Have you ever lost something of great value to you? How did you feel? I’ll tell you the story of a man who had a Bible that he loved more than anything else he owned. It wasn’t an expensive bible; it wasn’t made of the best leather, it didn’t have the highest quality binding, and it long ago lost that “new” feel. It was worn. It’s cover was limp and supple, pages were tattered and falling out, across numerous pages was bright highlighter colors, criss-crossing lines, and scribbled notes. (Someone once said “A well-worn Bible is the sign of a soul that is not well-worn.”) You could see there was a love of this Bible, it had brought many riches to its owner’s soul in dark early morning study or a quick lunch break devotion. Not a day went by when its pages weren’t hovered over intently. And the more its pages wore out the more its owner’s soul was renewed. For this owner, perhaps nothing else owned was of more value.
Then one snowy day it happened. Pulling into work, he reached for his Bible that went everywhere with him. But it wasn’t there on the passenger seat. A quick look around and worry set in: he remembered he left it on the car roof when he pulled out of his driveway. So he raced back to where he started to sift his bare hands through the freezing snow along the roadside. After a while his heart began to sink: it was obvious he wasn’t going to find it. It was lost.
In Luke 15 Jesus tells 3 parables and all three focus on losing something of great value, finding it, and celebrating. Jesus tells these three parables as a response to the Pharisees because they were criticizing him for allowing sinners to associate with him. Something they would never do. In these 3 parables Jesus is highlighting the wrong heart they had, and how different they were from God. God seeks the lost sinners and rejoices in their repentance. The Pharisees could care less. And that was a problem. For all their religion they had no likeness to God. “Oh God keep us from the deception of outward religion that never touches us inwardly! Keep us from using your religion to conceal how unlike you we really are!”
The third parable is the famous Prodigal Son. A man has two sons, the younger one demands his inheritance while his father is still alive, his father gives it to him, he runs off to a far away land and blows it on wild living, ends up hiring himself out as a servant and living with pigs, eating pig food. Then it says, “he came to his senses.” And so last week we examined his repentance and found a picture of what true, godly repentance actually looks like. This week I want to look at Rejoicing In Repentance and Resenting Repentance.
REJOICING IN REPENTANCE (20b-24)
Real repentance causes celebration. Verses 20b-24… Real repentance results in rejoicing.
Imagine how the father felt when his son walked off with his cart loaded up with his share of the inheritance. The betrayal, the pain, the heartache, the fear. “But I loved him so much. Everything I had was his. Why would he leave? I did everything for him. How could he do this? Will he come back? Will he come back alive? Where is he going?” Can you imagine the prayers? “Oh God please watch over him. Please don’t let him come into any danger.” How many times had the older son and the servants and the mother heard the father weeping over, praying for and wondering about his youngest son?
But you learn a lot about this father, and about God, as you read verses 20-24. The father saw him coming back while he was a long way off. This is the part for me that nearly puts me in tears every time I read it. The only way he could see him while he was still a long way off is if he was looking. The father watched down the road every day! “Where’s dad?” the older son would ask their mother, or “Where’s the boss” one of the servants would ask. “Probably at the driveway looking down the road again.” Maybe he held some memento of his son while peering down the long road. In the morning he looked before he got breakfast. In the afternoon he looked while working. At night he looked one last time before blowing out the lamp.
APPLICATION: Look for their repentance. Pray for, hope for, plead for, watch for their coming to their senses and coming home. Never stop looking down the road and looking for them coming back.
Then look at how the father’s response is: his heart is filled with compassion. Compassion is that word for “pity,” and it is a Greek word that refers to the spleen, and so it has the idea of in the deepest inner part of who you are, in your core, you feel pity and compassion. It’s the kind of feeling inside that is stirred up by seeing the plight of someone else and that they don’t have what it takes. They’ve lost, they’ve been beaten, they’re struggling, their down and out in the worst way and destitute. And this kind of pity is powerful on you because it refuses to let you do nothing when you see the other person in their trouble. The word is used to describe Jesus when he saw the crowds and decided to heal their sick, blind and diseased. He had compassion when he saw the hungry crowds who followed him but for days hadn’t had anything to eat. When a widow’s only son had died and the funeral was in process it says in Luke 7:13, “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” And he raised the kid up from the dead!
The same word describes the father at the sight of his son: compassion. His heart “went out” to him in love, and a desire to help him. Why would he feel pity like this? Why would he feel compassion? Because even at such a long ways away the boy must’ve looked pathetic. The father must have seen clearly from way off that his son did not return with all the luxury he left with. He saw his son ragged, dejected, timid, scrawny from malnutrition, dirty, smelling, looking pathetic with not even two pennies to rub together. And his heart went out to him.
Think about this: the father was not filled with vindictiveness or resentment. He didn’t look down his nose at him and rube his son’s nose in it: “Ah, I knew this is how it would end. Coming back with your tail between your legs, huh? How did all that work out for you?” None of that hurt being expressed in pride. He didn’t see him way off, and then turn around and pretend to be busy and not notice. “Oh, its you. I didn’t even see you arrive.”
Instead it says two powerful things: he ran to his son. He ran. The old man ran. In my mind I imagine this elderly guy hiking his robe up and running like Tom Cruise! But it also says his heart was filled with compassion, bursting into powerful affection. Once he gets to his son he grabs him and swoops him up into a bear hug, never wanting to let him go, showering him with kisses. How many nights had it been since he’d seen his son? You better believe he knew exactly how many. And each one of those days he’d prayed for, dreamed for, hoped for, begged for the chance to see and hold his son one more time.
And then the party begins. He doesn’t even hear his son’s speech. His son had been working on that groveling speech the whole journey home and his dad interrupted him, poo-pooed it all, and starts snapping his fingers and barking orders to get a big party started. Celebration. “I tell you that there will be more rejoicing in heaven in front of the angels when one sinner repents” Jesus said earlier.
Real repentance causes celebration. Do we hope for, pray for, long for the repentance of others. And do we burst with joy when they do?
RESENTING REPENTANCE (25-30)
The older brother is upset that the younger brother is being celebrated. In the first two stories there was nobody who resented any of the celebrations. Jesus waits til the 3rd story to introduce that someone resented all the celebrating. Why? I think its because the Bible says every matter must be established on the testimony of 2-3 witnesses. Each of these 3 parables were witnesses that were establishing some truth: the truth that God rejoices in the repentance of lost sinners. And Jesus, the masterful teacher and storyteller, tells two very positive stories that really bring out the “rightness” and “correctness” of rejoicing over lost things. By the time he gets to the 3rd story everyone is seeing that it is right to rejoice in lost things being found, and that God rejoices in lost things being found. So that at the very end, when the story doesn’t end with joy, but with a resentful big brother, everyone can see how “wrong” his reaction is. And it brings his stories full circle, so that the end of the chapter makes its way back to the beginning of the chapter: the Pharisees are not like God. Just like the older brother’s reaction was not like the father’s reaction, the Pharisees reaction is not like God’s. God rejoices in seeing sinners repent. The Pharisees resent it. Jesus wanted them to see that for all their “being God’s spokesmen” they weren’t like Him one bit.
Let me pull several points out for us:
First, this older brother never realized that all his father’s wealth was always there for him. “You never gave me a goat!” To which His Father might have replied: “Did you ever ask?!” He lived missing the great blessings that were always there for him for the taking. He lived like a servant when the privileges of a son were his. We have to wonder if he had taken those blessings that belonged to him as a member of the family, if maybe his heart would not have been full of more joy. I can’t help but think that if he had opened his eyes to all the generosity of his father towards him he just might have been the first one to run out to meet his brother.
APPLICATION: Christians, live like you’re rich! You are! Know your blessings! Live like God has been rich towards you! Ephesians 1:3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Or Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up fro us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
APPLICATION: we treat others how we perceive God treats us. The measure of “heart-generosity” you have towards others will be determined by how willing you are to see the generosity of God towards you. Perhaps we are vindictive, critical, judgemental, unforgiving, small-hearted and resentful – stingy hearted towards others because we don’t yet get the largesse of God towards us. Christians: OPEN YOUR EYES!
Second, the older brother was missing the point of mercy. The point of mercy is to withhold the punishment someone deserves. The companion of mercy – grace – is giving good to someone who doesn’t deserve it. The older brother wanted punishment, retribution, humiliation, shame to be waiting for that other son if he ever came home. He was angry at his brother for how he treated their father, but what really made him mad was watching how his father treated his younger brother. The younger brother shouldn’t have done what he did, and, the father shouldn’t have done what he did!
ILLUSTRATION: A mother once approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice and justice demanded death.
“But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.”
“But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied.
“Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.”
“Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” And he spared the woman’s son.
Third, he had this warped view that his own obedience hadn’t gotten him anything while his brother’s shameful living got him a party. For one thing, the party was not a celebration of the sinful living the young brother had engaged in: it was a party to celebrate that he left that life and came home. It was his humble return and repentance that was cause for celebration. If getting one sheep or one coin back was cause for a party, how much more a son who was lost?! The point of this part of the story is to sting the conscience of the Pharisees and shame them for their unlikeness to God in matters of mercy. You could argue the younger brother got his justice: shamefully squandered his wealth away in a partying life, had to hire himself out as a slave, worked with pigs, was starving and destitute. He did have one thing in common with his older brother: they both didn’t think he should be treated well when he returned. They both thought he should get what he had coming to him.
A thought that I had this week was that the youngest brother left with his father’s wealth and squandered it away. But it wasn’t until he returned home in rags, smelling like the pigs, covered in humiliation, that he discovered just how rich his father really was: rich in mercy.
That father is a picture of God, a God who is rich in mercy. Psalm 103 says “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love”. I love how the hymn “The Love of God” captures the bigness of God’s love and mercy:
“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
would drain the oceans dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
though stretched from sky to sky.”
Or How about A.W. Tozer, “The mercy of God is an ocean divine, a boundless and fathomless flood.” The waters of the flood overwhelmed mankind with God’s judgment. There is an overwhelming flood of mercy God sends too when we repent.
APPLICATION: Are you a prodigal? Have you found yourself living far away from God and ruining your life? Are you surrounded by the pigs and have you made a mess of your life? Then today you too can “come to your senses”. Pull your head up from the pig trough, admit you’ve sinned against heaven and repent. Stand up and come to Jesus today. Just like the Father ran to embrace his son, so too your Savior will receive you with great joy. That day was cause for celebration. Have you discovered God’s mercy, Prodigal? He’s waiting for you, Prodigal. He is waiting for you to come to Him, Prodigal, and give Him cause to celebrate.
APPLICATION: Christians are we beacons of mercy for those around us? Have we turned our mercy on? The other day I was driving the family in the van down the highway. It wasn’t quite dark yet, but, it was working its way there. As another car merged onto the highway in front of me his rear taillights seemed to be freaking out. They were on and then all of a sudden they’d just flicker, go off, and then go back on. I thought “This clown is probably playing air guitar or texting and driving or something other than paying attention to the road”. So I backed off. Then he slowed too. I said to Annie, “Look at this guy, you never know what you’re going to run into on the roads. Sheesh.” So I sped up to pass him and as I did I saw him raise his hands at me like “What are you doing?” As I looked at him I said more to myself, “What am I doing? You’re the one with the issues pal.” Once I got past him he merged in behind me and started flicking his headlights at me. Instantly I knew what that meant and instantly I felt like a dummy. So I turned my headlights on. He’d been trying to tell me to turn my lights on so everyone could see me better. Christians turn your mercy on! Don’t leave the lights of mercy off to those still in the dark! Make sure people can see you by your mercy. “Blessed are the merciful” Jesus said. He also said, “Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful.”
One beautiful spring morning a woman was walking along the road. The winter snow had melted away, and, while everything seemed wet, it was a crisp, sunny day – perfect for getting outdoors and going for a walk. When she saw it, she almost passed it by. But something made her stop, and, picking it up she recognized it as a Bible. It was in one of those Bible covers, a purple colored one, zipped up tight, and soaked from the melted snow. Curious to see what condition it was in on the inside, she unzipped it. To her surprise it was not in great shape. Well, it wasn’t damaged from the snow or wet, but, it was clearly a used Bible. It’s pages were torn and tattered and even falling out. It was marked up all over the place. Surely people don’t care about such beat up Bibles. Then she wondered whose it was. Flipping to the front she saw the name: Al Jensen. Not long after I got a call sharing the good news. And I tell you, just as there is rejoicing over one lost bible found, there is rejoicing in heaven over your repentance. Be the cause of heaven’s rejoicing today.