Scripture Reading: Luke 15:20-24; 31-32
Holy ground, emotional, study, learn, grow, commit. This is Christ's sermon on grace. Jesus came so we might know the grace of God. Show you my heart, the heart of God, the heart of this church. Our fondest hope today is that you might come home.
This is the story of the prodigal son. Three ways to think about life: focus on problems, needs, relationships. This lesson is about progressions, increasing maturity, and priorities that show the way to God.
I. I want....
That is the problem of modern man. Our world talks of grace, but it is talk of compromise, excusing sin. Grace is about forgiving sin, in God's way. Sin is our problem. When Stephen in Acts 7 surveys the OT, he describes a people stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and spirit. "I want my way" is the story of the OT. When I am brutally honest, it is my problem. It is the problem of mankind, society, the church. I am selfish, self-centered, it is a human tendency. I want what I want when I want it. It is easy to promote my own project. It is hard to swallow pride and push another's project. The problem boils down to people wanting their own way. Boss or bust, rule or ruin, fight or flight, rule or run, my way or no way. Tear everything up if I am defeated. Conscious or unconscious--it is the problem in my life.
The prodigal in v. 11 has a problem. He has quit too early. It is always too early to quit. When people are baptized, they plan to go on forever. No one starts planning to quit. We do not start, we are not baptized, with plans to fall away. That is not our thought. But it happens. In this area, how many would be here, if all the brothers were here? Would our church buildings hold the folks? How many services would it take? 2? 3? 4? How can we count the backslidden? We meet people all the time, that's my background, my folks were members.... What happened? Person makes a confession, is baptized, quits. Did not intend to quit. Didn't get caught in terrible sin, is not necessarily immoral, just got busy in life and started doing what he wanted to do--and Christianity ended up in the background. One day, he wakes up, estranged, lost, out of Christ, out of church. That is the story of sheep, easily they get lost.
We usually say we should get him when he misses the first time. It is too late. Here is an excited new convert, new Christian, volunteer for anything, then quits volunteering, quits coming to fellowships, then quits worship services. We must keep heart, desire, relationships. This is the power of groups. When these drop off, miss assemblies, most often they are already too far gone. Let's be more sensitive. When a person backs off, interest and enthusiasm wane, we must rekindle love. We must get such before they drop out. When they drop out, it is already going to be difficult. Listen to what this is about. Bring people in the front door, but stop the departure out of the back door. Some here today may be planning to quit some of the activities. Get out of reverse. This is two-pronged. Let us help one another, let us help ourselves.
People who have been gone for months or years deny they have quit the church. What else would you have to do to quit? But the real problem is not that they have quit the church, but that they have quit Christ. One who does not participate, attend, is not involved, has quit. Need to emphasize that. Are you participating? Involved? This is more than attendance. Illus: do you have a non-participating plan? Bible never talks about quitting the church, rather talks of falling away and quitting Christ. The Church is the body of Christ. We glorify God and Christ in the church. God put you in the church. If you refuse to be where God has put you, whom have you quit? The church is the body of Christ, we must be responsive to the head. If you refuse to be in that body, whom have you quit?
We must make opportunities of the love we share today, so all can look at self, come back to fold, family of God, be encouraged to stay, be faithful, be committed, be involved. But we must first understand the problem. I want my way.
II. I am in want.
When all the material things are gone, when we see our superficiality, we have no friends, no self-respect, no family. All is gone. When we are in the pigpen--hogs, smell like hogs, look like hogs, is hogs. To Jew hog was unclean. This young man had lost self-respect. He was in want. He had pressing needs.
People with broken hearts, tears, lost kids, lost families, lost mates. Have lost conscience, honesty, self-esteem. Not that these people are bad. But they got involved in the world, busy, doing this and that, kids grew up unattended, little spiritual focus, had everything but had nothing. Discover that things in which we seek satisfaction do not satisfy.
If only I could go back and do it again.... Greatest joys of life are missed when they are ours. Family, mates, children. Why can we not appreciate these until they are gone? What are our goals? Can we focus on real priorities? What if we miss heaven? Lots of things I do not care about, but one thing matters above all, faithfulness to the Lord, that is everything.
When one goes out to the cemetery, to bury another person--make a list of what does not matter, bank accounts, education, worldly measurements., etc. Only one question--was he in the Lord? If we die in Christ, we can shout, sing, praise God. If we are not faithful, we are yet in want, what a problem. We have all the gimmicks, gadgets, conveniences, but without Christ in our homes, we are empty. People are in want. Have a soul hunger, but are trapped, do not know where to go, do not know where to turn.
The younger may not comprehend this, but when they leave home, kids are no longer under your control. This is the goal of parenthood, what I am wanting for my children. We must help our children grow up and be their own Christian people without a parent standing over them with a whip. When we are not faithful, we are empty. Point #2 is --I am in want. At that point, I have lost everything.
III. I am wanted. Perhaps we could have begun here, but one must grow into it.
This is the heart and soul of Christianity. This is what this church is trying to say today--just because you drop out does not mean it is final. Failures are not final, faith is not futile, the future is future. Some get the idea that they are condemned for life because they drop out. Luke 15 says one can come home. We are wanted.
Luke 15:19-21. The boy decides to go back home. But notice--first he wants it on his own terms. He wants it to be a business deal transaction. Salvation by business, earning it, vs. 19. Now compare vv. 19 and 21. They are different. What is different? Has to be vs. 20. One of the most beautiful vs. In Bible. Take 15:20 out of this chapter, ruins the story. The father, with compassion, runs, overwhelms. Prodigal has come to self mentally, goes back on own volition, but still wants to negotiate. Has contract in his pocket. If he could return as servant, what would it mean? Wouldn't have to meet older brother. Fears rejection, but doesn't want to stand before the church, doesn't want to go back and face the town. I'll mend fences, hoe corn, feed cattle, work on back 40, work hard, earn pay. Doesn't want to come back to people, relationships. Wants privileges and safety of home, but on business deal. Barter with God. Father says, absolutely not. Salvation is not by works, God does not accept on works the first time, and doesn't accept us back on works. We have missed this. If we think we are saved initially by works, by what we do, by how good we are--we cannot handle God's grace. Then when we fail, when we are in need, we cannot understand, appreciate, apply God's grace in returning home, so many never come back.
The Father, stopped, tears, eyes swollen, rejoices at son's return. This is when the son forgets the signed contract. If I am wanted, if you can love me like this, like I am, I can live, love self, with you, with brothers, with the town. If you can give this grace to me, Father, I am yours.
I would rewrite Luke 15 if I could, I would change the attitude of the elder brother. I wish the son had observed the reunion. Wish he had hugged his father and said, "I'm proud to have a father like you." But he did not. Do we appreciate the loving, forgive father in Heaven. He wants us back, he takes us back. I wish it could be so in the Bible. But the elder brother had a pouting temper tantrum. The father encourages, vv. 31-32. Today, come home. But must warn that church may be as elder brother. May think it unfair, but our focus is on God.
To those of us tempted to be elder brothers, we keep others away, keep them from returning. To us, whoever, God will run, accept, take us back. He forgives, cares. Loves. We are wanted. All God has is ours. Beautiful feeling--we are wanted. We want one another, we need one another. Can you understand this vs., this chapter?
You are wanted. Angels would rejoice in your return, in your obedience. I want my way--that is our problem. I am in want--that is the result. I am wanted--that is the gospel. God wants you, his people want you, we want you. Want to touch hearts, change minds.
_____________________ *Developed in part from notes from Charles Hodge.
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*Developed in part from notes from Charles Hodge.
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