Contend Earnestly: Prodigal Son: Part I

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Prodigal Son: Part I

I spoke yesterday at a local private high school about the Prodigal Son. I was heavily influenced by The Prodigal God sermons by Keller. I didn't read the book that followed but I can tell you that if it was anything like the sermon series, it will really open your eyes to idolatry, community and gospel vs religion. This is a loose transcript of what I preached for the first week. I will preach again next week at their chapel and will put that up when I have it available. I am not sure if they record their chapels, I don't think they do, but if they do I will make the audio available as well. I am leaving out my opening comments and intro for the sake of space. I am already going to have a long post with this and know that most of you won't read the whole thing. It was truly a priviledge to share this with the group of students and teachers and I am excited to finish up next week.

One of the things I did try to accomplish in my opening was this fact that I stated:

My goal is not to make you a better student, it’s not to make you a better son or daughter, it isn’t to make you a better brother or sister, it isn’t to make you a better Christian, it isn't to make you a better person and it is not to make you a Christian if you are not yet. My goal is to show you the glory of God through the grace and forgiveness found in the cross of Christ.

First, read the parable: Luke 15:11-35


What is interesting is the impact of this short story that is told to us by Jesus. Even those who rarely or have never read a Bible have heard of the story and many have adapted it to be used in culture.

For instance:

Shakespeare borrowed the story and adapted it into the making of the Merchant of Venice and Henry IV

Famous ballets and operas have used it and adapted it for their culture’s enjoyment

The world’s greatest art museum’s have many renditions of the story, the most noted being Rembrandt

And bands such as U2 have even written songs about it.

We hear words and imagery borrowed from the story such as calling a child that has been defiant, a prodigal son or daughter, sometimes people speak of “killing the fatted calf”, “feeding on husks” or “riotous living”.

So, although this story is quite old, it is another instance when we can see that our God transcends and his word is timeless.

Now, what you will notice as we look to this parable, this comes in a string of parables that actually started back in verse 1 of this chapter.

The crowd listening to Jesus is very interesting…it is composed of both the righteous people of their day, which were the Pharisees and scribes who loved to make up rules believing one must follow them as a means of God's grace and also the sinners of their day, which were made up of tax collectors and prostitutes. Today modern Pharisees would be anyone who has extra biblical lists and rules one has to follow in order to be mature and saved in Christ. They usually look down at others and love to make others follow their rules in order to be accepted. These rules could be anything from what one must wear to church to how long one must study their bible each day.

The sinners would be made up of such people as drug dealers, prostitutes, homosexuals, murderers and felons. This is the group gathered around Jesus. So just imagine the Pharisees staring at the ugly sinners in disbelief that Christ would ever engage them. Imagine what you would think or say if you saw your pastor hanging out with prostitutes, drug dealers, drunks, homosexuals and known murderers. Imagine what you would think if a friend brought to church a prostitute or a known drug dealer…what would your first response be? This might give you some insight into which category you would have been in if you were to gather near Jesus the day he told this parable. We’ll get into that later.

So, this parable is the last of the three parables concerning things which were lost and the great joy when they are found. The first is about a lost sheep, which is too dumb to know that it is lost or how to get back to it’s shepherd (which we are called in other parts of the gospels…pretty uplifting in it’s own sense), the second is about a lost coin being sought out by it’s owner, notice the coin has no faculties that would cause it to know it was lost or any capabilities to return to it’s owner. The last is where we will focus. The lost Son. Not only does the Son have the capabilities to know he is lost, he is the one that decided to leave and be seen as dead to his family. In each one of these parables, the theme is clear. God redeems or finds that which is lost for His glory and with great joy.

The Prodigal Son

And He said, “A man had two sons.
“The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them.
Luke 15:11-12

This, to us, might not seem that bad to us at first. The young man was simply asking for his estate, what is the big deal? Before we get into the details, let me read you a news story that happened a couple of months ago in South Carolina:

The son of a 68-year-old Eastway Park man beat his napping father to death with a hammer on Friday, then stole $4,000 from a safe at his father’s house to go on a cocaine-fueled party spree, according to officials and warrants. “He partied all weekend long with the blood money from his father,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Tuesday. “He murdered his father for a couple of rocks of crack.” The son, Robert Dickerson, has been charged with the murder and armed robbery of his father, Charles Dickerson, as his father slept in his bed Friday afternoon, Lott said. The body lay in bed in a pool of blood for two days until another son came by Sunday morning. Robert Dickerson has made a signed confession, Lott said. The charges against Dickerson — murder and armed robbery — potentially make him eligible for the death penalty. Lott said this is one of the worst cases he has seen because it involves a son brutally killing his father with premeditation. The sheriff said Robert Dickerson brought the hammer to his father’s house, then washed it off after the killing and took it and the cash with him when he left to go on his binge. From the first, investigators believed someone close to Dickerson killed him, in part because there were no signs of forced entry, Lott said. Charles Dickerson had lived in his neat, single-story house off Bluff Road for more than 40 years, neighbors said Lott sketched this scenario: On Friday, Robert Dickerson came by his father’s house, and his father gave him $20 to get them some beer. “Instead, Robert went and bought some crack cocaine,” Lott said. “He smoked it and decided he wanted some more crack.” Returning to his father’s house with a hammer, Robert beat his father “in the head numerous times,” then washed his hands and stole cash out of a safe at the bottom of his dad’s bedroom closet, Lott said. Crack dealers in the Bluff Road area near Eastway Park “just swarmed around” the son when he returned with his father’s cash, Lott said. The son at first lied to investigators about whether he had killed his father, but confessed after two days of questioning, Lott said. Officials have no other suspects. Robert Dickerson said he had some anger issues about his father dating back to childhood, but Lott declined to elaborate.

Now, you might ask, “What does this story have to do with the Prodigal Son?”

The problem with reading the biblical text is that there is a lot of cultural aspects to it that we don’t understand. Although, in the context that Jesus is speaking, they all understood and why, in the end, the Pharisees (and the elder brother) get so upset about it.

We see in the news headline from South Carolina that the son kills his father for money so that he can go squander it and live out his sinful lifestyle.

In the context in which Christ is speaking this is exactly what the younger son was doing. He was telling his father…I want you dead and all I want from you is my money that you owe me for my inheritance.

And you also have to realize that this isn’t like today when most of our money is easily accessible. The wealth of the family was tied up in land and in cattle. So much so that to describe the wealth of the Lord Psalm 50 tells us:

“For every beast of the forest is Mine,
The cattle on a thousand hills.
“I know every bird of the mountains,
And everything that moves in the field is Mine.
Psalm 50:10-11

The most disgusting thing about this is that since the younger son knows how rich his dad is, and that it isn’t easily accessible, he uses a term that is different than the normal inheritance. The term he uses is a term that is normally used for “life” it is actually the term “bios” where we get the term biology, which means the study of life. As we look at the father, we’ll see what this impact meant as he had to give his life for his son to have a chance to return to him and live.

By doing this, he is wishing his father dead and himself to be out of the family. He wants to be considered dead to the family. He desires it so much that he gives up all securities within, not only the family, but the village and the people of Israel so that he could simply leave and live how he desires.

So, even me telling you that it is like you telling your parents that you want your inheritance, it doesn’t match up completely…it is more like the murder of the parent in the news story.

Conversely, the prodigal Son would have been considered dead to the family. In Middle Eastern thought in the time of Christ, it was the duty of the Father to strike the boy across the face, and then mentally and physically abuse the child throughout the town until he departed the city gates. Afterwards, they would then have a funeral for the child who decided he was better off on his own, than with his family.

So, we see that the Prodigal Son, wishes his father dead, takes what is his and leaves to live out the life he believes is good to him. He is showing that he does not care for his father, but he cares for his father’s things. He is showing that he is truly an idolater. His idolatry runs so deep that he must get what he wants so that he can be free to do what he wants. This is what we call relativism. The son decides he wants to do what he finds desirous to him, instead of living under the rule and governance of his father. We do the same if we live for our desires, instead of God's desires.

(verse 13) “And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.
“Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished.
“So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
“And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.

At this point in the story, I am sure you are thinking, “this kid is an idiot.” I know this is a bit childish, but he sounds a bit like Pinocchio when he decides to leave Gepetto and go and party at Pleasure Island, where he starts to gamble, smoke, getting drunk and destroying Pleasure Island.

The Prodigal literally throws his money away on what he feels is his pleasure. What he enjoys instead of what his father has pointed to him as good.

We see this actually happening in an earlier story that is told to us. This happens with Adam and Eve. They have been given the joy of the Garden of Eden where all there cares are taken care of, where the joy of God is in their midst, but instead of enjoying God, they want to make themselves an idol and rise above God, so they eat of the fruit. Adam and Eve, like the Prodigal Son, believe that their pleasures, are going to bring them more joy, happiness and comfort than God can. What they find is death. What they find is separation from God. What they find is misery compared to the Garden.

What is interesting about the commands of God is that they aren’t set up to make you miserable, they are set up so that you can obtain the greatest joy in your life.

I was telling this to my 6 year old. I was making sure he understood why we have rules in the house. To make my point made known I simply asked him, “Do you know why daddy has rules?” He of course was clueless. I said, “I tell you not to play in the road, not because I hate you, but because I love you and I don’t want you to get hit by a car.” I said, “all the rules your mother and I place in this house are just as that one is….they are made so that you can live with the greatest joy in your life and you can give the greatest joy to others.

This is what God does for us. He tells you not to be drunk with alcohol for a reason, he tells you not to have sex before marriage for a reason, he tells you not to lie for a reason…it isn’t because he hates you, it is because he loves you.

Getting drunk is cool, until you wake up with a hangover. Then you realize how much of a moron you were.

So, when you look at the Prodigal living how he believes he desires, instead of how his father desires, ask yourself, “In which ways do I live my life where I am most glorified, instead of God being most glorified?”

“But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!
‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;
I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” ’

Here is where we see the Prodigal Son’s repentance. The verse starts with the boy coming to his senses. Why? Why does the boy come to his senses? We don’t know what finally triggered it, but we do see that it came through pain. He states that he is dying of hunger.

I know that some of you have used this term with your parents, telling them, “Mom, I am starving…hook me up with some food.” But, here the Prodigal is literally dying of hunger. He finally sees that the happiness that came with living on his own terms came with great pain of being separated from his Father’s joy. Here that joy is shown through being hungry. The boy finally realizes how hungry he truly is and how much he wants to be with his father again.

Many times you will come to your senses through pain in this life. You will be living in your sin, whether it is lying, stealing, cheating, etc. For whatever reason, you will one day, come to your senses. Most of the time with us, it is because of the punishment we are starting to incur, which then will show us if are truly repentant or not.

Here is how you know if you are truly repentant, or if you are merely tired of being in pain. Because there is a difference. There is a difference in hating your sin, hating the fact that you lie, or hating that you keep getting caught in your sin and getting detention or grounding from your parents and school.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
2 Corinthians 7:10

You see there are two types of repentance. One will lead you to salvation, and the other will lead you to death.

One is a repentance that is sorrowful of the sin and impact it has on God and the other is a repentance because you keep getting caught or simply want to stop the pain of your sin.

Stephen Charnock, the great puritan says this: a legalistic conviction of sin arises out of God’s justice but a gospel conviction of sin arises out of a sense of God’s goodness

Meaning this: one repentance comes about because one is scared of the wrath of God and what he will bring to them because they sinned. A gospel centered conviction says that they have sinned against a compassionate and good God who has the attitudes and relationship as a friend and loving parent.

One repents because they are merely scared of consequences, another repents because they broke the heart of their God who died for them.

Notice this comes about in the Prodigal Son. He is coming to his senses and notice what he is going to say to his father:

“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;
I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men

Tim Keller says, "notice that it is first vertical and then horizontal." He first says that he sinned against heaven. This is quite odd, don’t you think? It’s like you hitting your brother in the face and first saying sorry to God while your brother is sitting there crying because you just hit him in the face. But it is correct repentance.

When you sin, you must first understand that you broke the heart of God and he is supreme and should be the most important one in your life. With the Prodigal Son, our first response usually has been, why is he not first saying sorry to the family he ripped apart? It was they who he wished were dead, whom he robbed and disgraced. But, if he only repented to them, he would be showing he truly didn’t understand repentance.

King David does the same thing after he has sex with another man’s wife and then sends him out to the front lines of war to be killed. Instead of saying sorry to the man’s family and to the wife that he stole, he says this to God:

Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
Psalm 51:4

Godly repentance that leads to life, happens when one realizes the depth of his sin and hates it because it breaks God’s heart, not merely because you are tired of being caught.

I have a 6 and 3 year old. My 6 year old a couple of years ago told his mom that he hated her.

He said this because he didn’t like the fact that he was getting disciplined for his sin. When we were speaking to him we were trying to convey the depth of the sin to his mom’s heart. As a child, he said sorry because he didn’t want a spanking, but was not understanding that he truly hurt his mother’s feelings.

Because of this, he has said many other things that hurt our feelings when he thought we weren’t listening. Why did he now do it while he thought we weren’t listening? Because he didn’t care that he hurt us deeply, he just didn’t want to get in trouble for what he was saying.

What does your repentance look like? Is it more like my 6 year olds? Or is it like the Prodigal Son’s?

Why should you care?

We’ll actually see next week that the Prodigal’s first response in his repentance is self atonement and we’ll compare that to religion vs gospel…but this week I want to end with simply, “why should you care?” You are between the ages of 13 and 18…why should you care how you repent? Why shouldn’t you merely avoid trouble and pain at this point in your life?

The simple reason is eternal and it will impact your joy. Your joy will be most full when your life is hid with Christ. When your identity isn’t found in your grades, in your family, in your sports, in your art, in your status, or in your friends, but in Christ you are free to lose all those things, and still be joyful because your identity is in Christ and not in those things.

This doesn’t mean if you hate Jesus, your life will be living in a pig pen like the Prodigal Son’s, but what it does mean is that your life and your identity is like pig slop compared to the joy and identity found in Christ.

Tim Keller once said, “Answer this question, “If I lose X, then I will be miserable. If X isn’t Christ, you have an idol” The Prodigal Son’s Idol was his father’s money.

What is it for you?

The great thing about this story is that Christ is the greater Prodigal. He is the perfect fulfillment of the Prodigal Son’s misery and failures.

The term Prodigal means a reckless extravagant consumer. This, in some light, is what Christ was for you. He recklessly gave up his extravagant life and bought you with a price.

The reason you should desire to repent is because of the hurt you cause your Father in Heaven and what the Son was for you.

You are just like the Prodigal, if you live for self and not for God…if you live for grades, sports, art, family or friends. But, Christ became the perfect Prodigal for us, so we could live for him instead.

Just like the Prodigal, Jesus left the comforts of heaven to become one of us. Unlike the Prodigal this was the will of His Father and not against his Father’s will.

Just like the Prodigal he was friends to sinners and prostitutes, unlike the Prodigal Jesus did not join in their sin.

Unlike the Prodigal, Jesus didn’t come to his senses, he always had them and he made the decision to come down to us and rescue us from the pig slop.

Here is the crux in the story though. Jesus, died and he took upon our sin, so that the Prodigal could come to his senses and live. Jesus gave his righteousness to the dirty prodigal who sinned abundantly and Jesus died as though the Prodigal’s sins were his own.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

1 Peter 3:18

When the Prodigal calls out to his father and returns to him, the Father clothes him and welcomes him. But, our Christ was stripped of his clothes and put up on the cross and when he called out to his Father, he was forsaken.

You see today isn’t about guilting you into repentance. It isn’t about you being a better person.

It is about you realizing that you are the idolatrous Prodigal Son who has traded the goodness and comforts of the father to follow your own ways. But, today, you can turn to Christ and start a life of repentance because you do not merely want to avoid pains and trouble, but because you don’t want to break the heart of the one who traded his righteousness for your sin, he died, so that you may live.

You start a life of repentance that understands that you have first sinned against heaven and your God that made you and loves you.

If you have already realized this, praise God, continue to dig deeper into the depths of the gospel and live a life of repentance. Next week, we will put those of us who are professed Christians into the spotlight, making sure that we do not become the elder brother.

For this week ask yourself:

If I lost X, I would be crushed…what is X for you?

Why do I repent and ask for forgiveness?

Is God good enough? Or do I want God’s things more than I want God?


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