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Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on March 5, 2017 under 2016 |

Preached Sunday, March 5, 2017 from Luke 15

Theme: The church behaves most like heaven when it welcomes sinners who seek God’s mercy.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

This morning, I ask that you turn with me to Luke 15. That’s were we will find what is—without a doubt—one of the best known stories in the Bible. It may even be the best known story in all the world. It’s the story we know as ‘the prodigal son’.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was the Master Story-teller. And if ever it could be said that the Master Story-teller could have a true ‘masterpiece’, it would be this story. Students of great literature tell us that Jesus’ story of the prodigal son has been the uncredited inspiration for some of the greatest works in the history of literature.

And it’s a story from which we learn many great spiritual truths. For example, we learn from it about the patient love of the heavenly Father for wandering sinners. We learn about the damage we bring into our lives when we reject the Father’s good way for us, and when we indulge in sinful rebellion against Him. But it also teaches us about the pathway back to the Father; and about the ready reception our gracious heavenly Father shows toward all who come back to Him in humble repentance. It is truly the greatest parable ever told; and it is filled with truly great, life-changing lessons for all who have the ears to hear it.

But there is one lesson from it that very often gets missed. It is, I believe, a lesson that people fail to emphasize because they fail to notice the circumstance that motivated the Lord Jesus to tell this remarkable story in the first place. It’s a lesson that has to do, not with the prodigal son himself, but rather with his older brother. It is my opinion that the lesson we learn from that elder brother is really the true main lesson of this amazing and beloved story.

This morning, I ask that you turn with me to Luke 15. Let’s walk through this whole chapter together. And let’s allow the whole story of the prodigal son—and particularly of the prodigal son’s brother—to teach an important lesson that our church family needs to hear.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; to truly understand why Jesus told it, you need to begin with the first two verses of Luke 15. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. Many people were gathering around Him to hear His teaching. And Luke tells us, in verse 1,

Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him (Luke 15:1).

For many of the people who were watching Jesus, and who were trying to evaluate Him, this was very offensive. Sinners—that is, people who were known publicly for their sinful life-style practices—where gathering around Jesus to listen to Him. And not only that, but so were tax collectors. These were Jewish men who had sold themselves out to the paganistic Roman empire for personal gain, and who were collecting taxes from their own people to give to the occupying Romans. They were considered to be notorious traitors to their own people. Tax collectors were thought to be the lowest of the low—despicable crooks and extortioners who didn’t even deserve to be called “sinners”. They were set apart in their own category—“tax collectors and sinners”. And it upset the religious people very much to see such riffraff gathering around Jesus to listen to Him.

By the way; if you read the story of our Lord in the Gospels, you find that such people often drew near to Him. He always welcomed them when they did; and they always seemed to have felt safe around Him. He didn’t reject them, or humiliate them, or make them feel too ashamed to be in His presence. In fact, one of the greatest accusations that was brought upon Jesus was that He was “a friend of tax collectors and sinners”.

Do you remember the story of how He called a famous ‘tax collector’ named Matthew to become one of His followers? Matthew threw a big dinner for Jesus afterward; and he invited all his tax collector colleagues and “others” to come and meet Him. (You can only imagine what kind of people the “others” might have included!) The Pharisees and scribes—the religious leaders of the day—were very bewildered about this; and they asked Him, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And He told them;

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).

Those ‘sinners’ who ‘needed repentance’ felt His love and welcome; and so they were drawn to Him, and loved to be near Him, and listened attentively to His teaching. And as Luke 15:2 tells us, this was upsetting and offensive to the ‘righteous’ people of the day. Luke wrote;

And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).

The implication, of course, was that they—as the truly ‘righteous’ people—would never allow such a thing!

* * * * * * * * * *

So; that’s the context in which our Lord’s most famous ‘parable’ was told. Wicked and sinful people—people that the ‘righteous’ people of this world would not want to be seen associating with—were flocking around our Lord, and were listening to Him, and were feeling welcomed by Him. As far as the scribes and Pharisees were concerned, this was scandalous.

And may I pause here and suggest to you why this is important for us to understand as a church family? It is my belief that our church is about to experience some significant challenges; and that’s because the community around us is growing and is changing dramatically. The world that find ourselves in is no longer the kind of ‘Christianized’ world in which this church was founded.

Let me be frank with you. I believe—and even hope and pray—that we will begin to see some people coming to visit our church in the months and years that are not the kind of people we’re used to seeing in church. I believe that the Holy Spirit will draw them to us, and give them a deep hunger for God’s mercy; and that they will sit in our midst in the hopes of discovering God’s love and pardoning grace. They will come—with all their brokenness and sin—sincerely wanting to know more about this ‘Jesus’ that we worship; and with a longing to discover whether or not what we say about Him is true.

But they will very likely come in ways that rattle our traditional sense of propriety and decency. They may come into our church while bearing all the trappings of a sinful life-style. There may be people who are living lives that are given over to sexual sins and various addictions. There will be people whose manner of talking will seem very inappropriate to our ears; and whose outward appearance may make us feel very uncomfortable. There may be people who sincerely don’t know which religion has the truth—and so, they will come to hear about Jesus while bringing a multitude of false religious practices and traditions and beliefs along with them.

And dear brothers and sisters; are we ready to welcome them and make them feel safe as they search for Jesus?—just as He Himself did? One of the great fears I have—and I have it about myself as well as for all of us—is that we will be so shocked at times that we will say something in some insensitive manner; or look down our noses in a self-righteous way; or convey such an unloving or impatient attitude, that we offend them and turn them away from the Lord Jesus—and all when it is the Holy Spirit who is drawing them into our midst to come and know Him.

Jesus welcomed sinners—the real hard cases of life. They were the very ones that He came to seek out and save. So; I ask that we allow the Holy Spirit to teach us together from our Lord’s response to these self-righteous Pharisees and scribes. I believe He told them a series of stories—the greatest story being the story of the prodigal son—to teach that our church behaves most like heaven when it welcomes sinners who seek God’s mercy.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; lets remember that Jesus spoke the stories in this chapter to the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes. And the first story that Jesus told in response to them is found in verses 3-6;

So He spoke this parable to them, saying: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’” (Luke 15:3-6).

For a shepherd to leave his flock of ninety-nine all alone is a remarkable thing. He certainly valued them; but it showed how much he particularly valued the one that was lost and in great danger. His rejoicing over that one is greater than his rejoicing over the safety of the ninety-nine.

Jesus then said;

I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance (v. 7).

What a rebuke this must have been to those Pharisees and scribes. They thought that they would have been the ones that needed no repentance. But they didn’t rejoice in those tax collectors and sinners who came to Jesus seeking repentance.

And almost before they would have had a chance to catch their breath, Jesus then told another, similar parable;

Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?” (v. 8).

In those days, married women often wore a string of drachma coins as a symbol of their marital vows to their husband—much like a wedding ring in our day. To lose a coin was to lose the value of that symbol—just like losing a wedding ring. Naturally, a woman would care about the nine coins that she still had; but she would search diligently and frantically to find that one coin that was missing—and all so that the symbol of her marriage would be worn by her with completeness.

And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (vv. 9-10).

And you get the point; don’t you? Jesus was not rejecting the Pharisees and scribes who came to listen to Him. They were welcomed too. But they wondered why Jesus would value having tax collectors and sinners come to Him when—the whole time—He already had righteous people in His presence. And these stories explain why. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He didn’t come to call to Himself the people to thought they were already righteous and didn’t need to be saved; but rather, He called to Himself the sinners who knew that they needed repentance.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; I believe those two first stories are important. They help us to understand why He taught His greatest story of all—the story of the prodigal son.

By the way—do you know what ‘prodigal’ means? It’s an old word that fell out of common use long ago; but it’s one that means “to be wastefully extravagant”. You could actually call Jesus’ famous parable, “the story of the wasteful son”. And in verse 11, He begins to tell it:

Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood (vv. 11-12).

This, by the way, was a horrible thing for this younger son to do. He was saying that he didn’t want to wait for his father to die to receive his inheritance. He wanted it now—in almost an attitude that expressed that he didn’t mind if his father was gone or not. And then, it gets even more horrible.

And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living (v. 14).

He threw his inheritance away in a utterly wasteful manner. And you need to know that—as we discover later in this story—he didn’t just go out and do something mildly stupid with it all. He didn’t just ‘eat out’ too often. He wasted it in deeply gross acts of immorality. He brought great shame to his father’s household. Humanly speaking, what he did would have been almost unforgivable.

But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything” (vv. 15-16).

Do you notice that he would have filled his empty stomach with the pods? That means that he wanted to, but wasn’t able to. You know you’ve hit rock-bottom when you’re longing to share the food with the pigs—and even then, you’re still not welcomed to do so.

And that’s when we find an encouraging transformation of his heart. He came to his senses. Jesus said;

But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father” (vv. 17-20a).

His heart was truly humbled. He didn’t feel worthy anymore to draw near as a son. As far as he was concerned, he could only come and plead for mercy. And that, I believe, is when a sinner becomes most qualified to draw near to the Father for grace through His Son Jesus. Jesus then went on to show how receptive the Father will be. They boy was in the process of making his way home; and Jesus said;

But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son’” (vv. 20b-21).

He had his rehearsed speech all ready. But he didn’t even have a chance to finish it.

But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry (vv. 22-24).

The father was behaving just like the man who left his ninety-nine sheep to come home rejoicing with the lost one on his shoulder; or like the woman who was still wearing the nine coins, but who called all her friends to rejoice over the one that she found. That’s our heavenly Father’s attitude toward unrighteous, unworthy sinners who come to Him seeking mercy—no matter how sinful they may have been. All heaven rejoices over the return of the lost one more than over the ones that never wandered away!

* * * * * * * * * *

That should be our attitude too. But all too often it isn’t. And that, dear brothers and sisters, is why we now come to what I believe is the main point of the story of the prodigal son. It is illustrated to us in the attitude of the brother.

Jesus said;

Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf’” (vv. 25-27).

It was right then that the older brother had the opportunity to adopt the attitude of his father. It was, after all, his father who had suffered the loss from his younger son’s wastefulness. And if the father rejoiced that he had come back in repentance, shouldn’t the older brother do so too?

But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him” (v. 28).

By the way; don’t you love it that the father was merciful and patient with the older brother too? He went out to his older son; and sought to bring him in. I take comfort in knowing that our heavenly Father is merciful and patient with us also; even when we get it all wrong, and fail to understand the nature of our Father’s amazing grace toward repentant sinners.

So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him’” (vv. 29-30).

This poor elder brother was so bitter that he wouldn’t even own his younger brother as a ‘brother’ anymore. In speaking of him to the father, he simply referred to him as ‘this son of yours’. And I don’t think that he was bitter because he had spent his whole life being faithful to the father. Rather, I think that he felt better over the fact that he had worked so hard; and that this young ‘prodigal’ boy could just come back and be welcomed—and even have a big party thrown in his honor—after he had been so wicked and wasteful.What the elder brother didn’t understand was that the father’s response to his prodigal son wasn’t a matter of merit in response to righteousness. It was a matter of grace in response to repentance. And so, the father assured the older son of his love; but then explained the reason for his joy:

And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” (vv. 31-32).

And I appreciate how the New International Version translates verse 32. It says, “we had to celebrate and be glad …” That’s a pretty accurate translation—that it was ‘necessary’. How could the father not celebrate the fact that a sinful son has returned home in repentance? Doing so proved that he really was his son.

* * * * * * * * * *

I usually try not to close off one story by telling another. But I hope I may do so this time. It was only a short while after telling this story that we read of another well-known story in Luke 19. And this time, the story was not a parable—but an actual event.

Luke writes;

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:1-10).

The welcoming love of Jesus toward sinners is what transforms them. Let’s let the Holy Spirit change our attitude of heart, so that—as Jesus’ greatest of all stories teaches us—we have Jesus’ own loving and welcoming attitude toward the lost and needy people He brings our way. Let’s rejoice at ever broken, needy sinner that the Holy Spirit draws toward Jesus. In fact, let’s really celebrate!

We behave most like heaven when we do so.

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