Most of us can remember as a child being lost in a department store, or in the woods. Most of us when traveling have at times been lost in a big city. Having a child lost or abducted or even reading or hearing about such things, strikes terror to our hearts.
While living in Westervelt Home for missionary children as a child back in 1944, I roomed with a boy about my age, Robert Bell, who had been adrift in the Atlantic Ocean for twenty days on a small 8X10 foot wooden raft with his mother and 17 others. The ship on which they were sailing from Africa had been torpedoed by the Germans. By God’s grace, they were found and saved from what could have been certain death.
We Christians are urged in Ephesians 2:11-12 to remember what it was like to be lost: Paul describes that condition as “without Christ, aliens, strangers, having no hope and without God in the world.” One who has never been aware of his lost condition without Christ, has probably never truly been saved. Salvation is more than simply giving mental assent to the Gospel or mouthing a “sinner’s prayer”. Salvation comes to us when we sense our desperate lostness and hear the good news that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and rose again to save us. As we sense our desperate need, we cry to God for His mercy. Then and only then are we truly saved.
It would do every Christian a world of good to remember what it was like to be lost in our sins in order to fully appreciate what Jesus did for us on Calvary.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE LOST IN SIN?
First, understand that we don’t have to do anything to be lost in sin. We are passively lost in sin from the womb, Psalm 58:3 tells us. Psalm 51:5 explains to us that we were conceived in sin. The act of conception itself is not sin between a husband and wife, but the baby that is conceived is conceived as a sinner. We inherit our sinful nature from Adam, and, as fathers, we pass on our sinful nature to our children. By the way, that’s why Jesus who was born of Mary, could not have a human father; otherwise, he would have been born a sinner like every other human being. That’s why Jesus was born of a virgin who conceived her baby by the Holy Spirit.
Thank God, that although it is true, infants and little toddlers are not accountable for their sinful nature, nor for their sins; they cannot possibly be held accountable for anything they do. When little ones die in infancy and early childhood, they go to Heaven. David understood that about his little baby who died in infancy. He said in II Samuel 12:23 ” I shall go to him. He shall not return to me.” What a comfort this truth is for parents who have lost an infant. What a comfort it is to know that all aborted babies are in Heaven. Mother, you can see your little one in Heaven one day, if you have been saved by trusting in Christ for salvation.
But as we grow and develop, and observe God’s amazing creation, we become aware of our holy God and our utter sinfulness and at that point, whatever our age, we consciously receive or reject Christ. Those who reject Christ are spiritually dead according to Ephesians 2:5 and blind to spiritual truth according to Ephesians 4:18.
Read the condition of a lost person in Ephesians 4:17-19. Paul writing to Christians says, “This I say therefore and testify in the Lord that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.”
This describes every sinner, whether he is a transient on skid row or a very successful professional man or woman without Christ.
As lost sinners, we are lost to the glories of Heaven. I Corinthians 2:9. We will one day face Christ as our Judge and be speechless. Romans 1:20-32, Revelation 20:11-15. We face eternity in Hell Fire. Matthew 22:1-13, Luke 15:19-23, Revelation 14:9-11.
HAS THERE EVER BEEN A TIME IN YOUR LIFE WHEN YOU RECOGNIZED THAT YOU WERE LOST?
Test yourself to see whether you are saved or not. If there is anything that separates Christians from non Christians, it is the attitude you have about yourself.
The non-Christian feels good about himself. He has never sensed his utter depravity and utter lostness. To him, Christianity is just accepting intellectual knowledge about Christ. There is no change whatsoever. He is the same proud sinner, perhaps worse than before, for now he thinks he is a Christian because of his knowledge of Jesus and his self-righteousness.
On the other hand, the genuine Christian is aware of his sins and is desperate to find forgiveness and cleansing. When he heard the Gospel he was overwhelmed with relief and joy as he cast himself on the grace and mercy of God. As a believer, he is a changed, humbled man, hungry to know more about God.
I fear for many baptized so-called Christians on church rolls who are still lost in their sins. Some are active, baptized church members, teaching Sunday School classes and some are preachers and priests. In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus describes the horror they will experience when they meet Him.
It’s not enough to simply believe facts about the Bible. The devil believes those facts and he is damned for eternity in Hell. When you quit thrashing around in the ocean of sin and self-righteousness, and simply grab hold of Christ as Robert and his mother and those 17 other shipwrecked people grabbed hold of the raft and were saved from drowning, you will be saved from your sins and made fit for Heaven. Read my series on SALVATION for a clearer understanding of all of this.
CHRIST’S MISSION STATEMENT
Luke 19:10 gives us Jesus’ mission statement. ” For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” That must also become the mission statement of every Christian. It is our calling to seek sinners and develop a relationship with them and give them the Gospel as we have opportunity. We cannot save anyone. Only God can do that; but we can present the Gospel to them.
Yes, Jesus seeks after sinners. But in order for us to be saved, we must seek after Him.
Romans 3:11 teaches us that no sinner seeks after God. God seeks after us. We can come to Him only as He draws us, according to John 6:44. We can seek after Him only as we sense Him seeking after us. Isaiah 55:6-7 calls us to seek after Him while He may be found. If you are ever going to be saved, it will only be when Christ is calling to you. If you sense that call, receive Him now. If you put it off, you will no longer hear the call and you are doomed to eternity in Hell.
Tossing diamonds on an ocean cruise
Picture, will you, a man on a cruise sheep leaning over the railing carelessly tossing a two carat diamond ring up into the air and than catching it. He continues to show off his skill as a crowd gathers around him. Suddenly he misses and the diamond ring falls to the ocean floor, lost forever. You think to yourself, What a stupid man!
Picture two teens in their cars roaring down the road towards each other at 80 to 100 miles per hour. They’re playing the game of “Chicken”. Whoever veers away first is a chicken. Eventually they crash and are both instantly killed. Again, you think, how stupid!
Playing Russian Roulette
Picture a man playing Russian roulette. In the chamber of his revolver is one bullet. The other chambers are empty. He holds the revolver to his head and pulls the trigger. Nothing happens. He laughs and scorns the danger. He can repeat his foolishness and pull the trigger again. He may or may not die, but eventually, he will die if he continues his foolishness. Again, you judge, how stupid!
But dear friend, their stupidness pales into insignificance compared to what you are doing by rejecting Christ in this age of grace. Whereas the ring tosser may or may not lose his ring, whereas the teens may or may not kill themselves, whereas the one playing Russians roulette may not kill himself; you have a 100% chance of dying and going to hell if you reject Christ.
Today, if God’s Spirit has shown you your lost condition, seek Him while He may be found. Call on Him to save you now. “Whosoever shall call upon the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:9-13
If there is anything that should mark a true Christian or a faithful church, it ought to be genuine joy. It ought to be the obvious characteristic that a neighbor or friend or fellow worker or a fellow student senses when they are around you. It ought to be the first thing a visitor senses about a church as they enter the front door. The joy should be obvious in our singing, in our interaction with one another and in our genuine welcome of visitors.
Anyone who lives in fellowship with God should be marked by joy. Note Psalm 5:11. “But let all those who put their trust in Thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because Thou defendest them. Let them also that love Thy name be joyful in Thee.”
Psalm 16:11 says, “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in Thy presence is fullness of joy. At Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.”
Psalm 33:1 challenges us to “Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous: for praise is comely (or fitting) for the upright.” A miserable, sour bitter Christian is an anomaly or a contradiction. Certainly such a person is in no position to be a witness for Christ, nor do they even attempt to be a witness.
In a church, everything is to be done decently and in order, I Corinthians 14:40 teaches; but let us never be guilty of trying to stifle joy. The early Church, described in Acts 2:45-47, was immersed in an atmosphere of joy and gladness.
Going back into the Old Testament, Isaiah 12:2-3 links joy with salvation. Joy is as much an experience of salvation as pain and discomfort are an experience of sickness.
The Kingdom of God (Christianity) is characterized by righteousness, peace and joy, as is taught in Romans 14:17. The first three evidences of being filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit are love, joy and peace. See Galatians 5:22-23 for the full description of being filled with the Spirit. Such an experience has nothing to do with noise and confusion, nor losing control of our bodies and babbling uncontrollably. To the contrary, according to this passage in Galatians, never does one manifest self control as much as when he is filled with the Spirit.
As we read through Luke 15 we are aware of three of Jesus’ best known stories: The lost Sheep, the lost coin, and the story of the Prodigal Son. Later in this series we will note that the emphasis is not so much on the prodigal son as on someone else.
These stories in Luke 15 illustrate the truth of Luke 19:10 that “The son of Man, Jesus Christ, came to seek and save that which was lost.” Paul, the persecutor of Christians, now saved, gloried in the same truth he wrote about in I Timothy 1:15 “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
Throughout Jesus ministry, sinful people were attracted to Jesus. Self-righteous people, such as the scribes and Pharisees, were offended by Jesus’ teachings and they hated Him, finally pressuring the Roman government to crucify Him. Read the four Gospels to get the big picture.
Getting back to Luke 15, note the joy and celebration that took place when the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son were found. We are all aware of God’s holiness, wrath on sin, His grace, love and kindness. What we as Christian fail to see is His great joy in seeing the lost saved.
What is the great joy of your life? Is it the salvation of sinners or something else? Only as your chief joy is the salvation of the lost, is your heart in tune with God’s heart. Be careful, if when someone is saved, you tend to be suspicious of whether his salvation was genuine and you fail to rejoice with the others. God is not pleased when you adopt the attitude, “Let’s wait and see whether his experience was genuine before we celebrate and rejoice.”
It’s true that we are not to give a young Christians a position of leadership in the church until he has had enough time to evidence spiritual stability and we are aware of his spiritual gifts. Let us rejoice and encourage young Christians. If one turns out to be a fake and a hypocrite, that will become obvious and we can deal with that then; however, if we discourage young Christians and refuse to rejoice with them in their new found faith in Christ, we do irreparable damage to them and to the cause of Christ.
It is better for us to be hurt as a church for giving a new convert the benefit of the doubt of his genuineness as a Christian, than for us to hurt the new Christian by refusing to rejoice with him in his salvation. To put it mildly, God does not look with favor on anyone who harms a young Christian. See His stern warning in Matthew 18:3-5.
May God continue to bless us as we learn in these three stories in Luke 15 our primary responsibilities of seeking the lost and rejoicing with them as they come to Christ.
In Luke 15 Jesus tells three stories with one common theme, God’s joy in finding the lost and restoring them to Himself. These three stories are about the lost: a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son; but the emphasis is on the joy of finding each.
THE JOY OF THE TRINITY
1. Jesus, the Son of God, the Good Shepherd finds a lost sheep.
2 The woman, a type of the church, working with the Holy Spirit finds a lost coin
3. The Father sees his prodigal son return home. The emphasis throughout the chapter, as well as throughout the Bible, is God’s joy in finding and saving lost sinners.
See Luke 15:7, 10 and 32. Anyone whose chief joy is not the salvation of sinners is out of touch with God. That was the condition of the Pharisees who murmured because Jesus ate with sinners and reached out in love to them. We are all aware that God is holy, righteous, merciful, loving, gracious and kind; but are we aware that God rejoices in the salvation of sinners? Luke 15:10 speaks about joy in the presence of angels when one sinner repents. That is speaking of God’s joy and because God rejoices, the angels and all the redeemed in Heaven join with Him in rejoicing over the salvation of the lost. Is that your chief joy now?
If you know you are a sinner and you would like to be saved, but you have heard that only the elect can be saved and you are concerned that perhaps you are not among the elect; understand that election is not your concern. That is God’s concern. The only question that concerns you is, do you long to be saved from your sins and have a pure heart and assurance of going to Heaven? I assert to you on the authority of Scripture that you can be saved if you earnestly desire to turn from your sins and trust Christ who paid the full penalty for them.
II Peter 3:9 assures us that “God is not willing that ANY should perish, but that ALL should come to repentance. In I Timothy 2:3-4 we read that “God would have ALL men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth.” In I Timothy 4:10 we learn that Jesus is the potential Saviour of ALL men, but He is the actual Saviour of those who believe.
YOU HAVE NO EXCUSE FOR NOT BEING SAVED
Don’t try to excuse yourself from the possibility of being saved because God has not elected you to be saved. You can’t blame God if you go to hell. It will be your own fault for rejecting His Son Jesus as your Saviour.
Why did Jesus endure the torment of dying on a cross? Hebrew 12:2 explains “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” As horrible as it was to die on a cross, Jesus endured the agony. The joy of seeing people saved far outweighed the agony.
Pharisees shepherds? Ugh!
Let’s look closely now at the well known story of the good shepherd finding his lost sheep. We find the story in Luke 15:3-7. He begins the story by likening the Pharisees who were listening to Him to shepherds. That was a blow to their pride as they perceived shepherds to be at the very bottom of the social ladder. He asks them if they were shepherds, would they not go after one lost sheep? That very question angered them, for they despised shepherds as beneath their status and dignity.
The Bible likens each of us to lost sheep in Isaiah 53:5-6. In that passage we learn that Jesus bore our sins on the cross and paid the full penalty so that those who trust His sacrifice on Calvary, are forgiven and saved from condemnation. John 10 also likens us to sheep and Jesus as our Good Shepherd who gives His life for His sheep.
THE 99 SHEEP THAT WERE NOT LOST
These sheep were not safely at home in the fold, as most of us are prone to think. They were out in the wilderness where wolves and other predators could harm or kill them. The one thing we know from Luke 15:7 about the 99 sheep is that they represent Christians who have been justified through faith in Christ and they do not need to repent.
It’s true that we need to confess our sins whenever we are aware of them and trust in the cleansing power of Christ’s blood. It’s only as we live pure lives that we enjoy fellowship with Christ and with one another. Study I John 1 on this subject.
These sheep (Christians) have physical, emotional and spiritual needs. They need a pastor who loves them and feeds them God’s Word; but the pastor shepherd has to determine his priorities and make a crucial decision. One of the sheep is lost and needs to be found. Night is approaching and there are dangers. So he leaves the 99 with his under-shepherds to lead them home while he goes out into the night and searches until he finally finds his one lost sheep.
The lesson for pastors is that one lost sheep must take precedence over the feeding and care of justified saints. The lesson for churches is that all the programs of our church, including Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, home Bible studies, church socials must not only meet the needs of saints; but more importantly, they must be outreaches to the lost in our communities. If we fail to reach out to the lost, we are failing, no matter how many programs we have for the saints.
THE ONE LOST SHEEP THAT WAS FOUND
No matter what the cost or how difficult the task, the shepherd keeps seeking until he finds him. According to Romans 3:11 sinners do not seek God. Luke 19:10 tells us that God seeks sinners. He uses His yielded servants to reach out to the lost and make the contacts. Thankfully, He empowers us by His Holy Spirit; otherwise, we would have no power whatsoever.
As a mother travails and agonizes to have her baby, so we must travail in our spirits to win the lost. Isaiah 66:8 says of Israel that as soon as she travailed, she brought forth her children. So our hearts must be broken and we must agonize for sinners as we reach out to them in love and share the Gospel with them.
HOW DID THE LOST SHEEP GET HOME?
It was only one sheep of his flock of one hundred, but Jesus valued it and hunted it down until He found it. The shepherd did not drive it home or force it to follow him. It was too weak and helpless. So he picked it up and wrapped it around his shoulders and tied it four feet together, and carried it home.
The Good Shepherd knows our frame and remembers we are as dust. He only asks us to do what He gives us the strength to do. Whether the sheep arrives back to the sheep fold is totally in the hands of the Shepherd. So is our salvation if we have put our trust in Christ. John 10:27-29, Romans 8:32-39, and Isaiah 46:3-4 and 40:11 all teach us that our security as Christians is in God’s hands.
The normal Christian grows and matures and is soon able to stand on his own feet and be involved in the spiritual battle as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. The Shepherd’s goal is to bring us to spiritual maturity and make us effective servants of Christ. That takes place as we feed on His Word. So although The Good Shepherd babies lost sheep, He does not baby growing Christians. As a good parents wants his children to grow up and learn to stand on their own feet and become mature, so our Good Shepherd allows us and encourages us to stand on our own feet and become mature Christians.
Jesus continues with His stories about the joy of finding that which was lost. First, in Luke 15:3-7 it was the shepherd finding the lost sheep. Now In Luke 15:8-10 it is the story of a woman finding her lost coin. Of her ten silver coins she had lost one, probably a Greek drachma, equivalent to a Roman denarius; about a day’s wages. It was probably part of her dowry given by her husband. The Bible says she lit a candle and swept the house, searching diligently until she finally found it. She was so happy that she called her friends and neighbors together and they rejoiced together.
WHAT BEST DESCRIBES HEAVEN?
Certainly Heaven could be described by holiness, righteousness, peace and rest. But the word that may best describe heaven is JOY! Jesus, in Matthew 25:21 invites His good and faithful servants to “enter into the joy of Thy Lord” God’s joy is eternal and we will share that joy with Him eternally.
That joy begins to a limited degree from the moment we pass from death unto life when we receives Christ as our Saviour. Oh, how I remember the joy and peace in my heart the night, as a nine year old boy, I put my trust in Christ and He saved me!
As Peter puts it in I Peter 1:8 “we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
The Psalmist in Psalm 36:9 described God as a fountain of life. When we have God’s Spirit in our hearts through faith in Christ, life just starts bubbling up each day as fresh, pure water from a fountain.
Jesus in John 4:14 described to the Samaritan woman this fountain of eternal life. “Whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
Isn’t that amazing! We don’t just get a cup of water when we are saved, we get a fountain of pure fresh water in us that constantly supplies us with all the refreshing water we need for life, even into everlasting life. We have it for eternity.
Psalm 16:11 speaks of the path of life for God’s children. He reminds us that in God’s presence is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.
You may have the pleasures of this world if you wish. I choose the eternal pleasures of God any day to the fleeting pleasures of this world. I enjoy those pleasures even now in this life, for it is “in His presence” that we find eternal pleasures. We don’t have to wait till we die and go to Heaven to enjoy His presence daily right now. That’s the message of one of my favorite songs by Oswald Smith.
“The Glory of His Presence”
I have walked alone with Jesus in a fellowship divine,
Nevermore can earth allure me, I am His and He is mine.
I have seen Him, I have known Him; for He deigns to walk with me;
And the glory of His presence will be mine eternally.
O the glory of His presence, O the beauty of His face.
I am His and His forever, He has won me by His grace.
On the mountain I have seen Him, Christ my Comforter and Friend,
And the glory of that vision will be with me to the end.
In my failure, sin and sorrow, broken heart and crushed and torn,
I have felt His presence near me, He has all my burdens borne.
In the darkness, in the shadows, with the Saviour I have trod,
Sweet indeed have been the lessons, since I’ve walked alone with God.
The Psalmist in Psalm 17:15 describes what it will be like for us when we are in His presence. “As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness. I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness.” Romans 8:28-29 reminds us as Christians that Christ is in the process of daily conforming us to His image and He uses all sorts of good and seemingly bad things to bring that about.
Jesus concludes the story of the joy of finding the lost coin by likening it to the joy in Heaven over one sinner that repents. Rather than deal with that topic here, I encourage you to go to my REPENTANCE link on this web site for a full treatment of that subject.
One further thought before we conclude this study. I believe the coins could represent the woman (the Christian’s) spiritual gifts and talents. God gives us those gifts for one reason only and that is to use them for His glory. Those who fail to do so often find that they lose their talents and with it their joy. Down in Babylonian Captivity, Judah sighed in Psalm 137 “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? And then Judah along with every backslidden Christian agrees, ” If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her skill. If I do not remember Thee (My God) let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not (Thee) above my chief joy.” But when she found her talents and used them for His glory, God restored the joy that only comes by serving Jesus. What have you lost that needs to be found and given to your Lord and Saviour?
In this story that Jesus told, found in Luke 15:11-32, are three major characters: A loving, forgiving father, a prodigal son and his older bitter brother. In this article we will concentrate our attention on the prodigal son. He certainly pictures a sinner repenting of his sins and coming to God. I believe, this son is also a picture of a Christian who has wandered away from God and destroyed his life in sin, but who repents and returns to His Heavenly Father and receives full forgiveness.
Note in vs 12 that he is willful. He demanded that his father immediately give him his full inheritance. It was as though he wished his father dead. He demanded his independence. He demanded what he considered his rights. He demanded freedom from the restrictions of his father.
His father wisely and lovingly gave in to his demands, gave him his inheritance and let him go. That is a fearful situation in which to find yourself. God did that for rebellious Israel in their wilderness journey to Canaan. Psalm 105:15 says, “He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their souls.” God will give you your freedom also to run from Him and allow you to suffer the consequences. Running from God always appears as freedom, but it always ends in bondage and misery.
Note in vs 13 that this prodigal son wandered as far as he could get from home. He wanted to be totally free to live life recklessly with no restrictions. He’s like the sky diver who jumps and is exhilarated by his freedom until he discovers he has no parachute.
He acts totally unaware that he must face God for his ungodly living. King Solomon wrote to young people about this kind of reckless living in Ecclesiastes 11:9 through 12:1, a sobering passage for every young person to read and ponder.
Luke 15:13 also tells us that he wasted his life in riotous living, such as many young people celebrate on their infamous spring breaks.
God gives us gifts to enjoy and use for His glory. Sinful man perverts and wastes those gifts. He turns hunger to gluttony, thirst to drunkenness, the gift of sight and affection to lust and sexual orgies. The gift of our mind can be used for God’s glory, or it can become the object of our worship. The gift of time and energy can be wasted on self interests.
Satan is always pleased when churches are not fulfilling God’s will; the evangelization of the world and the edification of believers. We are wasting our time, energy and resources when, regardless of our activity, we ignore these core reasons for our existence.
The prodigal son, verse 14 tells us, soon came to want. Waste always leads to want.
According to Psalm 34:10 those who seek God’s will never lack anything, Psalm 23 promises us that if the Lord is our Shepherd, we will lack nothing. On the other hand, those who go their own way, wasting God’s gifts soon come to want. The husks of this world do not satisfy. The road of self-will leads to the garbage dump of sin and desperation. Proverbs 13:15 warns that “the way of the transgressor is hard.”
It wasn’t long before he found himself a slave of the world, feeding pigs; one of the most offensive jobs a Jew could ever imagine doing. We cannot escape slavery. Romans 6:12-23 teaches that each of us finds ourselves serving a master. We either serve our loving Master, the Lord Jesus, or else we find ourselves as slaves of Satan.
This prodigal son soon found himself starving. No man would help him. Ultimately he was forced to share the pigs feeding trough and I’m sure he had to fight the pigs for anything he got. What a contrast to the way God provides for those who love Him, as shown in Psalm 103:1-5
Note, The father was not out in the far country seeking for him. He left him alone to allow his life of rebellion to run its course and for his wayward son to get his fill of the pig slop and the loneliness and misery of his choice. All the time he was praying for his son and watching for any trace of his homecoming. God does not force us to live surrendered to Him, but He controls our circumstances to bring us to desperation and back to Him.
Gradually the prodigal son was awakened by his God-given dissatisfaction. The Bible says “he came to himself”. He was coming to his senses. As he was coming back to his father, a picture of God; he was coming to himself, realizing that he was made to live for God. That’s repentance!
Humble and broken, he sensed his utter unworthiness to receive anything from God. He determined to return home and make a full confession, making no excuses for his sin. There in that far country, he formulated his confession. In Luke 15: 18-19 we read the words that he determined to say to his father. “Father, I have sinned against God and against you, and I am not worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.”
Then he began the long journey home. We’ll discuss the homecoming next time. Just a hint of what lay ahead, He never got a chance to complete the confession he had formulated in his mind.
In the story of the Prodigal son found in Luke 15, we see three major characters: the prodigal son, the loving, forgiving father and the bitter elder brother. In our last article we discussed the prodigal son. In this article we want to concentrate our attention on the amazing, kind, loving, gracious, forgiving father. He, a type of our Heavenly Father, is a picture of what we as earthly fathers should be.
In the last article we looked at the younger son, who dared to demand his inheritance before his father had died. He lived as though his father were already dead. He took his inheritance and squandered it in riotous living, ending up as an outcast of society, even as a hog, eating their food when he could find it. The prodigal son had sunk about as low as any man can go. No more parties with his friends. No money. no friends and now he was on the skid row of life. His life of freedom from his father had turned into crushing bondage.
Then he began to think. The Bible says he came to himself. That is, he began to realize who he was and that God had made him for a purpose. He came to the first step of repentance, coming to himself. Up to that time he was living an insane life with not a thought of anything but his own pleasure.
The Bible says in Jeremiah 51:7 that the whole world is insane apart from God. The sinner lives in his make-believe world, thinking he is in the real world. No, he is not in the real world. Only the Christian knows anything about the real world. The insane live in the world of television soap operas, and rock concerts. They talk about their “reality” programs.” Actually they are living in sheer insanity. Many lost people spend their time in drinking and sexual immorality and drugs. They think they are living it up. Actually they are living in vanity.
The prodigal son came to this realization as he fought for his dinner with the pigs. It was then that his mind turned to his father. What did he know about his father? He knew he was wealthy and generous. He knew that his hired servants were treated well, eating good meals and getting paid more than enough. As he sat there in the pig pen stinking like the pigs and thinking of home, he realized that he had to return home to his father. His only alternative was to die of malnutrition and starvation. He knew his father was not vengeful; but that he was gracious and forgiving. He had observed that in his father all his life.
As he sat there dreaming of home and loved ones, he determined to go home and face his father and the consequences of his sinful rebellion. He had learned that those who walk in pride, God is able to abase. He was about a low as a person could be. He hoped that perhaps his father would be so kind as to give him a job as one of the hired servants. Perhaps over several years, he could be forgiven and get back into the good graces of his father. Perhaps over the years, he could earn enough money to repay his father for a squandered inheritance. So the young man, clothed in his filthy rags, started for home.
He had even memorized the speech of confession he would make to his father. “Father I have sinned against you and against God in Heaven. I am no more worthy to be called your son. Please, make me one of your hired servants?” His confession was genuine. It came from a heart that was broken with remorse for his sin. He deserved no intimacy with his father. He did not even deserve a room in the house. Perhaps there would be a bed for him out in the servant’s quarters. Like the Pharisees of that day and the self-righteous today, he thought that he could possibly work his way into the good graces of his father. That’s what dead religion is. It is attempting to gain favor with God through our good works and through the sacraments of the church.
What happened next was incomprehensible to the Pharisees and perhaps it will be difficult for you to grasp. His father had been going out on the road and watching for him to return. This had probably been going on for days, perhaps for weeks or months. Finally, one day the father caught a glimpse of someone off in the distance. As the traveler drew closer, he began to recognize that this was his lost son. What did he do?
Let me remind you what the father did not do. He did not wait for the wayward son to knock on his door. He did not send a servant to the door and coolly welcome him and tell him to go out to the servant quarters and find a bed for himself. The father did not think within himself, “I knew he would wake up and come home one of these days. Now let him go out to the servant quarters. Let him prove to me how faithful he can be and how hard he can work. Perhaps some day, I will forgive him and restore him as a second-class son. But he has blown it. Things can never again be as they once were. He has shamed and dishonored me. He wasted his inheritance. I have nothing left for him.”
No, that’s not what happened. He gathered up his robes and began to run towards him. Faster and faster he ran as his heart pounded for joy. The father ran to him and fell upon him giving him the biggest bear hug he had ever had. He fell on his neck and kissed him with kisses of acceptance and love. Notice that the prodigal son had not even said a word yet. The fact that he was coming home, spoke volumes to his father.
Remember the planned confession he had memorized? He started out to confess, “Father I have sinned against God and in your sight and am no more worthy to be called your son. “ That’s as far as he got. The father interrupted him. He called to his servants, “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him.” This was like a father’s tuxedo, used only on very special occasions. Put my ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. Bring out the fatted calf and roast it. We’re going to have a celebration tonight. Call the musicians. We’re going to have singing and dancing. This is going to be a night to remember, for this my son was dead and is alive again. He was lost and now is found.” And they began to be merry!
When this gracious, forgiving father had heard the son confess that he had sinned and was unworthy to be called his son, he had heard enough. He did not want to hear his son’s ideas of how he could perhaps earn favor with his father again through his works. He just wanted to pour out his love and grace on his son. The Apostle John in John 1:16 wrote about how God pours out his grace upon us, heaping grace upon grace. That’s what this father did. As soon as he heard his son’s confession, he had heard enough. He heaped his gracious gifts on his son: the restoration of full sonship, the beautiful robe, speaking of the robe of Christ’s righteousness, the signet ring that gave the son power and authority over his financial affairs, shoes on his feet. (Shoes were only worn by the family. The servants wore sandals or went bare-footed.)
The feasting and merriment had only begun. It only begins when we come as sinners to our Heavenly Father, trusting in the merits of Jesus’ shed blood as the full atonement for our sins. The merriment goes on forever and ever. Heaven is a place of eternal joy and celebration of God’s gracious gift of salvation.
It’s too bad the story can’t stop here on a happy note, but there is another son in the family and he is not so happy. We will deal with him in the next article.
Can you imagine the joy of the prodigal son and his father as they gathered for the homecoming feast?
We come now to one sour note in this otherwise beautiful ending to a sad story; the negative response of the older brother. The prodigal’s older brother was missing from the festivities. He was still working out in the fields, fuming at all the love and attention that was being showered on his worthless younger brother and disgusted by his father whom he perceived to be an unfair, sentimental, forgiving “old man”.
First, let’s contrast those two brothers. The younger brother, known as the Prodigal Son, was self-willed, insisting on his freedom from all authority. He wasted his substance and his life and his search for freedom led him to the pig pen of despair. The older brother’s thought was, “He made his bed. Let him lie in it.”
The older brother was an obedient, hard working young man; but now he was ruining things for his father and others by his selfish, bitter, peevish, legalistic spirit. He had no compassion whatsoever for his prodigal brother. He felt only disgust and envy for all the attention his father was showering on his younger brother. To show his disgust he stayed out in the field working, attempting to impress his father with his faithfulness as a worker. Surely his attitude was dampening the joy of the celebration.
I remind you that Jesus has been teaching with his parables what it means to receive sinners and eat with them. That was what the Pharisees were murmuring about. So Jesus answered them with three stories: the joy of a shepherd finding his lost sheep, the joy of a woman finding a lost coin and now the joy of father finding and restoring his lost wayward son. All of these stories show God’s love for repentant sinners.
Now in this third story Jesus shows the hearts of these wicked, proud, self-righteous Pharisees who refused to rejoice with the restoration of lost sinners. The elder brother pictures the Pharisees who stood by suspiciously and angrily while Jesus ate with sinners.
As we proceed in our study of this story we are going to better understand the heart of Christianity. Is it a master/servant relationship or is it a father/son relationship? The older brother, like the Pharisees, had it wrong. Listen to the older brother. “For all these years I’ve been serving you.” “I’ve never neglected a command of yours.” He talked as one who had no comprehension of the father/son relationship. He represents one who perceives Christianity to be a master/servant relationship.
It’s true that every Christian ought to surrender his life to Christ and serve Him faithfully all his life; but that surrender and service should spring from a heart filled with love and gratefulness for our relationship with God as our Heavenly Father. Otherwise, our service originates from a sense of legalism and becomes drudgery. The motto of Columbia Bible College in Columbia, S.C. (now Columbia International University) is “To know Him and to make Him known.” That is the best and most complete motto and mission statement for a Christian that I have ever known. When I found my wife there over 53 years ago, I adopted that motto as my own. It set my purpose and direction as a preacher. If my concentration is on knowing Christ, my glad service will flow from that relationship. That takes all the legalism out of it. It’s a service of love. To emphasize only the service for Christ with Christians and ignore their relationship with Christ tends to produce self-righteous, legalistic Christians.
Let’s look a little closer at this older legalistic son. As the younger son could very well represent a backslidden Christian who has thrown off all restraints and is living as a heathen, so the older son could also represent a backslidden Christian who has no fellowship with his father because of his self-righteous, legalistic attitude.
I tend to believe that both boys represent Christians, rather than lost people, in that they are both sons. The only way one can become a son is to be born a son or adopted as a son. The only way you and I can become sons and daughters of God is to be born again through faith in Christ. So looking at this older son as a legalistic, self-righteous Christian, let’s describe him.
1 He fails to care about sinners or fallen Christians and tends to ignore them.
2. He is suspicious of new converts who have been saved or of backslidden Christians who have returned back to God and he is resentful of the attention given to them. He refuses to rejoice in their conversion and restoration because he feels he is being overlooked and is not being shown the appreciation he thinks he deserves for his faithful service.
3. He has no vital relationship with his Father God, nor with his family of believers. Notice in verse 30 how he refers to his brother as “When this son of yours came” instead of “When my brother came”. That statement shows a disdain for his brother. Because he is relating to his father in a servant/master relationship, rather than a father/son relationship, all his other relationships are ruined. Because he is so focused on LAW; he cannot grasp the concept of GRACE, nor show it in his relationships.
Note finally how the father deals in grace with his legalistic son. Verse 28 tells us that the father came out to the son. When he heard that his eldest son was angry and refused to join them at the feast, he did not send a servant out to persuade him. He did not shout from a distance. He did not command him. Rather he himself came out to his bitter son and dealt with him in grace just as he dealt with his prodigal son in grace. So Jesus came to save self-righteous, legalistic hypocrites as well as flagrant prodigals.
Notice in verse 28 and 29 that though the older son complained that his father had commanded him, the father is not commanding him, but entreating him. The father is not angry with his eldest son who is ruining the party; rather he is broken-hearted for his cold-heartedness. He entreats him just as the Apostle Paul entreats his brother Philemon concerning his dealing with his slave, Onesimus, in Paul’s Epistle to Philemon. The father addresses his bitter son as “son”. The son complained that his father had never given him a party when, in reality, all that he owned was his. The father reminded his eldest son, ” You are always with me.”
Why do we sometimes complain that we do not get all the rewards and glory that we think we deserve for our faithful service? It’s because we get our eyes off God’s grace and His glory and concentrate our gaze on ourselves. Many preachers or Christian workers have gone this route and in the closing years of their ministry ruined a life time of otherwise faithful service.
Jesus is entreating the Pharisees as he entreats us, whether prodigals or Pharisees,
“Come in from the far country, bankrupt, broken and ruined by sin.”
“Come in from your field of service, exhausted, burned-out and miserable because you don’t feel you have received what you believe you deserve” In the Father’s house is a banquet and in the words of Peter, there awaits for us “An inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled, that fades not away. reserved in Heaven” for all who live by faith in God’s grace and not by attempting to gain merit through our own works.