2016-6-19 Our Patient, Forgiving Father

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          June 19, 2016

“Our Patient, Forgiving Father”
Text: Luke 15:11-32

I wish for each of you today a blessed Father’s Day.  We give thanks to God today for fathers—or those who stand in that role—generally, and we each give thanks to Him for our fathers in particular.  Today also is a day for thinking about our Heavenly Father as well.  Let us consider today’s text—one of the best-known parables in all of Scripture—and let us both learn and recall our patient, forgiving Father.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

Our text today is the third of three parables in Luke 15 about things lost and found—with each illustrating what life with God is like.  The first parable shows us one lost and found sheep out of a flock of one hundred (15:1-7), and the second parable shows us a lost and found coin out of ten (15:8-10).  Now, we see one of a father’s two sons lost and found.  Let’s get right to the narrative.

Jesus begins, “There was a man who had two sons.”  We read much about the younger son in the first two-thirds of the parable.  He is not unlike many a son arriving at his majority.  He desires what he thinks is total freedom from all constraint.  Hence, in most insolent fashion, he asks for his share of his father’s inheritance—one-third of all his father’s substance, according to the Old Testament law.  In effect, he treats his father as dead.  Not many days later, this younger son takes all he has and departs for a far country—a country in which he will be sufficiently removed from the presence and influence of his father.

Away from his father, and temporary flush to high degree, he begins to live what seems to him a high life indeed.  Jesus says that this younger son squanders his property in reckless living.  He omits the precise details of what reckless living entails, but we can imagine bad company, bad morals, and extravagant waste of resources.  Perhaps this young man expected his life of waste and of immorality to continue forever—but the party ends abruptly one day, and how suddenly his situation changes.

Just when the young man squanders the last of his resources, a famine sets in.  Jesus takes pains to tell us that the famine is severe to unusual degree.  Hence, the young man finds himself in need rather quickly.  He has spent his resources and, apparently, the job market is tight.  He hires himself out to a citizen of that far country, who gives him the job of feeding pigs—a fine mess for a nice Jewish boy, for whom swine are unclean.  Not only this, but also the young man longs for the food the pigs eat.  Apparently this miserable fare is forbidden him, and no one gives him anything.

Let’s review here how far the boy has fallen.  He existed well, and better by far than he knew, in his father’s home.  He had relationships, clothing, food to spare, a hope for the future, and security from all alarm.  Now he is without money.  He is hungry.  His clothing—to include his shoes—are messier than formerly.  He reeks of the pigsty.  Where are his so-called friends now?  They lasted only as long as the money.

Jesus says the boy came to himself.  Pain often speaks loudly, and sometimes, as here, it speaks profitably.  He recalls the state even of his father’s servants, and he notes how much better their current situation than his.  He then resolves to go home.  He has no aspiration to his former relationship as a son to his father.  He has insulted and abused his father to the highest degree.  The young man resolves, rather, to offer himself to his father as a servant only.  Even as he goes, he must steel himself against potential rebuff—one as notorious as the one he gave some time ago.  He expects, as he reckoned his father dead, so his father must now reckon him dead too.  Yet his destitution drives him toward home.

Jesus tells us that the father saw his wayward son while the young man yet was a long distance away.  It is possible that a casual glance caught sight of the boy, but more probably the father was looking for the boy—intentionally and habitually.  When this father sees his son return—penniless, thin, ill-clothed and ill-shod—he does something no Middle Eastern man of standing in that day would do.  He, being filled with compassion, feeling it in his gut, ran to his boy.

When the father arrived to his wayward son, he saw closer everything he saw from afar—plus he smelled the stench of the sty on his son as he embraced and kissed him anyway.  He heard the beginning of his son’s spiel, “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”  The boy never uttered the part about becoming a hired servant, for his father was issuing instructions.  In place of the boy’s rags now comes the best robe.  On his bare hands now comes a ring—likely a marker of inclusion in the family.  In place of his battered shoes—or on his now-bare feet—come shoes.  Only slaves went barefoot.  The boy has shoes, for he is a son.  Into his empty, grumbling stomach soon comes the cooked fattened calf.  He truly is once again overtly a member of the house—and a son at that.  The father is overjoyed at this turn of events.  His dead son lives; his lost son is found.  All rejoice—save one.

The elder brother, on coming near to the house, hears music and dancing.[1]  Likely he cannot imagine why such would occur at his home; hence, he asks.  He learns that his father rejoices because the younger brother has returned safe and sound.  For this elder brother, this dutiful, diligent elder brother, such a tiding is too much.  He becomes incensed at the situation and refuses to enter the celebration.  Perhaps he remembers the diminution to his father’s estate.  Perhaps he remembers the wound to his father at being esteemed as good as dead.  Perhaps he remembers the heaviness in his father’s soul ever since the younger son’s scandalous removal from the house.  He will note later, to his father’s face, that his father never made such a fuss over him.  This elder brother is positively livid, and he will not be mollified.

Yet the father, in another act of self-abasement, leaves the party and seeks his elder son.  He entreats his angry older son, who rewards his entreaty with vitriol.  He makes much of his father not making much of him, despite his diligence and duty, yet when this son of his (not my brother) comes homes, he kills the fattened calf for him.  The father, for his part, assures the son that his portion of the estate is not diminished a whit.  He further assures the son of his quiet pleasure in him.  He asserts before his older son, though, the necessity of such a celebration.  The younger son, being in a sense dead, lives now—and, though certainly lost formerly, now is found.  His time of waste and of wasting away now is over.

There are times we see ourselves—even the ladies among us—as one of these two brothers; many of us, over the course of increasingly long life and increasingly long walk with Jesus, have been both brothers at least once.  Some of us have been in the far country—far from the Lord and doing those things diametrically opposite His will.  Some of us even have aggravated this by running from the Lord for a season after being reared by Godly parents in the Lord’s ways.  Some of us, after this, have turned or returned to the Lord—being led by the Spirit.  In this, we have found compassionate, passionate welcome into the family of the living God.  The Lord Himself, and many of His people, rejoiced over us as we entered the Church—of which the Lord Jesus Christ is Head indeed.

Some of us at times have felt like the elder brother.  We see, as C. S. Lewis once remarked, others getting God’s grace on very easy terms.[2]  Some of us, comparatively speaking, have sinned less egregiously against God, and we feel that He doesn’t make as much a fuss over us as over most notorious sinners.  Yet, of course, this is to forget that if we offend God’s moral law at a single point, we are guilty of all (cf. James 2:10).  The vilest sinner and the most circumspect, discreet sinners are yet sinners—equally hopeless without Christ and equally needy of His saving mercy.  Even more than this, some of us do not rejoice much or well, and we may wonder if we be constitutionally incapable of rejoicing in the manner described in today’s text.  I doubt it, but if so, yet note that God rejoices over once-lost, now-found folks with compassionate passion—and cry out to Him to give you the same.

May the Lord bless you each and all this day and forever, and may He never fail to give you sight and recall of your patient, forgiving, compassionate, passionate Father.

AMEN.

[1] Interestingly, the Greek word translated elder brother is the same root word of the English word Presbyterian.  Also, the Greek word translated music is the same root word of the English word symphony.

[2] From The Screwtape Letters.

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