TWO KINDS OF PRODIGAL (2): REVERSAL OF FORTUNE
February 28, 2016
Intro – A wayward Catholic went to confession. He admitted for years he had been stealing supplies from his lumberyard. When the priest asked how much he took, the man replied, “Enough to build my home, my son’s home. And houses for two daughters and our cottage at the lake.” The priest paused, “This will require serious penance. Have you ever done a retreat?” The man replied, “No, Father, I haven’t. But if you can get the plans, I can get the lumber!” I think we’d agree his repentance was suspect. God wants real.
We noted last week that this parable really has two prodigal sons. They are very different, but both are sinners – one actively, one passively. One sins by breaking the law – the other sins by keeping the law. The first one repents; the other – we don’t know. Last week we began to study the younger son – the obvious prodigal. We see 4 critical lessons from him.
I. The Repulsiveness of Rebellion – This boy wanted his inheritance in cash, now with no thought of the shame that entailed. His actions were tantamount to saying to his father, “I wish you were dead.” And he treated his father as tho he were dead. He ran to a far country to escape any vestige of accountability and pursued his own pleasure with a vengeance. Life was one big spring break – wine, women and song – and everyone was his buddy. He threw off all the restraints of home and thought he had freedom.
What he found was the wages of sin which is death. Sin promises freedom, but delivers slavery. It promises happiness, but delivers disappointment. Its pleasures are intense but also intensely short. When the money ran out, so did his friends. “No one gave him anything” (v. 16). His money was gone, but his life went on. The repulsiveness and waste of his rebellion is obvious.
But the same is true for anyone who makes no investment in eternity. The rich man in Luke 12 saved it all. But he looked equally foolish when God required his life that very night. He entered eternity with money gone, but his existence going on. Rebellion is a no win game no matter how much a success or failure one has in this life. It is the next life that really counts and rebels have made no provision – whether they are active or passive sinners.
II. The Ravishment of Regret -- Payday eventually comes, and with it, devastating regret. It came for this Jewish boy when he found himself living a beastly existence with the pigs and wishing he had their food. His father’s house of plenty was a distant memory, and he had only himself to blame. That was a bad scene. BUT that is nothing compared to those who reject or neglect Christ in this life only to enter an eternity of separation from him – and only themselves to blame. Imagine spending eternity wishing you could have a do-over for one moment – the moment you rejected Christ. The greatest news ever given to man is this – it doesn’t have to be that way.
III. The Reversal of Repentance
Two things happened that stopped this young man’s free-fall into destruction. He came to himself and he came to the Father. And he did it in time.
A. He Came to Himself
17): “But when he came to himself.” He returned to reality. He began to see things as they really are. It takes faith to do that. Our physical perceptions will tell us that this world is all there is. “Eat, drink and be merry,” seems like good advice. This boy had followed where his senses led. But he found himself in a pigpen where he had plenty of time to think. There he came to himself and saw things as they really are. It reversed his outlook; it reversed his actions and it reversed his direction. Rather than run from the Father, he now runs to the Father. How’d that happen? When he came to his right mind, here is what he saw that he didn’t see before.
1. Saw that he was perishing
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!” Things look different when he comes to himself – when he sees things as they really are. The far country looked way better than Dad’s house before. He was sure he could carve out a better existence by himself. But now he sees that he is perishing. There are a million ways to perish; only one way to life.
There is a fascinating dialogue in John 6. Jesus feeds 5,000 one day so next day they are back looking for more. But He sees right thru them. John 6:26, “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Jesus is asking them to believe in Him. But they challenge Him. “Why should we believe in you just because you fed 5,000 of us? Shoot, Moses fed 2,000,000 of us with manna for 40 years. You’re no big deal!” Imagine saying that to Jesus!? Well, Jesus answers, “Two things, folks. First, it wasn’t Moses who fed those people; it was my Father. Second, He is now offering you the true bread of heaven.” But they still don’t get it: v. 34, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Jesus point is, “Anything you get in this life – even if it is manna from heaven for 40 years – will never ultimately satisfy. It will run out. If that is all you seek, you will perish. Your only hope – is Me!” Those people, just like the prodigal and just like us must realize that nothing this world can offer will save us. Only Jesus can save us.
As he sits in the pigpen, the prodigal is no longer thinking about the next party. That only led to destruction. And so will anything that we pursue in this world. Augustine had it right when he said, “God wants to give us something, but He cannot because our hands are full – there’s nowhere for Him to put it.” Worldly idols can only lead to ultimate destruction.
2. Saw he was a sinner
18 “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” This is key. He sees he is a sinner. He didn’t see that before. He thought he was okay. But he now realizes he’d been living in Fantasyland. That’s where a lot of people live. They think because they are not a great sinner they are not a sinner at all. But central to the whole message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is repentance, and there is no repentance until we see what a lost condition we really are in.
Note the language he uses, “I have sinned against heaven and before you.” Before he even mentions his father, he mentions heaven! That’s significant. At its core, sin is always rebellion against God. When David repented of adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband, what did he say? “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psa 51:4). That’s not to say he didn’t violate 2 other people. He did. But sin is first and foremost a violation of God. The nature of sin is running from God to control one’s own life. This young man now got that. Yes, he had broken the rules. But the heart of his sin was saying, “God, I’m in charge of my own life. I’m my own judge. I’m my own master. You cannot tell me how to live my life.” And you can do that while you are breaking the rules or keeping the rules for the wrong reasons. Sin is a heart issue, not a behavior issue.
That’s the main point of this whole parable. When Jesus wants to give an example of a sinner, He doesn’t give us a serial killer or a rapist. He gives us a boy who is simply saying, “I want what is coming to me and I want it now.” That was shameful, but it didn’t break any rules; it didn’t violate any laws. But it was a relationship nightmare. He was saying, “Father, I want your things, but I don’t want you. I want your blessings; but not your person. I want what you can give me, but I don’t want to live under your headship.” Sin is less about breaking God’s laws than it is breaking from God’s person.
Sin is the insane desire to remain in control. What was the first sin ever? It was Satan saying, “I will set my throne on high . . . I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa 14:13-14). “I’ll be my own God; I’ll be in control.” I will be in control! What temptation did Eve fall to? “You will be like God.” “Don’t let God control you. Take control yourself. Be your own god!”
This blows the moralism paradigm right out of the water. Probably everyone here would say, “I’m not an immoral person. I’m a pretty good person. I pray occasionally. I go to church, and I think God probably exists.” But if that is you, you are committing the worst sin of all. You are living as if God didn’t matter! He makes no difference at all in your daily life. You are living as tho he were dead – or as if you hoped He were dead. To come to one’s senses is to realize you’ve blown God off. And when you do that, Beloved, it doesn’t matter how righteous you think you are. You’re in serious trouble.
And here’s another way to look at this. Sin is not just living as tho God didn’t matter. Sin is seeking a home where there is no home. Sin is trying to find salvation in the far country of this world rather than in God’s presence. Home is another way of saying relationship. That’s what the prodigal sees when he comes to his senses and realizes, “Here I am with nothing and in my father’s house, even the servants have plenty. They are all accepted, loved and cared for.” He thought he could find home – a place of acceptance, attachment, a place to belong thru sex and pleasure and fun. But now he sees reality and he longs for home.
This world can never be home. It will never last long enough. C. S. Lewis said, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well there is such a thing as food. . . . If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly desires were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” To seek to fulfill that desire other than thru Christ is the essence of sinful rebellion and will end in dreadful failure. The prodigal now sees himself for who he really is – a violater of his father’s heart, seeking a home where none could be found. He sees he needs a Savior.
3. Saw he was unworthy (repentance)
19 “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ “I am unworthy.” Jesus put that phrase in His parable on purpose, Beloved. One simple reason. This boy could only be received as a son of his father when he saw he was not worthy. And we can only become children of God when we realize we are unworthy to do so. Believing the father owes us Sonship blows the whole thing up. This is a critical realization in this parable.
The scribes and Pharisees would have said the prodigal could come home only if he made himself worthy – full restitution with interest. But this young man realizes he could never merit his home. So he is ready to throw himself on his father’s mercy – just to obtain the place of a servant. This is true repentance.
Robert Schuler’s book Self-Esteem: The New Reformation has an amazing statement: “Once a person believes he is an ‘unworthy sinner,’ it is doubtful if he can really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ.” That’s about as twisted as it gets, Beloved. Jesus teaches that it is only when you know yourself to be unworthy that you will accept the saving grace of Christ. And, don’t miss that God helps that process along. Did you notice the “severe famine” in v. 14? Why’d Jesus throw that little detail in? He was demonstrating that disasters help people see their inability to help themselves – to bring them to the end of themselves so they will finally turn to the only place of help – to Him. The end of self is the beginning of salvation.
B. He Came to the Father
20 “And he arose and came to his father.” What a reversal. The father he left, he now returns to -- a precise picture of repentance. “Repent” means “to change one’s mind” -- to give up my worldview for God’s worldview -- to give up my way to go his way. It means to do 180 from me, to Him. I love how Jesus says it. He didn’t come to his country or to his home or to his people. He came to his father. He had violated and rejected a relationship and to repent is to return to and treasure the relationship! It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
You know repentance is real when someone runs to God rather than away! Causes us to ask – which way am I going? I used to envy the Catholic boys who lived across the street from us. They could do anything they wanted during the week – steal baseball cards, bully little kids – as they got older, get drunk, whatever – then go to confession on Saturday, get absolution and do it all again the next week. But that wasn’t repentance. They were not running to God. They were running away from God using a false confession as a cover. True repentance is to come to the Father as this young man did with no strings attached, no conditions, no expectations, no demands, no negotiations.
There is an old story about an English king who was angry with the town leaders in Calais. He declared he would hang all six. Next day they came to him with ropes already around their neck symbolizing their submission to him, thus saving themselves. That’s the way we must come to the Father. Dying to self. Amazingly, as soon as we declare we are not worthy to be sons – that is exactly what we become – children of God.
IV. The Rapture (Reward) of Rejoicing
We don’t have time to develop this, but look at the end of v. 24, “And they began to celebrate.” This is a continuation of v. 10, isn’t it? “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” One repentant sinner sets off a celebration in heaven. What does this tell you about the Father’s heart? In the end, His holiness requires judgment of rejecters. But His heart desires repentance. Nothing pleases Him more. The worse the sinner who repents, the greater the rejoicing. It sets the heart of God on fire.
Conc – The prodigal came to himself, seeing the sinner he really was; and he came to the Father, seeing His saving heart. It takes both. A lady came to Charles Wesley once: “I want you to pray with me; I am a great sinner, and I want you to pray with me.” Wesley sensed that she had not yet really come to herself, sensed her insincerity, so he said, “Yes, I will pray for you, for you need it; you are indeed a great sinner.” At that her false heart emerged. “What do you mean?” she asked indignantly. “I have never done anything that bad!” Hardly true repentance. There was no reversal there. To come to oneself is to see that we have exhibited enough self already in this day to send us to hell. To come to the Father is to admit that, throw ourselves on his mercy and receive His forgiveness. Have you truly come to the Father? Let’s pray.