Tuesday, January 10, 2012
I believe many of us have heard different lessons taught from this piece of scripture. We’ve heard it preached about the prodigal son and we’ve heard it preached about the father in the story. Today I want to present a slightly different look at this scripture.
As a storyteller, I see all the characters within the story to gain a better understanding of the message being presented. This story is not only about the father, or about the prodigal son. It is a trilogy. There are three main characters within this story that we need to examine. And as we do, I want you to take a look at two sons and a father and seek Gods answer to the question, “who is in need of the Father”.
At the beginning of this chapter the Pharisees and the Scribes (religious people) began to murmur because of Jesus’ association with those they felt were unworthy, the publicans and the sinners. They are outraged that Jesus is eating with sinners. This started Jesus on his reciting of several parables to get across his point to the religious people why he was associating with the sinners, which led us to the parable that Jesus gives regarding the father and the two sons.
(NIV, Verse 11-13) Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. "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.
Imagine, scene 1 of this drama, the youngest son made the decision to go to his father and ask him to give him his portion of goods. The father then divides the goods up between the two sons. And as soon as the younger son receives the inheritance from the Father he goes to a distant county and blows all his wealth on wild living. Now let me give you some of the sub-plots to this drama.
When the son goes to the father and says give me my share, what he is saying in essence is I don’t want to wait for you to die and I don’t want you to have the control over my life any longer. I don’t want to listen to your will, your rules or follow what you say. So give me what is coming to me so I can go my own way and do my own thing. I call this scene – “The road to nowhere” or “The path to the pit” I can see in my imagination that he took the road that lead from his Father’s house that would take him to this distant country.
And as he walked farther down this road that he thought was leading to riches, fame, success, it was really leading to destruction and death. With each step, it took him farther away from the father’s house (farther from the sounds, smell and visual of the father’s house) and closer to the sounds, smells and the visual of destruction. Oh, I believe he made a lot of friends along the way that probably told him what he wanted to hear because he was the “man” of the hour. This is not just my thought but scripture let’s us know he had help in his wild living and blowing his riches. You can always find friends along the path of destruction that are willing to help you blow your inheritance, but then are they true friends? Or are they pawns to draw you further from the Father’s house?
(NIV, Verse 14-19) After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. "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! 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.'
In these verses we see the son has come to the place that his money has run out and now there is lack in the land. Did you know that when you waste the Father’s inheritance, that a famine will always surely follow? There is always lack in the life of a child that squanders his Father’s blessings. There is a lack of power, a lack of spiritual insight, a lack of discernment because you have squandered God’s riches. So this son decided to try and fix his lack. He tried to attach himself to a citizen in the place. Why is it when we mess up instead of realizing it and changing, we make matters worse by trying to fix it ourselves?
We try to attach ourselves to “foreigners,” those that do not know the ways of our Father and therefore will not help to direct us back into His presence. These foreigners ways are not in line with the Father and we simply find ourselves further away from our Father’s house, instead of solving our problems. So when this son joins himself to the citizen he begins to work in the field to feed the swine, an abomination for a Jew. He was hungry and allowed his fleshly desire to overrule what he knew about the rules of his father’s house and began to eat from the swine’s food. But then it says in verse 17, “He came to himself”. Did you know sometimes we have to be flat on our faces in a pigpen and in slop before we come to ourselves? Some of us have to come so low before we turn around and realize who our Father is and ask why are we living the life we live?
When he came to himself he decided to humble himself and he came up with a plan. He decided he would go to his father, and seek his forgiveness. So that path that this son first took to lead him away from the father was the same road he had to turn around and go back on to get to his father. Sin will foolishly make you walk away from your Father’s house, with much pride but God’s humbling will make you humbly return. How humbling must it have been for this son that went away from his father’s house with money, and dreams of grandeur, but to now have to pass those same houses along the way that he passed before, this time in shame of his sin? What realization he must have had to now see himself for who he really was. No longer prideful, huh?
So what do we learn from this first son and his story titled “The road to now where” or “The path to the pit?”
The first son, the youngest son shows us several things. First the youngest son shows us in this instance that youth represents immaturity. In our immaturity we make the decisions that we do not want to wait on God, who is our Father, to give to us his riches. We make the decision like the youngest son to tell God, you can no longer have control over my life, and I’ll take care of it myself. But I do want your gifts and your provisions, but I want to do things my way. How does this translate?
We take our gifts, physical talents, and natural abilities and we tell God I will make my own way and I will do my own thing. I do not want to wait on your timing so I’ll go and do things myself. Then foolishly; we begin the path that leads us out of the Father’s house and to the road of destruction. Some of us don’t want to wait for God to heal our marriages so we leave, and start that path down the road of destruction ourselves. Some of us don’t want to wait on God’s timing for a mate, so we go get one ourselves. Some of us don’t want to wait on God’s timing regarding healing our hurts or issues in life, so we go and find our own way of dealing with it, things that we think will numb the pain.
There are so many ways we do not want to wait on God so we foolishly turn away. In this instance the house represents the place where the Father dwells, His presence. Yes some have turned from the church because they are tired of waiting on God to do something and so they leave the presence of God so they can do it themselves. And in doing so with pride and arrogance we walk down a road that we foolishly thing is leading somewhere, but it is the path of our destruction.
We move to a foreign country and attach ourselves to those citizens in that country all trying to live this fantasy of a life we think we should be living. But what we are really doing is attaching ourselves to things that are foreign or contrary to our Father and his ways. And sometimes it takes us in the midst of our foreign situations to come to ourselves, turn back to our Father’s house and go running to seek His forgiveness. We have to do like this son and “arise”, get up out of our sinful thinking, get up out of the sin of our pride, get up out of the slop. And in our arising we realize that it is Jesus that we need to help us, so we need to go humbly back to our Father’s house. This story doesn’t end here. Scene two takes place, where the father enters.
(NIV, Verse 20-24) 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. "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. "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. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
In these verses, the scene unfolds as the son goes to the father and is ready to confess his sins. Yet something happens that catches our attention. The father saw the son and come to meet him on the road. He showed him compassion, he did not allow the son to have to make the journey all the way back by himself, and as a result he came to get him. And the son confessed his sins. The father did not banish the son, instead he tells his servants, come, bring him the best robe, and put it on him, put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. My son that was dead is alive again, he was lost and he is now found. And they began to party.
So what do I call this scene, I call this scene “Amazing Grace”. The son was lost but now he is found, he was blinded by sin but now he can see. He was a wretch, but the father said come to me. It was not because of his own power but because of the compassion or grace of the Father. Now looking at this scripture from a human standpoint the father may seem to be too soft on the younger son. He could have told the son no in the first scene. That’s what we would have done had one of our children came to us and said give me your hard earned money and let me go blow it on what I want to blow it on.
We would have given them a lecture about the importance of a dollar and how we probably had to recycle a thousand pop cans, deliver 2,000 news papers at 3 a.m. in the morning to make our first dollar. But why didn’t this father do that?
I believe the son did not just wake up one day and decide to ask for his money. There had to be some thoughts brewing in his mind as he got up day after day to do the work in his father’s house. He probably was thinking, why do I have to work so hard when my father has all that I need. Why do I have to sacrifice when what I need my father has? Why do I have to deny my own desires when my father can let me have what I want? The son became angry and bitter at waiting.
So I believe the father was aware of the son and he only allowed the son to take the money because he already knew what was up that road. Just as he knew that the road would take his son away from him, he also knew it would bring him back, so he stood and waited for when the rebellion would turn into repentance. How many days did the father come out and wait for the returning son? I believe daily he waited for his son to return.
What does this tell us today? Our Father is not sitting in heaven unaware of the journey we are on. He knows the dissatisfaction that we allow to fester in our hearts against his ways. He knows the rebellion of our hearts and He wants us to turn to him, but He will willingly allow us to go on the journey that leads us away from his protection and His presence.
Yet, because He knows what is ahead for us on that journey, He is patiently waiting for us to turn back to His presence.
When we do, we then can experience the “Amazing Grace” of God. The son said I’ll be happy just being your servant, but the father said no, I will restore you to complete son-ship and ownership. He gave him a robe, God will give us new clothing when we turn back. He will clothe us in His righteousness. He doesn’t give us some cheap clothing but costly, the best. It is the best and it is costly because it was purchased with the blood of Christ. This father gave him a new ring; in that time rings had the signet or the seal of the family on it. Our Father gives us a new ring, or a new seal that brands us as one of His family, one of his chosen children and along with that ring it carries the full privileges of the Father. This father gave his son new shoes.
Ephesians 6:15 reads “And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” We are made ready with the gospel to run our race for the Father. This father welcomed the son back into the house and a celebration took place. We should all rejoice, but not yet, there is another scene to this trilogy. This next scene presents for us the oldest son.
(NIV, Verse 25-32) "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. 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.' "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 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. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' " 'My son,' the father said, '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.' "
In this scene we have an older brother that has come from the field and he sees all this partying going on in the house and he wants to know what’s happening. The servants tell them your brother has come home and we have killed the fatted calf and we are having a party. Now we look to see the brother’s response. Is it joy, happiness that his lost brother is found, right? No, he’s angry! So, what would I call this scene? I call this scene “What about me?” or “When is it my turn?”
Now I want us to take a look at this brother. I believe this brother has often been neglected in the preaching from pulpits. Our focus has been on the brother that was lost and his return and the father’s response to that. These are important but in forgetting the other son, we neglect the other side of this lesson God wants us to see.
It is ironic that we often forget about this brother, because that is part of his complaint, I’m often forgotten for my willingness to stay faithful. This brother became so angry that the verse says “he would not go into the house.” The father then comes out to the son and talks to him about why he would not come in. The older son complains to the father, but father I never left you, I did whatever you said do but where is my party, when will it be my turn? The father did not answer the son harshly as some of us would. Instead this father took the time to help the oldest son understand that while he had not thrown him a party, everything that was his was available to him. We are only celebrating because your brother was lost and now we want to rejoice that he has come home.
So I have a question for you? Which son was in need of the father? Or let me ask it another way, how far outside of the house do you need to be, before you need the Father to come and get you?
The older son represents the one that was more mature or had a greater understanding about the father because he had been with the father longer. This older son saw what his brother did and how his turning away affected others, including himself. Think about it. When the younger son moved away from the father’s house who had to carry on in his absence? It was the older brother. So not only did he have to take care of his own responsibilities he had to also take care of his brothers. Resentment had to have been growing there. This brother had to be bitter at having to carry all the weight while the younger brother did as he wanted to do to please himself.
He probably wanted to see the brother come home, however he wanted to see the returning brother treated differently. He wanted him to be punished, at least a little bit. He wanted him to have to hurt, or feel the burden of what his leaving had placed upon this older brother. But to hear that the father forgave him and restored him, the older brother was angry. Think about it, he was still out in the field working and then is surprised with a party going on. He had to have been thinking, I’m still taking care of his work and he is being treated like an honored guest, what’s up with that? His anger kept him away from the father’s house.
How many of us have stepped away from God’s presence because of our anger at our brother or sister? You know what I mean? Your spiritual brother or sister, or maybe your wife or husband, was like the younger son. In their weakness or immaturity they stepped away from the Father’s house. Their stepping away called for you to carry the burden of their turning.
You labored many days in their absence and now they have returned. But why aren’t you happy about it? Maybe because you have become angry that it seems like they have gotten away with something. You thought they would have to suffer or something but instead they have been given all the provisions they had before. You are not jealous about that, but you are saying in your spirit, “What about me God? I did not walk away from you but I still have to deal with the burden of their leaving and to see them partying it up, it’s so unfair.” Or we say in our spirit Lord when will it be my turn? I have not stopped serving you as I should but now you make a big deal about him or her, what about me? When this thing hits our spirits and our hearts, we step outside the doors of our father’s house. Now we do not go the total distance of moving away as the first son did, but we still have stepped outside and we, just like the other son is missing the blessings of being in the Father’s presence.
This then leads us to the final climax of this story. The father just as he waited for his first son that had gone away to come and meet him and bring him into the house, this same father moves away from the festivities going on in the house to come get his son that is standing outside the door. The Father is always aware of His children’s absence from His presence. And because of His amazing grace He is always willing to get them from where they are.
How does this apply to us today? Today, we have some younger brothers and some older brothers standing distant from each other because of ones sin and the others inability to let go of the anger. Which one is in need of the father? Both of you are. I am asking you today to be transparent not before me, but before God.
There are some relationships right in our churches that God wants to heal both the one that has gone a long distance on the wrong path and the one that stands just outside the door. Both of you are in need of the Father so that He can heal your hearts. This is what He wanted the religious people to understand. I am giving my time with the lost, but you too are in need of my presence because of your heart condition. Don’t let your heart condition keep you on the outside of God’s presence. See this story is about the relationship not only with the father and the lost son, but also the relationship with the hurting son and the father. And then it is also about the relationship between the two brothers. They all depend on one thing, the “Amazing Grace” of God.
Parents and children. Do you have anger toward a rebellious child or are you a child that is anger and disappointment in their parent? Right now I have to tell you God has restoration for both of you. His amazing grace can restore the prodigal that has gone his or her own way and has blown the blessings of God. He wants to restore you back to a rightful place within his love as well as a right relationship with each other. To the one that has stayed behind and continue to carry the burden, He wants you to know He has not forgotten about you. He wants to release the burden of your heart so that you can find yourself back in His presence.
Husband to wife, or wife to husband. God wants to restore some relationships today. The people of God cannot move to the next level God wants us to be, until his two sons are back in the same house, under the control and guidance of the Father. I believe God wants to do that today. If you want to be able to go to the next level God has for you and you want to move back into the full presence of God, then today is that day. Don’t worry about what others think, because all that matters is God. He already knows who the prodigal’s are. Because there are some prodigal’s reading this today.
Some that have turned away from God; some need to come home and some have already humbled themselves but just don’t know how to make that journey back. Well God already is waiting to meet you; He will not make you take the journey by yourself. Think of it this way. Today, God the Father stands waiting to restore you, to embrace you with His love and to show compassion on you, all you need to do is humble yourself and come to Him. For those that have anger or bitterness in their hearts because of what the prodigal has left on them, step out and met God, the Father and be reminded he is what you need today.