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About this series
The Prodigal and the Perfectionist
Why We All Need Grace
How often has something seemed confusing until you saw a picture of it and then you thought, "Oh, now I get it!"? Grace is like that -- confusing, until we get a picture of what it is. Scripture tells us that God's grace is available to all who will receive it. But how can we receive it, if we don't really know what it is, or even why we need it? In this series, Chip Ingram explains the meaning of grace that Jesus so clearly revealed, in the parable of Luke 15. Jesus' intention was to help people, then and now, understand God's generous heart and why He is so ready to pour out His abundant grace on all who will receive it.More from this series
“Now the tax collectors and the sinners were gathered around to hear Him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and even eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this parable,” notice – singular. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open field and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and comes home. Then he calls his friends and his neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’” They would all get that. Wow, yeah!
“I tell you,” application, “in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Singular parable, story number two. “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’” It would be like a woman losing her wedding ring or actually, the diamond on her wedding ring. It was worth about a day’s wage. Very, very precious to her.
“In the same way, I tell you, there is more rejoicing in the presence of the angels over one sinner who repents.”
Jesus continues, third story, singular parable. “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided the property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all that he had, and he set off for a distant country and there he squandered his wealth in wild living.
“After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in the whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country,” a Gentile, “who sent him to the fields to feed pigs.” It’s the lowest job a young Jewish boy could ever have.
“He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” Moment of truth.
“When he came to his senses, he said ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out, go back to my father, and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.”
He is repenting. He has come to his senses. My way, my stuff, this direction is not right. I am going to turn and go back to my father and I’ve got a speech with three points, right? What happens?
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and filled with compassion for him, he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him.” Now the son is going to start his speech.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But…”
In his three point repentance speech he makes point one, point two, he doesn’t get to point three. He gets interrupted. “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe,” which was his, “put it on him. Put a ring on his finger, sandals on his feet. Bring the fatted calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is now alive; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” A party is going to begin.
When they heard this story, they were flabbergasted. The disciples were flabbergasted but the Pharisees were steaming. The camera lens zooms from the younger to the older.
And now we get the second son. Verse 25. “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.” This is a real party. “So he called one of the servants and asked him, ‘What is going on?’ ‘Your brother has come home,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has come back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I have been slaving for you and I never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But this son of yours,’” not my brother, “but this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitution comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
The father’s response, again, completely culturally unacceptable. “‘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 the brother of yours was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is now found.’”
Jesus is explaining to two different groups: If you ever wanted to know what God the Father is like, this is the clearest, most powerful picture you’ll ever get. And it’s one parable with three stories.
Let’s walk through, I’ll walk through fairly quickly, just some observations to give you an overview and then I will make some points here toward the end. This is an incredible and in Jesus’ time, culturally flabbergasting chapter of Scripture. And you will see this more and more.
If you read the context, which I always love to do, some of you, go ahead and read Luke 14, because it comes right before Luke 15. Luke 15 is really addressed to the Pharisees. But in Luke 14, they have come to know who Jesus really is. And then He makes this outrageous [statement], “Unless you take up your cross and follow Me, you cannot be My disciples.”
And if you look at the end of Luke 14, He actually goes on to say, “Unless you give up everything, you cannot be My disciple.” And then He follows that with, “Salt is good, but if salt loses its taste, it’s not good for anything.”
And so if you’re Peter or James or John or one of the Twelve and you’re following Him and you’re thinking, Look, we have left our house, we have left our homes, we have left our business, left our finances. We are not exactly very popular hanging around with You. We have been kicked out of the synagogues. What do You mean, “Give up everything?”
And what Jesus is going to teach is about the goodness of God. And what He is going to tell them, Instead of you guys looking at all these things you think you need to give up, if you could grasp the grace of God, if you could understand what My Father is like, it would be like a multi, multi-billionaire coming to you and saying, “I want you to give me the keys to your car and the deed of your house and your bank account, and I’ll take care of it for you, okay? And I will either parcel out whatever you have, whatever you need. And, by the way, I might just add a million or two or five or ten here, just because I love you. Would you be willing to entrust [that to] Me?”
See, that’s the God that Jesus, commitment, right? Commitment, this radical call of discipleship is entrusting who we are and all that we have because surrender or commitment is the channel through which God’s biggest and best blessings flow.
It is the channel though which that grace [flows], so, as He tells this story, the disciples are getting an, “Oh!” They are as shocked as the Pharisees. Culturally unacceptable.
Second, this is the only time in Scripture where Jesus tells three stories in one parable. He wants to dramatically emphasize something essential and, to His audience, a revolutionary truth about God.
There are not superlatives in the Hebrew language. In other words, we use: good, better, best. That’s not in the Hebrew language. When you want to make a point, you would say, “Good, good, good.” Or you’ll notice in Scripture when Jesus is making a point He will say, “Truly, truly,” or some translations, “Verily, verily.”
It’s the underline. Get with it! When the angels are acclaiming God, what is it? “Holy, holy, holy.” So the fact that that He tells them a parable and there are one, two, three things. He is saying, “Guys! There is nothing more important that you will ever hear than what I am saying right now.”
Notice He goes on. Jesus wants us to know what God is like. That’s what this is all about. He wants them to know what God is like. They have a marred view of God, both the disciples and the Pharisees.
Second, Jesus wants them to understand the heart of the Father. See, if you think that God’s arms are crossed and, “Get with the program,” and, “You don’t quite measure up,” and, “Here are the rules you need to keep and have you done this and what about that?” – you’ll never trust God.
And that’s not the God of the Bible. It’s the god of performance.
Jesus ministered in a Middle Eastern peasant culture. Some of you who do a little extra Bible study, the book is called, The Cross and the Prodigal, or just Google, I put it on the back of the notes: Dr. Ken Bailey.
He lived in the peasant cultures of the Middle East for sixty years, taught at Hebrew University. It is one of the most fascinating little books I have ever read that will go far deeper than I can in our time together. It will give you a new lens of looking at what the world was like when Jesus was teaching.
Even the urban and the educated have their roots in the peasantry. So everyone understood what He was talking about. It’s kind of like today. You could be in the city, you could grow up in the country, but if I invited you, let’s just say I said, “I want you, next Thanksgiving, to come to my house.” What do you assume will be the diet?
What are we going to eat? Go ahead; tell me. Turkey and what else? Stuffing. What else? How do you know that? You guys are geniuses! How would you ever know that? My wife hasn’t even prepared it yet!
In American culture, what do we know about Thanksgiving? Everybody knows! Rich people know that, poor people know that, white people know that, black people know that, Asian people know that, Indian people know that, right? At Thanksgiving, in America, turkey!
What you need to understand is even to this day, if you go to rural areas of the Middle East, the cultural mandates and the way that Jesus is talking is still true today.
How villages operate, the role of the oldest son, the role of the elders, the role of who gives what, when, where, why, and how. And Jesus is cutting across some things that go very, very deep.
The peasant culture, customs, and traditions were known by everyone in the culture. Everyone is on the same page here. He is saying some things that their minds are going, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing! And we miss a lot of it.
Verses 1 and 2, he says, Jesus welcomes sinners. He welcomes sinners! What flabbergasted and angered the scribes and the Pharisees was that Jesus, who claimed to be God and to be one with the Father, received sinners as friends.
I’ll tell you why in just a minute. Jesus was shaming and defiling God’s reputation. To the Pharisees, God is high and holy and other, which is true. But then anybody who didn’t live up to their little box of righteousness, Jesus said, “I am God; I am one with the Father,” if you are one with God and you’re hanging out with these kind of people, you were desecrating God’s reputation.
It would be like someone going in and putting swastikas in a church or a synagogue. They are angry! They are so angry they want to kill Him.
How can You welcome sinners? Notice, it goes on. He even eats with them. Eating a meal in the Middle East had the significance of a sacramental act, signifying total acceptance and conferring a blessing.
In the Middle East, if you were negotiating a contract or a treaty, you would never sit down and eat first, because if you invite someone into your home, in the Middle East, and you eat with them, you’re saying: We’re family. Therefore, if we are family, you have been in my home, we have shared a meal together, therefore, I will protect you.
And they are thinking, This man claims to be God and He is eating with prostitutes and tax collectors and sinners? Their lights are going, Schhhhhkkkkk!
And Jesus was saying, “Yes, that’s what the Father is like.” This act defiled Jesus, according to the Pharisees. And in their mind, that’s why they were justified in wanting to kill Him.
The word used here, muttered, is only used twice in the New Testament: here and in Luke 19:7. It has a special prefix, as you’ll notice in the notes, and the murmuring was through the crowd, they were stirring up public undercurrent of discontent and disapproval. In other words, they are so upset, so angry, Hey, do you hear this? As He’s talking. Hear this? We’ve got to take Him out. This is unholy. This is the most…
And so the Pharisees are angry, angry, angry at Jesus’ action. And this story, this parable with the three parts is to address their misconception, to address their view of God, and why, though they are very religious, they are completely missing God.
Notice the progression of this chapter. In the first story, one in a hundred, right? In the second story, it’s one in ten. In the third story, it’s one in two. This is a master storyteller.
Sheep, we all get, right? And they rejoice. You didn’t have to persuade people to come, Oh, yeah. One in ten. The masses, general. One out of two. Super, super precious. Really, really important.
Notice then, the first one is out in the wilderness. Something is happening out there. It’s lost way out there. The second is lost inside of the house. And the third is lost inside of a home. And so as you can see from the chart that it’s the picture. God. The shepherd, the woman, the father, the sinners, the lost sheep, the lost coin, the younger son, and what will see is the religious sinners, the ninety-nine sheep, the nine coins, and the older son.
In every story, something very valuable is lost. Something very, very valuable is found. And in each one, there is celebration, celebration, celebration. And please don’t miss the point.
There is an excitement, there is a joy, I got the sheep! I found the coin! She is on the phone, “You’ve got to come over! It’s unbelievable! It’s amazing. I have found it, where it was, it was stuck in a crack in the door and you’ve got to find it!”
And there was a party and there was dancing and Hebrews know how to celebrate. And He is taking the story and He is bringing it now to the sons and the first son, as we will learn next time, is found and how the father responds will be the absolute opposite of what every elder or Jewish boy or disciple could ever even fathom or imagine that will give them a snapshot of God the Father and the grace of God like never before.
And then He is going to turn the tables and He is actually going to speak to these Pharisees in ways and offer grace, even though they are trying to kill Him.
Jesus is teaching that sinners matter to God. Religious sinners, and people who are far, far away from God who think there is no hope. And that when one sinner, one person recognizes their need and says, “I am far from God,” and I might be far from God and reading my Bible every day and going to church three times a week. Or, “I am far from God because I know my living situation and my finances are a mess and the addictions that I have.”
This message is: There is a Father who is pursuing you and loves you. In fact, here is what this is – it goes from one hundred, to ten, to one out of two. And then, actually, it comes right in this room. God says, “You matter. You matter more than a sheep, you matter more than money, you matter more than…I love you. I am seeking you.”
The Holy Spirit, every single person who has personal relationship with Jesus Christ and has trusted His work on the cross, the Spirit of God has been seeking and pursuing you and going to amazing lengths and bringing people into your life and circumstances and doing all kinds of things that got you to the point where, Ah! – you saw that you had a need. And you repented of your self-sufficiency and, I don’t need God and I’ve got it together and my way is better than…
That is how much you matter.
But it doesn’t stop there. The great majority of Christians I meet, they kind of get, I’m saved by grace, and then it’s really subtle but there is this click and, I am going to now live my life out on the basis of some works mentality. God loves me when I’m good; He doesn’t love me when I’m bad. God loves me when I read my Bible; God doesn’t love me when I don’t.
Now, is there blessing to obedience? Of course. But who would want to talk to someone who you believe has created you and died for you, whose arms are crossed, whose toe is tapping and basically His number one thing is to point out how messed up you are?
What if you woke up every day and said, “God is for me. He is for me in my marriage, He is for me with my kids, He is for me in my singleness. I am going to go to work and God is for me. He is for me on the freeway. He cares about me. He wants to give power, He wants to give strength.”
Now, we are going to learn, there are ways that you need to be humble and open to receive it.
I did something this week as I was learning, because I am really excited because God is really speaking to me in some ways that are really fresh. And so I think it was Thursday morning and I was just, because part of this, doesn’t it happen in snapshots and you go, Wow! I get it! And then I sort of don’t get it. I get caught up in myself and my old beliefs.
And so Thursday morning, in my journal, I just was jotting down what I was learning. And if it helps, I hope it does, because I want to get it from this concept and Moses and His goodness passing and this picture to me and Monday morning and under pressure and when I am tempted to be negative and when I am resentful and when, as wonderful as my wife is, she has a day that doesn’t make me all that happy. Right?
Thank You very much for Your grace, Lord. Your disposition, Your mood is one of joy and delight to see me. You want to help me. You enjoy my presence. In human terms, You are always in a good mood when we meet. Have you ever thought about God like that? You want to talk in the car? He’s in a good mood! You get up in the morning, He’s in a good mood! He wants to see you! He says, “Hey! Great to see you, Chip! Love to talk.”
Your countenance is a smile – a warm, inviting smile of approval and welcome. This is not a frown. It’s not, when I bring the awareness of the living God, He is smiling at you. He is welcoming you.
Your arms are open wide, inviting me to come near and to draw close, be embraced, be protected, be encouraged, be close. Like when your kids are little and you do this and they run towards you, that’s God! In fact, He’s not even standing. He is actually pursuing you! It didn’t stop just because you’re His son or daughter.
Your hands are open, they are not closed. Your hand is open and You point to what is available, what is planned for me today. It’s an invitation to partake of grace. Every day I meet with God and when you start your day or in the middle of the day, in a hard part of the day, here are His hands, “Here’s what I’ve got for you. See this? See her? See that? See him? See this? See the sunset?” It’s this.
And you know where His other hand is? His other hand is like this. “That person, that circumstance, that fear, that anxiety? I’ll protect you.” God’s hands are always like this. Here and here.
Your eyes are filled with compassion and mercy. My sin, mistakes, and failure are met with Your longings to forgive and remove any and all shame. I don’t know about you, but when I mess up, I don’t want to be around God, because I think He is down on me. And what He just wants me to be is honest.
When I sin, or just for some of us, we just make mistakes. We think it’s like we’re not human. You make a mistake, you forget something, you say something you didn’t mean to say, you told Him you would do it and you just didn’t do it. You promised God you wouldn’t, and you did. He meets my mistakes with compassion and longing to forgive and to restore.
And then, finally, You desire great things for me and expect great things from me. But Your expectations are reasonable. You are mindful that I am but dust. Magnificent dust made in Your image, but dust. And so You are patient and You are understanding with my struggles.
Is that an awesome God? “For by grace you are saved through faith. That is not of yourselves. It’s the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” You are what you are, by the grace of God.