Christ Covenant Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
9 September 2018
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost / Ordinary Time
Luke 15:1-2, 11-32
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father‘s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
When I was a teenager, it seemed to me like our minister (at the Mesquite Church of Christ) was always preaching on this parable. I don’t recall any specifics, but I am thankful that God used him to make this parable stand out to me.
I once heard a preacher at a Gospel Meeting shout, “This man receiveth sinners!” before launching into a sermon the parable.
The story strikes a nerve with people of all stripes. It shows up in the music of the Rolling Stones, U2, and Mumford & Sons. (See my spotify playlist.) It shows up in novels like A River Runs Through It and Gilead. It shows up in movies like Terrence Malik’s epic Tree of Life.
Looking back over the course of my ministry with you I can see that the parable was foundational. It was one of the first sermons I preached when I started here twelve years ago. Some of you might remember that we spent a lot of time teaching in and around Luke 15. It didn’t hurt that Tim Keller’s Prodigal God were released around that same time.
Over the years, as I have reflected on the parable, I am struck by the fact that I have connected with different characters at different stages of my life.
When I was younger, I connected with the younger brother who went to a far away land.
When I was a little older, and more settled in my theological convictions, I connected with the older brother — in my heart I felt arrogant, bitter, and critical towards the wheels off younger brothers.
Now, as a father of young adult sons and daughters, I feel more connected to the father than ever before.
In fact, it finally dawned on me that the parable is not just about the brothers — it is about their father. I think NT Wright and Tim Keller helped me see that for the first time.
Anyway, today we will focus our attention on the prodigal father.
The word prodigal means wasteful, extravagant, or lavish. It applies to the father because he is extravagant and lavish with his kindness and love.
Most people tend to focus attention on the younger son. Some people give attention to the elder son. Tragically, the father is often overlooked. He fades into the background like wallpaper.
But that is not what Jesus intended his hearers to take from the story.
For Jesus the father is the gravitational center of the story. Take away the father and the story unravels and falls apart. Leave out the father and there is no story at all.
Jesus wanted his hearers (his critics!) to understand that God the Father is prodigal — he is extravagant and lavish with his grace and mercy.
I want you to know and believe that our Father is generous, gracious, gregarious, and glorious.*
+ The Father is Generous – vv 11-12, 17, 20-25
After the younger son wasted his life on reckless living he came to his senses. And he realized the truth about his father. His father was a kind and generous man. His father had given him everything, yet he had given nothing (but grief) to his father. So he decided to turn back home and throw himself on the mercy of his father.
We see the Father’s generosity at the beginning and end of the story. First, the father gave both his sons their share of their inheritance. He divided his “life” between them.
We see the Father’s generosity in the middle of the story when he gives his lost son hugs and kisses, jewelry and clothes.
Finally, we see the Father’s generosity at the end of the story when the father threw a massive party for his whole family and when he reminded his older son that everything he has is his.
Whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, it would be good for you to stop and think about all that God the Father has given you.
Far too many of us complain about our lot in life. We grumble about what we do not have and wonder why God does not give us something more or something else or something better.
Instead we ought to praise God for what he has freely given us. In his common grace, even his servants have what they need. How much more do his sons and daughters have in his saving grace?!
Here are just a few things God has given his children:
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Eph 1:3)
According to his great mercy the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has caused us to be born again into a living hope and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us. (1 Pet 1:3-4)
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (Jms 1:17)
Next time you feel like grumbling and complaining, remember the Father has withheld no good thing from you. Consider just how generous the Father is to you and be thankful!
+ The Father is Gracious – vv 20-24, 28-31
The Father was generous and gracious towards both sons.
When the youngest son asked for his share of the property he was telling his father “I hate you and I wish you were dead.”
But when the son returned to his father’s house the father told him “I love you and I am so happy you are alive again!”
When the older son complained that his father never did anything special for him and his friends, he was telling his father, “You are cheating me out of something I deserve.”
But when the father went to beg him to join the party he was telling his son, “We have each other. Life is a gift. All is grace.”
One of the most remarkable things about the story is that through it all the father never stopped loving his sons — and he never gave up on them.
He kept watching and waiting and willing their return.
The father loved them both.
The immoral son and the moral son; the near-by son and the far away son; the irresponsible son and the responsible son; the straight son and the crooked son; the libertine and the legalist.
The father loved them both.
He felt compassion and concern for them; he comforted one and counseled the other; he gave a few things to one and all things to the other.
Above all, the father gave himself to his sons. He gave them his very own heart.
The Father was generous and gracious towards both sons. Yet both sons tested the limits of the father’s love.
Just as do we.
Have you ever wondered how far you would have to go to get beyond the reach of the Father’s love for you? Do you really want to find out?
The answer is that there’s no place that far.
No matter how far you have drifted, wandered, or traveled, no matter how close you’ve stayed, if you turn around you will see the Father running to greet you, to embrace you, to kiss you, to welcome you home.
I read a true story this week about a young woman who went of the rails on a crazy train. She was a real life prodigal for many years until a personal tragedy struck in the form of a serious illness. She said,
My dad flew to Dallas [from Michigan] and picked up a car from a friend to drive down to where I was living. Less than an hour outside of the city, the car he was driving broke down. But nothing was going to stop my dad from getting to me. I will never forget the words he said to me as he sat in the Greyhound station waiting on his bus to drive him to San Marcos.
I will get to you, Court. If I have to walk there, I will get to you.
That’s the way God the Father feels about you.
Only he did much more than call or walk. He saw you and he ran to you.
As the scripture says, “God the Father did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. And he will also (with Jesus) graciously give us all things.” (Rom 8:32)
+ The Father is Gregarious – vv 23-24, 32
A gregarious person is someone who seeks the company of others and enjoys being with others.
God the Father is not as stern and stoic as you imagine. He enjoys throwing parties and sharing life together with other people—especially his children. He loves his children.
The Father gathers family and friends to eat, drink, and be merry! To crank up the band and dance the night away. He gathers everyone to celebrate and rejoice! Why? For there is life after death, salvation after destruction, paradise after exile.
This is a picture of Jubilee. A picture of recovery, renewal, and release. This a picture of the time of God’s favor.
At the feast of Jubilee, forgiveness of sins, cancellation of debts, and release from bondage will all be celebrated with lots of food and drink, music and dancing.
This is the heavenly festival that awaits all who turn back and thrust themselves on the mercy of the Father. This brings him great joy!
As the scripture says,
I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
That joy in heaven before the angels of God is the joy of the Father embracing and kissing and welcoming his sons and daughters back home!
+ The Father is Glorious
The parable centers on the father.
He is the gravitational center around which everything revolves.
The Father is the maker and owner of the estate. He is the originator of all things. He is the paterfamilias. Everything in the parable is connected and/or related to him. Especially his sons.
Now, the parable seems to indicate that there was some sort of jealousy or rivalry between the two brothers. The Avett Brothers have a song that (in my imagination) captures this family dynamic very well. Imagine the younger brother singing:
I wonder which brother is better
Which one our parents love the most
I sure did get in lots of trouble
They seem to let the other go
A tear fell from my father’s eyes
I wondered what my dad would say
He said I love you and I’m proud of you both
in so many different ways
The glory of the father is demonstrated in his love for his sons — his sinful sons.
Even though both his sons dishonored him, took advantage of him, and used him; even though they cared more about his gifts and his stuff than they cared about him, he was gracious and merciful towards them, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Father loved and blessed them both in so many different ways, each according to his needs.
The Father looked for both sons and found them.
The Father took away their sorrow and shame.
The Father lavished his grace and mercy on both sons and forgave them.
The Father treated them both as his sons even though they were sinners.
They were always his children; they never ceased to be his sons — not even for a moment.
The same goes for you and me!
As the scripture says,
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. (1 John 3:1).
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom 8:15-16).
The Father doesn’t love us because of anything good or bad he sees in us, but only because of his grace for his glory and that is for our good.
We might be tempted to focus on the sons, and their particular stories, but we ought to focus on the father and fall down in praise of his glorious, generous, and gracious love.
As it is written,
There is one God – the Father from whom are all things and for whom we exist (1 Cor 8:6).
There is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:6).
To our God and Father be glory forever (Phil. 4).
Jesus told this parable in response to his critics who complained that he welcomed sinners and ate with them.
This parable is for all you tax collectors and sinners who have acted like the younger son and gone far away.
It is for all of you religious sinners who acted like the older son and stayed close to home.
This parable is for all you siblings who have brothers or sisters who have left the Father’s house and abandoned the faith; or just stayed home and gone through the motions.
It is for all of you who parents who have sons and daughters who have gone far away from the Father and left the faith for other things.
The good news is that the Father is watching for you, for them, for us.
If you’re far away, come home.
The Father is waiting for you, for them, for us.
If you’re nearby, come home.
The Father welcomes you, them, us with open arms, tender kisses, and joyful songs!
If you’re weary, hungry, and thirsty, come home.
And you will find a table of grace spread for you — comfort food to heal your heart and a place to rest your soul.
As Charles Spurgeon said, “Slow are the steps of repentance, but swift are the feet of forgiveness. God can run where we scarcely limp, and if we are limping towards Him, He will run towards us.”