With our main text for this morning we have another parable, probably one of if not the most well known of the parables – the parable of the Lost or Prodigal Son. But before I read it this morning I want provide some background to it because, as I have shared with you over the years, good Bible study includes the context of the passage which can help us have a clearer understanding of it.
And I begin with the title of this sermon, “What Do You Value the Most?” because this parable, and the two parables which immediately precede it, have things of value in them. So I ask us to take a moment, get a piece of paper if you wish, and write down your answer to this question.
What do you value the most right now in your life?
As with several of the other parables we have looked at during this Lenten series, it too is given in response to a conversation with the religious professionals who constantly battle with Jesus.
And in this situation they have a complaint to which Jesus responds with these three parables as noted in Luke 15:2
“…he (Jesus) was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!” (NLT)
The context in which the Pharisees speak of sinners in this verse is important to understand as well. For it was the attitude and belief of the Pharisees and teachers that Jesus, as a teacher Himself, should not be eating with “them” – the sinners.
But Why? What point are the Pharisees trying to make to Jesus?
In his comments on this passage Leon Morris offers some important background as to why the Pharisees were so upset that Jesus would eat with “such people.”
“The sinners were the immoral or those who followed occupations that the religious regarded as incompatible with the Law.” He goes on to quote another source of study which cited an old rule of that day (and remember that Jesus called out the Pharisees and company on their rules as noted in such places as Luke 11:37-54), and one such old rule that said, “One must not associate with an ungodly man,” as Morris goes onto to say that this “was taken so seriously that the rabbis would not associate with such a person even to teach him the Law.”
And then Morris says, “Eating with such people was regarded as worse than mere association: it implied welcome and recognition. Jesus did not let the Pharisee censure influence His ministry.”
So Jesus is ‘violating’ all sorts of religious rules because that is what the faith had become by that time in history. It was not about the relationship God had established centuries before. It was about keeping a distance and staying away from people who “unclean” but who were seeking hope and love and acceptance but did not keep the rules.
So Jesus is handed another opportunity to speak about what is really of value to Him and also to God the Father and He does so with an increasingly personal set of stories about things of value.
The first was a story of the value of an animal, a possession, a source of income – a sheep. Second was a story about the value and importance of money, especially to one who probably had little and was conscientious about her spending and finances – a single coin. Both of these stories began with anxiety, fear even, about the lost item, continued with a passionate search for the thing of value and ended on a note of success and joy. And in both cases Jesus makes His point about how great the joy of God is in finding those who are lost.
But then Jesus makes His point more personal with the telling of a lost son…
Our text for this morning contains this story found in Luke 15:11 and following.
To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
All the audiences present when Jesus tells this story are present in this parable. There are the “sinners” represented by the younger son. Then there is the father, who is Jesus, and welcomes the younger son home. Third is the older son who represents the Pharisees and teachers.
There are many things in this parable that we could focus on but for this morning there are four statements which I think bring home Jesus’ point about the great love and joy of God for the ‘sinners’ and thus what God finds of value.
Statement number one is found in verse 17:
When he finally came to his senses…
The young man had had his fun. He had lived the way the magazines, TV shows and ads, his friends, and the culture told him he should live. (By the way the same holds true for the ladies as well!)
Now he was paying the price. His money was gone. So were his friends. There was little to nothing to eat because of the famine that had hit.
He had nothing now. It was all over. Regret and probably shame were his companions.
Then somehow, some way he “came to his senses.” He had an ‘ah ha!’ moment. He woke up to the reality of what he had done, who he had become, and where he now was. He had hit bottom.
But he remembers his dad and he decides to go home but not as the son who left, rather as a servant. A change in relationship status was his plan of reconciliation.
(Have you ever considered that he made this choice because he knew of others who had gone home and be given second class status?)
So he starts home…
He came to his senses… his eyes were opened and he saw the truth about himself and his situation. Only the father could help him now. He had the resources to do so.
But his dad is waiting, hoping even, to see him at the top of the hill has a different plan.
And this brings us to statement number two located in verse 20:
“filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”
I wonder what the Pharisees and their cohorts were thinking now. How many of them were fathers? How many of them had seen a son leave and never return or come home and be greeted not with love and compassion but spite and disgust.
“Why did you come back? Who do you think you are now, huh?”
“Do you think you can just come home and it will all be okay?”
Did those men in their well made and refined robes start to stir? Did their faces begin to burn, not with anger, or maybe with anger at first, did their eyes mist over, was shame and guilt flooding their memory?
Were they beginning to hear their own words to their own sons, “You are worthless!” come back to haunt them?
Well, the welcome home party is the order of the day by this jubilant father. But I have to ask, “Did the servants welcome this son home or they also sneer at him? Not to his face but just out of his hearing and sight? Or did they go about their work with a sense of dread and uneasiness because they knew how the older brother would react to the news?”
The third statement to look at, from verse 28, tells us:
“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him…”
Being an only child I have never experience this nor can I fully comprehend it. But perhaps some of us can and it is painful, is it not?
Now I wonder what those clergy were thinking as Jesus kept talking?
“I wish he would shut up!”
“How does he know this about me?”
“What do you know about this? You’re just a young and ignorant teacher!”
But the final statement, from verse 32, tells us again of how what really matters to the father:
“For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
Nothing else matters…
So what does this mean for us this week?
This parable serves as a reminder that God’s great love and grace reaches out to everyone…everyone. It reaches out to rebellious sons and daughters and resentful ones as well.
He waits for us to come to our senses. He waits for us to turn toward Him. He waits to embrace us with open arms!
Jesus loved those educated men in their fine robes. He did not like their attitudes, teachings or behavior. But He loved them.
He forgave them… while hanging on the cross:
Let us be truly thankful for God’s great grace in our lives.