Scripture Luke 15:11-32
Theme: The Fathers love must be reflected in the life of His children
Stretching along the Judean hillsides for miles and miles were many communities of farm owners who were the bread basket of the Palestinian society. The farms, in most cases, were handed down from generation to generation and many families could trace ancestral lands to the distributions made by Moses and Joshua when the children of Israel possessed Canaan after leaving Egypt. This gave a family a sense of history, pride, and security in a turbulent society.
Most young people were happy to belong to a family, especially since leaving home brought disgrace on the father and the entire family. It was in one such family that the younger of two sons approached his father and asked for his inheritance. The young man knew that he was entitled to his fair share of the estate according to the father’s promise and traditional laws governing family inheritances. Furthermore, he knew that inheritances were not distributed until the father’s death and that an early request would be a statement of disrespect to the family. He also knew of the stark embarrassment such an action would cause the father. Despite his knowledge of the ramifications of his request, he vehemently demanded his portion so that he could leave and start a new life in another country.
Needless to say, this brought significant distress to the family. They could not understand why the young man wanted to leave home. The nation was under military occupation, the economy had slowed to a snails pace, home had been a comfortable place, logically, now was not the time to leave. But despite the best arguments of his father, mother, and brother, the headstrong, iron-willed young man decided to leave. He did not care about the embarrassment this would cause the family, he did not care about how the results of his choices would affect the family’s financial holdings, no, he did not even evaluate the implications for personal safety. He just wanted to leave and he wanted to leave now.
After much consultation, prayer, and meditation the father makes a devastating decision in love. He valves the estate, orchestrates a buyout, and splits the value of the estate between the two sons. Not long thereafter, the younger son packs his bags, takes his inheritance check, and leaves town in search of a new life in a new country. Because of his love for his son, the father lets him go. Brothers and sisters, this tells me something about the fathers love: the father’s love is fair.
The question of fairness is indeed a pertinent one. For one could argue that it was not fair to let the young man go, and, if he did go, he should not be awarded an inheritance. Fathers have the ability to change the will and process of inheritance. Fathers have the right to disinherit any child who refuses to live by the houses’ rules. But no! This father is fair. Having subscribed to the previously determined rules of inheritance, he lives up to his sacred commitment and acts in accordance with his promise and the legitimate rules of inheritance.
This fairness has its foundations in the father’s wisdom. Such wisdom is characterized by a thorough understanding of the facts, deciphering the true meaning of the facts, and insight into rendering sound judgement on the matter at hand. Therefore, the father evaluates the situation and, in his wisdom, makes the just or appropriate decision between the parties involved regardless of the consequences.
For fairness is not rendered based on adverse or favorable outcomes, rather fairness accepts the consequences and subsequently in love seeks to work to remedy the problem. True fairness is not bullied. It cannot be governed by fear, potential retribution, punishment, or adverse consequences, rather the father’s fairness is governed by love. According to the apostle John, in 1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. NIV
Too often fairness is determined by how one is benefited rather than by how one sacrifices for others; by what can be gained as long as there is no pain. Too often our brand of fairness become preoccupied with the injury rather than the injured. The young woman or young man who had the baby before getting married, the treasurer who stole the church’s money, the first elder who left his loving wife of 30 years for the “pretty little young thing”. The “family” may have acted to satisfy legitimate rules, but the gossip is always about what was done rather than what can be done. Members of the household of faith, today the fairness of the father’s love demands more of us.
The fairness of the fathers love demands that the injured be cared for regardless of how painful or how severe the injury maybe. This is the only concept of fairness that would allow a wayward and disobedient son back home, and back home with honor. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and many of us today, this is a concept that the older brother could not understand. For he too believed that “if you make your bed you should lie in it”. The qualities of mercy and grace were not relevant here because the sin was too great, too painful, too embarrassing to warrant redemption. But this is exactly what the father wanted to teach the older son. There is no sin so great, so high, so deep, so wide, so bad that God’s mercy and grace cannot suffice.
This is the character of the fathers love. In Matthew 5:43-45 Jesus says, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust”. NIV. So if I fall today please treat me fair, but please let that fairness be founded on the father’s love. If any officer or member of the household of faith falls, treat them fairly. But most of all as you walk the streets of the United States of America and see the many sons and daughters who have fallen and now remain lost in the far country, treat them fairly, just like the Father would.
Not only is the father’s love fair, but the fathers love is faithful. No matter how far one travels, no matter how disastrous the slide, no matter how damaging the consequences, the father’s love remains steadfast. No doubt the father had been praying for both his sons, but with special emphasis on the lost one. Perhaps, in the beginning, even the older brother joined the father in prayers and fasting for the missing family member both at morning and evening worship and on fast days. However, as time passed, and news reached the family about the younger brother’s behavior, big brother had become increasingly disinterested in holding up to God, his fast living, wine dringing, whore-mongering brother. It’s almost as though I can hear him saying, “Dad why are you still praying for him, he has only brought embarrassment on our family, he is no good, lets just forget about him.”
But the father’s love is faithful, and nothing can dissuade him from a resolute commitment to keep the wayward boy before God. For the father knew that “prayer is the key in the hand of faith that unlocks heaven’s storehouse”. He knew that “the effectual fervent pray of a righteous man availetth much”. He knew of the heavenly promise “I will contend with them who contend with me and save their children”. And so he keeps on praying. For faithfulness believes in Someone and is sure that that Someone hears and answers prayers. Today you may be up against insurmountable odds, your son or daughter may be in that far country, you may be in a situation of abject despair, but the father’s love encourages you to keep on praying.
Not only does the father’s love faithfully pray for his son, it eagerly watches for him. That’s faith. For having prayed he is every day confidently looking out the window for his sons imminent return. Faithfulness not only believes in someone but steadfastly holds on to the certainty of something. Faithfulness inspires hope. A hope that is patient in spite of the daily badgering from satanic agents. A hope that is patient amidst the tears that pain and heartache brings. A hope that helps us to “keep on keeping on” despite our inability to see beyond the dark cloud. This hope, this certainty helps us to be long-suffering for it is not dependent on something in us, rather it is secured by Someone outside of us. That’s why we keep on watching, that’s why we keep on waiting. We know the Father’s love is faithful.
Not only is the father’s love fair and faithful, it is also forgiving. No matter where you’ve been, and no matter what you’ve done the father’s love will forgive even before you come home. Just what is this quality of forgiveness? It is “a willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment, and indifferent behavior toward one who unjustly injured us, while fostering the undeserved quality of compassion, generosity, and love toward him or her” Enright (p.126).
Please note the three components to forgiveness: firstly, the offended abandons resentment, secondly, the offended reaches out to the offender, and finally, the offended fosters restoration of the offender. Please note that the offender does not have to say sorry first, does not have to repent first, does not have to pay a ransom first. The offender does not have to do anything; this again is the character of the father’s love.
This forgiving love expressed by the father “does not become angry or keep record of wrong. Love doesn’t enjoy evil, but is always happy with truth. Clear Word paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13:5,6. Remember forgiveness must originate in the heart of the offended; not the offender. The father’s willingness to forgive led him to run after the one who had offended him. This courtesy was not only extended to the wayward son but also to the son lost at home. That’s why, even though disrespected by the older son who had come home to the sound of merriment after a hard days work in the field and refused to join in, the father still goes out and runs after this disgruntled son, pleading with him to come in and celebrate. The reason: you must learn to forgive.
Listen to the father’s compelling argument in Luke 15:28-32 NIV; “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'”
This concept of the Father’s love being forgiving is perfectly demonstrated in the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ. In Romans 5:7,8 the apostle Paul puts it this way. “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”.
Please note that both brothers make it home. the younger from an overt world of sin, the older from a covert world or sin. In both cases the fathers love is faithful and it runs after the boys. The earnest expectation of the fathers faithfulness leads him, not merely to recognize his dirty and disheveled son, but to run after him. He also recognizes his proud and unforgiving older son and goes after him.
Finally the father’s love is forever. This is indeed a call for rejoicing. For no matter what the problem may be, the fathers love is always present, his love is never ending. This is the reason both brothers could come home. They knew that their father’s love would always be there. That’s why the younger boy on coming to his senses decided to go back home. He believed that if he could only get home and say sorry, he could enjoy his father’s love again. Big surprise, the father loves him even though he hasn’t said sorry. The Father despises my sin but He loves me always. 1 Corinthians 13:8 says His “Love never fails.”
One of the loveliest and most enduring hymns written was composed by a pastor named George Mathison(1842-1906). It was written on June 6,1882, 40 years after his birth. Mathison was born in the city of Glasgow, Scotland, in 1842, and as a boy had only partial vision. His sight rapidly failed as he aged due to an incurable eye disease. By the time he was 18 George Mathison was totally blind. Despite his blindness, he was a brilliant scholar at the University of Glasgow, both in the university and the seminary, and amazingly became the pastor of a two thousand member church in Edinburgh. He also became one of the greatest preachers and purest pastors of his day.
But George Mathison had missed the possibility of something dear in life, he never married. He was engaged and all was going well until he broke the sad news of his impending blindness to his fiance. Upon hearing that he would be totally blind shortly, she terminated the relationship, not wanting to live with a blind man for the rest of her life. It was an almost insurmountable pain for the aspiring pastor, but out of the pain of that very experience he later wrote a tribute to the love of God that lasts forever. The hymn’s first verse reads: “O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee, I give Thee back the life I owe that in Thine ocean depths its flow may richer fuller be.”
Oh my friend! Mother and father may stop loving, husband and wife may stop loving, boyfriend and girlfriend may stop loving, but the Father’s love is forever, it’s a love that will not let us go. The prophet Jeremiah in ch. 31:3, confirms the Father’s feelings for us; “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” This is a love that started in eternity past and will continue into eternity future. Like Peaches and Herb sing ” A love like this will never pass away”. The apostle Paul came to this conclusion in Romans 8:35-39. He asks “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Today friend, how will you respond to the call of the Father’s love. The father calls his children to be just like Him. In Matthew 5:48 we are encouraged to be perfect even as our father in heaven is perfect. The Father expects His children to be love just like him; to be fair like Him, to be faithful like Him, to be forgiving like Him, to love forever like Him. This is the challenge to spiritual maturity faced by all the Father’s children, those lost at home and those lost in the world.
In this story the Father is symbolic of God, and home is prototypical of the church. The younger brother is representative of backslidden and loss sinners, and the older brother represents Phasisitical church members. In the story Jesus tells us that the younger brother came home and accepted the benefits of the father’s love. However, He deliberately did not tell us weather or not the older brother responded to the invitation of the Father’s love. He left him with an open invitation.
Today an open invitation is extended to you to respond to the request of the Father. Right now he pleads with you to come home; to let Him save you from your sins; to enter your heart and transform your life forever. He bids you come home to a life of love. “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; Isaiah 1:18,19. NIV
Please note that the Father’s invitation is one of cleansing. In order to participate in the welcome home celebration, both the younger and the older brother would have to change their clothes. The younger brother had to be clothed in the “best robe”, and given new shoes and a ring. This robe symbolizes the righteousness of Jesus, for there is nothing mankind can do to merit the Father’s salvation: it is a gift from the Father. In the parable the younger brother accepted the Father’s offer, the older brother was pondering in a state of self righteous procrastination and did. In Matthew 8:11,12 Jesus says, “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”NIV. Today how will you respond to the Father’s love?