The Prodigal Son

THE TWO SONS — Pete Bauer

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on January 25th, 2015.  To listen to the audio, just click on this link – LK15.

This morning we want to look at a very familiar parable about repentance.  The difficulty with the very familiar parts of scripture is that they tend to become flat for us because we feel that we already know what they are about.  Our tendency towards this parable, often referred to as “The Prodigal Son,” is to think that we already know what it is all about–wonderful forgiveness, offered to the extremely rebellious.  Certainly, that is true, however, the parable is actually about two sons, and the call to both of them to repent, and turn from their rebellious lives.

Some of Us Relate to the Father Like The Younger Son.

Younger Brothers Feel Constrained by the Father:  “the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’”   Inheritance, at this time, involved land and animals, divided up after the death of the father. Two-thirds would go to the older son, the rest to the younger.  To ask for the inheritance was to ask the father to sell off land or animals, to take away from his livelihood, and was a way of severing all ties.  It was a cruel, disrespectful, hateful thing to do.  Why did the younger son do such a thing?  He did it because he believed that the father was constraining him, holding him back from life.   Consequently, “After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.  

Some of us are like the younger son.  We feel constrained by God and we long for a life that is exciting.  We tend to be driving by our passions and to feel restless.  God seems to be like a parent who commands us to be quiet and behave.

This is how the younger son felt about his father.  However, what is startling about the story is the Father’s willingness to give the younger son what he asks for.  There is clearly a disconnect between what the younger son believes, and the freedom and generosity with which he is treated.  However, he does not see the generosity and graciousness of the father, and he leaves.

Life Beats Younger Brothers Up:  “When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.  So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.  And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.

It is hardly surprising that the younger son finds himself out of money and in difficulty.  We all know about these kinds of stories–some of us have lived them to one degree or another.  He is led by his passions, without wisdom, unsupported by his father.  He finds himself at the mercy of a bad situation and without anyone willing to help him.

Younger Brothers Expect Slavery:  “Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.  I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.’

The thoughts of the prodigal son reveal what is in his heart.  He left his father because he felt like a slave–constrained, unable to live.  He wanted  to experience life.   Now, as he returns, he expects to be a slave–treated as one of the hired men.  But when the son returns, he is treated as a highly favored son–not a slave.

This is how some of us relate to God–like the younger son.  We have longings and passions, and interests, but we think of God as a master who wants to own and control us rather than as a father who wants to love us and show us life.

Some of Us Relate to The Father Like the Older Brother.

Older Brothers Are Dutiful and Want Preferment:  “Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing.  He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.  The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’  He became angry

Some of us feel like the older brother.  We are where we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing, and we find it irritating when the prodigal waltzes in and gets celebrated, despite all.   We wonder when anyone is going to notice our dutifulness.  We feel angry when someone who hasn’t been doing what they should be doing, seems to glide along while we are sweating it out in the field. Our lives should be going better than those who seem to be the eternal screw ups–but our lives often don’t seem to go better.  We expect to be blessed by God more than those who run off and do as they please–and we resent it when the duties and difficulties of life seem to overtake us, while the prodigal does as he or she pleases.

Older Brothers Live Like, and Think of Themselves as, Slaves:  “When he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’

Here is the son who has stayed home with the father–and yet the irony is that he is living like a hired man or a slave.  He expects the very same things as the returning prodigal.  He expects that, through years of service, because he has never disobeyed orders, that he has earned something–maybe a young goat (some small reward–not a fatted calf).  These words reveal what is in the older brother’s heart–he is a slave. The older brother stayed with his father for the same reason the younger son left–he felt like a slave.  His obedience was not love, but slavery. There are many Christians who live a life of duty towards God and yet, to whom, the thought that God loves them, has never occurred.

However the father responds to the older brother as a son.  His response to the older brother (who has just spoken quite disrespectfully to him), is the same kind of response of love and welcome that he has offered the younger brother, “He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.

The Father Wants to Relate to Us as Favored Children.

The Father Is Calling Us to Join the Celebration:But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’

What is it that the father is asking the older brother to do?  He is asking him to come into the house and celebrate.  This celebration is what the Father wants for his children.  God is not looking for slaves–he is looking for sons.  Through this parable, Jesus welcomed both the Tax Collectors and sinners, and the angry Pharisees and Scribes, to receive God’s love.

For those of us who are like the younger son, God is calling us, not in order to constrain and control us, but to show us what life is.  To those who have wandered, following their passions, and who have, in consequence, hurt those around us and been beat up by life, God is calling you–not to enslave you, but to bring you into the family of his people and celebrate over you.  God welcomes the wayward back with honor and celebration.

For those of us who are like the older son, God is calling you out of slavery and into celebration–to believe that everything he has to give is yours already, and that all you have to do is to come into the house and recognize that your father loves you.

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