The Fourth Sunday in Lent March 15, 2015
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
325, 149, 281, 151(6-7)
Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to [Jesus] to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He spoke this parable to them, saying…“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.’”
Parents are happy when they look at their children and see that they have been successful in life. “My daughter is studying to become a doctor…My son got his pilot’s license last week.” Parents are happy when their children do well in the world, when they hold respected jobs, or earn a lot of money.
For some parents, nothing can make them happier than seeing their children achieve worldly success. Christian parents, however, look for something greater than this. Yes, we are glad when we see our children grow in their knowledge, find employment to support their families, or become respected figures in the community; but what makes us far happier is to see our children come to love and trust in God and show love to their neighbors. Because what does it matter if our children have all earthly knowledge if they do not know their Savior Jesus? What does it matter if they are respected and honored by the world if they fail to respect and honor their God?
As Christian parents, the thing that makes us most happy is to see our children following after Christ, trusting in Him for the forgiveness of their sins and looking forward to eternal life in His presence.
It is the same way with the Heavenly Father. What makes Him happiest when He looks down upon His children in the world? Is He happiest with us when we achieve great success by worldly standards? Is He the most delighted with us when we graduate from college or make it to the top of our professions? No. What really makes God happy is revealed to us in Bible passages such as: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11 NIV). “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10 NIV). “Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15 NIV). Repentance makes God happy. I. God is happy when you repent and II. God is happy when others repent.
Repentance is turning away from sin and turning toward Jesus for the forgiveness of sin. It is a “change of mind” that says, “I don’t want to follow a path that leads away from Jesus, instead I look to Him to take away my guilt and in the end take me to my home in Heaven.” God is happy when you repent—when you seek to turn away from things that are evil and put your confidence in the death of His Son to wash your sins away. Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son teaches us this important truth.
The young man in Jesus’ story took his inheritance early and then went out and wasted it in sinful living. He ruined his life by his wicked ways and ended up hitting “rock bottom.” But then he remembered his father’s love—that love which he had long forgotten—and he repented. He turned from his evil life and went back home.
What happened when the man returned to his father? His father saw him a long way off and ran out to him with obvious delight. He threw his arms around his son and kissed him. He brought the best robe and put it on him. He put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet and ordered that the best food be made ready for a great celebration banquet. The joy of the father at the return of his son is a high point in this parable! The father could not have been happier that this child of his who had been living a life of sinful disobedience toward God and others had now repented and come home seeking the mercy and love that the father was only too glad to give!
In the same way it makes your Heavenly Father very glad when you repent. All of us are burdened by our sinful natures and every day we do things that are against God’s commandments. Every day we come up short when it comes to living a holy and righteous life. God is not at all pleased if we try to blame others for our sin, ignore what we have done, minimize our wrongs, or show no desire to turn away from our sins. This is the path that leads to unbelief and destruction. But God is very pleased when we repent. When we come to Him as the wayward boy did and say, “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against You.” He is very pleased when we turn away from our sins and rely on Him to heal us of our guilt and count on Him to relieve us of the burdens that weigh upon our souls. There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. God is happy when you repent!
Why is our Heavenly Father so pleased when we repent of our sins? It is because He has gone to so much trouble to free us from them.
In these last weeks of Lent, as we come closer to Good Friday, we focus especially on the cross of Jesus—that cross which is foolishness to the world, but to us it is the power of God and the wisdom of God. There at the cross, the Father in Heaven gave His one and only Son into death. There the Father went to the trouble of condemning His own Son to the torment and suffering of Hell. He abandoned Jesus, His dearest treasure on Calvary. God abandoned Jesus because He was carrying our sin, because the innocent One had become guilty—guilty of our transgressions. The sins committed by us all were placed on Jesus and He suffered for them. When He was crucified, we were crucified.
God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son (cf. John 3:16). “He spoke to His beloved Son: ‘Tis time to have compassion. Then go, bright Jewel of my Crown and bring to man salvation.’” [TLH 387:5]
You see, the Heavenly Father went to a lot of trouble so that the just punishment for your sin would not fall on you. That is why the thing that makes Him happiest is to see you appreciating what He has done and taking hold of it, to see you turning from sin and counting on Him for forgiveness.
Imagine that you visit someone’s house for dinner. Your host goes to great lengths to prepare a wonderful meal. There are meats and breads and desserts, but when all is served to you, you say, “I’m not hungry for it.” An impenitent person says to God, “I am not hungry for the great banquet of salvation you have given me.” Impenitence is an insult to the “Cook.”
But when we repent of our sins, God is filled with joy. When we repent we are saying to God, “I want what you have given me. I appreciate Your work of sending your Son to die for me.” Is it really any surprise at all that God is happy when you repent? It shows Him that you love what He did for you! His greatest joy is to see your soul saved.
God is happy too when others repent of their sins. Here we turn our attention to the brother in Jesus’ parable who grumbled when the prodigal returned home. The older son complained to his happy father, “When this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” [v. 30 NIV] This son was not at all pleased that his brother had repented.
Sometimes God’s mercy can rub us the wrong way too when we see Him showing it to others. We point to someone and exclaim, “You mean that for everything he/she/they did, they just repent, trust in Jesus, and the matter is over?” Sometimes we do not like to see a sinner being treated as though they had never been a sinner. We would rather see sinners “get what they deserve.” That’s how the Pharisees were in Jesus’ day. They complained aloud that Christ was welcoming tax collectors and “sinners” to Himself. But those tax collectors and “sinners” repented and were trusting Jesus to announce to them the forgiveness of their sins and that is exactly what He did.
Do you remember Jonah’s struggle with God’s mercy? Jonah became upset when God did not destroy the city of Nineveh after the people had repented. He was angry that God was so merciful. Jonah had forgotten, just like the older brother in the parable, that God is happy when others repent.
If you should ever catch yourself complaining that God has failed to punish all those whom you think have deserved it just because they repented and believed the good news, remember this: that is exactly how you escaped punishment too.
Our mission and ministry as Christians is to bring people everywhere to repentance. Our mission is to show them the face of the loving Father in Heaven who gave His Son for them so that they, like the prodigal, will want to leave their sins and seek His mercy and blessing.
You will notice that during this season of the year the colors in the church are purple. That is because purple is the color that symbolizes repentance and repentance is the primary theme of the Lenten season. This is the time of year when we prepare ourselves for Good Friday and we do that by appreciating how our Savior walked that long and lonely road to the cross. We show that we appreciate that sacrifice by repenting—turning away from our sins and turning toward Jesus for the forgiveness of sin.
Repentance is really an everyday, ongoing activity for all of us just as Martin Luther said in the first of his famous 95 Theses: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
Truly repentance makes God happy. He is happy when you repent. He is happy when others repent too. 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.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.