In the Jewish culture at the time, there was a bondservant, if you read through the Old Testament, this is someone who served a master and there is such a love relationship, at some point in time, he says, “I never want to not be your servant.” And, literally, they would go against a post and they would take an awl and they would drive a hole and they would put an earring and that would mean he is a bondservant, a part of this family.
And he just says, “I’m a part of the family.” He would be well taken care of and, “I never want to be sold; I never want to leave.” Then there were other servants or slaves and then there were hired workers.
The bondservants would often live in the house; the hired workers would often live on the estate, the other servants; and then there were the casual workers. And this is the word he is referring to. These were people who are looking for work and they are just hanging out, hoping that, “Hey, do you need some help today?” That’s what these people did.
They got up every day, they lived in town, didn’t have any regular work, they were called “hired help.” And what goes through this guy’s mind is, his father is good and kind and generous, because he wouldn’t have to do this. But he takes care of the bondservants, he takes care of the slaves on the estate, but these hired workers, all they really deserve is, “Hey, here is your paycheck,” but no, no, no, no. They are treated like family. They eat plenty. He takes care of them.
He is now remembering what kind of man his father is. And he realizes, at this point, and by the way, this is how a lot of us come to the Father. It’s called desperation. I would love it if it was in some great, holy moment we said, You know what? My life is so wonderful. I don’t know if there really is a God. But I think out of the goodness and wonderfulness of my heart I think I will pursue the God that is.
The fact of the matter is we are high-control people who tend to be very selfish by nature. We get it very naturally. You don’t have to teach your kids to be selfish. You don’t have to teach your kids to fight. You don’t have to teach your kids to be greedy. And when they grow up they become like us where we do it in very sophisticated ways where we can actually look nice and sweet and still be selfish and greedy. Right?
It’s when we are desperate. It’s when we realize, You know what? I can’t make this marriage work. Or, You know what? I have been to a lot of doctors and this isn’t going to go away. Or, I have tried this job, this job, this job and by now I thought I would be here and I’m here. Or, I am struggling and I’m discouraged and I am depressed and I am trying hard to have a positive attitude and I have listened to those self-help tapes but it’s just not working.
At some point, where you find yourself next to a bed with one of your children in ICU and you don’t know if they are going to make it. And all of a sudden, the reality of what matters in life versus all the stuff and all the junk and all the pressure and you cry out to God like never before.
And what is amazing is, instead of being consistent and going, Wow, I noticed when things were going well you weren’t talking to Me much. You meet a God whose arms are open. And that’s what Jesus is trying to teach them.
And so he decides that he is going to put a little speech together. He says, “I’ll go back home, so I’ll return.” And you might put in parentheses “repent.” There is a partial repentance, but it’s not full.
He still doesn’t get it. There is a partial repentance. What he is repenting of is the consequences and realizing doing life his way doesn’t work, so he is going to return. This is a logical movement. Second, he goes, “I will confess.” So he is going to at least come clean and there is a new self-awareness. “Look, I fell short, I have sinned, I sinned against God, I sinned against you, Dad. Okay?”
But notice he is going, “I will make restitution.” See, his point is he is going to go back in that village and he is going to say, “I don’t expect to live in the house as a son, I don’t expect to be a bondservant, I don’t even expect to be one of those slaves who are on the estate. What I want to do is I want to come back and I’m going to live in town and I am going to come and I am going to start paying off my debt. I am going to pay it, I’m going to pay it, I’m going to pay it until after a while, we are going to get the balance sheet right and maybe, just maybe, if I do really well, maybe I can get into your good graces again.” That’s his game plan.
In fact, He was absolutely teaching consistent with the rabbinic teaching of the time.
And then, finally, he says, “I’ll do it now.” So he got up and he went. He got up and he went.
Now, the expectations and fears and perspective of what is going to happen from a Middle Eastern peasant village really gets pretty exciting at this point. And this is when we learn some really, really amazing things about God.
So we pick up the text. He has come to his senses. He has got his speech all ready. “So he went to his father,” verse 20, “and while he was still a long way off,” and you might circle these key words, “his father saw him and was filled with compassion and he ran to his son and he threw his arms around him and he kissed him.”
Now, again, you need to understand, if this would have happened in this day, from this village, from this mindset, here is how it is supposed to work. Here’s how it always works. This picture is crazy, this picture has never, ever happened before, it is never going to happen. This is a crazy, crazy, crazy picture.
The son is gone, the father never goes looking for him, he has already declared before the village, in fact, they had a special ceremony when a kid would go through this. It was called a “Kezazah.” And it was a ceremony, they would declare, “My son is dead.” And the village would come together and say, “He is unworthy; he doesn’t represent our village anymore.”
There is a much bigger communal mindset of these kind of people. And so, “Hey, he is done. He can’t come back here. There is no room for him. He’s dead.” That would be the typical response of a father.
Now, if he did come back with his tail between his legs, as he is, here is what he would expect. First of all, the young boys in the village, preteens and teenagers, would heckle and mock and they would throw dirt and throw stones at him.
If his father didn’t get there before the elders of the village, the elders could rightfully, because of the disgrace on his father and the disgrace of the village, they could have stoned him. That’s what he deserved.
And so the reason he didn’t get up and just go immediately was, he was afraid. So he had to get really, really, really hungry like, You know what? I don’t have a good option. I don’t even have a bad option. But this is my only option. So I am going to go and I am going to hope maybe my dad will be gracious and I can be a hired hand.
And do you understand what Jesus, do you understand the picture He is making of God the Father? See, because this younger son is the prostitutes and the tax collectors – this younger son is all of us, all of us apart from the work of Christ.
All of us selfish, whether we are sophisticated or not, all of our immorality, all of our greed, all of our stuff, all of our: “My way, I want mine, I want it now,” mindset.
And here is the picture of God. First of all, he saw him from a long way off. That meant every single day he must have gone looking. The second thing He says he is motivated. It says he is filled with compassion. The word is splagchnon. Literally, it’s your gut or your intestines.
In Jewish culture, the seat, they thought it was down in your gut because you know with something emotional happens? You know how something happens down deep in your stomach and it kind of moves? They thought that the real heart of emotions was down in here. And it means to be deeply moved, to be deeply moved, to be emotionally touched.
And so he is looking and he cares and he has this heart and instead of rejecting or “he is dead to me,” he sees him and then he does the unthinkable. He runs. Literally the word is he “sprinted,” or he “raced.”
And he would have had a robe so he would have lifted up his robe and run. A man twenty-five and older never ran in a Jewish village. Children run. A man would never show his ankles or his knees. That would be absolutely shameful, culturally unacceptable.
The father doesn’t care what anybody thinks. So he runs. And then when he runs, he throws his arms around him and he embraces him. The kid can’t get through the speech.
And then the word for “kissing,” he kisses him repeatedly. There is this sense of: that which was precious. It’s a picture of a little girl lost in the woods and all of us have fanned out for two and a half days and we don’t think she can live and the rangers and there are helicopters and everyone has been looking. And someone finds her and they pick her up. And the cameras are there and then they take this little girl and her mom and dad see the little girl and she is alive. That is what is happening here.
And the Pharisees are going, What? See, He has just redefined the Father heart of God for them. And He has just redefined the Father heart of God for us. That’s how God feels about you when you are far away. That’s how God feels about me. That’s how God feels about people who are living together. That’s how God feels about people with sexual and porn addictions. That’s how God feels about alcoholic and prescription addictions. That’s how God feels about people who are skimming and doing things at work that are illegal. That’s how God feels about moms and dads who are involved in affairs on the side. That’s how God feels about people who have left their kids and done some really stupid and painful things. That’s how God feels about all of us.
It’s grace! It’s something in Him that compels Him to love you. It’s not something in you or me that compels Him to love us. It’s His goodness. It’s His grace. It’s His generosity.
It’s mindboggling, isn’t it? And when you see it, culturally, you can understand why in the world these Pharisees are…
Well, notice the story goes on. So the son goes from a partial repentance, right? He has come back. He has said the right words. But, see, the son always thought of sin like the Pharisees and like most of us.
Sin is breaking a rule. The word “sin” means, “missing the mark.” Literally it is, “to fall short of the glory of God.” And it is used in ancient literature of someone shooting a bow and it falling short of the target.
The word “transgression” also translated “sin” is there is a line, do not cross the line, I transgress, I cross the line. And I knew it was wrong but I did it anyway. But what people tend to think of sin is, “Don’t break the rules.”
And so the Pharisees were really good at keeping the rules. Sin always is primarily not an issue about rules. It is about relationship. The younger son, when he repented, I broke the rules, here are the consequences, I’ve got to go back, okay, I’m going to say my speech, got it right, verbalize what is right, I am going to work my way back.
See, his idea was, he is still in control. Oh, I am going to love God my way, on my terms, how I think. And he got through half of his speech and he got overwhelmed, I think, with emotion. He knew he should be getting dirt and stones from the kids, he knew the elders could come and stone him. Although, it was legal but rarely practiced.
And instead, he is being received. It’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance. And now his heart changes. And he could have had one of those, “Oh, hey,” false humility, “oh no, Dad, no, Dad! Hey! You know what? I blew it. I’m a real man and I blew it and I took a third of the estate. I’ll just be a hired man. I’ll just go, I’ll be, I’ll be in the city. I’ll work my way back.”
And as so often, when people get desperate, they cry out to God and that is the attitude. We miss God’s grace. There is nothing you can do earn your way to God. There is nothing you can do to earn your way back to God.
And so notice, let’s look at what grace looks like. What does the Father actually do? Notice he says, “Quick!” And he says it to the servants. Because the servants are, I’ve got news for you, the servants are, He is dead to us! You messed over our master. And so the first person he does, he says to the servants, “Quick! Get the best robe.”
And they are thinking, The best one? That’s yours! “Go get it.” So now, instead of being an outcast, the servants know, Hey, we are taking him to the house and we are putting the father’s robe on him. He is going to be treated well because we can’t shame him if the father is taking the shame. It’s not just a robe. The robe was one of honor.
Second, “Put a ring on his finger.” This is a signet ring. The way you did business, there would be a signet ring that would be your family’s signet ring.
The kid has blown off a third of their wealth and their estate and mortgaged their future. And the father goes, “You’re back in with authority to even do finances.” He should be whipped within an inch of his life! “Put sandals on his feet.” Slaves go barefooted. A son has sandals.
He is a son. “I trust him.” The fattened calf, literally, it’s a grain-fed calf. This is Kobe beef time. A little feast, you might get a little goat. A bigger feast, you might get a little lamb, maybe even a sheep. A big feast? Beef! And don’t miss this. The feast is not for the kid. The feast is the father’s. It is his joy. It’s his joy.
“My son was lost and my son has been found.” It’s the marriage supper of the Lamb. It’s what those of you who know Christ personally will experience. It’s the Father’s party.
And there is a celebration. And the whole town shows up. Word spreads. In a village like this? Bing, bing, bing, bing. Everybody knows what is going on! Word spreads like crazy.
The father’s response is shocking, scandalous, and completely unexpected as he takes the shame his son deserves. It’s scandalous. The Pharisees have never heard a story like this in their lives. The disciples have never, as long as they have been with Jesus, they have never, ever pictured God in this way.
This is long before it was written, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever would believe in Him shouldn’t perish but have eternal, everlasting life.”
This was before Titus would write, “Not by works of righteousness that you have done, but according to His mercy He has saved us, by the washing and regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”
And so what He has done is He has redefined for the Pharisees, and He has modeled, these tax collectors and sinners are younger sons. And Jesus has modeled the Father’s love, “I’m going after them. And I eat with them, and I accept them, and I love them. Is their behavior and the breaking of the rules acceptable? No. But they matter. And they are not going to know by Me sticking My nose and thinking I am better and being separate from them” – Pharisees. “So that’s why I’m doing what I am doing, because God loves lost people.”
And lost people come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. And some are religious and some are not. And some are desperate and some are the prostitutes or the people who are working in the clubs.
And some are the squeaky clean business, upstanding, totally in control, I’ve got my stuff together, I don’t need God, selfish, greedy, high-control, far from God sinners. And Jesus says, “I’m looking for you. My arms are open. I want to put the robe of righteousness of My Son, I want you to trade your sin for the robe of righteousness of My Son. I want to make you a son or a daughter. You’ll never work your way toward Me. And there is going to be a party in heaven, but I want you,” are you ready? “I want you to come into My home.”
Colossians 2 talks about my heart being Christ’s home. Allow Christ to take up residence and feel at home. It’s never too late. That’s what Jesus is teaching.
There is always hope. I don’t care where you’re at, I don’t care, when you think about the person who is farthest from God and you don’t think there is any hope and you stopped praying for them about five years ago because they are so out of it and they…
There is always hope, because God longs to forgive. He longs to restore. Not because that person deserves it, or you deserve it, or I deserve it. It’s because He is good. I don’t get it!
Remember? When I started this series, I said, “Grace is the most important word in the Bible.” Grace is what separates what Scripture teaches about the God of the Bible from every religion, every system, every belief on the face of the earth. This is crazy, radical stuff.
It’s an invitation for relationship, for lost sons and daughters to come and be at home with God. And then you know what? He serves his father in his home, not because he oughtta, gotta, shoulda. But he realizes he is loved and he can trust his father.
Anybody here need a Father like that who would forgive you sins, come take up residence by His Spirit in your life, put His arm around you, walk with you all of the rest of the days of your life, and make a promise absolutely based on what Jesus did on the cross, that He wants to be with you forever and ever and ever called “eternal life?”
I’m going to pray in just a second and if you have never, it’s receiving a gift. It’s empty hands of faith, I believe Jesus died for me and rose from the dead. Come into my life. I am going to receive this free gift and begin to walk with You.
For a great many of you that that is already true, who is one person who comes to mind who you just don’t think God could ever reach? And now I would like you to pray for them, okay?