The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost July 12, 2009
279, 386(1-4), 779 [TLH 32], 50
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 the name of the Lord our God who has given us salvation and who calls us to repentance, dear fellow-redeemed:
Each parable that Jesus used in His teaching and ministry is a masterpiece. In each parable, Jesus took a snapshot of every day life and told a story about it, but He so carefully crafted the story that through it He was able to teach important spiritual truths. In this particular parable Jesus takes the snapshot of a relationship between a father and his two sons and what transpired in connection with the inheritance. The truths that Jesus taught through this story applied to the circumstances that led to the telling, but they also apply to us. Through this story of a father and two sons, we learn about our relationship with our heavenly Father, and there is much to learn.
Today we consider Father-Son Relations between the father and sons in the parable and our Father-child relations with our heavenly Father. We begin with I. The similar character of the sons, then II. The amazing character of the father, and III. The teaching character of the parable.
This man who had two sons was fairly well-to-do meaning that there was a sizeable inheritance that each of the sons would receive. One day, the younger of the sons came to his father and asked for his portion of the inheritance. This request of itself was not wrong and in this situation it would have been fairly common for the younger son to make this request. The older son would typically receive the homestead as part of his inheritance, and the younger would set out on his own to establish his own homestead.
To ask for the inheritance so that he could leave home and strike out on his own was not a problem, what the younger son did with his inheritance was a problem. “Not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal (wasteful) living.” [v.13] This son despised his inheritance and wasted it all.
Once the young man had lost everything life became even more difficult because a famine arose in the land and he was reduced to taking care of pigs. This is one of the fine details in Jesus’ story-telling. Pigs were unclean animals to the Jews, so for this son to actually take care of pigs—and not only that but wanting to eat the pigs’ food—demonstrates that he clearly had hit rock-bottom. This son reached rock bottom having squandered his father’s generosity, having lost everything the father had given him.
Now, we go forward to the older son coming in from the field and questioning why the household was celebrating. The son asked a servant why there was merriment and feasting and when the servant explained, the older son would not go in because he was angry. He wouldn’t have anything to do with the celebration because he was angry at his father, angry at his brother, and felt that he deserved more. When his father came out to him, the older brother 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.” [vv.29-30] The older brother was so angry he couldn’t even acknowledge his brother, but referred to him only as “this son of yours.” He despised his father’s kindness toward his younger brother, didn’t think it was right, and hated the celebration and the merriment.
At the surface the character of these two sons seems very different. The younger son had wasted everything, the older son had stayed home and served his father faithfully. However, at the heart both sons shared in a similar character because they were both guilty of sinful pride and a despising their father’s inheritance.
The younger son proudly took his portion of the inheritance and went out with the attitude, “I am going to do whatever I want to do and I’ll have fun doing it!” He lived for himself. He lived sinfully and lost everything. The older son was proud in his own accomplishments and self-worth: “I’ve been a faithful worker. I’ve done all that I was ever asked to do. I deserve much more than my brother.”
Pride was in both sons and as a result both despised their father’s inheritance as well as his character, compassion, and love. The younger son’s pride led him to despise his father’s inheritance so that he treated it as if it were nothing and wasted it all. The older son’s pride led him to despise his father and his inheritance by taking issue with his father’s compassion and objecting to his father’s actions.
Before we consider the father’s character, we need to go back and pick up one other piece of the story. When the younger son finally came to his senses, he was sitting among the pigs wishing he could eat their food. Coming to his senses meant remembering his father, his father’s home, and the treasure he had despised. He remembered how good life was there, he remembered his father’s inheritance that he had squandered and determined to go back. The son concluded that if he could just go back as a servant he would be better off than now. He didn’t feel he would deserve having son-status any longer, but would be content just to be there in his father’s home. So he prepared this speech for his father: “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.18b-19] Then with his speech and repentance in hand the son set off for home.
If you or I were the father and a son had taken his portion of the inheritance and wasted everything, we might find ourselves quite disappointed, irritated, and ready to give him a good scolding if he ever came back. But we see something different in the amazing character of the father. As the son made his way home, while he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. Not only did the father welcome him home with love and compassion, the father was looking for him. The father met his wayward boy and immediately embraced him. Then the son began to give his speech, saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son,” but that was as far as he could go because his father interrupted and told his servants to bring the best robe, put a ring on his finger, sandals on his feet, and to kill the fatted calf and prepare to celebrate! The son never even had the chance to express his desire for servant-status because the father was so overjoyed that his son was home.
The amazing character of the father and the essence of this parable’s message is found in the words of the father to the servant when he gave the reason for celebration: “…this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” [v.21] And again in talking to his older son, “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] This same message and truth was taught by the two parables which lead up to this one (cf. New Testament reading). In the first parable when the shepherd found his sheep he exclaimed, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” (Luke 15:6). In the second parable the woman who found her coin said, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!” (Luke 15:9).
The message of Jesus’ parable is wrapped up in the father’s character. The father’s character was one of love and generosity toward his sons and when one of those sons despised the father and the inheritance and wasted everything, the father’s character showed itself in compassion and forgiveness and welcoming his son home as a full-fledged son and heir. When the second son despised the father and the inheritance, the father went out to him and sought to call him into the joy and celebration of the lost being found.
With an understanding of the three characters in Jesus’ parable, we can now consider the lessons Jesus was teaching and apply them.
There is a clear identity for each of the people in this parable. The younger son, who wasted all that he had in disregard for his inheritance, represents the tax collectors and other sinners who came to Jesus repenting of their sins (cf. New Testament reading). They had squandered their inheritance from God, they had turned away and rejected the Father. But they came to Jesus sorrowful for what they had done, willing to just be servants, but instead receiving the full forgiveness Jesus offered.
The older son represented the Pharisees and others who objected to Jesus associating with such “sinners.” In words and attitude they objected, “Jesus, how dare you receive these people and talk about forgiveness to such sinners as these?”
The father in the parable represents none other than our heavenly Father who with compassion received these repentant sinners and forgave them their sins through the work of Christ.
Jesus initially told the parable to instruct the people around Him that His heavenly Father welcomes repentant sinners and forgives them—not because He disregards sin and forgets about it as if it doesn’t matter, but because Jesus has died on the cross in payment for all sins. The father’s compassion and forgiveness does not lessen the sin, but the magnitude of the sin does highlight the greatness of the father’s forgiveness.
Jesus didn’t need to add more to the story for His intended purpose, but we could imagine that if He were to extend the story that the father who forgave his son would later have a conversation about what the son had done and seek to strengthen him to stand against such temptation in the future.
As we seek to apply this parable and its lesson to us we need to beware of the attitude and character in each of the sons and our own tendency toward similar pride and its sinful fruits.
Through the character of the older son, Jesus rebuked the Pharisee’s pride that would begrudge repentant sinners of the forgiveness of sins. We fall into the trap of the older son if we pridefully think that we are above other people and directly or indirectly feel that they are unworthy of the forgiveness of sins. This can happen simply by not sharing the Gospel of salvation with someone because we don’t think they’ll listen, or “I don’t know them,” or “I don’t really associate with him.” We act like the older brother when we don’t have time or are too fearful to talk with them about Jesus.
The older son despised the character of the father and the inheritance when he didn’t want his younger brother to be a part of their father’s love and inheritance. We need to watch and pray lest we fall into the sin of pride and not appreciate that inheritance and the forgiving Father and in some way withhold His grace and blessing from others. We act like the older brother when either intentionally or through our attitude we withhold from someone the message of God’s grace and mercy and begrudge them the salvation which Christ died to win. If we begrudge the Gospel to others thinking “How could ___________ possibly be saved because she is __________________ (you can fill in the blanks),” we are then guilty of the same attitude as the older son and we need to repent.
When we are skeptical of someone’s repentance and give them forgiveness on a conditional basis, we are like the older brother and need to repent. When we don’t find joy in someone’s repentance because of what they have been in the past or what they have done to us in the past, we are like the older brother and need to repent.
Remember the Father’s compassion is such that He calls out to all sinners with the message of salvation. He welcomes all who come with repentant hearts trusting in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. In the parable, the father waited and watched for the younger son to return. When the older son wouldn’t come out, the father went out to him to try to draw him into the celebration. Our Savior is a seeking shepherd. Our Father is a seeking father who wants to forgive us and bring us back as restored and redeemed children of God.
The father said, “It is right that we should make merry and be glad…” [v.32] and the very angels in Heaven rejoice anytime a sinner repents (cf. Luke 15:7,10). Anytime a sinner repents and anytime we have an opportunity to provide the Word of salvation to a lost sinner to lead them home is, therefore, a cause for celebration and thanksgiving.
We can also find ourselves in pride being like the younger brother who had the inheritance from his father but didn’t value it and wasted it by serving himself.
As children of God we have a wonderful inheritance of forgiveness of sins, peace for our consciences, and the promise of eternal life that once wasn’t ours. We enter this world estranged from God and not His children and therefore not heirs of His inheritance. We have been adopted as God’s children and made heirs of eternal life through the work of Christ. The inheritance is ours, but once we have been made heirs we are in danger of taking it for granted and not valuing it.
We run the risk of despising our inheritance by treating it as something we can tuck in our back pocket and think “that’s good enough” because “after all, I’m a child of God,” but then not really letting it make any difference in our lives, not really caring enough to give that inheritance our deepest devotion and priority.
There is a unique circumstance in Old Testament history in which King David found himself not quite honoring his inheritance. The nation of Israel was at peace and prosperous. One day while David was sitting in Jerusalem in his well-appointed palace he recalled that although he was living in a luxurious house of cedar, God’s house was still just a tent. David saw the inconsistency in how he was living compared to how God was being honored. To better glorify God and show the value of his inheritance as a child of God, David planned to build for God a temple worthy of the honor and glory that was His. God intervened and told David that he would not build the temple because he was a man of war, instead David’s son, Solomon, would build the temple. Nevertheless, David still honored God and his inheritance by preparing plans for the temple so that Solomon could immediately begin building when he became king (2 Samuel 7).
David recognized that God deserves full honor and glory and he had not been giving God his best. As a result, David was not honoring his inheritance fully. Previously, he had been directing the honor and glory and the wealth of his kingdom to himself. David realized he should pay attention to God’s honor and glory and looked to address his sinful oversight.
We are like the younger son when we despise the inheritance of God and allow other things to receive greater attention and greater love than God. How valuable is the inheritance to us? When we walk into God’s House does it declare the glory of God and that we are honoring Him above all? Have we spent the effort and time and resources to give glory to God in this matter so that people walking into our facility recognize this as their heavenly Father’s home and know that we are honoring Him, or would they get that idea more by walking into our own personal home?
We despise the inheritance when we let other things interfere and affect how we serve our Lord. This can happen in terms of time. Are we willing to give up time for the work of the inheritance in our Father’s kingdom or do we covet that time for ourselves?
Do we appreciate and honor the inheritance of our heavenly Father? There are so many other ways that we can demonstrate the high regard we hold for our Father’s inheritance. Are we willing to give up time for the work of the inheritance in our Father’s kingdom or do we covet that time for ourselves?
We demonstrate high regard for our Father’s inheritance by how we serve Christ and how we treat God’s Word. Do we listen to God when His Word speaks to something in our lives, or do we pretty much do our own thing regardless? If we examine ourselves, time and again, circumstance after circumstance we will find that we too fail in matters of pride and in treasuring our inheritance.
The similar character of the sons is the character of every sinner. What joy we have in knowing the amazing character of our Father. Whatever the past, whatever our sins have been, whatever road we have walked, the Father is ready to receive us as we come with repentance, pouring our sins out to Him and pleading for mercy and forgiveness through Jesus.
The younger son thought his sins were too great to allow him to continue as a son. The older son agreed, but God does not. Jesus has paid for all sins. Keeping this in mind will assure our sinful hearts and guilty consciences while also helping to keep us from begrudging others the same forgiveness. The hymn writers capture this Gospel truth of reassurance:
“Say not, ‘My sins are far too great, His mercy I have scorned and slighted, now my repentance is too late; I came not when His love invited.” O trembling sinner, have no fear; in penitence to Christ draw near.” [TLH 386:1]
“Today Thy mercy calls us to wash away our sin. However great our trespass, whatever we have been, however long from mercy our hearts have turned away, Your precious blood can cleanse us and make us white today…the past shall be forgotten, a present joy be given, a future grace be promised, a glorious crown in Heaven…no question will be asked us how often we have come; although we oft have wandered, it is our Father’s home. [TLH 279:1-3]
The apostle John characterizes our Father-child relationship and brings the fullness of this parable together when he writes in his first letter: “Behold! What manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).
We have the most blessed relationship with our heavenly Father. The almighty God calls you His sons and His daughters. He forgives you all of your sins and welcomes You home to His inheritance. All praise and glory be to Him with our deepest love and thanksgiving, Amen!
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