Luke 15:11-32 ~ 20180617 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
06/17_Luke 15:11-32; The Father and his Lost Sons; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180617_prodigal-sons.mp3
It's Father's day, and I want to take a break from our usual teaching series to look at a story from Jesus about a father and his lost sons. It is a story where Jesus puts on display the character of the Father, and he teaches us a lot about ourselves, if we are willing to listen.
Sinners and Fools
The story is in Luke 15:11-32, but we need to look at verse 1 to see the context.
Jesus is welcoming the social outcasts, those with bad reputations, the despised, the dregs of society. Jesus attracted the least, the lowest, the worst. He gave them hope, hope for something better, hope for relationship. He received them.
The religious elite did not approve. If you interact with scum, you become contaminated. Good people don't associate with evil people. They grumbled. (Interestingly this is the same word the Old Testament used for the children of Israel complaining when God didn't act the way they expected him to; Ex.15:24; 16:2, 7, 8). The religious leaders grumbled against Jesus. In response, Jesus told them three stories. Our focus will be on the third, but we will come back to the first two.
Let's dive right in.
Understand what this son is saying. Dad, I don't care about you, I don't care about relationship. I just want to pursue pleasure. He was willing to use people to get what he wanted. Normally, the property is divided between the heirs after the father dies. This boy is saying, I don't want to wait until you die. I want my share now. This boy is the classic fool from the wisdom of Proverbs.
I imagine the Pharisees would be nodding in approval and quoting proverbs at this point. This This is what this boy deserves. He is getting what's coming to him. He is reaping what he has sown. He failed to honor his father. He is not pursuing wisdom or righteousness; he is pursuing pleasure. He is a fool.
Repentance and Grace
Luke 15:17 says:
Everyone understood what this boy deserved. Under the law, he deserved death (Deut.21:18-21). He decided to own up to what he had done. He had sinned 'against heaven and before you.' He understood what he deserved. But he 'came to himself.' He began to appreciate the character of his father. His father treated his hired servants well, supplying their need. This son decided to ask not for what he deserved, but for his father's mercy.
The Compassion of the Father
The response of the father is startling. This son had shamed and dishonored his father publicly.
See what this tells us about the father? He is not bitter, resentful, angry, arms crossed, looking down his nose. He is not seeking to defend his own honor, to clear his own reputation. He is looking, watching. In the core of his being, he felt compassion. He was looking and he was longing. He was eager for restored relationship with his lost son. He did not wait for him to return. He ran to meet him. Respectable men in that society didn't run. This father was moved with compassion and he ran. He fell on his neck and kissed him earnestly.
This father didn't even let his son finish his speech. He interrupted him before he got to the part 'treat me as one of your hired servants.' He clothed him, he restored him, he ordered a feast to celebrate. The son acknowledged 'I am no longer worthy to be called your son;' the father responded by calling him 'this my son' in the presence of his servants.
The father demands a celebration. He says 'this my son was dead and is alive again.' A son who brought such shame his father in a middle eastern context would be disowned and considered dead. But this father rejoiced that his son was back as if from the dead. He was lost and is found. And they began to celebrate.
The Missing Hero
Now this connects us with the context and with the other two parables. In verses 3-7 Jesus describes a shepherd with a lost sheep. The shepherd goes after the one that is lost until he finds it. When he finds it he rejoices and brings it home and calls for a celebration. In verses 8-10 he describes a woman who loses a coin, who seeks diligently until she finds it, and when she finds it she calls for a celebration. In each parable there is something lost, there is someone who goes after it or searches diligently for it, and there is a celebration when it is found.
In the third story, there is something (or someone) lost, and there is a celebration when he is found. But there is something missing from the third story. There is no one searching diligently. There is no one going after the one who is lost. The shepherd is the hero of the first story. The woman is the hero of the second story. But there is no hero in the third story. Who should have gone after the lost son?
Look back at the opening phrase of this story. Jesus sets it up for us. 'There was a man who had two sons.' This lost son had an older brother. And if we go all the way back to the beginning, we see God's expectation for brothers. All the way back in Genesis, there was a father with two sons, named Cain and Abel. And when the younger son went missing, God confronted the older brother, asking 'Where is Abel your brother?' (Gen.4:9) God expected the older brother to be his brother's keeper.
The older brother is supposed to be the hero of the story. He is the one who is supposed to leave his father's side and go out to the ends of the earth, sacrifice all that he has in search of his lost brother, he is supposed to risk his own life if necessary, diligently seeking his brother, and when he finds him he is supposed to pick him up out of the filth and carry him safely home. He is supposed to restore the honor of this father.
In that culture, the older brother was given a double portion of the inheritance. The older brother is the one who is supposed to bring back his wayward brother and share his inheritance with him, providing for his needs.
The older brother is supposed to be the hero of the story, but Jesus tells the story in such a way that it leaves us longing for that hero.
The Self-Righteous Son
Look how Jesus paints the older brother.
The older son is not out looking for his brother. He is not grieving. He is not seeking to console his father. He is not even paying attention. He is out in the field. He is so preoccupied that he misses the most significant event in his family, the return of his brother. He missed the reconciliation, and he is also missing the party.
He is so oblivious and out of touch, he has to ask around to find out what's going on. And his response begins to reveal his heart. He was angry and refused to go in. He refuses to celebrate the return of his lost brother. He would rather wallow in his own bitterness and self-focus than join the celebration. He was unwilling to go out after his brother, and he would prefer that his lost brother were dead.
But look at the response of his father.
The father ran to embrace his lost but repentant son. The father also goes out to the angry son who refused to come in. He called him near, he entreated him, he exhorted and admonished him.
Notice this son dishonors his father as well. He doesn't address him with any sort of respect; he says 'Look!' He also sees himself as a slave, not a son. He claims to have slaved for his father these many years. While the wayward son recognized he was not worthy to be called his son, the older son views his relationship with his father not as a family relationship, but as a slave relationship. He views it as a contract where if he obeys the command, he earns the payment. And here we see who his anger is toward; it is not righteous anger toward his brother for dishonoring the father. It is selfish anger toward the father, thinking he did not get paid what he earned. Notice also his focus. He doesn't really want a relationship with his father; he wants to
celebrate with his friends.
He even places himself outside the family circle. He calls his brother 'this son of yours' in effect not only disowning his brother, but his father as well.
The wayward son asked for mercy; he understood what he deserved and he did not want it. He was humbly asking for undeserved kindness. The older son demanded his rights; he wanted what he had earned. He was operating as a slave on a system of works. He failed to understand his father's grace. He failed to understand what it means to be a son.
This son claims to never have disobeyed any command of the father. He didn't devour his father's property with prostitutes. He didn't squander his father's property with reckless living. And his father doesn't argue with these claims. But he is just as lost as his brother was. He was seeking to establish his own righteousness based on his own performance. He was proud and thought he had put his father in his debt by his performance. He thought of himself as better than his wayward brother.
He failed to understand that sonship is not contingent on obedience; rather obedience flows out of the relationship between a son and his father. Sons want to please their fathers because of the love relationship.
But even though he placed himself outside the celebration and outside the relationship, the father continues to reach out to him.
Ironically, the lost son is found, while the son that never left is lost. The son who was dead is now alive, while the son who remained is dead in his pride and self-righteousness. The son who dishonored his father is reconciled, while the son who dutifully served dishonors his father and remains outside.
Which Son Are You?
We could derive a moral lesson here on what kind of fathers we ought to be toward all different kinds of children. But the point of Jesus' story is what kind of son are you? In the context of tax collectors and sinners coming to Jesus, and scribes and Pharisees grumbling, Jesus tells three parables about sinners repenting and righteous people who are not aware of their own need. Are you the rebellious son who dishonors God and lives for your own pleasure? Or are you the self-righteous son who dishonors God by your pride? Both are equally lost. Both need to come to the end of themselves. Both need a hero to go after them and seek them diligently and bring them home.
Jesus is the true older brother, the hero that came to pursue us.
And the Father is eager to embrace them both.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org