6th Sunday after Pentecost July 21, 2019
Luke 15:1-2, 11-32
2 Samuel 12:1-14
388, 280, WS2000 777, 32
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “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. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’
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. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 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. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ (NIV-84)
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus, who were dead in trespasses and sins, but now have been made alive in Christ Jesus, who were lost, but have been found,
The parable of the prodigal son is well known. Our children learn it in Bible devotion books and in Sunday School lessons. And for good reason! This parable, this earthly story with a heavenly meaning, applies to us on many different levels. Let us this morning consider this lesson by Jesus on reactions to repentance as we look at the lost son, the forgiving father, and the unloving brother. May the Holy Spirit help us to see ourselves in this account, repent of our sin, and rejoice in our heavenly Father’s loving embrace.
Last Sunday we started taking a look at the “lost and found” chapter of Luke’s gospel, Luke 15, with the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In each of those parables the owners lost something and personally went searching for it. When they found what was lost they rejoiced. And remember why Jesus told these three parables. We’re reminded in verse 2 of our text, “the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
As our third parable opens, Jesus tells of a loving father and his two sons. The younger of the two demands that his father give him his inheritance now, before his father is even dead. The father divides his estate, giving both sons their portion. The purpose of the younger son in getting his money now, is less than noble. He desires to spend his portion on himself and reckless living—having fun, now while he’s young!
The younger son is very determined to do his own thing. Notice how he gathers ALL he has and departs to a FAR away country. That’s how set he is in living his own life and not being under his father’s roof or reach in any way. In that far away country, he blows all his money on reckless living. We might think of partying, booze, women, gambling, and the like. However he spent it, it soon ran out. He had squandered it all—wasted it on reckless living.
Then things go from bad to worse. Not only does he run out of money, but the local economy goes south because of a famine. Work was hard to come by. The only work he can find was feeding pigs. Now, think of the reaction a Jew would have hearing this! Pigs were unclean animals and to care for them, to feed them, would be the lowest job imaginable. So bad off is the son that in his hunger, that the pods for the pig feed actually look appealing to him. But no one would help him. Where are all the friends who were glad to be with him when he had all that money? They are no where to be found.
This is how bad things got before this young man came to himself—that is, he came to his senses. He realized what he had done was wrong and that his father takes better care of his servants than he is receiving now. The lost son decides to return to his father. Notice HOW he returns—in humble repentance. He knew he had sinned against God and against his father. He does not make any excuse for his sin. He does not look for any special treatment from his father. “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” So the lost son humbly returns to his father in repentance.
How many of us can identify with this lost son? Have you squandered the grace and goodness of our heavenly Father? Have you used the riches of God’s love as an excuse for sin? Have you spiritually wander far from our Father’s care? Sometimes God has to bring us to our knees to help us “come to ourselves” and see how we have offended our God and squandered His grace.
And so we return in humble repentance. We return with no excuse for the sins we’ve committed—not “the woman You gave me,” or “the devil made me do it, nor “I’m only human.” We see none of that in the lost son. Admitting his guilt he only looks for pity from his father as a hired servant. So it is with the humble return of repentance.
When the unworthy son returns home, he hopes only to be considered and cared for as a hired hand. But what does he find with his father? Jesus says that the father sees him far off and RUNS to him. The father doesn’t wait for the son to come groveling, but once he sees him he feels compassion for him. The word Jesus uses here is a word for being moved with great affection and compassion for someone. It’s that feeling of pity you have in your gut when you see someone suffering in a pitiful condition and only want to help them.
As the son begins to confess his sins and unworthiness to his father, the father doesn’t even let his son finish he speech. He gladly welcomes him and celebrates the return of his lost son. It is as though the sins of his son are forgiven and forgotten. He never makes mention of it, never makes him make satisfaction for his offenses. Instead he rings and robes him, and throws a party for his son. “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”
This is the welcoming embrace of our heavenly Father to every sinner who returns to Him in repentance. Whether it is the thief on the cross in his dying hour, the 45 year old who was excommunicated in his youth, or the teenager who strayed from the faith in the sins of his youth. Whether it was a series of deliberate sinful choices or spiritual laziness that cause them to lapse into sin, whatever the sin, when a wanderer returns, the Father welcomes him with his undeserved love. As we said in our psalm, “As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him.” (Psalm 103:13) He says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer 31:34) “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Ps 103:12)
How can the Father do this? How can He just forgive and forget ALL the sins we have committed against Him and welcome us back with the embrace of His forgiving love? In one word—JESUS. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:7b) Only the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross of Calvary, is holy enough, pure enough, to wash away all those sins of prodigal living and erase them from God’s memory forever. For Jesus’s sake, because of His suffering and death on the cross, the Father runs to meet us and welcomes us with the embrace of His gospel of forgiveness. He robes us in only the finest attire, covering us with His Son’s robe of righteousness and the garments of salvation. As we heard last Sunday, heaven and the angels rejoice with the Father, for we were “dead and are alive again, lost and are found.”
Remember again, the reason why Jesus was telling these parables: Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” While every repentant sinner rejoices to hear the good news of our gracious Father, the Pharisees and scribes grumble about it. Not everyone reacts to repentance the way the Father does. We see that in the elder son in this parable. When the elder son finds out that his father is celebrating his younger brother’s return, how does he react? “The older brother became angry and refused to go in.”
And why was he angry? “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 elder brother thought it wasn’t fair. He was faithful and the younger brother—“this son of yours,” he calls him—was totally unfaithful to their father. He didn’t think his brother was worthy of any act of love from their father, much less a celebration WITH that special fattened calf!
This is exactly the way the Pharisees and scribes were acting. They didn’t care whether or not the sinners that Jesus received and ate with repented and looked to Jesus for forgiveness. They saw only the sin. They thought of themselves as always serving God and never disobeying his commands. They were the faithful ones. Jesus should be eating with them. Not those low-life sinners.
Sadly, how many times can’t we see the reaction of our flesh in this elder son too? When someone else repents—and by that we mean, moved by the Holy Spirit they turn away from their sin and turn to Christ for forgiveness—when they repent we have trouble getting past their unfaithfulness. Maybe they sinned against the Father’s commands, or they sinned against us or against our congregation, we feel betrayed, let down, and disappointed by them. Sure, we’ll welcome them back to church, but we’re not necessarily ready to do so with open arms. We feel that they need to prove themselves worthy of our love and trust. And certainly there should be no sort of joy that we see them back at church—at least not right away. We are the faithful church goers. We are the active ones. They should be throwing a party for us!
Yet remember the Father’s embrace. Moved with compassion he runs out to meet his child before the child can ever say or do anything. No mention is made of the betrayal, only the joy at his return. So too is the heavenly Father’s compassionate embrace for every sinner. For God “desires ALL men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save SINNERS, of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:5) “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was LOST.” (Luke 19:10) May God the Holy Spirit help us to see the Father’s compassion on that which was lost and join in the merriment of heaven over what has been found. May the Spirit help each of us to extend a welcoming embrace of forgiveness to other repentant sinners, even as the Father has done to us in Christ Jesus! Hallelujah! 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-84” are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.