I Peter 2:25
I was reflecting on this past week and could not think of what would be appropriate following a message on sin, conviction, and repentance. I honestly hit a writer’s block and closed my computer for a while when it hit me. What is the most common thing that we see either in our churches or in our homes today? It is rebellion, followed by a return home. How many of your children have you seen break a rule, then following the consequences, return home for your help? It brought me to a story that I had read out of Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace, and it just seems appropriate.
A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan. Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts. They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside. “I hate you!” she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times. She runs away.
She has visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play. Because newspapers in Traverse City report in lurid detail the gangs, the drugs, and the violence in downtown Detroit, she concludes that is probably the last place her parents will look for her. California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.
Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen. He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay. He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she’s ever felt before. She was right all along, she decides: her parents were keeping her from all the fun.
The good life continues for a month, two months, a year. The man with the big car-she calls him “Boss”-teaches her a few things that men like. Since she’s underage, men pay a premium for her. She lives in a penthouse, and orders room service whenever she wants. Occasionally she thinks about the folds back home, but their lives now seem so boring and provincial that she can hardly believe she grew up there.
She has a brief scare when she sees her picture printed on the back of a milk carton with the headline “Have you seen this child?” But by now she has blond hair, and with all the makeup and body-piercing jewelry she wears, nobody would mistake her for a child. Besides, most of her friends are runaways, and nobody squeals in Detroit.
After a year the first sallow signs of illness appear, and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean. “These days, we can’t mess around,” he growls, and before she knows it she’s out on the street without a penny to her name. She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don’t pay much, and all the money goes to support her habit. When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metals grates outside the big department stores. “Sleeping” is the wrong word-a teenage girl at night in downtown Detroit can never relax her guard. Dark bands circle her eyes. Her cough worsens.
One night as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all of a sudden everything about her life looks different. She no longer feels like a woman of the world. She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city. She begins to whimper. Her pockets are empty and she’s hungry. She needs a fix. She pulls her legs tight underneath her and shivers under the newspapers she’s piled atop her coat. Something jolts a synapse of memory and a single image fills her mind: of May in Traverse City, when a million cherry trees bloom at once, with her golden retriever dashing through the rows and rows of blossomy trees in chase of a tennis ball.
God, why did I leave, she says to herself, and pain stabs at her heart. My dog back home eats better than I do now. She’s sobbing, and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home.
Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Dad, Mom, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada.”
It takes about seven hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan. What if her parents are out of town and miss the message? Shouldn’t she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them? And even if they are home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago. She should have given them some time to overcome the shock.
Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father. “Dad, I’m sorry. I know I was wrong. It’s not your fault; it’s all mine. Dad, can you forgive me?” She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them. She hasn’t apologized to anyone in years.
The bus has been driving with lights on since Bay City. Tiny snowflakes hit the pavement rubbed worn by thousand of tires, and the asphalt steams. She’s forgotten how dark it gets at night out here. A deer darts across the road and the bus swerves. Every so often, a billboard. A sign posting the mileage to Traverse City. Oh, God.
When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, “Fifteen minutes, folks. That’s all we have here.” Fifteen minutes to decide her life. She checks herself in a compact mirror, smoothes her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth. She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips, and wonders if her parents will notice. If they’re there.
She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect. Not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepares her for what she sees. There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and a great-grandmother to boot. They’re all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise-makers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads “Welcome home!”
Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her dad. She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized speech, “Dad, I’m sorry. I know…”
He interrupts her. “Hush, child. We’ve got no time for that. No time for apologies. You’ll be late for the party. A banquet’s waiting for you at home.”
What does this story illustrate? The prodigal son? What does the prodigal son illustrate? It is God’s grace, His unmerited favor, His forgiveness and His ever open arms welcoming His children that have previously rebelled against Him. In the parable of the prodigal son, the son takes his inheritance and leaves his father’s presence to live a life of sin and destruction. He comes to the point though, that the girl in our story did, where he had nothing to eat, nothing in his possession, and was at the verge of losing his life, so he came home. Did the father turn him away? No. The father tells the older brother of the prodigal son that they are rejoicing because his “brother was dead and is alive, was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:32) Did the father turn his daughter away when she came back home to Traverse City? No. He rushed her away to the banquet that was prepared in her honor.
I’m sure most everyone has heard of the prodigal son, whether by reading it in the Bible, reading stories similar to the girl in Traverse City, or by watching a show on TV that happened to mention it. Let’s turn in our Bibles to Luke chapter 15 and verses 11-32 and go through it. Luke 15:11-32.
And He said, “A certain man had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ And he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be in need.
And he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.
But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’
And he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ And they began to be merry.
Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things might be. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’
But he became angry, and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began entreating him. But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you, and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, that I might be merry with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him.’
And he said to him, ‘My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to be merry and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15:11-32)
This describes us. We are the prodigal children of God. We take the life that God gave us, the goods as in the prodigal son, and we leave telling Him that we don’t need what He has for us as there are too many rules and boundaries. But what we find on our own is that we soon become hungry, both spiritually and physically, and in need of shelter. We feel the world coming down on us and get the sense of hopelessness. We think of the orchards that we left and long to return to; but as we are now so unworthy in our sin, we feel that we cannot come to God until we clean up our act, just as the girl thought her parents had written her off and would not be at the bus terminal waiting for her return. There have been many that have said that they will come to Jesus after they clean up their lives. No, come to Jesus and He will clean up your life. Without Jesus, we will never get our lives cleaned up. No matter how hard we try. In the prodigal son, he didn’t attempt to clean himself up to come back to his father. Rather, he came home in humility, admitting he was wrong, asking for forgiveness, and wanting to serve. We are the ones that the Father will always allow home if we are willing to come.
Among the many things this parable tells us, there are two things that really hit me. The first is that God is always there looking for us to turn to him in humility, asking for His help and His mercy. He is the Father of the parable; the one that regardless of the acts that we commit against him, He is gracious to forgive and wipe the slate clean. But here is the catch, we have to come home. If you look at verses 17 through 19, the prodigal son, broken in spirit, came to the realization that he needed his father’s help and protection.
But when he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.’” (Luke 15:17-19)
He did not come back intending to take his original place as a son, but as a servant.
Many people around the world today believe that works can make them clean of their sin; that they really aren’t a bad person and for the most part are without sin. But, when we are born, we are born as a sinner. Job 14:4 says, “Who can make the clean out of the unclean? No one!” He is referencing the fact that we cannot be born to sinful parents and be without sin. What about Jesus? This has been a question of the ages, but we have to remember that He did not have and earthly father. He was virgin born and conceived by the Holy Spirit, who is without sin. In contrast, we have earthly parents that are sinners just like we are as their children. Looking at our sin born nature, when we are born, we begin walking away from the Lord. It is when we humble ourselves and plea for His forgiveness and mercy, requesting a servant’s role and not that of a prince, that we will be greeted with robes and a feast.
I mentioned that two things really hit me. The second begins with verse 25 and following where the older faithful son begins to get angry and question his father.
Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.” But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him.
But he answered and said to his father, “Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.”
And he said to him, “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:25-32)
At first, I read it and just said, “Ok, it is part of the parable so I might as well read the whole thing.” But then I was struck with an overwhelming thought: Christians, this is a message to you and me. As a Christian, we can fall into being that older brother. We sometimes fall into this trap where someone comes to Christ, and although we rejoice, there comes a time when many Christians will be jealous of the attention that new Christian receives. You may have become a Christian years before them, and “why should they be getting praise”, the “fattened calf”? But you see, you have to remember that in God’s eyes, you are both equal in His kingdom. This isn’t to say that the new Christian is spiritually mature, but it is to say that they are just as “saved” as anyone who truly has accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior.
It is interesting how God puts experiences in our lives that perfectly illustrate what He tells us in His Word. I knew a woman that went to church her entire life. She thought that she was saved because she attended church. She never realized that there was a response required when God put out His hands, reaching for her. And at 90 years old, she gave her life to Christ. She came home. It took 90 years, but she reached back to take His hands. Was she spiritually mature because of the time she spent in church? No, she was an infant in her walk with the Lord. But even an infant is a child, and she was now an infant of the Lord.
God gives light to those who believe that they may understand His Word. Reading the Word, the Bible without God’s light makes it difficult, if not impossible, to truly understand. It is like reading a book in the dark. It is very difficult to get very far and comprehend it because you are concentrating so hard on the words that you cannot grasp the whole idea behind the words. Folks, let’s look to this parable as advice to us directly from Jesus. If we are stuck in the “I’ve been doing this longer, so I own it” mentality, we are the older brother, and we need to listen to the words of the Father, which are, “But we had to be merry and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:32)
Is everyone the prodigal son? At some point each and every person is lost in their sin; and many believers will stray or be led from the flock just ever so slightly to follow that sin that continues to tempt them. Our passage today comes from II Peter 2:25 and it tells us the reality of our walk with the Lord. II Peter 2:25 says, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” We will stray from our Shepherd, but He will find us, and we will return to His safety and His shelter.
We are the lost sheep that God will seek after; even if that means that He must leave the flock behind to seek after just the one. Luke chapter 15 and verses 1-7 gives us the parable of the lost sheep.
Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So He told them this parable, saying, "What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7)
You see, we are the lost sheep running around not seeking our Shepherd. We are told that “there is none that seek after God.” (Romans 3:21) But God seeks after us. He rejoices each and every time someone says, “Lord, I need you.” And He is pleased when one of His own that has strayed comes home. He rejoices because He has found the sheep that was lost.
Are you that lost sheep or the prodigal son? Have you ventured out away from God to the point where you believe that you need to clean yourself up before you can come home? I’m here to tell you that Jesus is looking for you. He has placed His flock in a safe place to find the one that has strayed, maybe that’s you. It’s time for you to come home. Maybe you are similar to the 90 year old woman that I mentioned, or maybe you have something that you need prayer for and don’t want to come forward because of what others will think. Let me plea with you that worrying about what others think is pride getting in the way, and Satan loves that. Make your decision and election clear and do not let the world stop you from coming home.
 Yancey, Philip. What's so Amazing About Grace? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997.