Helping you grow closer to God
Download the Chip Ingram App
Jesus Offers Hope Resources on sale now.
About this series
Jesus Offers Hope
We all put our hope in something or someone. Hope is the oxygen of the soul! At some point, though, most of us experience hope that never pans out. What then? Is it possible to hang on to hope when life doesn't make sense or when things go from bad to worse? Or, maybe you've received exactly what you hoped for, only to realize that it doesn't satisfy! In this series, Chip draws from New Testament parables to reveal how to experience and safeguard unshakable hope, in spite of your circumstances.More from this series
We hear this story of a lost son who disrespects his father, runs away, and then is found.
If we were doing Bible study together, sitting around a living room, we might do some observations. And, at the end of our time, we’d come up with five observations about these three mini-stories.
One: something valuable is lost. Two: there’s an intensive search that occurs. Three: that which is lost is found. Four: a great celebration follows. I mean, there’s a party. There is music. Five: the spiritual application is explained. What exactly does this parable mean? What can we learn from it?
First, God deeply values irreligious, immoral, lost people and that was His point to the Pharisees. You look down your nose at these people. They hang out with Me because they understand. I love them.
Second, God is actively drawing them to Himself. There’s an intensive search. The shepherd goes out for the sheep. The woman cleans the house. He’s making this point - the father was waiting and looking and longing. God is waiting, searching, looking, and longing for irreligious people that don’t want to have anything to do with Him. He’s pursuing them.
Next, heaven rejoices when one lost person repents. It’s a very interesting root word in the New Testament for “repent.” It has the idea of a change of mind. A related root word means a change of mind related to an emotional feeling; of feeling deeply sorry or sad about your behavior of hurting or rejecting someone else.
It’s an idea of people having a complete turning. It is meant to turn or to return each time something very specific, returned back to. And Jesus would teach that in the kingdom of God, unless you repent, you’ll perish.
Before Jesus left, he gave this message of repentance will go to all nations. The book of Acts, three different times, will talk about this message of “you must repent.” You must turn. It was this radical: from self to God as the hope of your life.
We learned from the story that the value of that which is lost exponentially increases with each story. Like a good storyteller, he starts out with something that’s common and they would all nod. Oh, I’d go after a sheep and then he takes it to the next level. They would hear the story and all the women would say, oh my! I would sweep all day.
Jesus, then says, this is what the Father does. By the way, the first two are things that every good Jewish person in that day would clearly understand and they would do, but the last one is shocking. No father would be running after this son. No father would run in public. The father was the patriarch. No father would ever, we’ll learn in a minute, sell his estate and divide it.
He’s really making the point that you would do it for a sheep; you would do it for a coin. But their view of God was he’s down on lost people. He doesn’t really care about lost people. Sinners need to be judged.
The father in story number three represents God. The two sons depict immoral sinners, in terms of the younger son, the people Jesus is hanging out with. And the Pharisees are the older son. They do their duty but their view of their duty before God is that they’re slaves. It’s external.
Notice, finally, that both sons are equally lost but not equally aware of their lostness. See, the reason that Jesus spoke to those that were so far from Him they understood they had a need. And, the reason that He was so harsh with the religious people is they thought they were okay. They were self-righteous.
Both the Pharisees and the younger son are sons that are lost. And the point of this entire parable is to speak, not just that lost people matter to God, but to speak to a group of religious people that are lost and don’t even know they’re lost. And He’s giving them a shocking perspective of what God the Father is really like.
Notice in verse 11, the son requests, I want mine now. Now, you need to understand is that in Jewish culture of the day, the eldest son would get twice, two x, when it’s divided. So, however many brothers and sisters, he gets double.
You have two brothers. The older brother’s going to get two-thirds of the estate and this younger brother’s going to get one-third.
If you wanted half the estate, they had lands with family names and your reputation was your land and the houses that you have and the cattle that you had. All of your estate was vested in stuff.
So, this son, actually what he’s saying is: I want mine now. And so, what he’s really communicating is: I wish you were dead. I wish you – because the only way you get your estate is if your dad dies, and when he asks for it like this he saying I wish you were dead. This gets really shocking as he’s telling this story because the average Pharisee, or good Jew, would be thinking if my son says “I want mine now,” he would be out of the family, out on the streets, disinherited, and out of here; that would be the perspective.
The implications for the father are social and economic. He liquidates property. He liquidates his livestock. It’s a public embarrassment, both socially and economically, he appears like a fool. He’s actually going to take a third of the estate; liquidate it; look like a fool in front of everyone and turn it into cash, give it to the kid, and say, “I’ll see you later.” People were shaking their heads.
Then we have the father’s unprecedented response. And this is thunderously shocking to the listeners. When he didn’t kick him out of the family and he says, “If you need a season to reject me, to wish that I was dead, and not have me in your life, and you want to go do something else, I’m going to let you do that but I still love you.”
Do you see the picture he’s painting of what God is like? Any of us ever basically said, Hey God, you know what? I’ll think about you someday, someway, when I’m done with doing my stuff. We have rejected him. You know what God does? His love doesn’t change. If you want to go do some stuff that’ll bring destruction to your life and cause you to hit rock bottom and go through pain that He never wants, you know what? He’ll allow you to do that, but it breaks His heart.
Now, you’ll notice that the son hits rock bottom. Literally, he comes to his senses. When you hit rock bottom it means you’re hopeless. Hopeless means that there’s no expectation; there’s no sign of a favorable outcome--that’s when you’re hopeless.
Nothing’s going to work. When you’re hopeless you get despondent; you get low spirits. There’s a sense of futility: No matter what I do, I’m stuck. I’m done. Some of you feel that way tonight.
And after that it produces despair. And despair is the utter loss of hope and dejection. And ultimately, you get desperate. And it implies you’ll do something extreme.
I read a number of extreme stories, in this last year, of very famous people who were very successful who took their own life because they got to the point where they were hopeless. Before they took their life, they had a window of time. Each one of us has a window of time to come to our senses. And what happens when you come to your senses is that you back up and say my hope was in that job; my hope was in that marriage; my hope was in that kid; my hope was in my looks, my hope was in my 401k.
But when you come to your senses, you realize: That doesn’t have the power to fill me up. That it can’t be my hope.
And then he goes through and he thinks, Okay, my brother is dad’s son; he’s got two-thirds of the stuff. Mine’s gone. And then next to him are slaves and the slaves live in the home and actually they’ve got quarters and food and they’re actually treated like family. And then there’s hired guys. The hired men. They live on the outskirts and dad just hires them for day wages, but they have a place to stay and they have enough food to eat for one day, each day at a time.
And he says, I’ve blown it. He owns his stuff. I’m going to go back and I know I can’t be his son and I know I’m not even worthy of being a slave, but I could be one of the hired guys. At least I would have a meal and I could sleep somewhere.
And so the process goes something like: I’m going to go back home. He repents. The word means “to turn around.”
I’m doing this with my life; my hope is in this because I think this will fill me up. He stops and comes to his senses. He goes, I’m going to turn around and I’m going to go back to my father.
God is going to ask some of you tonight to turn around and get your hope off of someone or something and to turn around and come back to your father. It’s called repentance.
And then notice it’s followed by a confession. I will say, “I’ve sinned against heaven and my father.” He owns his stuff with his words out loud. “I blew it. I was wrong. I missed the mark.”
The third, in this case, he thinks he’s going to make restitution. Because see, in his mindset in that Jewish culture: I’ll be a hired hand and I’ll earn some money and little by little, maybe, over time I can pay dad back - and I can pay him back and pay him back and pay him back…
And maybe someday I could be a slave and then maybe someday I could--it’s pressing it - but maybe I could earn my way back into dad’s favor. That was the Pharisee’s mentality of drawing close to God - works, works, works... perform, perform, perform.
I meet a lot of people that go through very difficult times. They lose a mate or they lose a job or they find themselves messing around a little and then it becomes an addiction.
And they’ll want to talk to someone like me and we’ll talk and then it’s pretty much, “Well, I’m gonna start going to church, and I’m gonna read the Bible more often, and I’m… “ you know what it is? I’m gonna, I’m gonna get right; I’m gonna earn my way.
Like God has these big scales in heaven He’s balancing and what he’s gonna learn is you can never earn your way back to the Father. Jesus is going to teach them it’s about grace. It’s about a Father that you can’t comprehend that loves you the way He loves you.
And then notice, finally, he says, “I will do it now.” So he got up and he went.
Now, notice in verse 20 the father’s response. The father was not at home wondering someday, somehow if he’ll come. The father was out looking. “When he was still a long way off, the father saw him,” and then notice the words, “He ran and he was filled with compassion.”
And the boy does what he should do. He started with the speech: “I know I was wrong. I’m going to repent, father…” and his father interrupts him: Quick! Stop! Hold up! You’re not going to make restitution. You’re not going to earn your way back.
You have no idea what the father is like. Out of a heart that is beyond what we can grasp, he says, here’s what I want you to do: “Quick, get the best robe.” Literally, it’s the robe of the first. Guess whose robe that is - that’s the dad’s. The best robe in that house belongs to the dad.
Second: “Get the ring; put the ring on his finger.” It is a sign of authority. “Get the sandals.” Slaves go barefooted. Sons, they’ve got sandals.
By the way, there was a fatted calf. It’s like Kobe beef in the day. Literally, it would be put in the stall and never go out and be grain fed. They would just make it overeat, overeat, overeat. They would save it for a community-wide, big bash. And so, the father kills the fatted calf and invites everyone in the community that thinks he’s a fool, and then there’s music and there’s dancing. And this person who came thinking, If I could just be hired hand and I’ve blown it and I’m feeding pigs and I wish I could eat what the pigs are eating and I’ve hit rock bottom –
When he turned; when he confessed; when he came, his father said, “You’re my son. It’s not about what you can do; it’s about who I am and how I feel about you and how much I love you. I want to receive you to myself.”
The message, very simply, is there is hope for you. Jesus didn’t just tell this story someday, some way for some other group. There’s real hope. Whatever you’re going through, whatever loss, whatever hurt. There’s hope.
Second, it’s never too late. You can be 76, 96… you can be through two, three, four marriages. You can have been through four rehabs already. It’s never too late.
And the message is failure is never final. There is a Father who is waiting and watching and longing to forgive you, and to cleanse you, and to restore you, and to empower you, and to give you a second chance, to give you a clean slate, to put you on a new path.
And then, as a son or a daughter, place you in a new family where, when cancer knocks at the door or maybe you lose your job or you got an addiction that you can’t get out of by yourself, this new family will come around you and love you and help you.
Now, by the way, there’s initiative here and there’s honesty here. There’s no messing around. The son repents. He turns his back on his former life and he receives the gift of the father’s love. Jesus offers hope to people that hit rock bottom. I have no idea where you are or what’s going on in your life, but I can tell you on the authority of Scripture.
If you have never repented and asked Him to forgive you and be your Father, that’s His will for you. And if you have someday, some way – actually maybe in a camp or maybe years ago - prayed a prayer and the truth would be you didn’t really know what it meant to “ask Jesus into your life” or forgive you, and you prayed a prayer somewhere, somehow but the fact is nothing changed, there’s a great probability that you never repented. You never understood. It’s not about just intellectually agreeing about what Christ did in his death and resurrection. There must be a turning from and embracing a radical step: I’m going to follow - and laying hold of the gift that God gives you.