Flutes and Funerals

a002b97f9c06b49145b2f77cd05086beLuke 7:31–35 (NKJV) — 31 And the Lord said, “To what then shall I liken the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, saying:

‘We played the flute for you,

And you did not dance;

We mourned to you,

And you did not weep.’

33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 But wisdom is justified by all her children.”

A group of children are sitting in the public marketplaces and calling to other children who are obstinate and unwilling to play games with them.  One game involves a happy event like a wedding.  Another involves a time of lament like a funeral.  But the onlooking companions refuse to participate in either game.

The wedding speaks to the ministry of our Lord Jesus.  The funeral speaks to that of John the Baptist.  One group of children represents both of the contrasting roles of Jesus and John, our Lord’s forerunner.  The second, non-participating of group of children represents the unresponsive, hardened Pharisees and the Jews who follow them.  The non-participants reject both games.  Even so, the Pharisees rejected both ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist.

The Pharisees seek to temper John’s stern preaching.  They don’t like their hypocrisy being put on public display.  As Herod proves when he takes the life of John the Baptist to satiate the bloodlust of his wife.  At the same time, they seek to impose strict legalism upon what they see as Jesus’ permissive ministry.  There is a great tension in this parable between legalism and licentiousness.

  1. Jesus’ message of forgiveness shouldn’t be dampened by legalistic restrictions.  Instead, it should be freely celebrated.
  2. John’s message of repentance shouldn’t be ignored.  Instead, it should be soberly measured.
  3. The truth of this tension between legalism and licentiousness is justified by those who hold to it.

The Pharisees are stubborn children.  They cannot be brought from the sidelines to play nice with the other children.  Flutes and dancing represent the joy of a wedding and the joy of mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Mourning and weeping represent the sober reality of sin’s just penalty:  death and the funeral.  But the Pharisees will not play that game either.

Jesus and the Good News Ministry

John the Baptist is the last of a long line of OT prophets who spoke of a time when the Messiah would come.  Prophets speak of what is to come.  But now the Bridegroom has come.  The best man takes a backseat.  John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord Jesus.  He is the forerunner of the Messiah who would preach the Good News of the glorious gospel.  Jesus confirmed His own preaching ministry with the miracles prophesied of in the OT by prophets like the Baptist.  He also gave the apostles the ability to work miracles to confirm their teaching ministry.  All was in place.  Nothing should have hindered the reception of the Bridegroom or His joyful message of forgiveness.

The Rejection of the Good News

However, that message was not heeded.  The Pharisees and those who followed them loved the letter of the Law but hated the spirit of it.  They were fine with the shadow but rejected the substance.  The road is indeed narrow which leads to righteousness.  Broad is the path to destruction.  The majority fill the broad way; the minority tread the narrow.

It shouldn’t be surprising that few receive the Good News today.  It’s the way it has always been.  A population tends to waver between legalism and licentiousness.  But that whole population is still on the broad way.  A lot of people think that they are Christians, but they don’t rejoice in forgiveness or repent in the face of serious sin.  Wedding or funeral – it makes little difference to them.  They won’t come out and play.  Believers say with the prophet Isaiah, ”Lord, who has believed our report?”

But recall that John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus were very convincing and powerful preachers.  A lot of people wouldn’t hear them.  Someone weird like John doesn’t really deserve a hearing from the Pharisees’ perspective.  The guy eats locusts and wild honey.  He lives an isolated life wearing camel’s hair.  He doesn’t have fun at all.  He doesn’t eat bread or drink wine.  He must have a demon.  He’s just so austere.  We can’t relate to him.  And Jesus is way too friendly.  Eating and drinking with anybody and everybody.  He’s a glutton and a drunkard.  There’s got to be something wrong with anyone who spends time as a friend of tax collectors and sinners.

Some people hate the glorious message of grace and forgiveness because of their legalistic sin nature.  Others hate it because of the way it cramps their style, calling them to Spirit transformation rather than world conformation.  They wouldn’t mind a Christ to save them, but they don’t want a Lord to master them.

Others don’t like a faith-only message.  “After all, what incentive would there be for righteous living,” they ask.  They are so works-oriented that they drive themselves and other to despair.  Their proselytes are two-fold the children of Hell.  They need a written set of laws and codes to live life by.  Anyone who preaches “by grace through faith” is offensive to these religious, constraining types.  To them, it’s a religion not a relationship.  It is indeed a way to control the masses.

These are hardened, stubborn children.  We look at the Pharisees and the Jews who followed them as being so foolish and churlish.  But we don’t see the legalism working within us that worked within them.  We don’t like it when our legalism is showing.  We like to justify it, but wisdom only is justified by all her children.

The Gospel is free …grace is free.  It’s too humiliating for some people to admit that.  They are too proud to receive it or believe it.  Self-righteousness and self-denial seems to make more sense.  But we have no righteousness of our own, and self-denial turns to self-indulgence in no time without Christ.  Even if we get to the point that we know the Gospel is true, we cannot get to the point that we are to blame for rejecting it.  We blame the messenger …we condemn the Gospel’s preachers in order to justify ourselves.

But the real problem is that we love darkness rather than light.  If Jesus’ message came to us from Him directly, we’d do the same thing the Pharisees did.  We would balk and act wounded and offended.  We’d use that as the reason to reject Him and His message.  But wisdom is justified by all her children.

Pharisee or Publican: Which One Are You?

“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.” (Matthew 21:28–32)

This parable parallels The Parable of the Prodigal Son. The father has two sons. Just as one son repented of his wasteful life, the son in this parable will repent of his disobedience. The son that said he would obey and did not reminds us of the self-righteousness we see in the older brother of the Prodigal story. Here, one son says he will go and work in father’s vineyard but doesn’t. The other son says he won’t and he does after later changing his mind.

Jesus was aiming this parable at the hearts of the chief priests and the elders along with the tax collectors and harlots (21.23, 32). The tax collectors and harlots will enter the kingdom before the chief priests and elders. Actually, these tax collectors and harlots may enter the kingdom instead of the chief priests and elders. This fact will only change if the chief priests and scribes humble themselves and enter by grace through faith just as the tax collectors and harlots do. One group sees and feels its need while the other does not.

There are three important practical aspects to this parable: 1) God sends mankind forth to carry out His will; 2) Some promise to perform His will, fail to make good, and are rejected; 3) Others rebel against His will, later submit, and are accepted.

The Lord Jesus faced a hardened group of chief priests and elders. A full-on assault against them would simply drive them away. The Lord Jesus chose an indirect method of attack. These men confronted Jesus by asking, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” (Matthew 21.23). Jesus answered their questions with questions of His own, “The baptism of John – where was it from? From heaven or from men” (Matthew 21.24-25)? They were in a quandary. John was counted as a prophet. If they answered from men, then they would be at odds with the populace who loved John. If they answered from heaven, it is obvious what Jesus would next ask: “Why then did you not believe him” (Matthew 21.25)?

The chief priests and elders wouldn’t give Jesus a direct answer to His question. So Jesus, knowing the hardness of the men didn’t directly answer them. But He did answer them. That’s what our parable is all about.

The Conduct of the Two Sons

The tax-collectors and harlots are represented by the son who refused to comply with the father’s command to go out and work in the field. Later reflection brought the son to his senses and he went. When John the Baptist preached his message of repentance, many who heard it were obvious sinners. They had no hope. They had shown contempt for the Word of God. When facing the fact that they were lost and undone, John preached a message of hope and mercy. When they submitted to the baptism of John, they did so with grateful, sincere hearts.

The chief priests and the elders had pledged obedience to the Father’s will, but didn’t do the work assigned to them. They fulfilled a religious agenda; just not God’s agenda! These men had their phylacteries and religious robes …they feigned respect for God but only to be seen of men. They thought in their self-righteousness that if anyone was prized by God among men, it was them. They wouldn’t work in the Father’s vineyard because they were too busy with their own vineyard. Are you sure you’re not putting together your own vineyard?

Both sons are surely representative of all mankind. We go out and speak with people and find that at first blush they could care less about God’s sovereignty and authority over their lives. They say with the psalmist, “With our tongue we will prevail; our lips are our own; who is lord over us” (Psalm 12.4)? But then God’s grace convinces them of their sin. They seek for mercy and hope in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, which gives them both. Others are serious-minded about religious things. They are outwardly moral and say that they respect and obey the Word of God. And yet theirs is a form of godliness with no inner power or substance. They turn away from external sinfulness and run toward external self-righteousness. It will be a rude awakening for the self-righteous to learn that in Christ they find all their righteousness. Only sin-sick people need the Great Physician.

The first son who refused to obey his father certainly had terrible character. But repentance transformed his character. Obedience coming from the heart of gratitude pleases the Father. The second son was only a hypocrite …devoid of any kind of character at all. His promise to obey just strengthened his worthless and hypocritical heart. This leads us to three conclusions about this parable:

1.  Many religious people will be confirmed in their self-righteousness and enter Hell.

We must be thankful that the populace around us doesn’t manifest its godless heart to the degree that it did in the days of Noah. It will always be better to live in a moral society rather than an immoral one. However, the big danger for the moral, self-righteous man is that he never comes to the end of himself. I am thankful that I don’t have a brothel down the street from my house. Yet in the final sum of things, there is no difference between the customers inside of a brothel and the self-righteous congregants inside of a Baptist, Catholic, or Mormon Church. Either Christ is sufficient or He is not; there is no in-between. It’s easier to preach the Gospel to people who truly believe they are lost. They do not have to be convinced of their need. What they find incredulous is that they would be able to receive grace. But a self-righteous generation is “pure in its own eyes, yet is not washed from its filthiness” (Proverbs 30.12).

2.  Godliness is determined inside-out.

Godliness is indeterminable by what a person says. Godliness works itself in and through a person. The end result is obedience and fulfilling the Father’s will. Many people have agendas. They say, “I go, sir!” But do they really go? It’s like a boss asking an employee to fulfill certain job requirements, but he has his own agenda for his job. You can say you’re loyal to Christ all you want. You can say that you serve the Lord all you want. The real test is what you do and the spirit in which you do it. Do your works deny Christ when you insist you live for Christ? Those humbled and obedient are right before God. All the rest are hypocrites; they are like the deceitful, self-righteous son. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

3.  Many ungodly people will repent of their sinfulness and enter Heaven.

Those who turn from their sinfulness and self-righteousness find hope at the foot of the cross. God has a vineyard in which you are able to work. Access that vineyard by grace through faith. Do that which God purposed you to do even before time began. You may think that you cannot serve God because of the sin of your past. Let me remind you that that too is self-righteousness. Do you really think that if you lived a certain way in the past that that would qualify you for Heaven or for service to God? None of us are righteous. All of us are insufficient to live godly lives. Our default position is ungodly. God “will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds [He] will remember no more” (Hebrews 8.12). Once we are justified not only do we access Heaven one day, we have access to God today! We are accepted in the Beloved One. The very Pharisees who reject harlots will find their place in the Lake of fire which burns forever. Many long-term church-goers will burn right beside them. Still others will enter the Heaven after being saved upon the 11th hour of their lives.

Let us all go to work in the Father’s vineyard today. Let us glorify God rather than ourselves. Don’t simply say, “Lord, Lord!” but do the will of your Father in Heaven!

The Debt You Cannot Pay

It’s hard to love people who feel entitled to your love. I guess you’re just supposed to be grateful to bask in the presence of one so loveable. When a person feels that he is God’s gift to the world, that person has very little to give the world. But when a person who is needy and desperate finds genuine love, that person will truly reciprocate with undying gratitude and affection.

The Lord Jesus had relationships with a self-righteous religious Pharisee named Simon and a notoriously sinful woman (see Luke 7.36-50). The Pharisee watched the woman bring a heavy heart and an alabaster flask to Jesus and express love and gratitude. He thought to himself, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7.39). You can almost imagine him spitting those last five words out in his thoughts.

Instead of calling fire down upon the self-righteous man’s head, Jesus confronted him with a parable:

“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”” (Luke 7:41–42)

There is an obvious parallel between this parable and the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-32). The debtor who owed 50 is like the older son; the debtor who owed 500 like the younger. The creditor could certainly be the father who desires to welcome back both his self-righteous son (Simon the Pharisee) and his wayward prodigal (sinful woman).

Jesus asks Simon, “Which of them will love him more?” The obvious answer to the question will be a self-indictment for Simon. It is similar to what the LORD did to David when he confronted his murder of Uriah to cover up adultery with the man’s wife. God sent a prophet named Nathan to tell a story about a little ewe lamb.

“There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:1–7)

Like the debtor who owed 50, those forgiven little love little. Like the debtor who owed 500, those forgiven much love much. But the creditor forgave both. God forgives the vilest of sinners among us only if such a sinner comes by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ. But all of us are sinners. All fall short of the glory of God. Human perspective leads us to falsely conclude that some of us are better than others. Paul wrote, “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” (2 Corinthians 10:12)

The fact is that you may be a self-righteous religious person or you may be a licentious, bar-hopping sinner. But all of us are guilty before God. All fall short of the glory of God. If we draw a comparison with someone, let us attempt to compare ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ. You will conclude as I have that none of us have cause to boast. No matter how much or how little we owe, we cannot pay our sin-debt.

But God is willing to forgive. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Jesus “Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) Since this is true, we cannot have anything to do with our salvation. It is all in accordance with God’s mercy and grace. Therefore, no man can claim to be especially loveable to God. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only One worthy of the Father’s words, “This is My beloved Son!”

If you attempt to justify yourself by your supposed goodness or by some law or standard you’ve kept, you have fallen from grace and have become estranged from Christ (see Galatians 5.4). God is willing to forgive, and He invites sinners to come to His Son’s Person and work believing. If you trust in Christ alone for your eternal life, you have much for which you should be grateful.

Your debt is not small. It cost the Father the death of His Son: Jesus’ lifeblood shed for you. Self-righteous people have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof. They are truly hypocritical and pretentious. Formerly self-righteous people experience the grace of God and delight to see Christ high and lifted up!

Your debt is not too great. There is a zeal that Christ will own. Romans 12.11 teaches us that we should not lag behind in our work for the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought to be zealous and fervent in spirit when serving the Lord. When zeal is directed by the Word and motivated by gratitude, then we shall be vindicated even though the world forsake us. Pray and seek power to honor and glorify God. If you live this way, then you shall hear the Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

No sinner will be turned away when he turns to Christ! Jesus forgave the unwelcome woman’s sin. Only God can do that. Her story reminds us that God’s mercy is not only present in our own story, it is dominant. Jesus paid the debt we could not pay. Therefore, we must “owe no one anything except to love one another!” (Romans 13.8a)

 

A Search Party You Need to Join

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… Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:7, 10)

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:12–14)

The Pharisees needed to learn that there is more joy in Heaven and in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents than over the just who need no repentance.   Jesus was not saying that the Pharisees did not need repentance, because they surely did.  He was teaching that God rejoices over those who truly repent and not over those who are hypocritical.  This could include the Pharisees and all Jewish people tempted to think that they are better than the tax collectors and the sinners.  The hypocrisy could creep into the lives of tax collectors and sinners too!

The shepherd and the woman are searching.  The passive elements of the sheep and coin provide a striking illustration that salvation is all of God.  But it must be remembered that in the final sum of things, while all of us go astray …go our own way, all of us must also repent.  Faith and repentance are my responsibility.  Grace and redemption are God’s.  This is how the Christian maintains that salvation begins with God, is all of God, and that God never relinquishes His sovereignty to man.

First, God takes the initiative to seek and save lost sinners.  Second, the salvation of the lost is a cause for great joy.  Third, those who are safe in the fold persist in seeking the lost as instruments in God’s hand.

God’s Initiative in Seeking the Lost

Our heavenly Father is concerned about the lost souls of men.  It is a no-brainer.  We must all conclude that nothing is more valuable than the eternal souls of men from God’s perspective.  He sacrificed His Son for the souls of men.  We will remain lost if the Father does not seek us.  We will not seek Him.  Our goodness is nothing apart from the Lord (Psalm 16.2).  Self-righteousness is a filthy rag before God.  Job asks, “Is it any pleasure to the Almighty that you are righteous” (Job 22.3)?  That’s a great question!  The answer is absolutely not if that righteousness is self-righteousness.  We must have the gift of Christ’s righteousness!

God must seek and find the lost.  Then when He finds us, we must be washed in the blood of the Lamb.  If not, we will incur the wrath and righteous indignation of God throughout all eternity.  But “through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not” (Lamentations 3.22).  That is why God never removes His hand of protection when it comes to those who are already with Him (John 6.47).  Yet He also relentlessly moves upon the hearts of living men and women to breathe life into their eternal souls too.

The woman lit a candle and searched all of the dark recesses of her home.  “It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4.6).  The woman swept the floor of her home in order to try to find the coin in any of the debris that had collected.  God will scour the entire surface of the earth through believers willing to testify of His love.  He has empowered us by His Spirit to preach the Gospel!

Celebrating with God When the Lost are Found

The dominant theme that ties together all three parables in Luke 15 is the joy over the lost being found.  The eternal condemnation and misery of the lost finds it root in sin and rebellion.  The eternal salvation and accompanying joy of the found finds it root in grace and repentance.  This is a source of joy for God.  He sent His Son to die for the lost souls of men.  He rejoices when they are found.  His angels rejoice when they are found.  We should rejoice when they are found!  Isaiah writes of the lost of Babylon:  “Hell from beneath is excited about you, to meet you at your coming; it stirs up the dead for you, all the chief ones of the earth; it has raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.  They all shall speak and say to you:  ‘Have you also become as weak as we?  Have you become like us?’” (Isaiah 14.9-10)  Shall not Heaven be just as excited to meet the lost soul when it comes into the presence of God through faith Christ alone!  Hell is working; Heaven is working.  What side are you on?

Pressing On in Seeking the Lost

If we are to have the heart of God, then we must not fight against Him.  If He relentlessly seeks the lost to save, then why shall we listlessly wander among them without compassion?  We know the danger that awaits the unconverted men and women around us.  All like sheep have gone astray …all have gone their own way.  But the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53.6).  The adversary is relentless as he seeks those whom he may devour.  We must be yielded to relentlessly seek those whom God may save through us.  God will press on in seeking the lost; however, I want to be a part of His search party.  What about you?

A Godly Father’s Relationship with His Sons (Part 2)

It incenses people who play by the rules that someone would receive God’s grace after living such a wasteful life.  It really shouldn’t make moral people angry and bitter when immoral people turn to their only saving hope.  The reason that it does is that we become proud, envious, and discontented like the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.” (Luke 15:28).

The Perspective of the Older Brother

We’ve witnessed similar attitudes in Scripture.  Had Nineveh failed to turn from their evil way, God would not have relented.  He would have judged them (Jonah 3.10).  Of course, they did repent and God did relent.  You’d think a preacher would be happy about that, but not Jonah.  It displeased him a lot.  He became very angry about it (Jonah 4.1).  When Peter fellowshipped with Gentile Christians, it bothered the apostles and brethren from Judea (Acts 11.1-3).  Even the Pharisees themselves were the objects of this particular parable:

Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He spoke this parable to them…” (Luke 15:1–3)

They just couldn’t stand the fact that Jesus received and ate with tax collectors and sinners.  They had a disposition which was strikingly similar to that of the older brother.  They hated the fact that sinful people were turning from their hopeless lives to Jesus Christ.

The Pharisees complained that tax collectors and sinners were turning to God through the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.  There are Pharisees in every generation.  They hate it when sinful people repent after living sinful lives.  They are unwilling to be happy about it.  There are two important characteristics of the older brother which provide powerful lessons for us:

1.            He was angry about the father’s reception of the younger brother.

2.            He was unwilling to joyfully participate in his younger brother’s return.

Verse 28 makes it plain:  “He was angry.”  His father tenderly pleaded for his oldest son to join the feast celebrating his younger brother’s return.  But all the older son could do was remind his father of how blameless and wonderful he had been in the past.  “Why didn’t his father realize this?”  Of course, the older brother did all this because he was filled with envy.  He couldn’t be grateful for his brother’s return because of his own foolish pride.

But verse 28 goes on to say, “He was angry and would not go in.”  He was unwilling.  Nothing would move him from his hatred and rejection of his brother.  The Pharisees also were unwilling.  They simply viewed themselves as better than everyone else.  There are Pharisees in every generation.  The hardest people to win to Jesus Christ are those who are self-righteous …those who think they are above it all.  Telling someone that their works are filthy rags will not endear them to your heart.  But they need to hear it.

The Perspective of the Father

But notice how the father responds to the older son:  “Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.”

First, the father was forbearing.  He did not utter bitter invectives or become angry with his son.  The son was very disrespectful but the father was very loving.  Fathers should be this way.  Certainly our heavenly Father is.  He is very patient with prodigal and Pharisee alike.

Second, the father condescended to his son.  He went out and pleaded with him.  Lovingly, he reminded him that nothing in all those years had been withheld from him.  Whatever the father had was his.  But both sons were home, and the father implored the older brother to be grateful not bitter.  Fathers must initiate course corrections with their children in the same way.  They shouldn’t expect their immature children to meet them half-way.

Third, the father loved his son.  It is not as hard to love the prodigal son.  He came to the end of himself and humbly returned, willing to take the place of a servant.  It is much harder to love the Pharisee.  He never is tender and responsive to his father.  But the father was tender and caring nonetheless.  Would the son give up his self-righteous disposition and come in and celebrate?  Our heavenly Father’s heart churns within Him; His sympathy is stirred for the self-righteous and the licentious alike (cf. Hosea 11.8).  We should be the same.

Self-righteousness is insidious.  It creeps in with pride, envy, discontentment, and many other evils accompanying it.  It will cause religious men to justify themselves …to pray within themselves words like that of another Pharisee:  “God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” (Luke 18.11).  Those who remain self-righteous cannot be saved.

But repentant prodigals are filled with peace and have a desire to sin no more.  They are truly grieved by the direction their lives were going.  They never want to return to the cesspool of their former lives.  Humility is the recognition that you cannot depend upon yourself but must cling to the grace and mercy of God.  All offend the Father every day.  The key is to come before Him in abject poverty, willing to take the place of a servant only to be given the privileges of a son.

A Godly Father’s Relationship with His Sons

There are three main characters in the well-known Parable of the Prodigal Son.  First, the prodigal (wasteful) or younger son parallels all broken believers who have retreated from the Father only to return and be well-received by Him.  Second, the Pharisaical son parallels those who claim to be a part of God’s family only to demonstrate self-righteous anger when the Father extends His grace to the undeserving.  Third, the protagonist in this story is the father in my understanding.  He parallels our heavenly Father who demonstrates how all who turn to Him receive undeserved forgiveness and love.  The younger brother is undeserving, but so is the older brother.  This is the parable in a nutshell.

Of course, we may learn from all three perspectives in the parable.  First, we direct ourselves to the lesson of the prodigal son.

The Perspective of the Prodigal Son

Retreat

The perspective of the younger son’s retreat is the most common focus when approaching this parable.  Most are able to relate to it.  Certainly the tax-collectors and sinners related to the younger son.  His retreat begins at a point in his life where he has everything; it ends when no one gives him anything – no food, no relief, not gratitude, no compassion …nothing!

If our children depart from the presence of God to do life their own way, they do so because of a perception that they are not free but long to be so.  They wish to cast off the restraint of parental and pastoral authority and do their own thing.  They increasingly take for granted the grace, mercy, and compassion that God affords them.  They will direct their energies, time, money, and abilities to sinful, wasteful living.  They may not sin to the extent of the prodigal son, but they operate under his perspective of life.

Time reveals to the true child of God the same acute disappointment that the prodigal son experienced.  God loves us too much to allow us to retreat from Him.  He will do what is necessary to break our resolve to do our own thing in life.  No one can return to God until they realize just how empty life is without Him.  As parents, that leaves us dependent upon our heavenly Father to deliver our retreating children.

Return

The prodigal son was not a reasonable man when he was running away from such a compassionate dad.  Sin is never reasonable.  But the Bible does say that at last this man came to himself.  He begins to think of his father’s house.  There are steps he takes which lead to his return.  First, he reflects upon how foolishly he has behaved and upon the much more satisfying life he could have with his father – even as servant!  Second, he resolves to return to his father for forgiveness; however, in so doing he finds freedom under the father’s restraint and authority.  Go figure!  His resolve to return came at a time when all hope was lost for him.

When we see how foolishly and wickedly we behave as backslidden believers …how wretched and deplorable the circumstance of our sin is, it makes us long for a time when life was once satisfying.  We come broken and contrite.  We are humbled by our illusory attempt at freedom.  We are now ready to return to the throne of God’s grace for freedom.  There we ask for mercy.  The props are kicked out from underneath us.  We’ve come to the end of ourselves.  We see that there is only satisfaction in an all-sufficient Savior who has given us His all-sufficient Word.  So, we return.

Reception

When the prodigal son returns, his father is waiting and watching.  He runs to his son with open arms and recognizes him from afar.  A father’s compassion knows no bounds.  I speak as one who knows.  It will be demonstrated by his actions.  He doesn’t even allow his son to say what he has rehearsed.  Signs of lavish affection are abundant in the story.  When we are really meditating upon this story, we cannot help but be moved to tears.  The best robe, shoes, a ring, the fatted calf – indeed, all is well!

We find the same reception when we return to God.  We don’t deserve it because of our initial retreat.  And yet, our Father receives us with joy.  There is no “I told you so” attitude here.  There is only love, mercy, and compassion.  There is only forgiveness for the broken and contrite son.

If we are to expect such a reception, then we must return broken and contrite before the Lord.  We must cry out for His mercy as miserable prodigals.  The more accurate our perception of our broken relationship, the greater the joy when we understand the acceptability we have before the Father because of the Son of God.

You may be afraid to return to God because you’ve retreated a great distance.  But no child of God is beyond the reach of the reception we see in Luke 15.  As a matter of fact, how much better it is to realize that we have retreated and then return to the Father.  Then, we too, may experience a lavish reception.  But why does a long period of time need to pass?  I have retreated and returned in a space of five minutes.  Are you actually trying to pay for your sinfulness by remaining in the wilderness?  Didn’t Jesus pay it all?  He has said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7.37) … “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11.28).