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Worship Series: Bible Stories
Worship Theme: Prodigal God
- CW 339: Today Your Mercy Calls Us
- Change My Heart, Oh God
- Alleluia! Let Praises Ring
- CW 477: What Is The World To Me
- CW 382: My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
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Message: Prodigal God
Pastor Jon Enter
When the Bible was translated, the wise scholars who converted the original Hebrew and Greek thought it would be a great idea to add section headings to let people know the focus of the words that would follow. Those descriptions help the reader know a shift in thought is coming and what that new focus will be. A quick overview of Luke chapter 15 reveals the similar focus points of Jesus’ three parables: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin and The Lost Son. These three parables all teach that when someone loses something that is valuable to them, they stop at nothing to find it.
These parables describe the love and determination of your Father in heaven. Your loving Lord will stop at nothing to get back what is valuable to Him, namely you! It is interesting then that The Parable of the Lost Son has been nicknamed “The Prodigal Son” when the focus of these three parables teach the determination and love of God the Father. I read a book a few years ago by Tim Keller titled The Prodigal God. The title alone caught my eye. The book was excellent! It walked the reader through this story not focusing on the rebellious son as we often times do but on the forgiving love of the father who longed to get back his son. The word Prodigal—which is a word I have only ever heard used in connection with Luke 15—means “Lavishly Spending” or “Pouring Out More Than Is Necessary”. When Prodigal is used in connection with the son, it’s negative—lavishly spending on foolish, sinful things. But when the word Prodigal is connected to the father, it’s positive. The father of this wayward son lavishly spent grace and forgiveness upon his repentant, humbled son. That’s a perfect picture of our loving Lord who lavishing spends His grace upon us when we repent and return to Him.
What was that son thinking? He had it made. Dad was rich, actually, super rich! If they had the show Lifestyles of the Filthy Rich back then, his family would have been featured. But that wasn’t enough. The son wanted more. The son wanted his hands on the money to do with as he pleased. He wanted now what he thought he was entitled to later: his inheritance. The only problem was his dad wasn’t dying fast enough and time was wasting!
He not-so-lovingly went up to his dad and basically told him, “Dad, can we image for a bit that you’re dead? I want my portion of your money so I can get away from you.” The amazing thing is his father still gives it to him!
In the Jewish culture, the older son received a double portion of the inheritance. Since there were two sons, the inheritance was split into thirds and the older son received two thirds of dad’s estate. It would have taken some time for the father to count up all of his assets, divide them up evenly and then sell off a third of the livestock and a third of the crops and a third of his land to give it to his rebellious, younger son. That was plenty of time for this disobedient son to come to his senses. There were plenty of chances for him to say, “What am I doing? This just isn’t right.” I’m certain his father and those who cared for him were telling him the same thing, but he wouldn’t listen. When everything was sold and since the boy wouldn’t change his mind, his father gave him what he wanted and let him go.
This is first of three things we will learn about the Prodigal Love of God the Father. God says to you, “I love you so you’re free to go.” God does not chain you up to His laws, His commands, His will or His way. He knows you have free will just as this father realized his son had free will to leave and take his inheritance with him. Out of love for his son, the father in this parable let his son go because forcing him to stay wouldn’t solve anything. It would only make it worse if the son left that way making it harder for him to ever return home. The dad loved him so much he let him go.
God the Father in heaven loves you so much, He lets you go when you leave. Imagine if every time you walked away from God or you were about to choose to sin, He stopped you by breaking your legs. Eventually, you’d stop doing that particular sin but that would happen out of fear of God, anger at God. That’s not the relationship God wants with you. He wants us to resist sin not by fear but, instead, by faith. God lovingly, continually warns you not to sin but he lets you go in love so that when you realize just how bad it is away from Him, you’ll want to come back.
But understand this. When you leave God and His protection and the shelter of His grace, that’s not God’s fault. You can’t blame God for your decisions. Which you’ve done. We’ve all done it. “God, if You hadn’t had me meet that jerk, I never would’ve married him.” “If You didn’t give me such overbearing parents, I wouldn’t have rebelled like I did.”
There was a man who was Christian man who was happily married. Was. He met another woman and committed adultery with her and ended up leaving his family. His life was a mess. After hitting rock bottom, he went to counsel with his pastor and said to him, “If it was so wrong, why didn’t God stop it?” He blamed God for his sinful choice. God doesn’t send down lightning bolts to keep us from sinning. He knew it was wrong. He knew God commanded NOT to go into that affair but he went anyway.
When the son left in the parable, his dad didn’t stop being his dad and he didn’t stop being his son. The relationship was strained but the relationship still remained. When God the Father says, “I love you so you are free to go” That doesn’t mean when you fall into sin or even when you wander or willfully walk away from His grace that you stop being His son or daughter. Your relationship is certainly strained but the relationship remains because God remains. He longs for your return. This leads us into the second of three things we will learn about the Prodigal Love of God the Father. God says to you, “I love you so I want you back.” The father in this parable never stopped loving his son who left him. When the son came to his senses after his wild, sinful and reckless living, he realized just how great life was when he was in the presence of his father. The son humbled himself and set out to return to his father to confess his sins and his immoral choices. As the son was making his way back, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him.” (Luke 15:20)
His father never stopped looking and longing for him to return. The son was still a long way off when his father saw him. Not a lookout. Not a servant. The father. The Prodigal Love of the father caused his heart to yearn to have back what was lost—his son. For those of you who are parents of prodigal children who chose a pathway of spiritual ruin, you understand the longing love of this father. You want nothing more than to have your child physically and spiritually safe. For those of you have a broken relationship with a parent, you know just how hard it was for that son to return home.
If your heart is hearting as a child because of a broken relationship with a parent, humble yourself as the son did and return home. If your heart is hurting as a parent, humble yourself as the father did and draw your wayward son or daughter back to you. Don’t hold back your prodigal love; pour it out and then pray for the Lord to have your loved one come back.
In his book, Capital of the World, Ernest Hemingway wrote about a father in Spain who had a son named Paco. Because of his son’s rebellion, Paco and his father were estranged. After years of that broken relationship, the father longed to have his son back and began to look for Paco, with no results. Finally, in desperation, the father placed an ad in the Madrid newspaper. “PACO, ALL IS FORGIVEN. MEET ME AT THE NEWSPAPER OFFICE AT 9AM TOMORROW. LOVE, YOUR FATHER.” Paco is a rather common name in Spain, and Hemingway wrote when the father arrived the next morning, there were 600 young men–all named Paco–waiting and hoping to receive the forgiveness of their fathers.
The repentant boy in our parable didn’t know what kind of reception he would get from his father but the people hearing Jesus’ parable knew. They knew the law and thought, “Yeah, I’ve heard this one before. The boy gets home. Dad yells, ‘I told you so.’ The son begs for forgiveness. The dad refuses.” They were expecting this story to be a reflection of the Old Testament law of strict legalism. In fact, in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 it says, “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey…and will not listen when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders and say, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death.” Aren’t you glad we live in New Testament times!
But Jesus gives a surprise twist to the story revealing the Prodigal Love of our Father in heaven who treats us as we do not deserve. We have been rebellious. We have demanded God to give us more. We have squandered the wealth God gave us with poor choices and spent the wealth He gave us on immoral living. We have run from God. We have blamed him for the spiritual gutter we have found ourselves in. Looking up from the pig-slop that we have made of our lives when we’ve gone our way and left God’s way, we humble ourselves. We realize just how much we need God the Father’s protection and providence. That’s why we are here to plead for His mercy as the son in our parable humbly pleaded for his father’s mercy.
When the father saw him, “His father was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20). The Greek here indicates he kept on kissing him. We would say he “smothered him with kisses”.
In the Jewish culture, men wore long robes. In order for a man to run, he had to lift the hem up to keep from tripping over it. When he did this, he would bare his legs which was considered highly undignified. Men of respect never ran; it would have been embarrassing. But the Prodigal Love of this father caused him to gather up handfuls of robe and sprint to his son. He didn’t wait for the son to reach him, he ran to his son.
This is the final lesson we will learn about the Prodigal Love of God the Father. God says to you, “I love you so I will run to you.” When God the Father runs to you, he is going to find you a mess. The son in the parable was a mess when the father ran to him yet the father embraced him and kissed him. That son reeked! He lived and worked with pigs! Yet the father accepted him.
God the Father wants you to come into his presence as you are. In fact, He will run to you and embrace you despite your sins as you turn away from them. God the Father will clean you up and wash your sins and stains and stank away just as the father in the parable put sandals on his son’s feet, put a ring on his finger and placed the best robe on him, so also the Prodigal Love of your father in heaven rushes out to meet you where you are to adorn you with His perfection. And he welcomes you gladly into His presence not as a slave, not trying to earn back His favor. God has given you His grace. God has given you His favor and God has counted you and calls you His son and daughter! He treats us as if we never left!
The Apostle John understood well how amazing this gift from God is as he proclaimed, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God.” (1 John 3:1) And that is what you are! You have been made a child of God because of the Prodigal Love of your Father in heaven. Amen.