Sermon preached at Poole Christian Fellowship on 21 July 2013
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Reference: Luke 15 v 11-32
The passage starts with the words “Jesus continued…” In order to understand this wonderful story we have to look at this in the context of the whole chapter in which Jesus is pointing out that our God is a loving Father who seeks out and welcomes home sinners, and urges us to do likewise. Jesus has been and is continuing to speak to the Pharisees who were objecting to the fact that Jesus was spending time with sinners, with people that would defile holy people. Jesus is showing them that they have completely missed the point – that the mission of the Son of Man is to seek and save the lost, not to judge them.
In the first two parables – the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin – the initiator is God, who is on the search for what has been lost. But here the emphasis changes to being about the journey that the one who is lost is on. The story makes no secret of the fact that the lost Son is lost by choice, as a result of his own foolishness. And that story emphasises the fact that despite the wilful disobedience of the Son the Father welcomes back all who turn back to Him.
The title of the passage has come to be known as “the prodigal son”. But the word “prodigal” does not appear in the text – it was inserted at some point by a commentator who felt that title adequate summed up the passage. But Jesus’ emphasis is more on the state of the lostness of the son rather than passing judgement on why was lost. Maybe the term “the lost Son” is a better title. Williams Barclay suggests that a better title – “the probable of the Loving Father. My emphasis is on the result that the Father’s love produces – “welcome home”. God welcomes home sinners form every type of sin, every depth of depravity and every race or background. He welcomes home the worst of sinners and calls us to do the same.
What a wonderful Father!
1. The Rebel
a. Discontent with God’s rule: the story of being lost always starts with a wilful rejection of God’s rule. It was so in the garden of Eden and it is so with us.
b. Letting go: it is notable that the Father – far from preventing the Son from going – actually appears to facilitate it.
c. The life of the rebel: we have to be honest and acknowledge that all appears to go well – the rebellious son appears to be having a good time! Turning our back on God means that the enemy leaves us alone – and often in the short term things seem to be going fine.
2. The Regress
However the appearance of all seeming to go well is only an illusion. How many are living under that illusion at the moment! Under God’s merciful judgment, the son starts to experience the consequences of his folly. His lifestyle falls apart, he runs out of money.
He is forced into hiring himself out – a humiliation for the son of the nobleman. But there is worse to come…..the boss is a Gentile. But there is worse to come….he is forced to feed pigs. But there is worse to come….he is so hungry so that longs to eat what the pigs eat. But there is worse to come….even that desire is not granted him.
The son is at rock bottom.
We need to understand that God will do whatever is necessary to cause us to turn back to Him .
3. The Repentance
Verse 17 talks about the son “coming to his senses”. Not to follow God and to be in rebellion against God is a kind of insanity. And it is worth noting that he has to be brought to this knees in order to be brought to his senses.
The son’s repentance follows three phases:
a. A decision – the choice has to be made to turn back to God
b. A conversion – the choice to act on that decision
c. A plea – the Son rehearses a speech – effectively “God be merciful to me , a sinner”
4. The Return
Incredibly, the Father I still watching waiting. Just as we are waiting for those we love, so our Father is watching, waiting for every human being created in His image to return to Him.
For the returning Son there is nothing but compassion – judgement is gone, criticism in nowhere to be found, dignity is cast aside, there is simply a simply a riotous celebration, and an immediate restoration of that which was lost.
We who are found have found that we treated not as rebels, but as sons.
Thank God for his mercy!
The Sting in the Tail.
If only the story ended there! But we need to remember the whole purpose of Jesus telling the story. The Pharisees are bothered about Jesus welcoming home sinners. They forget that we are all in God’s presence not because of what we do, but in spite of what we do. Those who put their status with God as being down to their own goodness will always be suspicious of those who don’t live up to their own standards. But note that Jesus is reaching out to the villains. Even the Pharisees are the objects of Jesus’ care. Does the older brother go in? We don’t know. But we know from history that some of the Pharisees were saved and became a part of the church.
So what does this story say to us?
- Those who want to return to the Father always have a way to do so.
- Those of us who think that God should not welcome sinners need to consider our own need of salvation.
- All of us need to recognise that having been found, we now join in the Son of Man’s mission to seek and save the lost.
“From each tribe and tongue and nation, you are leading sinners home”