Luke 15:11-32 (Fourth Sunday in Lent—Series C)
“How God Treats Us”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
March 6, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson from Luke 15:
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But 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. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”
I was blessed with a really, really good Dad. He was truly a model of a Christian husband and father, and I say that with no exaggeration. I’m not the only witness that would tell you that. No, he wasn’t perfect. He didn’t do it all right. But he did it all with love and care, with his family’s best interests always in mind and heart. We never lacked for the things that we needed. We never lacked for love and support. He had a hard time saying “No” to my brother and I when we really, really wanted something, and always seemed to pull off the impossible when it came to getting us the exact Christmas present we asked for, even if it meant going to 5 stores all around the area to get it. He loved us, and he showed us in his own way, and for that I am grateful. And I miss him so much.
I know that all earthly fathers do not show that same love and care to their families. That is one of the great tragedies of sin—broken, hurt-filled, unhealthy relationships. But no matter the type of earthly father we have, you and I do have a heavenly Father who is perfect. We have a heavenly Father who has an extraordinarily crazy love for you and me.
That love of God the Father is illustrated for us by Jesus in our text this morning. The prodigal son usually takes center stage. The parable even gets its title from him. But today we want to focus on the father in the text, the father who stands in for God our heavenly Father.
The father Jesus describes for us is simply incredible. He defies all logic. To begin with, the father is horrendously insulted by his younger son who asked him to divide the boys’ inheritance and to give him his share of the estate. The inheritance isn’t to be handed over until the father is dead. Yet this disrespectful son asked for it now, while his father is clearly alive. Realize what this amounts to! In effect, the younger son is saying to the father, “Drop dead. I want what’s coming to me now.” As hard as it is to imagine in our culture, what the young son was asking was the same as saying, “Would you please die so that I can freely take what would be bequeathed to me?”
Ouch! How rude! How insensitive! How completely disrespectful! The younger son totally despised the love and care of his father. Don’t we do that to our heavenly Father, as well? Every time we sin, we reject the love and care of our Father in heaven. Each time we sin against His commandments we are saying to Him, “Father, drop dead. I want to do this my way. I want what should really be mine—this pleasure, this feeling, this thing.” Our sinful rebellion against God and His Word is our telling the Lord, “You are dead to me. I don’t want your love and care. I want to love and care for myself.” We call it pride, selfishness, greed, lust, desire. It’s all about me. “Give me the share of the estate that belongs to me.”
Now I don’t remember my Dad ever taking a lot of lip from me or my brother. He simply wouldn’t put up with it. I can’t imagine the father in this parable taking this kind of disrespectful attitude from his younger son. Nor can I fathom God putting up with the sinful garbage we throw at him day by day. Yet, the father in Jesus’ parable does! In fact, as if the heinous insult never happened, he divided his property between both sons. This is unbelievable! It is insane. This just isn’t done! This kind of action has never been taken by a father in the past. What kind of father is this? A father whose expression of love and mercy is a gift beyond compare, a father who was insulted and treated as if he were dead who responds with such tremendous grace.
Remind you of anyone? This is what our heavenly Father is like. We rebel, give Him attitude, disrespect and dishonor the Lord with our sins, and He still loves us. He doesn’t just tolerate us and hope we’ll eventually go away or drop dead. He loves us with grace and mercy—giving us the very things that we don’t deserve, as did the prodigal son’s father. The boy deserved nothing—squat! Yet the father in love and mercy grants the request. I wish I knew why. Jesus doesn’t give us the father’s reasoning other than to indicate to us that it was done out of love when love wasn’t what was deserved.
Long parable short, the younger son made a quick deal with some unscrupulous person who helped him turn his property into cash. The boy took his liquid assets into a faraway country and blew it all. He squandered it in reckless living, hit the absolute bottom of the barrel—a Jewish boy feeding Gentile pigs during a famine. This is as bad as it can get—humiliation, a scandal to his family, his village; unclean, an outcast. So he decided to save-face. He’ll go back home, admit that he blew it and sinned against heaven (God) and before you (dad), and request to be a hired-hand. He knows he can no longer be treated as a member of the family—it’s too late for that. But at least he would have food and shelter and some spending cash.
But sure enough, the father acts unpredictably again with outlandish love and mercy. First, he granted his son’s desire for his inheritance. Now, he accepts the boy fully back into the household with joy as his son! The father expresses his complete reconciliation and forgiveness and acceptance publically, before the son ever gets to utter a word of “I’m sorry.” The sinful outcast and rebel is received, without hesitation, as a son who is overwhelmed by the father’s grace.
Is that not how God treats you and me? Were you and I not dead and lost, in the reckless living of sin? Were we not worthy to be called sons and daughters of God because of our sinful living? Indeed! But God the Father treats us prodigals not as we really deserve, but by showering on us love and mercy. We read in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, [God] nevertheless made you alive with [Christ], having forgiven all your transgressions” (Col. 2:13 NET). God the Father restores to us full “sonship,” full family-rights. Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
Sin has separated us from our Father in heaven. We took what we could get from Him—His gifts of body and soul—and went away into the far country of transgression to do as we pleased in reckless living. Yet, we have an all embracing Father. Through Jesus’ death that purchased the forgiveness of our sins, we have a restored relationship with our Father in heaven. In His Son, Jesus puts on us the robe of righteousness that covers our sins. He invites us to the celebration feast of His Supper where we receive from Him, in the eating and the drinking of Jesus’ body and blood, “given and shed for you,” the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and the strengthening of our faith-relationship with our Triune God.
A pastor was called to see a man dying of a terrible disease. In his youth the man had received a good Christian training, but later had turned his back on the church. His story was the story of the prodigal son. Poverty and disgusting disease brought him low. In his misery, he thought of “his Father’s house.” The pastor shared with him the words of our merciful God, which are able to save for eternity every repentant sinner. The man confessed his sins. He received the absolution of Christ extended to him in the Word of the Gospel and fell asleep in Jesus.
In Christ, God has forgiven you your sins, your rebellion, your pride. He receives you as His beloved sons and daughters, members of His own family. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rejoice: “This child of mine was dead and is now alive; was lost and is found.” That’s extraordinary love, mind-blowing mercy. But that’s how God treats us all. He loved you and me with such a love that He gave His one-of-a-kind Son to suffer and die for our sins so that we might inherit His kingdom and be His children and heirs of life forever. Amen.