Friday morning I was reading Luke 15. It’s a familiar story, one that most of you know already. It’s often called the “Parable of the Lost Son” because it follows the stories of the “Parable of the Lost Coin” and the “Parable of the Lost Sheep.”
Let me read a bit of it for you: READ Luke 15:11-20
11 Jesus continued: “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 servants 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 servants.’ 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.
So, how many of you have heard this story before. While some sitting here KNOW for a fact, they fit the bill of the younger son, many of us can’t imagine being like this. That’s pretty bold, asking for your inheritance while you father is alive and well. And according to those who know more about ancient Israeli culture than I do, the boy should have been stoned to death or at least disinherited because he was basically saying to his father, “I wish you were dead.”
But just like the sons in this story represent you and I, the Father in this story represents God, so this father was a man with extravagant love. He loved bigger and better than most fathers, so he gave his son the inheritance he asked for. 1/3 of all of his father’s possessions were now in the hands of the younger son. Did you notice the father was pretty wealthy? Giving this son 1/3 of his estate didn’t seem to put a dent in his way of living.
But the son did what most spoiled kids will do. He didn’t know how to handle his instant wealth, and it didn’t take long for Him to squander it, waste it, basically throw it away. Before he knew it, this wealthy young man was living on the streets. Jesus even tells us it was worse than just being homeless. He had to feed pigs (much like you and I being forced to feed and keep alive rabid dogs), and either he was still wasting his funds or his wages to feed those pigs was pathetic because he was so hungry he wanted to eat their slop.
When he finally comes to his senses, he realizes that if he was a servant on his father’s estate, he’d have a better life than the one he’s gotten himself into. So he packs up and returns home. All the way home he’s hashing his apology over in his mind. Over and over again, he plays the scene. He’ll grovel at his dad’s feet. Let his father know how sorry he is, and relinquish his status of son. He definitely doesn’t deserve to be called a son anymore after his bad behavior.
But every scenario he played out on that long walk home didn’t prepare him for his father’s reaction. Picture it. He’s a good ways off, starting to regret his decision, wondering if he should just turn around and walk back the way he came. He looks up one more time before deciding whether to go eat crow in front of his family or return to the pig slop, and he sees something. Someone is running. His first thought is that something bad must be happening. Is the barn on fire? You see, Israeli men with any kind of status didn’t run.
And then it dawns on him, his father is running toward him. This man who has already shown extravagant love by giving him his share of the inheritance is running toward him. Running! No, it can’t be. He’s already disgraced his father enough. The young man is now in tears because he knows he’s going to be welcome. When his dad reaches him, he realizes he should have met his dad half way, but he’d been so stunned to see his father running, he’d just stopped in his tracks. When his dad hugged him, he didn’t even return the embrace right away. With tears in his eyes, he slowly puts his arms around this man who has shown him nothing but love all of his life, a man who has gone out of his way to bless him, and he is even more humbled than before. In the midst of his weeping, they begin to walk back toward the house. Finally just before they get to the front door he remembers his little speech, and he says to his dad:
21 . . . ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
But dad says nothing, just commands the astonished servants to prepare a banquet in the son’s honor. And they get it ready fast! There’s already a huge party going on before the older brother gets out of the fields for the day.
That’s the son we hear about the most. And that’s because every one of us has been that son. We’ve all needed to see our Heavenly Father run to us out of love. Some of us haven’t wandered quite so far from home before we returned to Abba’s arms, but each of us who have accepted Christ as our Savior have fallen into those arms of love regretting the way we’ve wasted the blessings of our inheritance.
If you’ve never accepted Christ, or asked him to be your Savior, but never realized how much He loves you, I encourage you to read that story in Luke 15 over and over until you realize that God, the Father is running to meet you. He loves you more than you can imagine, and nothing you’ve done can keep you from Him if you’re willing to humbly return to Him.
But today, I want to focus on the second son, the one who stayed at home. I think that even more of us sitting here today are like this second son. Let’s pick up the story in verse 25
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!’
The older brother isn’t quite as excited about the younger brother coming home. Some might think that it’s because the younger son was always spoiled while the older brother always was made to do all the work. But the father in this story is God, and God treats us all with the same love, he is just and good.
As I read this passage in the New Century Version this week, I began to realize the older son’s problem. In the NCV verse 29 says
“I have served you like a slave for many years.”
And I knew that was his problem, and the problem of many in our church today. There is a lack of passion and love in the church today. Not just this church, but churches all over the world, and the problem is the condition of the younger son . . . people are serving God like a slave instead of a grown son . . . the kind of child who has matured and become a friend.
Have any of you adults ever worked for your parents? I did for a while before and after I was married, and I never felt like a slave. We were almost partners in business. I worked like the business was mine and did whatever I could to make it better. I never felt as though I was being mistreated or like I had to do something I didn’t want to do. And I’m confident this son in the parable was treated at least that well.
But too many times people inside the church act like they are slaves. They forget that Jesus said
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know what his master is doing. But I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I heard from my Father.
No wonder those outside the church don’t want to become Christians. Who wants to become a slave? But if we lived more like we are friends of Jesus, people might want to meet our friend. Earlier in the service you sang, “I am a friend of God.” But do you act like a friend of God or do you live like a slave.
I’m guessing the older son was more worried about getting the work done than spending time with his Father. He said that he obeyed all of his Father’s orders. Did you notice? He considered all of his father’s instructions to be orders. Is that how we look at the Word of God, as a book of orders instead of a letter full of love and encouragement from our extravagant Father?
He complained that his father had never given him even a young goat to celebrate with his friends, but I wonder if he ever gave his father an opportunity to suggest a party. Did he ever laugh and joke with his dad, make friendly conversation? I have grown children, and I don’t treat them like they are my kids anymore. Now they are my friends. And if you think about it, obviously his dad had this calf in the barn that he was saving for some kind of celebration. He didn’t even know for sure the other son was coming home. So that calf wasn’t being saved for the younger son.
What if that calf had been the one the older son was supposed to use to celebrate, but every time he talked to his dad it was all business? By the time he’d finished, his dad had forgotten to even mention the calf in the barn just waiting for a party.
The whole story forces us to evaluate our relationship with our Father. What does it look like when you talk to your heavenly Father? Do you talk to Him like a friend or servant reporting in for the day?
What does your Bible Reading look like? Do you read the Bible like it’s a love letter from your best friend, or do you read it as if it’s directions from your commanding officer?
Why do you serve? Why do you behave the way you do? Do you “try to be a good person?” Or are you like a child who loves and respects his father so much he wants to imitate him?
Today is World Communion Sunday. There will be a lot of people who are celebrating communion today as an obligation. Many think that if they miss communion they lose their place in heaven. Others think of it as something that just makes the service too long. Those folks have chosen to be like the older son, the one that had opportunity after opportunity to become best friends with the Father, but chose instead to be the slave. They don’t realize that communion is a celebration, a meal with the family that represents the father running toward us with open arms.
Communion is the celebration that the younger son accepted and the older son rejected. Jesus is the lamb that was killed for this celebration, and our return to the Father is the reason for the celebration. When we take the bread and the juice as if the Father just broke protocol and left all His dignity behind to run and meet us on the road with a big hug, then we are entering into communion the way it was intended. Just like the younger son, we need to confess. But the story tells us the Father blew right past the confession and on to the party. That’s because like the father in the story, God has already forgiven you and is running toward you with open arms.
I invite you to come to the party today, the celebratory meal that reminds us of Jesus’ death on the cross and gift of unconditional forgiveness. I hope that today you will not be like the older son and reject the Father’s invitation. Did you know that you can come forward to take the elements and still be refusing the Father’s invite if you aren’t coming out of a sense of friendship and gratitude? The Father loves you. He gave His Son in your place, and He is celebrating because He’s so happy you are His friend!