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The Prodigal Son


The Prodigal Son

By Dave Brueckner

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost, but now I’m found,
Was blind but now I see.

“What is God like?” The Bible reveals the heart of God. There is found a sure answer in the Bible for those who are serious enough to read its sacred pages.

One of the things that God yearns for is fellowship with his people, who are the crown of his creation. In Genesis, He walks in the garden in the cool of the day, looking for Adam. In Mark, he calls his 12 disciples, “that they might be with Him…” Later, when His disciples discover that Jesus is going to leave them, He tells them that He is going to prepare a place for them, “that where I am, there you may be also”.

The good and the bad
In Luke 15, we find the tax collectors and sinners gathering around Jesus to hear him. The Pharisees and scribes are within earshot, but they are not mixing with the ‘bad’ crowd. The hatred from this law-abiding group towards the diners was tangible. If a Pharisee brushed against one of these ‘sinners’ in the street, he would find the nearest pool and wash himself and his clothes from the filth and uncleanness he had contacted. They observed Jesus and murmured that he “received and ate with them.”

 All of Gods creation is represented by these two groups. They fall simply into two categories - the good and the bad… or should I say, those who know they are bad and those who think they are good. The good despise the bad.

How does God feel about this despised group of people? How does Jesus treat this crowd of tax collectors and sinners? He speaks a parable to these two crowds to show them God’s heart. He starts by telling about an owner of a hundred sheep, who leaves the ninety-nine to find the lost one. He depicts the joy that follows, when he finds that sheep.

Next, a woman, who has 10 pieces of silver, loses one and seeks diligently for that one piece until she finds it. She calls her friends and neighbors together to rejoice with her. Jesus is simply pointing out that in our lives we get excited, when we find something we’ve lost. We get excited over menial things, but God and all of heaven get extremely excited, when only one sinner repents.

Joy! That describes the heart of God! He gets emotional about things. We find in scripture that God can be grieved, but we also see that He is joyful!

The father and his two sons
The third parable is about a father and two sons (Luke 15:11-32). The younger son represents the tax collectors and sinners. The elder son represents the Pharisees and scribes. The younger is not willing to wait for his father’s death to receive his inheritance. He wished him dead, so that he could receive his share.

When the younger son gathers his belongings together, he heads to a ‘far country’. May I say that this ‘far country’ might not refer to physical distance? You can arrive at a ‘far country’ in a little time by taking a short trip. To get there, you only need to set your affections on this world. The second you turn your back on God, you are already in that ‘far country’.

You can go to church and still be in a ‘far country’ as sure as you can be physically close to someone and mentally be miles away. Proximity is not nearness.

The younger son has the attitude of a leech, saying “give me…” (Pr.30:15). He started his downward spiral with those words. He was the center of his own ‘Me City’: Population – one!

The Pharisees’ version
The Pharisees and scribes listened carefully as Jesus talked about this younger son and how he had squandered all his money in his woeful lifestyle. “He deserves it!” they must have thought, when He told how famine came to him.

I once heard a preacher say that the Pharisees had a very similar parable, but at the end of their account, when the prodigal returned, his father made him as one of the servants and he could no longer be a son. If this is true, then Jesus is retelling the story with a different result.

Jesus is not minimizing the badness of the tax collectors and sinners; He says that they are even worse than the religious people thought them to be. He actually went further in describing the badness of the younger son. He told about feeding pigs and wanting to eat their food. Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, “You think that these tax collectors and sinners are bad. Well, they sure are! They are worse than you think!!” However, He then reveals the heart of His Father in heaven. He shows that He is capable of joining Himself to a Gentile.

Of course, the pig is unclean to the Jew and, not only is this fellow touching these unclean animals, but he is keeping them alive! He is not unlike the tax collectors, who are considered traitors for taking money from the Jews and giving it to the Gentile/Roman occupying force.

God allows the famine ultimately to bring the prodigal “to himself.” Everyone attached to that ‘far country’ is insane, living for and putting all his energy into this small world, when all eternity is at stake. He comes away empty every time.

Go ahead, plan your short life, live for small things! Marionavich lived his life for football. He played quarterback at 14 years of age and by the time he graduated, he set the U. S. high school record for passing. He played in the Rose Bowl and then got involved in drugs. As the first round draft pick by the Raiders, he fulfilled his lifelong dream of defeating the N.Y. Giants and thought, “Is this it?” He did all that he wanted to do and was left empty.

Oh, how short is life on earth! Some take great care to get educated, have a career, plan for retirement, not investing a single thought into eternity. Its insanity! Created to live with God forever, they are taken up with the cares of this temporal world. They live in the ‘far country’, longing for pig food, when in the Father’s house even the servants have food to spare.
Young man, you’ve lived your life on your terms. How is it turning out? Do you think its time to turn control of your life to Someone who has a much better plan?

The return trip
The prodigal makes plans to return to his father and brings a prepared speech. Notice the difference in his tone from what we heard in the beginning of the parable. Before it was “give me” and now it is “make me” whatever you want. You know what’s best.

The prodigal may have thought it would be a long and arduous journey back to his father’s house, but the second he took a step in his father’s direction, the father shortened the journey---“WHILE HE WAS A GREAT WAY OFF THE FATHER RAN TO HIM!”

Doesn’t the Bible say, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you”? He doesn’t stop, when he meets him; he falls on his neck and kisses this pig-stenched son. The return from the far country is as fast as you can bow your head and bend your knee. It’s instantaneous - one moment you are in the darkness and the next moment you are into the light! Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in paradise”.

The son was prodigal in his previous way of life, but now you can see an even deeper prodigality (Webster: lavish extravagance) in the love of the father. He lavished his love on this repentant son. The son no sooner states that he is no longer worthy to be called his son, when the father interrupts with uninhibited joy! He commands his servant to “get the best robe!”

 God is not a miser when it comes to demonstrating His love. He is a God of abundance. Twice, when feeding the multitudes, He gave until they were full and there was food left over. When he provided for our forgiveness, he was over abundant in that, as well, “He is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only, but also the sins of the whole world!” (1 Jn.2:2) There is more grace in the Father than there is sin in the prodigal. The blood of Jesus goes deeper than the stain of sin. In the ocean of God’s forgiveness, you can find no bottom and you can see no shoreline.
…And like a flood his mercy reigns,
Unending love, amazing grace.

The undeserving prodigal gets the best robe, a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. In that culture, servants didn’t have shoes and a ring, but the prodigal is back and he is again part of the family.
He gave me beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise
For the spirit of heaviness.

I can hear the voice of an ex-IRA (Irish Revolutionary Army) man say with his accent, “My poverty for His riches; my sin for His righteousness. What a bargain!”

The father is not done yet. Prepared for such a time as this, the fattened calf is to be killed. I can imagine him knocking on doors on his way back to the house, shouting to all the neighbors and friends to come for the celebration.

This is the heart of God! But it was only the beginning: “They began to be merry”. What does God get genuinely excited about? Is it when one of these sin-soaked tax collectors and sinners come to Him? There’s a feast in the entire kingdom of God, when just one person comes to Jesus. Join in the celebration. “Rejoice with me!” (v.9)

Later in this book of Luke, chapter 18:9-14, Jesus spoke a parable “to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others…” The next chapter is no parable, but a reality in the life of the chief among tax collectors. He is coming from a ‘far country’.

He climbs a tree to see if he can see Jesus. Jesus comes the rest of the way to him: “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.” In verse 6, joy marks the rest of the story and another feast is held. In a moment of time, he is in fellowship with Jesus.

Pharisee of the Pharisees
Well, that’s the story of the chief of tax collectors, but now we have to talk about the older brother - the Pharisee of the Pharisees. His heart is not in touch with his father’s. He is angry that the father threw a feast for this one who had squandered all his inheritance on harlots. He refuses to call him ‘brother’ but refers to him as ‘your son’. He proclaims that he had not “transgressed at any time” the father’s command.

He would not join the father in the supper, just as the Pharisees were abstaining from eating with Jesus. The self-righteous attitude prevented them from enjoying the Father’s communion. The Pharisees felt that they were above the need to enter by the same gate, through which the sinners had come.

Later, in the New Testament, we meet a man who claimed to be a Pharisee of the Pharisees, but when he saw himself from God’s perspective, he called himself the chief of sinners - and he meant it, for he persecuted the church and even saw that some should be killed. He entered through the same door as the tax collectors and sinners - the way God had provided through the precious blood of Jesus.

When a Christian met Saul of Tarsus after he encountered Jesus on the Damascus road, the first greeting was, “Brother Saul”. They were kindred! Saul was part of the family, receiving the undeserved robe, the ring, the sandals, and the feast!
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see,
That fountain in his day,
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
                                                                                      (William Cowper)


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