March 06, 2016

Rev. Mark Bartels

Old Testament Lesson; Isaiah 12:1-6

Epistle Lesson; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Sermon Text; Luke 15:1-3

                       Luke 15:11b-32

Today we are going to look at what is known as The Parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable of the prodigal son is sometimes referred to as 'A Mega Parable'. It is the longest parable Jesus told. It is most detailed parable Jesus told. I have heard the parable of the prodigal son referred to as 'The Gospel on Steroids'. Talk about good news! If there is ever a parable, or a place in scripture where God lets us know we are freely, 100%, fully forgiven, not because of anything we have done, but just His mercy, it is this parable!

This parable is considered not just a great parable, but also a great piece of literature. Charles Dickens, a famous English author, said “There is no more masterful short story than The Parable of the Prodigal Son!” William Shakespeare used the The Parable of the Prodigal Son as a framework for some of his famous plays, including The Merchant of Venice!

So Jesus tells this masterful, masterful parable, called The Parable of the Prodigal Son. In our bulletin it is recorded in Luke chapter 15, verses 1 through 3 and then verses 11 through 32. It starts out this way;

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.”

Now, let's stop for a second. We were just introduced to two different groups of people right at the beginning, before Jesus tells the parable. Here are the two groups of people we just got introduced to. There were immoral people who were gathered around Jesus, to hear what Jesus had to say.

We also see there were moral people there. They were some really upstanding people there, who were watching what was going on.

So, I want to talk a little bit about these two groups who were gathered around Jesus, as He is now about to tell this parable.

Let's look at the immoral ones, first. The immoral ones, scripture refers to as “the tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes”. These people were rebellious people. These people were people who were clearly, clearly disobedient. They did not 'color inside the lines'. They went way out of the boundaries of what God's Will for them was. These people were really looked down on, because of how immoral, and rebellious they were.

The tax collectors – why were they so hated? They were hated, because they actually collected taxes for the enemy, which was the Roman government. The Roman government was involved in things like heathen worship. Caesar was considered a god. The Roman soldiers did some pretty immoral things. And so, these tax collectors were gathering money for the Romans.

And then, on top of that, they were gathering more money than they should, so they were cheaters. They were taking advantage of the people. Tax collectors were kind of like a modern day version of drug dealers. They were just taking advantage of a situation to make themselves rich, just like drug dealers do, today. Immoral people. These people were the immoral type who would be like people today that go to strip clubs. Or, like people who invite a whole bunch of people over to their condo, or their apartment, and there is lots of booze, and lots of loose women. Doors are shut, and commandments get broken. And, the next day, you can see all of the pictures they have on Face Book. You don't have to use your imagination to try to figure out what happened at that party.

That was one group of people who were there, listening to Jesus.

Then, there was this other group. I am going to refer to them as the moral group. The moral group was the Pharisees. These people were 'inside the box', 'coloring inside the lines'. Their whole life was about living a good life. They wanted to do the right thing. They had everything in their lives organized around The Commandments, and extra commandments. They really tried to live good, moral lives. In fact, they probably would make anybody look like 'junior varsity' compared to the moral lives they tried to live.

You maybe have read Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, but some of these guys memorized all of those books. Memorized! They were really moral people who tried to live these outwardly, amazingly, moral lives.

They were people who had Bible verses on their forearms, and Bible verses on their heads. They had tassels on the ends of their shawls to remind them to pray. It would be like someone today, who every piece of clothing you wear had a Bible verse on it, or a Bible saying. All of the bumper stickers on your car would be all about the Bible. You would be showing, and advertizing how moral you really are.

These were really moral people.

The immoral people used others. They used other people. They used guys. They used girls. They used people in certain positions. Their whole thing was, “I am going to use all of these people to gratify my sinful nature.”

The moral people, did not use people. They judged others. They thought they were morally superior to those immoral people. It would be like people today people who think, “I am morally superior, because I certainly contribute more to society than a lot of other people do.” It would be like you are constantly judging what other people are doing, as you post on your Face Book page. They were moral people, but they judged others.

The immoral people 'didn't need' God. They didn't think they needed Him. They knew what He said, but they determined in their hearts, “I am going to go in this direction. My needs are going to get satisfied in different ways, not ways God wants, but ways that are gratifying to me.” They didn't feel they needed God.

In all reality, the moral people didn't think they needed God, either. They 'didn't need' His mercy. They 'didn't need' His forgiveness. They had themselves. They were morally upright. They 'didn't need' God's righteousness, because they were self-righteous.

As we now begin to look at this parable, (because these are the two groups who are gathered before Jesus), Jesus is particularly going to tell this parable for the sake of the people who think they are morally superior. He is telling it for everybody, but particularly for them. I want to show you something in this parable that is really the key to this parable. If you go to verse 17, this is now the prodigal son who has realized he has done some really bad stuff.

“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 rise and go to my father and say to him,'”

(Now, look at the part in quotes here. Remember what this says.) “'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.'”

He is rehearsing in his heart what he is going to say. So, remember what he says to himself.

Let's pick up at verse 21, where he heads back home. When he gets to his father, this is what happens.

“And the son said to him (to his father) 'Father I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'”

Do you notice something is missing? The first time he said to himself,

“I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

 Treat me like one of your hired servants.”

But, the second time, “Treat me like one of your servants”, is not there. The father doesn't give him a chance to say that.

That is the key to this parable.

Now, before we actually jump into it, one more thing. It is going to be a parable about two sons.

       -One son is immoral. He goes astray.

       -The other is the son who is moral, and is always doing the right thing. He is judgmental.

As we look at this parable, we should always ask yourself, “Which of these sons am I?” I am going to tell you something. We are both of them.

We are both of them.

We can be both at the same time. I will give you one example, (even though I could give you a million examples), but here is one. Let's say there is a young girl driving down the road. She sees some young ladies who are standing along the side of the street, and they are dressed maybe a little improperly. As she is driving she thinks, “What a bunch of loose women. Boy are they ever creeps.” That is the judgmental moral person.

She drives another block, and she sees this really handsome, young, guy. He is just a hunk. She starts thinking thoughts she shouldn't be thinking. Now, all of a sudden she goes from being this moral, judgmental person to being immoral herself.

We fall into both of these categories.

Now, given that, we are going to jump in. Jesus is telling this for the sake of the Pharisees who are judging these immoral people. He wants to capture these Pharisees, and show them, “I want you in my Kingdom, too.”

So here we go, verse three.

So he told them this parable. “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of then said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the property that is coming to me.' And he divided his property between them.”

In Bible times, you didn't get your father's property, until your father died. It was like this young son was saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead. I wish I had all of your money, right now. I want it. Give it to me.” Talk about unloving, and immoral. But, this father, lovingly, lovingly gives this young son all of his inheritance that is coming to him. He gives it to him – great wealth, with the hope that his son will come back. The father hopes that as he starts running, and he runs further and further away from home, the more and more he realizes, “This is unfulfilling. These loose women are not fulfilling me. This path I am on, this trouble I am in, this treadmill I am on, there is nothing fulfilling about this.”

So it goes on and says,

“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 this fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.”

Now Jesus has the moral group in the palm of His hand. You can just imagine these Pharisees listening to Jesus, as He is talking about this immoral son, and these immoral sinners. They are thinking, “Get 'em, Jesus. Get 'em.”

He was telling them, “This son has run away, and he has gotten himself in trouble.”

They are thinking, “Tell them. Tell them what happens when you go against God's Law, when you sin, and what kind of trouble you get into.” He has these Pharisees in his hand, right where He wants them.

Then He goes on and says,

“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 servants.”'

You can imagine the Pharisees saying, “Get them Jesus. That is exactly right. That son, when he goes back home, he should not be treated like a son, because he has done terrible things. He has to work his way back up into the father's favor. He should be treated like a servant.”

Jesus has them right where He wants them. Now the parable goes on.

“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, all of a sudden it takes a turn that these moral people were not expecting. Now, this father doesn't demand his son earn his way back. He doesn't say, “I am going to treat you like a servant”. He doesn't even give his son a chance to say, “Treat me like a servant”. He just throws his arms around that son, and he fully reinstates him into the family. It is like he gives him back the checkbook, and credit card, and puts his name back on the business. There it is. It is all there, just like that, fully restored!

It is like when a sinner has strayed away from the Lord, and then comes back. God doesn't say, “You have to earn my favor.” No. It is full restoration just like that! Fully restored!

Now, He has these people right where He wants them. They are thinking to themselves, “That is not right. That is not right that the father would be so extravagant, and take his son back into the home, without making him earn his way. Just free grace.”

Now that Jesus has this group right where He wants them, He turns the parable to them, and He says in verse 25,

“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.”

Usually, there wasn't a big party, or a festival happening, unless there was something huge, something great like the oldest son got married or the king came. So he wondered, “What is all of this about?”

Verse 27, “And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he received him back safe and sound.'”

Now look at what it says.

“But he was angry and refused to go in.”

Jesus has these Pharisees right where He wants them, because they were angry. They were angry that Jesus would talk to sinners, and tax collectors.

So, listen to what happens next.

“His father came out and entreated him...”

Jesus is coming to these Pharisees, and what is He doing? He is saying, “I want you too. I want you to be in the Kingdom, too. You are lost, but come on in. Grace is for you, too. Forgiveness is for you, also.”

But listen to what the son says. He begins to blame the father. He says,

“...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.”

This son is now blaming the father, when he says, “Father you are not fair. Here I have been good, and have tried to earn my way into your favor, and you let this sinner have everything that is yours?” Now listen to what Jesus does. He continues to reach His arms out to these self righteous Pharisees, when He says in verse 31,

“And he said 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.'”

Jesus tells these self righteous people, “All I have is yours. Come on in. It is all yours. By grace. Free. 100%.”

He reaches out to both of these groups.

As Jesus entreated 'the older son', the Pharisees, to come and be part of the Kingdom, and be saved by grace, what did they do? Well, the Pharisees 'this moral son' is the one who ended up killing, murdering Jesus.

Which goes to show that self-righteousness is just as condemning as rebellious immorality. Both are condemning sin. All of us have some of this self-righteousness in us, and some of this rebellious immorality in us.

Thank God, in this parable there is a third Son. The third Son is the One who is telling the parable. It is the Son of God. Thank God the Son of God came, and He did what the moral son could never do. He lived a perfectly holy, moral life in our place. And then He took all of this immorality, all of it, no matter what you have done, and went to the cross. He took the wrath of God, and washed away every wrong thing we have ever done.

His arms are out. Why? What a privilege it is to run to Him, and know, “It is all mine. I don't have to earn it. He is not going to treat me like a servant, or a slave. It is all mine, like a son. I have everything! He is with me no matter where I go. All of my sins are forgiven. Heaven, itself is mine! He answers all of my prayers. He works out everything for my good.”

“All I have is yours”, He says. That is great. That, in our hearts causes us to say,

“Lord help me not to be judgmental, but humble.

And help me not to be immoral,

but strive to live for You,

because You are so gracious to me.”