesus had another lesson that he wanted to teach. So, he continued his parable by telling the older son’s reaction to the father’s love shown to the younger son. “When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’” We would expect that this brother would rush in and welcome his brother back. Instead, we read, “The older brother became angry and refused to go in.” So the father went out to this son and invited him to come and celebrate. The older brother refused, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” The older brother shows that he is jealous of the attention being shown to his younger brother. He felt that he deserved the special attention that was being shown to his brother. He had worked so hard for his father. He was angry with his father for the love that was shown to the son who had deserted him.
Here the love of the father for the son who stayed home shines forth. The father could have lectured him about how he should be grateful that his brother was back safe and sound. The father could have become angry with his self-righteous son. Instead, however, he reaches out in love to this son, as well. He said, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” The father invites the son to rejoice with him as they celebrate the safe return of the wayward son. The father concedes that the older son had been faithful, but his attitude was wrong. ‘Instead of looking at how good you are, rejoice that your brother came home.’ Whether the older brother came in or not, Jesus didn’t say. He leaves that open.
The meaning of the older brother’s words and actions is quite clear, however, especially to the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They prided themselves on how well they served the Lord. They felt that they were superior to all of the other people. They believed that God owed them something for all of their hard work. That is why they looked down on those people who were coming to Jesus. These “sinners” were not their kind of people. By means of the older brother in the parable, Jesus is teaching the Pharisees that they, too, should rejoice when someone is brought to faith and comes to God. Jesus, in love, was reaching out to the Pharisees and telling them that, rather than thinking so highly of themselves, they should rejoice when a runaway child comes to the Father. That is the love that the Father showed to his son that stayed home.
May we also learn from the older brother. We are all sinful people. From time to time, we will fall into sin. What will our attitude be when a person repents and returns home to their heavenly Father? May it be that we don’t think of ourselves as being better than that person because we haven’t fallen into that particular sin! May we not look down our noses on those who are not as spiritual as we are! Instead, when a brother or sister repents, comes back to their loving Father, may we, too, welcome them back with open arms. May we rejoice, as our heavenly Father rejoices over every sinner that comes back to him. May we reflect our Father’s love as we forgive those who sin against us. May we also feel God’s love as we return to him from our sins. May we quickly return, for there we find our heavenly Father waiting with open arms to welcome us back home. May the focal point of this parable, the Father’s love, be the focal point of our lives. Amen.
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