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The Prodigal's Father

Luke 15:11-32

Jim Davis

Luke 15:11-32
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. 24 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

It always amazes me how that we often overlook the central truths of a Bible passage. We may know the passage by heart, but the central truth eludes us. The most familiar name of this story is "The Story of the Prodigal Son." I think this is the case because most of us can readily identify with the wayward son in this story. We have made the same mistakes. To one degree or another as we have squandered an important part of our lives.

However, this story is not about the sons; it is about the Father. He is the main character. The story is about the love of the Father. This Father exemplifies what it is to be a father as no other person can.

In an essay titled "What Is a Father?" Edith Shaffer writes:

"Unhappily, the word father has a garbled sense to many people of this century. It needs redefinition--not just in words, but in understanding and in day-by-day life. People may shiver a bit or stiffen up inside when you say that God is a Father to us. Often the word father has a negative emotion connected with it that has grown out of thinking of father as the definition of a person with whom there is no communication, who cannot understand one's thoughts, feelings, or actions, and who must be avoided or from whom one must run away. Without realizing it, people transfer to God the imperfections and even the sins of earthly fathers they have known. Even Christians often portray the very opposite qualifications to what a father is supposed to be, and give their children a warped response to the word." (Edith Schaeffer, A Way of Seeing, Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1977, pp. 24-25.)
Today many fathers are unapproachable. They don't stay around long enough for the children to get to know them. Many of them are refusing to accept their role as a father and have denied their children. It is little wonder that these children grow up without a clear understanding of God as a Father. It is no accident that Jesus came to reveal to us the Father of all fathers.

I can only wonder if this is the reason we have had difficulty naming "The Story of the Prodigal's Father,"  rather than "The Story of the Prodigal Son." This story was told by Jesus to reveal the true identity and character of our heavenly Father. It was told to correct some misconceptions about God. To correct those misconceptions Jesus tells the story of the prodigal’s Father.

This story was told to a bunch of grumbling religious leaders, who were grumbling because Jesus was receiving sinners. The younger son represented sinners coming to God as a result of Jesus' ministry. The elder son represented the scribes and Pharisees who were grumbling over Jesus receiving sinners who had squandered their lives. The father represents God's attitude to both the faithful and unfaithful.

Luke 15:1-10
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."

Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

"Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (NIV)

Both of these parables speak of the joy of heaven, as sinners turn heavenward. But it is the Story of the Prodigal’s Father that speaks of the joy of God when a sinner returns.

The love of a father makes it possible for children to come home. God is not like a lot of the fathers today that hope they never run across their children. These three parables reveal God as a father who is searching for his children. It is not hard to go home to a father who desires your return. It is hard to go home to a grumpy, vindictive, tyrant who has shown little interest and no understanding or compassion toward you.

"I Will Go Home"

Have you ever experienced the hurt that comes when one of your children turns his/her back on everything you have taught them? The enormity and depth of the pain is all but unbearable. Jesus wants us to know something about God's pain when we stray. We usually think that if we were perfect parents, we would have perfect children. But this is not the case. Adam and Eve had a perfect Father in Eden, but that didn't keep them from making their own mistakes.

The beautiful thing about this story is that the son knew that he could go home, but he thought he would have to go back as a servant. "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.'" (Luke 15:17-19 NIV) He had underestimated the Father's love. The son never stopped being his son. The Father didn't write him off as a hopeless cause.

Luke 15:20
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..." (NIV)
Do you know why the father saw his son a long way off? He was longing for his return!!! His eyes were searching the hills on every horizon as he sought the son. He longed and hoped that the next person coming over the horizon would be his son. When he did appear he ran to him and threw his arms around him and kissed him.

There were no lectures. There was no "I told you so." He wasn't asked, "Whom do you think you are coming back here after all you have squandered?" God the Father simply runs and embraces his prodigal son. He didn’t even let the son finish the confession that he had no doubt rehearsed all the way home.

"I Have Sinned"

The three parables in this chapter of the Bible teach us how people are lost. Sometimes we are like sheep. We simply stray. A sheep is busy grazing from one tuft of grass to the next. Soon it has grazed over the hillside a long way from the shepherd and becomes lost. The coin is lost through the carelessness of another. But the son was lost because of his deliberate choice to disobey. Ultimately it is always a personal choice that leads us astray, but it is not always as deliberate as this one.

Do you know how the son knew that he had "sinned against heaven and against his father"? He had a father that taught him what sin was. This was crucial information when he bottomed out. I think his father accepted the fact that his son would have to make his own choices in life. He knew that he would naturally make some wrong choices. That is why he instilled a solid sense of direction in him when he had the chance.

There comes a time when a mature father must let his children go. You have to do this even though you know they are going to make bad choices.

Luke 15:12-13
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. (NIV)
Do you think that the father didn't know what the son was going to do? Do you think that he didn’t know the probability of him ending up in the hog pen? Sure he did. But he had to let the son go and pray for the best. There is a fine line between setting your children free to make their own choices and holding on to them to long. Some fathers try to hold on to long and provoke their children to wrath. It forces children to rebel.

Some fathers want to hold on to their children so they can make them make the right choices in life. Sometimes parents teach children right and wrong, and then they spend their lives trying to make the children make the right choices. The prodigal God gave his son the freedom to make his own choices.

Some parents spend their lives trying to keep their kids out of the hog pen. They try to head off the decision of their child that they know will take them to the hog pen. Many parents spend their lives making sure they are positioned in such a way to break the fall of the child just before his/her decisions land them on bottom. This man allowed his son the privilege of experiencing the hog pen for himself. That is a sure way to allow them to come to their senses. If you spend your life breaking their fall, they may never come to their senses.

Our heavenly Father has a way of bringing us to our senses. Our heavenly Father wants us to learn lessons from the hog pen that we can learn in no other way. Do you notice that the son was suffering as a result of a famine? When he spent all he had, a famine came. God used famine through out Old Testament to bring his people to repentance. Our heavenly Father’s grace includes hog pens. It is there that we discover the full measure of his grace.

It is here that we catch a glimpse of the grace of God. God our Father wishes to share his riches with us. If you have difficulty believing this, read the story of Eden. He made this world a beautiful place for his children. Did he know the bad choice Eve would make beforehand? There is no doubt about it. He purposed to sacrifice Christ for our sins before the world was created. (Ephesians 3:11) He knows all about your bad choices including the ones you are going to make. God struggled with the bad choices we would make before we were born. His suffering for our sins with a longing for us to return is the story of God in a nutshell.

This is the one story in the Bible that tells us the grace of our heavenly Father is sufficient for those who have squandered their lives. The reality of his sufficiency is discovered when we return home. He want force us to come home, but he does long for the day we will return. When we do return, heaven rejoices.

The Importance of Having Good Sense

The grace of our heavenly Father patiently waits for us until we hit bottom and come to our senses.

Luke 15:14-17
"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! (NIV)
When we need direction we need a healthy sense of what is right and wrong. He came to his senses. That means he had a sense of right and wrong. His father had instilled a sense of right and wrong. It was the sense that the father had instilled that gave him direction when he hit the bottom. It was his senses that directed him home.

Sadly, today too many of our children have no sense of direction. Most parents today are rearing their children to believe that they must find themselves. That is, they must find their own direction in life. Parents just stand back and hope they find the "right" direction. They hope they make the right choices and fail in their responsibility to give them a sense of direction when they are young. When they bottom out they don't know which way to turn. Most of them don't have a good father as a role model, and they don't know God. In their confusion they don't have a valid sense of right and wrong.

When we don't have a good sense of what is right and wrong we usually end up trying to enjoy the hog pen. Many turn to drugs hoping to escape the painful reality of the hog pen. Others turn to their own fleshly lust to make it more pleasant. Through pornography and illicit sex they try to create a fantasy world to kill the pain. It is not that they have lost their senses, but they never had a good sense of direction. Nevertheless they are lost in a world of confusion that cries out "If it feels good, do it!"

We need fathers willing to instill a sense of right and wrong into the hearts of their children. The religion of most families is in the name of the wife and mother. Many fathers are in church today because the wife has been the spiritual leader in the home. Many of you fathers wouldn't be here if it were not for your wives. I have seen women come to church when their husbands wouldn't. Their faithfulness eventually converted the husband.

I have a brother that went to church without his wife for years. That is rare. I had the privilege of baptizing his wife into Christ because of his attempt to be faithful. They are going to church today.

One of the greatest problems facing the family in America is that men have copped out on being leaders for their families. If we fail in our responsibility our families will suffer.

I heard about a preacher who was preaching on this one Sunday and he said, "I want all the real men, those who call all the shots at home, who wear the pants, who are the undisputed boss to stand up." Only one mousy-looking guy stood. The preacher said, "Why did you stand up?" he said, "My wife told me to."

The typical American family today doesn't resemble the Cleavers or the Waltons or the Little House on the Prairie. I am not sure, from my own experience, that most American families ever resembled those families. I we stay on our present course a country with founding fathers...is going to end up without any fathers.

Not having good fatherly role models may handicap us but it isn't completely debilitating. I say this for many of you mothers out there who will have to raise your children without a father. Timothy's father was not a child of God, but Timothy had a mother and grandmother that instilled within him a sense of right and wrong. They didn't throw up their hands in despair. In the end you can have a great influence in instilling a sense of righteousness in your children. Ultimately you can point them to our heavenly Father as the greatest example of a father.

2 Timothy 1:5-6
I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. (NIV)
This lesson is also for children who don't have Christian fathers. You can look to God, because he is the perfect Father.

Conclusion:

Philip came to Jesus asking, "Show us the Father?" Jesus said, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father." Jesus came to show us our heavenly Father. He knows our need of a good role model.

Our heavenly Father is present this morning. He wants you to come home. You don't need an excuse to come home. You have a good reason to come home. You have a heavenly Father who is looking forward to your return.

This story is not only for those who have squandered their lives. It is also for those who have been faithful to the Father. It is for those who think their obedience to the Father grants them a higher status with the Father. It doesn't.

 

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