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Sermon Blog – The lost sons (long version)

April 13, 2015

 The story of the lost sons


Luke 15:11-32



When Jesus came into this world he invited his disciples into an intimate relationship with his Father. God could be their father too!


In the opening chapter of his gospel John talks of the rejection that Jesus suffered when he came into this world. Those He had created did not recognise him. But there was another side to the story. Those who believed in him he gave the right to be children of God.


John continued with the thought when he wrote his first letter. He talked about the generous love of God, that his followers would now be called children of God. Perhaps John imagined his readers moving quickly through his words without really taking in the enormity of what they were reading.


We can all be like that. Very good with our spiritual theory. Nodding away at the truth written before us, but knowing little about it in our hearts. We can get so used to certain things in God’s word, that we can become complacent and cold.


So John goes on to pull his listeners up short. “Because that IS what we ARE!” He says don’t just believe it in theory, as some sort of spiritual truth. Experience it as a reality to live by.


The reality is that as Christians we are children of God and that is the relationship that God, and we as his ambassadors, offer to the people around us.
But how do we find that relationship with God?


To help us think about this today I want us to look at one of Jesus’ best known stories.


The story of the lost sons.


Of course you’ll pull me up on that straight away. You’ll tell me ‘only one son was lost’. But there are two sons in this story. The older and the younger brother. The younger one tends to get most of our attention. But in spite of everything in Big Brother’s favour he too had lost the relationship he should have had with his Father. Both are lost.


We know this story more traditionally as the parable of the prodigal son. We tend to think of a prodigal as being someone who has wandered away. The word prodigal is defined as “recklessly spendthrift”. To be prodigal is to spend until you have nothing left. We can well associate that with the younger son as we see the story unfold and his inheritance squandered.


But in his own very different way the older son wastes all that is available to him in the father.


New York pastor and author Timothy Keller has taken a different route in his short book “The Prodigal God”. For he reminds us that God himself is reckless with the grace that he offers to his younger son, refusing to demand repayment. Keller says that in this story Jesus shows us “the God of great expenditure”. God’s reckless grace is our only hope.


So I bring you the story of the lost sons.


Let’s take a look at son no 1 first then. The more famous of the two. Actually he was son no 2. The youngest. Evidently things are pretty good in the father’s house it’s a good life, a very comfortable existence. But it is not enough for younger son. He goes to his father and asks for whatever is due to him. He wants to strike out on his own and leave home.


Now I think this is true in most if not all cultures around the world. You don’t decide when you inherit. For you to inherit your parents’ riches, one thing has to happen. Your parents have to die and then you get what if anything is left for you.


There is no suggestion that the father of the story was old or in ill health, but the son was impatient. The share of your estate that is due to me, can I have it please? In the words of the Queen song he loudly stated “I want it all, I want it all, I want it all! And I want it NOW!”


It is probably the case that the older son would in fact have been entitled to two-thirds of estate. That was his birth right as first born. The two would not have been treated equally. So young brother is asking his Father for the 33 1/3% that will one day be his.


Was the boy bored with life with his father? Was life for him about nothing more than the material things he could have?


Isn’t life like that for so many today? It’s about what I can get. Working for a better life. Investing in good things. Pleasure and success.


And where does God fit in that? What does religion have to do with anything? Too many people conclude that they have no time and no need for a faith. It certainly wouldn’t occur to them that they could have any kind of relationship with God, let alone that of a father and child.


And so like the young son they go on their way. And maybe for them life is great. They have everything they could need or want. And if they don’t then they can work until they do. It’ll be worth it.


Maybe that is you today. You are here but there are other things you want.


Younger son put plenty of distance between him and his father’s house.


Vivian Nicholson died in April this year. In 1961 (before my time I’ve read about it!) her husband Keith won £152,000 on the football pools (over 3 million in today’s money). She told the media that she would “spend, spend, spend”. 4 years later Keith died in a car crash. Shortly after her husband’s death she was declared bankrupt as it was said the money was not hers but belonged to her husband’s estate!
She managed to get her hands on some of the money through a court action but lost it on bad investments. She had further unhappy marriages and never recovered her wealth. It is said she did not have enough money to bury her fourth husband. Her strategy of spend, spend, spend proved to be short sighted.
You see the son’s strategy was much the same. Spend, spend, spend. And so his fun was short lived. He had wealth. But he squandered it on wild living. He had friends, he had money, he had a great time but his approach to life was short sighted. His money ran out. And with that he learned that he had no real friends. They were only there for what he could give them. He proved, in the words of the old blues song, that “nobody knows you when you’re down and out”.


And so a young man realises he has got it completely wrong and he plans to return to his father. He starts rehearsing his speech. He imagines how he is going to persuade his father, who is bound to be angry with him, to have him back. “I’m eating pig food for goodness sake. Even my father’s labourers live better than that! He could employ me.”


He will try to persuade. He will try to drive a bargain. He knows only too well he has blown it. The inheritance is gone. It won’t come again.


As he staggers along the road he perfects his speech. “A sinner… not worthy…please give me a job”.
Hopefully the father will be home. He might be persuaded to come out. What the son eventually finds is something quite different from what he anticipated, a father who has been looking out, who loves him, who runs, who embraces, who kisses.


A Jewish father would not have run to meet his son. That was not a dignified way to behave, but Jesus presents this as a symptom of the reckless grace of Father God.


Amazingly what the young man discovers is a father who holds no grudge against him, who wants nothing more than for his son to come home. Who wants nothing from him except that he returns. He won’t even listen to his son’s apology. Forget the carefully rehearsed speech. He is forgiven and accepted.


That could be your experience. Perhaps you are beginning to realise that the things you work for are not everything. They do not bring you true satisfaction or even any kind of security. God the father is waiting for you. In fact he does more than wait.


Will you turn and come home today? Move towards the father. He will receive you if you reach out to him in faith. No matter where you have been or what you have done.


Or even as a believer you recognise that you have wandered off course. The pleasures and pressures of this world have become more important to you than a relationship with the loving God. Do we need to come back to him?


God’s love is reckless yes. In some ways it is scandalous. What did the son do to earn his Father’s forgiveness? What did he have to do to get back in his good books? How would he ever repay the money he had wasted? 
The father asks nothing of him. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s favour and forgiveness. We do not need to repeat a set form of words, an approved prayer. The father in this story would not even listen.


All this son had to do was come home to his father. He had come to his senses. To the end of his resources. And he knew that his father had the answer. He could not imagine though the love that was lavished on him when he returned. He was repentant. His life changed direction. He recognised the mess he had made of his life. He was forgiven.


May we as Christians never give out the message that you can earn God’s forgiveness, that there is anything you can do to earn God’s love. This love of God is unconditional. This grace of his is undeserved. That’s why we call it amazing.


It’s party time at the father’s house. The best calf prepared for just such a celebration. It is time to feast and celebrate like no other time. 
“This son of mine was dead”. In the story he is as good as dead to the father. He has cut off all ties. But the father never forgets, never stops loving. ”Now he is alive. He was lost, but now he is found!” 
Do we really grasp that heaven celebrates when one son or daughter comes home to the Father God?


But there, looming like a black cloud over the proceedings, is the other brother. The one we sometimes fail to notice in all the excitement. 
Big brother is watching you. And big brother is very unhappy.


Where has big brother been in all this story? Well not where he should have been. He should have been looking out for his kid brother. He should have gone looking for him. He could have found him and brought him home, but no he stayed where he was.


You see he was the good boy of the family. He had never entertained the sort of rebellious thoughts that his brother had. He had always been there. He had never even asked his father if he could have friends round for lunch. He had stayed at home in the presence of his father. And yet…


And yet he knew no more about the love of his father than his brother did. He imagined that behaving the right way would put him in his father’s good books. But the good behaviour of the older son brought him no more pleasure than the early inheritance had given the younger brother. One ran as far away as he could. The other couldn’t see what he had right under his nose.


He had no relationship with his father. He worked for his two-thirds. The story tells us that the Father divided his estate between them. So in some sense the inheritance was already there to enjoy? 
He was a moral chap. But he was as lost as the younger brother.


But the father reminds him that this is a time to celebrate. His brother is back. A fortune blown, but alive and found and forgiven without reservation.


If The Father could forgive, surely he could too.


You see he didn’t realise what a great father he had. He never entered into what his father had for him. If he wanted a meal with his friends all he had to do was ask, but he never did. He had no idea of the generosity of his father. He missed out. He never left for a far country but his relationship with the father was a cold one, because that is what he chose. No other reason.


Potentially there was a new problem. You see if young brother was restored as a son, that might have meant that he was once more entitled to one-third of the estate. One-third of his brother’s two-thirds. So Big Brother would lose out financially?
The younger son had preferred the money to his father. The older brother would rather have the money than his brother back under his father’s roof. So who’s worse?!


Maybe he had a point. This was not fair. But this was his brother. The brother he did nothing to help. How wrong he was.


I recently read the story of Stephanie Last. She was born in Korea. She does not know exactly when, who her father was or even what her name was. Her father was probably an American GI.
Because she was mixed race her mother effectively abandoned her at the age of about 4, putting her on a train to be met by an uncle who it seems did not exist.
From that point she had to care for herself, stealing food to survive. She was abused and treated like dirt.
This continued for about 3 years, before she was taken from a rubbish tip to an orphanage. When she was around 9 an American missionary couple came and chose her and took her to their home.

For several months she assumed she was to be their servant, though she was never made to work.
It took another girl to tell her the truth. That she had been adopted. That she was their daughter. She was astonished, running home thinking “I’m their daughter! Oh that’s why I’ve been treated this way. That’s why no one’s beating me…I’m their daughter”.
I wonder how many of us as Christians, live like this girl, adopted, but having no idea. We’re in the Father’s house but we think we’re slaves. We’re sons and daughters of God. How great is the love God has lavished on us!
You can be as miserable and unforgiving as big brother. If our relationship with the father is not what it should be, then like big brother, we have only ourselves to blame.


We did not earn our salvation. And while our salvation will work its way out in the way we live, we should never fall into the trap of thinking that we are deserving of the love of God.



The story tells us that big brother said his piece, but ignored the encouragements of his father and refused to go in to the party.


A sad end to a happy story. But it does not need to be that for you or the people around you.


In “the Prodigal God”, Timothy Keller comments that the story is not complete. He says that Jesus has deliberately left someone out of this story. It is only as we find that missing person that we will “find our own way home at last”.


God seeks us. The story tells us that the father saw the son as he returned, because he was looking out for him. He had never given up the hope of seeing him again.


But there is so much more to it. God goes much further than just looking out of a window hoping for our return. He is active in our rescue.


In this same chapter, Luke tells Jesus’ stories of the lost sheep and lost coin. While there are similarities, in our story today there is something missing. In the two earlier stories, the shepherd and woman conduct a search until they find what is lost. 
We and Jesus’ listeners should, says Keller, ask the question “who should have gone out to search for the lost son?” The older brother should have, even if it would be at his expense. Keller continues “by putting a flawed elder brother in the story, Jesus is inviting us to imagine and yearn for a true one.”


God has sent his Son Jesus, our “true elder brother”, into this world to seek you and to find you and bring you home. The story doesn’t really do it justice. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. 
The older brother in the story would not pay the price. But Jesus rescues us at the cost of his own life. He gave everything so that you could come back. Back to the life that was meant for you.


Did he lavish love on you? Yes he did. Costly sacrificial love.


Things can change for all of us this evening. You can reach out for the Father’s open arms and enjoy life as it is meant to be. A full life. An eternal life.


So whether you have never known God as a father, whether you try to fill your life with pleasure, or try to fill it with doing good; or whether you have lost that joy you once knew the time is right to reach out.


Time for you to turn around and come home.


Or time for you to open the door to the Father’s house and walk right in to join the celebrations.







From → Christianity

  1. Maybe the Prodigal’s dad should have had…’A word in your ear…from father to son…hear the words that I say!!’

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