Sermon for Lent IV

Luke 15:11-32

“Our Loving Father”


YOLO. The online definition  for YOLO is:  abbreviation for “you only live once“: used, especially on social media, to mean that you should do things that are enjoyable or exciting, even if they are silly or slightly dangerous: Finished the whole carton of ice cream. YOLO.

Perhaps that YOLO is the attitude brought to bear by the younger son in the parable that Jesus tells.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is in Luke 15 is preceded by the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin. In both cases, something of value is lost, sought after, and found.  Jesus is demonstrating the tremendous value of each and every soul that is rescued from Satan’s grasp.  “Just so I tell you, there is joy before the angels in heaven over one sinner who repents.”  Luke 15:10

Jesus then goes on to tell the story of the man and his two sons.

When the younger [son] said to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me,” you might say that his message was “You Only Live Once”.  Life isn’t satisfying here with Pops so I am going to see what’s out there in the world that I’m missing.

Jesus tells us that the father answered his son’s request and divided his property between them.  He runs through all of the money in a short time with wild living. Party on man!!  I’ve got dad’s inheritance.  You can only imagine the things he must of have done to poor through that kind of money so quickly.  He lived for the moment.  You only live once!  He took pleasure in the stuff that money can buy.  While the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what he did, you can imagine that gambling, prostitutes, alcohol, and other vices were a part of squandering his inheritance.

Jesus then takes the younger son down into the pit of despair.  He burned through the money in foolish and wasteful ways.  Finally, a drought hit and he was desperately poor for the first time in his life.  Jesus takes this youth down into the depths of desperation by portraying him as caring for a herd of ceremonially unclean animals.  The pigs were walking reminders of the filth of his very soul.  The young rebel even hungered for the pods that the hogs grubbed up from the earth.  I remember growing up on a hog farm where the garbage from the table ended up in the slop pail which the pigs loved. Yuck!

It is in this deepest depth of despair that this son works out one last plan.  He will return home to his father, but not as his son.  Instead, he will simply ask to be hired as an ordinary worker.  Perhaps his father would overlook the shame and mortification he had brought to his family and allow him to be a lowly laborer.  His shame would be enormous, but at least he would be alive.

Here we see the father throw his dignity out the window.  Jesus said, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”

Now, we are used to seeing people jog for their health … or just for fun.  In first century Israel, men wore robes, not jogging outfits.  If you want to run in a robe, you have to lift it up so it doesn’t trip you.  So, think of an old guy with his robes hiked up just a bit … spindly legs sticking out and flailing away … sandals flapping on the ground … hair and beard fluttering in the wind.  It’s embarrassing.  The people who saw the father run would be thinking something like, “Look at that old coot with his robes flapping in the breeze like that.  His family really needs to find a way to keep him from going out in public.”  Maybe his friends would look the other way and pretend they didn’t see him.  His servants would be following along wondering why this guy can’t act his age.

As the son approached the village, he prepared for the gauntlet of ridicule and hatred he must endure as he makes his way through the village. I am a failure. I tried to make it big in the world and failed miserably.  Then, what did he see?  His own father … running the gauntlet of shame in reverse … taking the shame and embarrassment of the village onto himself.  He further demeaned himself by embracing and kissing this rebellious son.

Then the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”  This is more than just a father concerned about the wellbeing of his son.  By instructing the servants to dress his son, he is reinstating the son as master over the servants.  The father’s every activity works to honor this wayward son.  Now, instead of walking through the village in shame, the son walks in honor at his father’s side.  Let the party begin!

Here we have an illustration of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Our sin showed utter disrespect for God.  Like the son, we desire instant gratification. I want it now.  “You Only Live Once” we say.  We live like there is no tomorrow and we are accountable to no one.  We live as if God is no player in our lives.  We give in to the devil’s temptations with our lustful glance or hateful words.  We withhold truth for our own benefit or we invest in the latest greatest object, electronic or engine driven, and think nothing of the pittance that we offer to God in what is supposed to be joy-filled first fruits.  We deny that we are guilty because we deserve that new car or boat.  After all, You Only Live Once.  We deserve eternal separation from Him.

Never the less, He was willing to undergo a lot more shame than running with his robes flapping in the breeze.  Our dear Savior endured spitting and beating and flogging.  Then He hung naked on a cross for all the world to see.  He endured the forsakenness of our sin.  He did all this so that we could live in honor forever at His side.  His embarrassment and shame earned eternal life for us.  That is what this story has taught us so far.  Here is God willing to undergo any shame in order to bring us back into His family.

But the story isn’t over.  What about the older son?  Although the older son stayed home, he really had no respect for his father.  He should have gone in immediately to join his father as host.  Instead, he showed suspicion by asking an outsider what was happening.  Even though his father humiliated himself by coming out to him, the older son refused to come to the party.  The older son further shamed his father by arguing with him within ear shot of the guests.  The older son is now the one who has embarrassed his father.  He is in the process of bringing shame on himself, his father, his family, and the village.  Although he has not run off, he is not all that different than the younger son.

Once again, the father humiliates himself in order to restore the relationship with his older son.  This older son is not showing respect that is due to his father, or to his now restored brother. The father begs him to join the party … to welcome back his brother.  A father should not have to beg his son.  The son should be willing to serve the father.  Instead, the father is ready to serve the son.

Jesus didn’t say what the older brother did.  You see the facts that Jesus illustrated with this story are still going on.  The older brother represented the Pharisees and anyone who resents it when the Holy Spirit brings sinners into the family of God.  Some of those Pharisees will reconsider and rejoice that Jesus receives sinners and eats with them.  Other Pharisees will turn away in rejection and plot to kill Jesus.  In the terms of the parable: sometimes the older son will join the party and other times the older son will kill the father.

Not only does that older brother represent the scribes and the Pharisees, but he also represents many people who live today.  This story even causes us to ask some hard questions about ourselves.  How does our pride make us like the older brother?  Are we willing to miss out on God’s gifts because we don’t get our own way?  Do we actually think that our agenda is superior to God’s agenda?  Is the agenda of the culture around us more important than the agenda laid out in God’s Word?  How will the story end for us?

At times we get down and eat with the pigs in our vile and atrocious sins like the first son.  At other times we try to make ourselves look holy and righteous in and of ourselves like the second son.  Regardless, you have a Heavenly Father who comes rushing out toward your sinfulness, as God comes to earth in the person of Jesus and lavishly takes your sins into Himself and dies for you. He was crushed and bruised for your sin. “For our sake He made Him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:21)  Because we worship a living Savior who defeated sin and death by His third day resurrection, you are forgiven.  Yours is the eternal banquet prepared for you.  We have a foretaste of that eternal banquet today as we receive Christ in bread and wine in His Holy Supper.

I guess we could agree with the statement, “You Only Live Once” in this way.  We live knowing that we belong to the Lord, that He gave His very life for us sinners.  But you only live one, you are alive in Christ.   We come in humility as the younger son, seeking to be restored.  As a baptized child of God be assured that life in this world is not all there is.  Know that Jesus loves you.  He lived for you.  He died for you.  He rose again for you.  He is coming back for you. As a forgiven sinner, you have new and eternal life as you confess your sin and look to Jesus.  All who die with faith in Christ don’t really die, they are asleep in Jesus as their soul is immediately with the Lord and on the last day their glorious body will be resurrected to live in Christ’s presence forever.  Your heavenly Father gives you His robe of righteousness, the ring of forgiveness, and sacrifice of the Lamb that you are forever restored unto Him.  Thanks be to God!