Monday, 04 November 2013 14:08

Parable Of The Loving Father

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Have you too heard of the so-called parable of the prodigal son told by Jesus in Luke 15:11-32? It is one of the more well known of Jesus\' parables and has rightly been referred to also as \"the prince of parables\" and \"the gospel within the gospel\". It is a parable that has often been preached on, and one that can continue to be preached on. As one commentator put it: \"Our familiarity with the message should not keep us from appreciating it.\" Never can you or I exhaust the gospel tidings of this parable! Sometimes preachers give a series of sermons just on this parable. It has connections also with the two parables along with it, that of the lost sheep being found and the lost coin that was found.
For our part now, we will only have one message on this parable of the prodigal son, and there is just one main point that I wish to draw your attention to. You know what that is? The amazing, gracious, seeking, inviting, and welcoming love of God toward sinners! This is really what is the main focus and emphasis of this parable. While it is about much more than that, it is mainly about the amazing, gracious, seeking, inviting, and welcoming love of God toward sinners! In this regard, I agree with those who maintain the parable could more appropriately be called the parable of the loving father rather than of the prodigal son.
We can say too the occasion and setting of the parable also reinforces this main theme. In the first verses of Luke 15 we learn the setting of this parable is a failure on the part of some to understand the merciful love of God for sinners. The Pharisees and scribes complained and murmured that Jesus would reach out and mix with the outcasts in Israel, making known His salvation to them. And because they murmured about that, Jesus would teach them something of the gracious merciful love of God through His promised Messiah. As one put it: \"This parable is a narrative demonstration of the grace with which God reaches out to embrace sinful people.\" Only Jesus, who is one with the Father and who came from the Father and who is equal with the Father, can reveal to us really the Father\'s heart toward sinners! Will you listen with me as we try to learn from His blessed teaching now?
I don\'t have points to announce that we will follow in this message but I have different places I wish to bring you showing you the Father\'s love for sinners. We will go to four places altogether.
The first place I will bring you to show the Father\'s love is what may be a second or third story balcony in a home in the Middle East. From that balcony you can see a fair distance out on the land beyond. Do you see that man on the balcony, standing there, bent forward and looking out? His figure looks bowed a little, and on his face you can see a deep sadness, but still also some hope. The hope of a man who doesn\'t stop waiting! In front of him stretches the wide plains, and in the far distance possibly a mountain range can be seen. Oh, can you imagine this older man on the balcony with his wrinkled face of concern, searching and peering out in the distance towards that far away mountain range? Does he see something? You can\'t help but look yourself too maybe into that wide distance to see what he might be looking for.
Who am I picturing here? It is the father of the prodigal son as Jesus describes him in this parable.In explaining especially to the Pharisees something of God\'s boundless love towards guilty sinners like we all are by nature, Jesus tells this story about a certain father who had two sons. And the younger asked his father one day for his share of the inheritance, and then shortly after he left home. He went to live it up in the world as it were. We are told that son went to a far country, and there he wasted all his money with riotous living. The parable doesn\'t say for how long the son was gone, possibly months or maybe for years.
In the prodigal son we have represented all those who turn their backs on God and His Word, even when raised with many gospel covenant privileges, and who go their own sinful ways instead. The prodigal son represents the publicans and sinners, those who rebel against the one true God and His ways and turn to the world instead, and who will live in sin openly and defiantly even. The prodigal couldn\'t wait to be free and on his own to do just what he wanted and as he pleased! Are there perhaps suchlike prodigal sons and daughters listening now too, younger or older? Interestingly I read one commentator saying we need to read this parable understanding, really by nature, \"The prodigals are not the other people\". Do you understand this too in connection with yourself, left to yourself?
What is so important to notice from our parable is the loving attitude of the father toward his wayward son. We are shown how it pained the father\'s heart knowing his son was gone in the ways of the world and living in sin and evil. And all the while that son is gone, the father was lovingly and prayerfully looking out for his return.
And what happens when the wayward son does return? When the father one day sees him way in the distance, coming home? Does the father quickly lock all the doors and send out a messenger telling the young man he is not welcome at home? No, rather our text stirringly tells us: \"...but when that son was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him.\" Oh, each verb here is so significant and telling! They are meant to make clear to us how God the Father yearns in love for the salvation of sinners, and for the homecoming of the lost. He is not willing that any should perish!
As the father waited and longed for his son, so God is longing for those who are lost in sin, but not helplessly so, mind you! No, He knows all His elect will be brought in, one by one. Think of God here also pursuing after Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden after they fell into sin, and calling out to them. Hear God calling to the Israelites after they, time and again, turned their backs on Him. We read in Jeremiah 3:22 for instance: \"Return ye backsliding children and I will hear your backslidings.\" And consider Jesus who went about testifying and showing \"...the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost\" [Luke 19:10]. Behold in this parable with the father\'s love and compassion for his wayward son, God\'s love and compassion for sinners!
What is particularly striking and so important to notice too from our parable is how that God\'s attitude of love and longing for sinners, His compassion and care towards undeserving, wayward, guilty sinners is not dependent on the sinner\'s repentance and return. We don\'t see the father here being loving only after the son confesses to his wrongdoings. No, we see the father full of love and compassion for his son even before he repents and returns. Behold him standing on the balcony looking for his wayward son, who knows for how long? Even so is God towards sinners like you and me!
I think it is crucial to learn this gospel truth. Many fail to grasp this. They believe God is full of love towards us only because we repent and believe. But the fact is, God is full of love towards sinners before they repent and believe! Our repentance and returning to the Father, when that happens, doesn\'t ever initiate God\'s love but rather it is the fruit of His love towards sinners like us.
It is worthwhile to stress this point that God\'s love for sinners precedes repentance. This point brings out the horribleness of sin. Do you know why sin and living unrepentant is so terrible and wicked? Because it is rebellion and hardness of heart against the love of God especially! Sin is turning away from God\'s law of love and His Being of love. Do you think of sin, your sins too, in this way? Sin, and pursuing after it, is despising and trampling underfoot God\'s love. You and I need to be convicted about this terribleness of sin and unrepentance. With every sin you commit in rebellion against God, you push away the God of perfect love. Oh, that we might be truly and more and more convicted about this terrible reality concerning our sins.
Still another point to learn too from the gospel fact that God\'s love for sinners precedes repentance is the gospel truth that God is always welcoming to sinners who repent and return home. Sometimes you may wonder: \'Will God receive me back in His love, after I have sinned so grievously and for so long; after I have resisted Him and rebelled against Him so much?\' But when you think of it now that God is love, and He is full of compassion for sinners even before they repent, then surely He also will open His arms wide to all sinners who repent and return home to Him. We don\'t read that the father slowed down the nearer he came to his son and saw and smelled what a mess he had a made of his life. No, the father kept running towards his son, and when he met him, he embraced him and kissed him over and over, just so glad for his return!
And when the son said to his father in true repentance, \"Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, I am no longer worthy to be called thy son\", we know there was actually so much more yet he had planned to say. But the father never gave him a chance, being just so glad for his son\'s return! And you know what a provision and feast he gave for his son who came back to him, a broken and humbled man. God delights in mercy, you see! And the gospel fact is, God is more eager to pardon returning sinners than they are ever to return to Him. Will you hear and learn from the parable before us that the God of love is most eager to save, and He graciously and lovingly responds to the first faint sighings of the heart after Him? No sinner lost in sin, loaded with the guilt of so much evil, need be afraid when returning to God with Spirit-worked repentance. For nothing pleases God more than to warmly receive and abundantly pardon and embrace and bless all who come to Him and that, time and again too. Again, as one commentator put it: \"If conversion is a process, which it certainly is, then God is always welcoming back his erring children at the same time that he holds them accountable. Grace cannot be confined within boundaries.\"
Is there a repentant sinner listening now? A prodigal, trembling and standing afar off, wondering if God will be merciful to you? Oh, look at this father rejoicing for this repentant returning son, his wayward son, and see this father running towards his wayward wicked son even before he confessed anything! As Jesus tells us this, isn\'t there reason to be encouraged in the faith, and to know and believe, and indeed, to be assured, when returning to God? The LORD stands ready to forgive, and with Him is plenteous redemption even for the worst of sinners who comes back to Him.
We have spent quite a lot of time at our first place. And that is okay as long as it has been made clear to you what a loving God the Lord is for sinners, undeserving guilty sinners! Is the Lord not also looking and searching for lost sons and daughters even now?
Here let us move on to the second place that so clearly proves God is a God of love toward sinners. Come with me now to a place just outside the hall where the feast is being held for the younger son who returned home. That younger son was formerly dead in his relationship with his father, but now he was alive again. He was lost. Now he was found, and what celebration there was! But just outside the hall, we are told, was that older brother, having returned from the fields. The text tells us when he heard about his younger brother\'s return and the splendid feast held for him by the father, it made that older brother very angry. Verse 28 literally says, in the original, \'he continued upset about it and continued to refuse to join in on the celebration\'.
What was wrong with this older brother? With him Jesus pictures for us the Pharisees and scribes who were full of self-righteousness and had a very high opinion of themselves. This older brother always worked faithfully on the farm, but his relationship with his father too was strained and without real affection for him. He felt his father was far too kind to his younger brother who had lived a wild and useless life, and that the father was not kind enough to him who had only always done what was expected of him. The real problem was, you see, this older brother had lived in the house of his father as a servant and not as a son with him. In fact, yes, you could even say he lived indoors just as far away from the father as the younger son had in that far country! The older brother type has all kinds of reasons why others should not be accepted by God but they think themselves totally acceptable because of their good works and deeds.
Is it not true that the church today, while having prodigals in attendance, includes also often older brother types as well? Are you maybe like the older brother still? Is not the older brother type like those people who carefully follow certain guidelines expected of them, but who know nothing of sweet communion and fellowship with the Lord? People all intent on the form of worship, but without knowing the joy of worship? People who insist on this and that as a matter of true faith, but who know not the love of God in their hearts? People who can\'t see themselves as being basically no different than the lowest outcasts of society, and as those who are in need of God\'s grace and mercy even with the worst of sinners? The older brother refused to join in with this feast for he thought it below his dignity. He just couldn\'t understand that this father would so reach out to his wayward son and not rather exalt himself instead, he who had always stuck to the rules of home and lived a straight life, so to speak. In the older brother, you see, is portrayed for us the murmuring Pharisees who couldn\'t stand it that Jesus reached out to publicans and sinners, those outcasts in Israel.
And now, when we read about the older brother and his behavior, you too might be inclined to react negatively towards him. You almost want to say: \"Let the self-righteous snob stay outside the feast hall then if that\'s what he wants and if that is the way he will be. Just forget about him!\" But exactly here is where I want you to notice with me the amazing love of God the Father.
Jesus tells us when the older son wouldn\'t go in, the father then went out to him and entreated him! And again, this is a picture of God the Father towards sinners like us too. The Lord is interested not only in saving the vile and immoral, but also the self-righteous religious Pharisee. In the original, very strikingly, the verb \'entreated\' is in a verb tense meaning, the Father kept on and on with his pleading. He didn\'t just politely say once: \"Oh, come on in\" and that was it. No, but he urged also this older brother, this proud unwilling son, to come in too and by no means to stay outside. In fact, the parable ends leaving us with the father still outside with the older son, calling to him and earnestly entreating him also not to live estranged from him and foolishly to stay outside the feast. What a moving and telling ending! Can you see the father speaking with this older son too, just outside the hall of feasting?
From this parable see how the father cared so much for the older brother as well as for the younger. The Lord not only longs for the publicans and sinners to repent, but also the Pharisees and scribes, those who outwardly still remained with the Father but were inwardly estranged from Him that they all should come to Him and be partakers of His love for the lost. You see from this parable the Lord does not shut anyone out. The Lord entreats all to come to Him and be saved! He invites all into a relationship of true love and affection with Him, regardless of our sins and shortcomings. This parable demonstrates this so clearly and movingly. Seeing the father so reach out to the undeserving prodigal son and to the undeserving older son, doesn\'t it melt your heart too? And don\'t you ask too: \'How can God be such a God of undeserved, abundant, gracious, welcoming, inviting love to sinners like us?\'
To answer that question, I wish to take you now briefly to another place. Can you guess where? Yes, to Golgotha, the place where Christ Jesus, God\'s only begotten beloved Son, was crucified. At the cross of Jesus we have the fullest display of God\'s love for sinners, and the explanation for all His abundant, cleansing, renewing, inviting love for sinners. Jesus told His parables as He made His way to the cross of Calvary. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to suffer and die for sin in the sinner\'s place. And because Christ\'s once for all sacrifice on behalf of sinners was so perfect, and so complete, God now reaches out in love to all sinners, calling all to come to Him and be saved. No sinner can ever match in evil Christ\'s priceless remedy from evil. God commends his love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us, Paul says in Romans 5:8. God gave up His only Son to pay the punishment for sin and to offer up the perfect life on sinners\' behalf that now all who come to Him may be redeemed and reconciled with God and adopted into the family of God and be forever recipients of His amazing grace and precious love and care. Dear friends, younger and older, do you understand this splendid gospel of grace and our God of infinite love in and through Christ Jesus? If so, how then do you respond to Him?
There is only one right response to the God of love, and to see that, there is this one more place I would bring you. It is the place, that point in the parable where we see the prodigal coming home repentant and both humbly receiving and rejoicing in the Father\'s restoring mercy and embracing love. The prodigal son saw how sinful and wrong he had been, and how foolish and vain in his life, and as vs. 17-20 make clear, he returned home with a humble repentant mind and heart before God and his father. And it is in that way that he came to experience the abundant love and compassion of his father too.
Remember I stressed before that God\'s love toward sinners is not dependent on our repentance. Yet it also needs to be stressed that only in the way of faith and repentance do we share in God\'s love and enjoy the benefits and comforts thereof. The parable makes that very clear too, doesn\'t it? As long as the older brother refused to humble himself and acknowledge his need of the forgiving, saving, restoring grace of the Father, he would be left outside the feast hall, and he could neither know nor enjoy God\'s love. God requires repentance and faith in becoming partakers of His love, not because these acts make us worthy of His love but through that means, yes, by way of repentance and faith, God leads us to Jesus Christ. He alone is the One who can and does restore us in a right relationship with God the Father.
All of us are by nature sinners, in the camp of the unrighteous prodigals and the camp of the self-righteous Pharisees before God. But the Lord in love calls to all, to come to Him and be saved. Oh, to be reconciled to God in Christ Jesus and restored into a real love relationship with the Lord, with God as your Father. Can you too identify with the repentant believing cry of one like the prodigal who wrote:
I need thee, precious Jesus, For I am full of sin;
My soul is dark and guilty, my heart is dead within.
I need the cleansing fountain, where I can always flee;
The blood of Christ most precious, The sinner\'s perfect plea!
I need Thee, precious Jesus, For I am very poor;
a stranger and a pilgrim, I have no earthly store.
I need the love of Jesus, to cheer me on my way,
to guide my doubting footsteps, to be my strength and stay.
That\'s the language of true repentance and faith that needs not to be repented of but that results in the felt outpouring of God\'s love. Yes, just as the prodigal also experienced it, returning in this fashion to his father.
What is your response to the God of love who lovingly reaches out to all sinners? Are you one who has returned to God the Father in repentance and faith? Sadly we know there are lost sons and daughters who never return either by stubbornly remaining in their sins or arrogantly refusing to see their need of the Saviour. All such also remain in their lost state and will stand outside forever in the blackness of darkness, under God\'s righteous judgment if they refuse to repent. The most awful thing will be to realize in the end and forever that unbelief and refusal to repent of sin is so much evil against so great love. While the Lord yet offers pardon, peace, and His redeeming, embracing, eternal love, will any of you really go on refusing Him? The free offer of God\'s infinite compassion and care and endless love and mercy is laid before us and declared to you and me in this parable, this prince of parables! Will it, by God\'s grace, serve for you perhaps as the beginning of your conversion to God or you returning from sinful backsliding ways?
Oh, blessed be God for this prince of parables, this gospel within the gospel telling of God\'s amazing, seeking, gracious, welcoming, and inviting love toward sinners. see how God is out to reach out and embrace sinful people still today. He that has an ear to hear, let him hear.! Amen.

Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor

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