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There was a man who had two sons. - Luke 15:11 (NIV)
It’s the longest parable Jesus told; some say the greatest. It’s the Parable of the Prodigal Son, which is our focus every day this week. We love this story for different reasons. I suspect it touches many of us because we see ourselves in it. Who of us hasn’t wandered away from God, determined to go our own way… only to end up hopelessly lost, then miraculously found and reunited with our Father?
I’ve always been amazed at God’s willingness to let us go, not because He doesn’t love us, but because He does. Every parent understands this. Raising kids is a tough assignment because rebellion is intrinsic to the human spirit. It’s been around since the Garden of Eden. Parents talk about the “terrible twos,” but I’ve discovered that every age of childhood is prone to terribleness. Kids pick their spots, regardless of age, and sometimes we just have to let them crash and burn. That’s not abandonment; it’s love.
When I was growing up I enjoyed flying kites. Parenting is very similar. As the kite begins to climb, we let out more string. That’s scary, especially when it dips and sways in all directions and you’re certain it will crash. But suddenly... the wind picks it up and in a few moments it’s flying higher than we would’ve ever imagined. As parents, we have to trust the strength of the wind. You know what the wind is? It’s God… and He’s quite adept at teaching us the balance between holding on and letting go. Good parents discover an important truth: this skill takes a generous mixture of unconditional love and rock-solid trust in the Wind.
Remember that hit song from the 80s: Wind Beneath My Wings? Many have sung it, but one of my favorite renditions, by Eddie Levert, is a duet with his son, Gerald, who died too young in 2006 at the age of 40. You can watch it here. As you do, think about God… and others who hold you up.Share Tweet
So he got up and went to his father. - Luke 15:20 (NIV)
If you’re like me, you’ve probably experienced the angry glare of a parent. Few things are more unnerving, especially when they’re the norm, not the exception. On the other hand, few things mean more, or have greater impact, than glances of compassion and grace. That’s the kind of glance that changed my life forever; it came from God. Been there?
N.T. Wright tells a story about an Archbishop who was hearing confessions of sin from three wayward teenagers in the church. All three boys were trying to make a joke out of it, so they met with the archbishop and confessed to a long list of ridiculous and grievous sins that they hadn’t committed. It was all a sick joke.
But the pastor, seeing through their duplicity, played along with the first two, who ran out of the church laughing. Then he listened carefully to the third prankster, and, before he got away, he said, "Son, you’ve confessed these sins. Now I want you to do something to demonstrate your repentance. At the end of the hall outside this door, there’s a portrait of Jesus hanging on the Cross, and I want you to look at his face carefully, then say, 'You did all that for me and I don't really care.’” He added, “And I want you to do that three times."
So the boy went to the prescribed location and stared at the picture of Jesus and said, "You did all that for me and I don't care." And then he said it again… but on the third attempt, he fell to his knees and cried a river of tears.
Then the Archbishop telling the story said this: “The reason I know that’s a true story is because I was that young man.”
Father, give me my share of the estate. - Luke 15:12 (NIV)
“Give me. Give me. Give me.” Children say that a lot, don’t they? It’s kind of cute when they’re tiny; then it morphs into something more adamant, abrasive, and ugly as they age. By the time they’re college-age, many are convinced that they absolutely deserve whatever they want. Like the prodigal son, they have a severe case of “give-me-itis” that pervades their entire life. That’s always a recipe for eventual disillusionment and often disaster.
The late Alvin Rogness, longtime professor and president of Luther Seminary, once suggested that he would’ve told the prodigal story in a slightly different fashion; he would’ve had the young man go to the “far country” with his inheritance, but instead of squandering it, he would’ve had him invest it and become very wealthy. Indeed, he would’ve had him become the richest man in the land! Then one evening, when his fellow citizens had thrown a big banquet in his honor, and with everyone fawning over him, he would’ve had the prodigal “come to himself” and say, “What am I doing here? I don’t belong here. I’ve done nothing of eternal value with all I’ve earned. Nothing.”
Alvin Rogness said, “Then I would’ve had the outrageously successful ‘prodigal’ return home and confess to his father that he’d sinned and was no longer worthy of sonship. I would have had him say to his father, ‘Let me come home, work on the farm, get my act together, change my priorities, and place less emphasis on me, and a boatload of emphasis on others.’”
I like that. I agree that truly successful people... always know the true meaning… of success. I find it interesting that, early in his life, the prodigal said, “Give me, Give me,” but when he matured, he said, “Make me.” Understanding the difference between the two… is wisdom.
After he had spent everything… he came to his senses... - Luke 15:14, 17 (NIV)
Have you experienced the power of pain? I heard a young lady sing one time… perfect pitch, amazing, powerful voice… but as she performed I thought to myself, “She’ll be great someday… after she has suffered awhile.”
Sometimes God presses us into a place of desperation and crucifixion before we can experience His power in our lives. Something within us must, of necessity, die before new life can spring forth. Paul referred to himself as being “crucified with Christ.” He said, “I die daily.” (1 Corinthians 15:31 KJV). He wasn’t fishing for pity; he was revealing his pathway to spiritual power.
A person who is dying doesn’t worry about all the things most people fret about. If you’re dying, you don’t worry about which outfit is just right for today, or if people will like you, or if your lawn looks great, or what kind of car you’re driving. If we’re dying we won’t get a headache if the stock market plunges or someone is twenty minutes late for an appointment. As S.I. McMillen once said, “The crucified soul is not frustrated.”
The prodigal son was crucified… on the inside. His obsession with himself was terminated forever. Finally, he could go home and truly enjoy his father. Dying to ourselves lets God work in our lives again. Out of the crucible of pain we emerge stronger, better, and wiser. We also learn that what we despised… He redeems. That changes everything.
Newsflash: You can die to yourself without the pain. You don’t have to be a prodigal son; you just need to “come to your senses,” then crucify your prodigal heart. Prayer, repentance, and confession is the pathway; walk it.
...I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. - Luke 15:18-19 (NIV)
The late Fred Craddock, prince of preachers and brilliant Bible expositor, was teaching on the parable of the prodigal son. After the service, a man said, “Frankly, I really didn’t care much for that.” Craddock asked him why.
The man said, “Well, I guess it’s not your sermon; I just don’t like that story.”
“What is it you don’t like about it,” Craddock asked.
“It’s not morally responsible,” the man replied.
Craddock said, “Help me understand what you mean?”
“Forgiving the boy,” the man answered, “I don’t like that part.”
“Well, what would you have done?” Craddock asked, and the man said, “I think that when he came home, he should’ve been arrested.”
Craddock said, “This man was serious. He was also an attorney. I thought he was going to tell me a joke, but he was dead serious.”
Craddock asked the man, “What would you have given the prodigal?” The man replied, “Six years.”
Fred Craddock went on to say, “This man belonged to an unofficial, nationwide organization. They never have any meetings and they don’t have a name, but they’re a very strong organization with a vast network. I call them the Moral Police; they’re ‘quality control’ people and here’s their agenda: mandatory sentences, no parole, and executions aplenty.”
Do you know any Moral Police? They’re everywhere really, passing down sentences, and unfortunately, the church is fraught with them. It’s good to remember when we read this parable, that Jesus was actually telling a story about God… His grace, compassion, and unlimited love for the lost. Aren’t you glad He’s not part of the Moral Police? It’d be really hard to have a Dad like that. Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you are there. If either is true, I’m sorry.