The 3rd Sunday after Trinity June 27, 2004
234, 279, 280, 357
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then [Jesus] said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry. Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”
In Christ Jesus our Savior through whom we are forgiven before the Father, dear fellow-redeemed:
The Scribes and Pharisees hated Jesus. They just didn’t think He was Messiah material. One of the things that bothered them the most was that Jesus associated with the tax collectors and other known sinners. On one occasion, in response to this objection, Jesus told a series of three parables. The parable we’re considering today is the third of the three.
The first parable is that of a lost sheep. The shepherd has one hundred sheep, one is lost, and the shepherd leaves the ninety nine behind to search for the lost sheep until he finds it. The second parable is that of a woman who has lost a very valuable coin. She searches high and low in her house until she finds it. Then follows the third parable of the prodigal son, the jealous son, and the forgiving father.
All three of these parables demonstrate the grace God shows toward us. From these “teaching-stories” we learn what we can expect from God when we go to Him with our sins. Have you sinned? RUN HOME TO OPEN ARMS! I. The Past will be forgotten; II. The Father will be waiting; III. The Joy will be unending
In Jesus’ parable, the younger of two sons said to his father, “Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ ” [v.12]
It was not completely out of line for the younger son to ask for his inheritance. In those days the older son would receive a greater portion of the father’s inheritance. Part of that greater inheritance was often the homestead of the father. So it would be up to the younger son to strike out and establish his own homestead elsewhere. The sin of the younger son was not in asking for the inheritance, but rather in what he did with the inheritance once he received it.
A few days after receiving the inheritance, without any true planning, without asking his father for advice, the son left home and wasted all that he had. Waste in itself is sin, but not only was the son sinning by wastefulness, he added to that sin with a wicked life. The older brother described his actions as “devouring [the father’s] livelihood with harlots…” [v.30] In other words, the younger son squandered everything he had been given by his father in order to live like the world, with the world, and for the world.
After the son had wasted his whole inheritance “there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.” [vv.14-16]
This young man wasted his inheritance until he hit rock bottom. To understand just how far down this man had fallen we need to remember that pigs were “unclean animals” for Jews. Under normal circumstances a Jewish man would not come near to herd of swine, much less feed them! This man was not only feeding these unclean animals but he longed to eat the food that the pigs were eating!
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’” [vv.17-19]
Having come to his senses the son made a plan. He no longer felt worthy to be considered a son, but in his father’s house even the servants were better off than he was. When the son came home, he told his father the plan he had devised, but his father would not listen to that. Instead, the father forgot the son’s waywardness and welcomed him home as a full-fledged son. The father did not excuse the past nor approve of what his son had done, but he forgave it.
We have a tremendous inheritance. Above all, we have inherited the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation from God by His grace. Like the younger son, we can squander the inheritance that we have as sons. There are so many ways in which we despise our inheritance. Every time we sin we are offending our heavenly Father and despising the love he has shown to us. When we are not careful with how we make use of all our gifts, when we are not careful and diligent with how we make use of the abilities and the opportunities that God gives to us, then we are despising our inheritance. We despise our inheritance when we bend the rules to fit our desires. We despise our inheritance when we test the boundaries and keep pushing them further and further to see how far we can go and still “get away” with it. All of this is acting like the younger son and despising what we have in our Father’s home.
The younger son lived like the world. We too live in a sinful world and it can have its effect on us. We face the danger of being influenced by the world, losing sight of what we have with our heavenly Father, and squandering what we have in order to be part of the world. Think back to younger years when life seemed so simple. When a “naughty word” would upset you. Think back to younger years when you would never have dreamed in your worst nightmares the kinds of things you have now seen and experienced (or at least heard about) in the world. There is a certain innocence of thought in a child’s mind. This innocence of thought is not sinlessness, but rather a lack of knowledge about the wickedness of the world in which we live. Think back to when you had that child-like simplicity, that childlike innocence, and compare it to what you have now. Have you ever found yourself influenced by the world…living like the world? Have you ever found yourself involved with things that before would have made you cringe? If so, your life has been tainted. You have experienced that from which the Father seeks to protect you. You have sinned.
While the younger son was at home he under-appreciated the father’s love. He under-appreciated the inheritance and all that he had. The younger son’s actions demonstrated this lack of appreciation, but through his troubles he found a new appreciation for what his father gave him. We can only imagine the love and appreciation that the son felt when his father forgave him all that he had done.
When we under-appreciate the blessings of our Father and grow restless living in His family, we too will find our Father forgiving us and leading us to a fuller appreciation of what we forsook.
God’s forgiveness of our sins is so much better than any forgiveness we practice. God forgives our sins and puts them out of His mind and out of His sight. We forgive, but we remember the hurt and at times force one another to relive it. Our forgiveness is imperfect and at times incomplete. Not so with God. God forgives our sins and in that forgiveness the past is forgotten
In Psalm 25, King David prayed to God asking Him to remember him, but to forgive his sin. “Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your loving kindnesses, For they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; According to Your mercy remember me, For Your goodness’ sake, O Lord” (Psalm 25:6-7).
Our prayer to our heavenly Father is that He will remember us, not according to our sins, not on the basis of what we have done, but for his name’s sake—for his mercy and grace. To this prayer, God answers: “I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).
The father in Jesus’ parable had the desire that his son would come back home. So when that younger son returned home the father was watching and waiting. “…when he was still a great way off his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” [v.20]
The nature of the Father is also demonstrated by how he treated his older son. When the older son was angry and jealous and would not come to the feast, the father went out to him and pleaded with him [v. 28]. The father was waiting for the younger son and went seeking his older son. Like the father in Jesus’ parable, our heavenly Father is waiting for us to return when we have sinned. He is waiting for unconverted sinners to be brought to faith and thereby “come home.” Our Father also seeks us out when we have turned away from Him.
The younger son had first under-appreciated what he had in his father’s home. After hitting rock bottom, the son under-estimated his father’s love. What he found was his overjoyed father waiting with open arms to receive a repentant son come home.
While the younger son under-estimated his father’s love, the older son misunderstood it. The older son said “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him. And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.” [vv.29-31].
The older son was caught up in the external things which the father was doing for his younger brother. The older son was caught up in the awfulness of what the younger brother had done. The older son did not understand the true nature of the father’s forgiving love. The older son represents the attitude held by the Scribes and Pharisees. The Scribes and Pharisees believed they were God’s children because of how great they were. They believed they were God’s children because of how wonderfully they kept His law. When they saw tax collectors and harlots and other open sinners they despised them. They despised them and wanted to keep the mercy of God from them.
The rejoicing and celebration at the younger son’s return did not diminish the love which the father had for the older son. God’s desire to bring sinners to repentance and His rejoicing over everyone that does repent does not diminish His love for those who have been faithful. God’s mercy and love are great and they lead Him to want nothing more than the salvation of every soul. Whose soul it is, makes no difference. God loves all sinners! He wants to save all sinners! Therefore, He waits with open arms, ready to forgive through Christ Jesus.
God says through the prophet, Isaiah, “Seek the Lord while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).
Whenever you sin, come to the realization of that sin, and sorrow over it, then also repent. Put your trust in Christ, your Savior, and run home to the Father. He will be waiting for you. He will forgive.
The father in Jesus’ parable expresses the reason for his great joy and the celebration: “…for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” [v.24] To the older brother the father said, “It was right that we should make merry and be glad for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” [v.32]
The joy in the father’s household that day was the joy of receiving a son who had been lost. Do you remember the great joy that Jacob felt when he heard that his son, Joseph, whom he thought was dead, was really alive? God describes Jacob’s reaction in this way: “Jacob’s heart stood still, because he did not believe them. But when they told him all the words which Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived” (Genesis 45:27).
Likewise, there is great joy in heaven over whenever a son of God returns to life. When a sinner repents of his sin and is brought to faith in Christ, God is receiving back to life someone who was dead.
To the Colossians Paul wrote, “And you, being dead in your trespasses…[Christ] has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:13). We sinners are dead in that sin by nature. We who were dead are made alive through Christ Jesus who forgives all of our sin by His death on the cross. Our return to life and our coming into the family of God is what sends all of heaven into the greatest of joys. Jesus says, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
The joy which heaven experience each time a sinner is brought back from the brink of eternal death and damnation is the same endless joy we will experience in heaven. The joy in heaven is the joy of being freed from sin. The joy of heaven is the joy of living face-to-face with God. The joy of heaven is being at peace with God, not fearing Him, but instead calling Him, Father. The Scribes and Pharisees did not have that joy. Their “joy of salvation” was self-serving and jealous.
Thinking of the joy and blessing that are ours through Christ, David expressed the sentiments of the younger son when he said in Psalm 84, “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10). For the young son, servant-hood was enough. Being a doorkeeper in the House of God is better than being apart from God. Yet, God has made you far more than a doorkeeper. You are His beloved children and heirs of eternal life!
You are your father’s children. At home you have rich blessing! When you sin, run home! There you will find open arms. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.