Summer Blockbusters, Week 1
The Prodigal Son
This might be a hard message for you to hear.
Some of you may hear what I’ve got to say this morning and think, “I can’t believe it.” Others of you might think, “I don’t believe it.” And then some of you may think, “Claude I knew that, that’s basic. Now move on to something else!”
But here’s the thing: We’ve got to get this. If we don’t get this message, nothing else matters.
Today we’re starting a new series called “Summer Blockbusters.” We’re looking at the Parables of Jesus, and we’re going to start with my absolute favorite. Some of you might remember that I preached on this about a year ago. Be advised that I’ll probably preach on it again about a year from now! Why? Because we’ve got to get this message. If we don’t get this, nothing else matters.
Please pray with me…
The question caught me off balance. I was having breakfast with my friend Bob Tuttle – he was a seminary professor, and the advisor for my doctoral dissertation.
Now, Bob’s an intense guy. His classes were like revival meetings. He was known for walking up to seminary students at random and saying, “Are you saved? Just because you’re in seminary doesn’t mean you know Jesus!”
We were having breakfast, and just out of the blue, Bob said, “Claude, do your people know God loves them?” And I said, “Well, they should. I preach on it all the time. Yeah. I’m sure they do.”
And then Bob leaned across the table, almost knocked over my coffee, and got right up in my face and said, “What about you, Claude? Do you know God loves you?”
And all of a sudden I got quiet. Because here’s the thing: Sometimes I get so disappointed with myself, that I can’t believe God would love me. I mess up so many times. I say things that hurt people. I forget things that matter to people. I do things that are insensitive. I catch myself being so self-centered and then I go, “Aaugh – why did I do that?”
Do I know God loves me? Sometimes I wonder why he would.
So what about you? Do you know God loves you?
Remember I said earlier this might be a hard message to hear.
Some of you are so disappointed with yourself that you can’t believe God loves you.
Some of you are so disappointed with life that you don’t believe God loves you:
– an injury
– a chronic illness
– the death of a relationship
– the death of a person
And you’re saying, “It doesn’t make sense that a loving God would let these things happen.
I don’t believe God loves me.”
And then some of you are going to be the hardest for me to reach. You’re the ones who are saying, “Yes, I know God loves me, I’ve heard it a million times, I don’t need to hear it again.” And to you I say, “Yes, maybe you’ve heard it, and maybe you believe it, but do you KNOW it – in a life-changing, personal way?”
Do you know God loves you?
Today we’re going to look at a story that Jesus told to illustrate God’s love for you. This story has been called “the gospel within the Gospels.” And it’s found in Luke 15, starting in verse 11:
11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’
Luke 15:11-12, New Revised Standard Version
And what the son is really saying is, “Dad, I wish you were dead.”
13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country…
Luke 15:13a NRSV
In those days, family was everything. Ancestral land was everything. We move away from home all the time – but in Jesus day, you didn’t do that.
Look at the rest of verse 13:
… and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
–Luke 15:13b NRSV
In other words, he took the good gifts of his father and used them for evil. He sold his birthright for a few moments of sinful pleasure.
And then, verse 14:
14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.
–Luke 15:14-15 NRSV
For a Jewish man in the first century, pigs were ritually unclean. The Jewish law said, “Cursed is he who feeds swine.” This would be like a teenage runaway who turned to prostitution to support herself.
16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
-Luke 15:16 NRSV
Imagine the prodigal son lying there in a pig stall, dirty, hungry, and alone. That’s a picture of what we call “Rock Bottom.” Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’re there now.
Fortunately, the younger son realizes that he’s at rock bottom, and he knows what he has to do – Verse 17:
17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
Now picture that scene for a minute. Picture the son all ragged and dirty, stinking of manure and pig slop. Picture the father in his long flowing robes embracing his son. See that moment of reconciliation and forgiveness.
And then the father goes even further. Look at v. 21:
21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
Which robe did he get? The best one! And whose robe was that, most likely? The father’s! So the father covers the raggedness of the son’s sin with his own robe of righteousness.
And what did that ring on the finger mean? It was a signet ring. It meant authority. All the authority of the household. Did you hear that? The son who ran away and came back with nothing gets all the authority of the household.
And then the sandals for his feet – in those days, slaves went barefoot – only the children of the master got to wear shoes.
SO: He has the robe of righteousness
The ring of authority
And the shoes of relationship
And on top of all that, he gets a party!
This young man is better off now than before he left!
AND MY FRIENDS, THAT IS A PICTURE OF HOW GOD LOVES YOU!
We try so hard to earn God’s love
But all he really wants is YOU.
NOW: take a look at this painting:
This is The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt. This is Rembrandt’s portrayal of the Grace of God.
There’s a print of that painting hanging in my office. I’m not really an art guy. But somebody gave me a book by Henri Nouwen where he talks about that painting. And after I read that book, I had to have a copy of that painting.
The elderly man in the red cloak, over to the left, is the father. The ragged young man on his knees is the prodigal.
The tall, dignified man on the right is the prodigal’s older brother. He was the good son – the one who did everything right. He was fumin’ mad when the prodigal came home. And so there he stands, almost in the dark. The father loves him too, he just doesn’t know it. And I’m afraid that the church is full of folks like him, who are trying so hard to be good and do everything right that they don’t know how to just rest in the unconditional love of God.
Here’s a close-up view of the father and the son:
Look at how the father is embracing the son who’s come home, and look at how the son is resting his head on the father’s chest.
Understand that this son who is basking in the father’s love has NOTHING. He has done NOTHING. The love he’s receiving right now is not based on anything he’s done or anything he has to give.
And my friend, THAT IS A PICTURE OF HOW GOD LOVES YOU!
So why do I have this painting in my office? 2 reasons:
Reason # 1 – Because that’s what I want my ministry to be all about: Grace–welcoming home the prodigal–showing God’s unconditional love to the broken and weary.
Reason #2 (and this one’s more important) – Because I need it.
I need to be reminded DAILY that I am that prodigal – dirty, smelly, reeking of sin. And yet LOOK! Look how much my father loves me! And there’s nothing I can do to make God love me less. And there’s nothing I have to do to make God love me more.
Do you know God loves you?
To those who say, “I can’t believe it because of things I’ve done,” I say, “Look at the painting!” Jesus tells of a God who runs to meet you, no matter what you’ve done–who will not only take you back, but shower you with love and affection. Come to God, and let him love you.
To those who say, “I don’t believe it, because of things that have happened to me,” I say, “Look at the painting.” Maybe your raggedness is the raggedness of suffering. And I don’t know why it’s happening. There is no good answer as to why it’s happening. But I do know this: it’s not because God doesn’t love you. And I would urge you not to turn away from God, but to Come to God, and let him love you.
And to those who say, “Sure I believe God loves me, I’ve believed that for years.” I say, “Look at the painting.” Is that a picture of your relationship with God? Are you able to rest in God’s love? Can you put your head on his chest and feel his heart beating with love for you?
Come to God, and let him love you.