So just quickly, I want to explain some of my thought process on what I speak on. So there are usually a few big themes that I feel passionate about per year. And I’ll often times make these bigger, farther reaching series around those.
And then there are other times of the year where there isn’t a big series going on, and maybe we’re in between events or series, and part of the preaching team is traveling, etc, where we just have a week flapping in the breeze by itself. This is one of those weeks.
And during these weeks, one thing that I like to do is to return back to the teachings of Jesus and see what we can learn and maybe relearn.
And certainly, for me, one of my favorite parts of scripture are the parables of Jesus.
What are the parables of Jesus? Well, if you’re new to scripture, these are clever little stories that Jesus tells.
Some times he offered explanations, some times times he didn’t.
The parables are like little “M. Night Shyamalan” movies because a lot of them have twist endings.
But the parables invite us to look at the world in a new way. – Through the lens of Grace.
Read bible – associate – good guy.
When we read bible, we tend to associate with good guy. Of course we’re the good guy! Brave Israelites & the wicked philistines. Of course we’re the israelites!!! And who’s the bad guy? Well your neighbor, boss, friend, spouse. Someone from another religion.
Parables – challenge things we already thought we knew. Teach us not only about the Kingdom, but also the King!
Jesus told parables not just to help you see, but to help you see slowly.
Jesus was smart. Of all the other things he was, he was smart too. The Kingdom of God is so radically different than anything else that if it hits us too square, it freaks us out. It scares us.
Emily Dickenson – Tell all the truth but tell it slant.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.
Parables is one of the ways Jesus dazzles gradually. Because if he didn’t, his teachings were so radical that we’d reject it.
Some people will never learn anything for this reason: because they understand everything too soon. (Alexander Pope 18th century poet)
We tend to think of the truth as something we’ve already found. Boom! Done! Now I know the truth! So glad that’s done. We file it under the category ‘Things I know.’ But parables come and challenge what we thought was already clear.
Jesus never used the word Grace
You may not know this, but Jesus never once uses the word ‘grace’ in the gospels. Not once. But his LIFE was the embodiment of grace. Jesus was the grace of God walking in sandals. Everything that Jesus did was an expression of grace. – Turning water into wine, healing the leper, raising the dead. Everything Jesus did was an expression of grace.
Title: A Tale of Two Sons
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. (Luke 15:1)
But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2)
The primary scandal of Jesus was his table fellowship.
There’s something sacred about dinner – Not you cramming a quarter pounder into your face in your car.
There’s something primal about sharing a meal with someone where you’re sitting there, eyeball-to-eyeball.
There’s something very human about it. We all need food. And you can only look so nice when you eat.
Something in act of sharing a meal that kinda puts us all on the same playing field. Kinda levels us out.
So it makes sense then why the primary scandal of Jesus’s ministry is the people that he chooses to have table fellowship with.
It’s odd, that for all the things he did that we find offensive and shocking. More than anything he taught, more than any miracle, it was this “That guy will eat with anybody. He will share a table with ANYBODY.”
Think of Zacchaeus, the ‘wee little man’, Jesus sought him out and what’s the first thing he did with him? “Hey man, get out of that tree so I can tell you what a horrible sinner you are!!!” No. “Get down here, I must dine at your house tonight.”
Jesus in response to this criticism in Luke 15, tells 3 stories.
- The parable of the lost sheep, where he Shepard leaves the 99 in search of the 1.
- The parable of the lost coin, where a woman has 10 silver coins and loses one and turns her house upside down looking for one.
- And lastly, he tells one of his most famous parables and that’s the parable of the prodigal son.
Which is just an awful title.
Those titles were not in the original greek, some guy along the way was just trying to help you, and he did a great job, but not with this one.
If you have a bible that says ‘Prodigal son’ or ‘Lost Son’, I would love you for add an ’S’ to the last word, to make it “sons”. B/C it’s absolutely clear that it’s a story not about 1 son, but about 2.
And you could say it like this: Act 1 is about the younger son, and Act 2 is about the Older son.
And there’s just as much, if not more, emphasis put on the elder son, who never left.
In fact, let’s just read it, and I think that will become clear to you.
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. (Luke 15:11)
The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. (Luke 15:12)
“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. (Luke 15:13)
After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. (Luke 15:14)
So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. (Luke 15:15)
He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. (Luke 15:16)
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! (Luke 15:17)
I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. (Luke 15:18)
I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ (Luke 15:19)
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. (Luke 15:20)
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (Luke 15:21)
“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. (Luke 15:22)
Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. (Luke 15:23)
For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:24)
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. (Luke 15:25)
So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. (Luke 15:26)
‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ (Luke 15:27)
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. (Luke 15:28)
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. (Luke 15:29)
But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (Luke 15:30)
“ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. (Luke 15:31)
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.’ ” (Luke 15:32)
The younger son asking for his inheritance early would have been deeply, profoundly hurtful to the father.
This is an inheritance that the son would not have inherited until his father was dead.
Even in this day and age, can you imagine going to your dad and saying ‘Hey if you wouldn’t mind hooking me up with all your stuff now, that would be awesome.’
And it was even worse in this day and age. Scholars tell us that the undertone here is ‘I wish you were dead.’ It’s saying ‘I want your stuff, but I don’t want you.’ ‘You are just a means to an end. And I’m sick on suffering in this relationship with you, I want my stuff now.’
Heavily Patriarchal Cultural Please keep in mind that this is a heavily patriarchal cultural. With these strong, disciplinarian fathers who would more than likely give you a bloody nose and a swift kick in the pants than a penny of your inheritance.
And what’s really interesting, is the father goes ahead and gives it to him. Not just him, but to his brother too.
It didn’t occur to me until recently, but in a lot of ways, I think this is very questionable parenting.
It doesn’t ’t say anything about these 2 sons taking a Dave Ramsey course. – They don’t understand about mutual funds.
This isn’t the point here, but I do think that this speaks of the radical freedom that humans have.
In that, in spite of the fact that God loves us deeply, he doesn’t stop us from doing what we’ve set out to do.
For a long time I missed how shameful this would have been for the father. This inheritance was primarily selling land. So not only in his father humiliated in his own family, he’s humiliated in the community.
The village sees this father selling off all his land to give it to his sons, who in their own ways, will both abandon him.
And the son isn’t rejecting the father, he’s rejecting this entire community, this entire way of life. There’s no coming back from this.
Son leaves & squanders all money.
So the son leaves, and squanders all the money. And it’s easy to miss just how intense this partying was. I understand wasting a few hundred bucks, but this guy partied through his ENTIRE INHERITANCE. His entire inheritance from a father who has hired servants.
I don’t know how many prostitutes you need to burn through that money, but it’s more than 5.
And when he’s broke, he’s BROKE. For a Jew, you don’t get more unclean than working with the pigs. – He’s at the bottom. All the way.
And so he sees himself at the bottom. The lowest of the low and he realizes “Even my fathers servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death.”
For me personally, I know other people interpret this differently and that’s fine, I don’t think of this as some profound moment of repentance. He’s starving to death. He’s going home just because he needs to survive.
He doesn’t plan on going home and throwing himself on his fathers mercy.
No, he has a plan, he’s gonna come back as a hired servant. So he’s still wanting independence. He’s still a free man. He’s still not wanting to be dependent on his father.
He goes back home with a good business plan, but still keeping his distance and his independence.
Which leads to this incredible scene.
The prodigal son starts heading home. And what we find is the father has been waiting for him all along. The father has been searching for his son.
And as soon as he sees him, he breaks out into a run. And the significance of that can be really lost on us.
Through many cultures, running is not something that a dignified man does.
Aristotle : ‘Great men never run in public.’
In a community like this, this dignified, wealthy man would NEVER be seen running in public. It would be undignified.
Here’s why this is important: This son is coming home and expecting the rejection not just of his father, but of the entire community.
Can you imagine what it would be like for this son to come over the hill and look up and see his father sprinting toward him?
He’s expecting to be humiliated. Maybe people would be booing, and laughing and mocking.
Remember: he didn’t just reject the father, he’s rejected this entire community, this entire way of life.
There would be no way to protect this son from humiliation. UNLESS you have a father who was willing to humiliate himself even worse.
The father saved his son from humiliation by doing something even more humiliating himself.
The father makes a fool of himself and nobody is talking about the son anymore.
The only way the father could save his son from this humiliation is by receiving him in a humiliating way.
And he meets him on the outskirts of town where he’s not gonna hear anyone else’s opinion. It’s just the father and the son. And now the talk of the town is not the son but the father.
This is a picture of the cross.
We, in our sin, are completely humiliated, but Jesus saves us by doing something even more humiliating.
It says in Hebrews 12 that Jesus endured the humiliation of the cross.
And someone here needs to hear that.
Father comes running
The father comes running, and I believe, this is when the heart of the son changes.
He doesn’t even get to deliver his cool speech. – He doesn’t get to show his cool powerpoint presentation.
His father is hugging him and kissing him.
It would make sense for the son to kiss the father’s feet and show who’s in charge, but the father doesn’t even let him get to any of that, because the father is showering him with kisses.
Can you see here that it’s the father here that’s doing all the heavy lifting.
The son needs to do 1 simple thing: Swallow his pride.
The one thing that was required of this boy: He stop running and instead allow himself to be loved by the father.
He has to accept the fact that he’s accepted.
And that’s our test as well.
Or are we the people who say ‘I will work off the debt. I’ll do it by myself as a hired servant.’?
Father tells – servants – bring 3 things:
The father tells one of his servant to bring 3 things:
1. ‘Best Robe!’
First thing he says ‘Bring him the best robe!’
What do you think the best robe is? It’s the fathers robe.
And this is the thing that’s gonna let this kid walk around in the village and not get hassled for the rest of his life.
The other people might not like it, but that robe says ‘I’m covered in my fathers name, in my fathers authority.’
Just remember, this is not Joseph in the Old Testament, the sweet kid and his father gives him his robe of many colors, no this is the kid who does everything wrong, who betrays the father, who wounds the father, who alienates himself from the community.
2. ‘Ring for Finger’
Then he says bring a ring for his finger.
This is most likely a signet ring – it represents his fathers authority.
3. ‘New Shoes’
Then lastly – bring him some new shoes.
The hired servants don’t have shoes. And he doesn’t want anyone mistaking his son for a hired servant. – Everyone’s gonna know that by those shoes.
And then he tells them to cook the fattened calf.
Now this is huge. It’s not a lamb, it’s not a goat, it’s the calf. Which is large.
And in this culture, the entire calf would have to be eaten.
I don’t know if you’ve thought about this, but there’s no freezers here, so they’d have to get to work eating this calf. And it would be a LOT to eat.
He’s inviting the whole town to celebrate.
He’s not ashamed of his son. Where he quietly welcomes him back. No he throws a huge party to celebrate.
And everyone celebrates. Except for his brother.
We tend to think of the younger son as the ‘lost’ one and the older son is the one with the bad attitude.
But the older brother is lost too. Maybe even more lost.
The younger son humiliates the father, but so does the older son.
We just read it: By the time the older son arrives, the house is already filled with guests. They’re already celebrating.
But this elder son refuses to even come into the house.
And while everyone is celebrating inside, this son is fighting with his dad outside. While all the guests are in the house.
He doesn’t wait till the party is over, he’s fighting with his dad outside WHILE the party is happening.
See, his dad is humiliated all over again.
In act 1, he was shamed by his youngest son, in act 2, he’s shamed by his oldest son.
And this is amazing: He responds to the eldest son with the same kindness and tenderness as he did towards the youngest son.
“My SON, don’t you understand that all of this is yours? You could have had this anytime you wanted.”
This is an incredibly kind and gentle father with terrible kids!
The younger son rebels against his father outside the house, the elder son rebels against his father inside the house.
And he extends the same grace to both.
Here’s one big difference: The younger, outwardly sinful son can swallow his pride, the elder, outwardly righteous son can’t. Or, at least, we don’t see it when the story ends.
The parable ends with the outwardly sinful son back at the table and the elder son, the “righteous” son still outside.
Isn’t that amazing?!
The younger son receives the grace of the father. The elder son is still trying to ‘earn it’. You can see it in his words “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders” – See he’s still trusting himself. And that’s why it’s actually HARDER for him to receive the love of the Father. – Notice that when he’s mad, he doesn’t even refer to his dad as ‘father’.
The parable ends with the fate of the elder son still undecided.
Talking to Pharisees === Older brother.
Which seems weird, but when you understand the context is makes perfect sense. These pharisees that he’s talking to, they ARE the older brother. He’s asking them as the older brother, are you willing to come sit at the table too?
The prostitutes and tax-collectors are at the table, will they come too? Or is the fact that “those people” are at the table make it too hard for you to come too?
Do you have a problem with the fellowship at the Lord’s table?
Because everyone who sits here, sits because of Grace, not because of their own goodness.
Closing statement: The “Parable of the Prodigal Son” is really a story about two sons, equally lost, and equally dependent on the grace of the father. The question of the story is: can they lay down their pride and come to the table? Can you? Because at the end of the day, the only people that make it into the kingdom of God are people who lay down their pride and receive the grace of the father.
As I close, you know, while it’s possible to identify with both of the sons, most people will identify most strongly with one or the other.
Identify – Younger Son Maybe for you, you identify with the younger, wayward son, and what God would want to communicate to you is that he’s just wants you home. And he doesn’t need you to spend the next 10 years groveling, and woe is me, and trying to work your way back in to the family. No no no, your father loves you. Let go of the past, put on your robe and your ring and your shoes, and just be a son. Just be a daughter. And be secure in how much the father loves you.
Identify – Elder Son Or maybe for you, you identify with the elder son, and you struggle showing mercy to certain types of people. And you feel like God’s goodness towards them isn’t fair.
And there’s tons of different examples of this. But one very common one that I see is that I’ve counsiled numerous people that have left the Christian community, have left church. Not because of anything to do with God, but because they didn’t like who they sitting with. It’s like “Those people are just too different than me” (often times it’s something political but not always.) – Where somebody in the room will make them mad and they just find it easier to stop coming. And I’m like “Did you forget that NEITHER of you deserve a seat at Jesus’s table? Neither of you.” And they’re like “Well I don’t like sitting with them.” And I’m like “It’s not about them! Focus on how amazing it is that God knows every evil thing about you, and still wants you there.”
Either way, this story, as well as so many of Jesus’s parables is simply about receiving grace. Grace says that you are completely undeserving, yet completely accepted.