“God's Compassionate Love”
There are many stories in the Bible with which we are familiar. One of the most familiar and even popular stories is found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 15. It is called "The Prodigal Son" or "The Prodigal Sons." We remember how a son takes his share of the father's inheritance and uses it unwisely. And yet, his loving father willingly receives him back when he decides to return home. Oh, that is a great story, as we consider the father's love and acceptance of his son who has gone astray. We know that represents our loving Father in heaven; and, we can be assured that He will accept us, too, when we return home to Him. At times, we might find ourselves drifting away from God. We may do things that are unhealthy, unwise, and that damage our relationship with the Lord. Yes, that happens. We are only human. However, we can always remember, God loves us more than we will ever know. He sees the pain and the problems, the sin and the mistakes in our life, and He is always ready to receive us back. In today's lesson on "Key to the Kingdom," I want us to take a fresh look at that story and perhaps see it from a different angle. It is relevant to us today, just as it was to the people who first heard it. With that in mind, I invite you to stay tuned for the next few minutes as we study from Luke, chapter 15. The lesson is entitled "God's Compassionate Love."
A number of years ago, when I was in an unfamiliar city and state, I got lost. Oh, it was only by the grace of God and a trusty map on my cell phone that I was able to get back onto the right interstate, and to find the right exit, and to arrive at my destination and my appointment with only about 5 minutes to spare. We all have our stories about being lost, don't we? Some of them turn out well while others of them do not. Well, in the gospel of Luke, chapter 15, Jesus tells three good stories about being lost. There is one for the men and one for the women, and then there is one for everybody. As we look at these stories, I want us to notice first of all, who is in the audience and who hears them? We read these words in verses 1 and 2. <Now the tax collectors and the sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus, but the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."> Now, the Pharisees did not think that God viewed the tax collectors and the sinners as being important, and so neither did they. They saw them as being lost. They saw them as people whom God rejected and did not even care about, and yet Jesus is about to tell them something quite different. Jesus is about to tell them that they are important to God and they are very special to Him. In the midst of these three stories, Jesus makes three points. The first one is this. The way we see people is a direct reflection of how we see God. In other words, if we see God as being accepting of people, then we will tend to accept them also. And yet, if we view God as being rejecting of some, then we will tend to do the same. With that in mind, let's notice this first story, as we read verses 3 through 7 here in the 15th chapter. <Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has 100 sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me. I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way, there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."> Oftentimes in the day of Jesus, sheep were raised more for wool than they were for food, and most all of the men within a village had some sheep. And so they would go together and hire a shepherd and all of the sheep were kept together in one flock. Jesus tells a story about one day, as all of them are out grazing, one of the sheep strays away. The shepherd leaves those 99 and he goes after that one, which was lost; and he finds it, puts it on his shoulders and returns home and rejoices with everyone. Perhaps we can just see two men in that audience hearing the story and they look at each other and say, "Oh yeah, we remember that happening to us, and how excited we were when that lost sheep was found." Well, the second story is similar and it is for the women. Notice these words in verses 8 through 10. <Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me. I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."> In the day of Jesus, sometimes these coins represented not money but jewelry. And whenever a woman got married, she would take these coins or pieces of jewelry and weave them together into a necklace, and she would wear that necklace as a symbol of honor. She was now married, she was important, she would have children, and therefore, she could command respect from others. But one of these coins evidently fell off of the necklace and was lost. It would be similar to us, perhaps, losing our wedding ring. It would be a loss of honor and respect. And so as Jesus tells the story, she looked everywhere, and she swept the floor, and she lit a candle, and she looked for that lost coin until finally she found it. When she did, her neighbors came in and rejoiced with her because that which was lost was found. And again, we can envision two women upon hearing this story, looking at each other and saying, "Oh yes, we remember that time and how excited we were when we found it." Well, in these two stories, Jesus is rejecting the attitudes of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. Their attitude toward lowly shepherds and inferior women, just like their attitude toward these tax collectors and sinners, was not good. It was different than Jesus' attitude toward them. And yet they still believed this was God's view of such people. And because He had that view, He would reject them, and that's what these Pharisees and teachers of the Law were trying to do. Well, there is a third story and this third story is for all of us, and perhaps it is the one which is most familiar. We call it the "Parable of the Lost Son" or The "Lost Sons." We remember how the younger of the two boys comes to his father and he demands his share of the inheritance. And yet the father was not ready to do that. He was still working, and the inheritance would only be given up on the father's death. Well, in essence, the youngest son was saying, "You have not died soon enough. I want my money now." Well, the father did not want to hear that, but he did everything he could to make that happen. He sold out. He gathered up all of his possessions and assets and then he made that distribution. Two thirds of the inheritance went to the older son; a double portion, which was the culture and the tradition of the day. This younger son received one third, but for him, that was enough. And so with money in his pocket, he headed for the border. He went to that far country. He was looking forward to doing and experiencing things he had never seen and never done before. And as he did those things, his money quickly vanished. And before long, he realized that he had no more money, he had no place to live, he had no job, and he was all by himself in a foreign land. And so he made the decision to go to an employer there in this foreign country and ask for a job. And the man gave this young boy perhaps the most demeaning and disrespectful job that any Jewish boy could have, and that was feeding his pigs. Oh, he was thankful for the job and that's what he did. In fact, he was so poor, he was so destitute that the very feed that was given to the pigs was the same food that he ate for himself. But one day, as he was feeding the pigs, the text says that he came to his senses. He woke up and he realized that the servants in his father's house back home had it better than he had it here in the pig pen. And so, he made the decision to leave that land and go back home, and to ask for forgiveness and to seek a position as a servant in his father's house. And that's what he did. Now in the meantime, the father, no doubt, was looking for his son to return every day since he left. Perhaps every day he would go down to the edge of that road and he would look just as far as he could see down that path, hoping that perhaps today would be the day that his son would return home. But one day, he saw something way down the road and he watched it very closely. It seemed that that object was getting closer and closer, until he realized, yes, that seems to be the walk, that seems to be the appearance, of my son. And then the father made the decision to run down the path and greet him. He gathered up his robe around him and he ran. And that was highly unusual, for elderly Jewish men did not run anywhere. It was something that they just did not do. But on this occasion, the older gentleman was excited to see his son. And when he saw him, he embraced him, he kissed him. He told his servants to put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet; and then, together, they walked back into the village. And the father said, "I want you to kill the fatted calf because today we will celebrate. This, my son who was lost, is now found. He has come back home." You know, this father did something that other fathers perhaps would not do. He made some sacrifices in his life for the sake of his son. He continued to look for his son, hoping that he would return. And when he did, he threw a party. He was excited to see his son. He welcomed him back. He did not demand any kind of explanation or reason or excuse as to why the son left in the first place. All of that was in the past, and now he went back home and he celebrated with everyone in the village. Now, let me ask you a question. As we know that this father in the story represents our Father in heaven, can you envision God having a party? It doesn't make much sense to us, does it? Oh, we can see God sitting upon His throne and reigning throughout all of creation. Perhaps we can envision God in our worship, receiving our worship and praise and adoration. And no doubt, that's the way the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law viewed God, as separate and apart from them. And obviously, there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeing God in that way, but as we look deeply into the story, can we envision God, represented by this earthly father, throwing a party, having a barbecue, killing the fatted calf, and welcoming all of the people in the village to come out and to rejoice with Him? Well, that takes us back to the first point. The way we see people is a direct reflection of how we see God. How does God see people, and do we see people in the same way? Well, here's the second point. If we do not see God right, then we will always see people wrong. That does not mean God sits around in His relaxing clothes, all day long, having a party. It does mean, however, that God goes to great extremes to rejoice when lost sinners come home to Him. He rejoices, He celebrates because that which was lost has been found. You know, all three of these stories focus on two things. The first one is this, the tragedy of being lost. We find that in all three stories. There is a separation. Something is lost and not where it is supposed to be. A lost sheep will eventually become a dead sheep. A lost coin is a loss of honor and respect for that woman. Oh, the tragedy of being lost. But then there is a second point in all three of these stories, the excitement of being found. There is great rejoicing. There is great celebrating when that which is lost is found. I think about the words of 2nd Peter, chapter 3 and verse 9. Peter writes, "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." God doesn't want anyone to be lost, but He is excited and He rejoices when a lost sinner comes home to Him. When speaking about himself, Jesus stated, in Luke 19 verse 10, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." Oh, there is great tragedy in being lost. There is a great deal of sorrow in being found outside of the family of God. And so we notice that each of these three stories begins with something lost and ends with something found. Each story begins with a separation and then it ends with a reconciliation. Perhaps here is the main point. Each story represents God seeking and finding those who are lost. And when He does, He rejoices, He celebrates, because that which is lost is found. As Jesus tells the story, it reminds us of the importance to respond in the very same way. When sinners come home to God, He wants us to rejoice and to celebrate with Him, and with the angels in heaven, as we read there in verse 7 and also in verse 10. And so again, point number two. If we do not see God right, then we will always see people wrong. Well, here is the third point, and this one might be a little bit unexpected and may not make much sense to us, but here it is. God is the Prodigal. Now, before you tune me out, notice what happens here. There are at least two different definitions for the word prodigal in the dictionary. The first one reads like this, "Spending money freely and recklessly, wastefully extravagant." Now that describes the youngest son, doesn't it? Here in the third story, he wastefully spends his money. Before he knows it, it is gone. He is reckless with his finances. But, here is the second definition: "Having or giving something on a lavish scale, extravagant rejoicing." Now that describes God, doesn't it? He did something in an extravagant way. It was an over-the-top celebration to the point He even killed the fatted calf and invited all of the people in the village to come out and to rejoice because something great happened. You know, these stories do not end the way the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees thought they should. They were not in favor of people like the tax collectors, and the sinners, and the lowly shepherds, and the inferior women. They believed that God rejected such people and so they wanted to do the very same thing. But these stories really do not make much sense to us either, do they, when we consider the grace of God? I want us to put ourselves in the midst of the reading from Ephesians chapter 2, and to think about how, at one time, we were lost, and yet God's grace found us. Listen to verses 1 through 5 of Ephesians 2. These are the words of Paul. <As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved.> Oh, that is some great news, isn't it; that God's attitude towards sinners is, I don't like the sin, but I love you, and you are welcome to come home to Me. Perhaps we have found ourself dead in our sin and transgressions and God's grace has saved us through our faith in Jesus Christ; and, no doubt, there was rejoicing in heaven. You know, if we are sinners, and we view ourselves as being lost and without any hope, that is the very best news we could possibly hear. God loves you. God is pursuing you with His love, and He is longing for you to come back home to Him. And when you do, He will embrace you, He will welcome you, and He will throw a party with the angels in heaven and rejoice because that which was lost has been found. In addition to that, there is also a message here in these stories for those of us who have been found by God and who are one of His children. Every day, we see people who are lost and in need of God's love; and, we are to recognize they are important and they are of great value to the Lord, just like we are! When God finds them and they receive His salvation, then God and the angels rejoice in heaven; and, we are to do the same thing. We are to rejoice and to celebrate because God's kingdom advances and another one who is lost has received the salvation of God. And that is an exciting thing to happen. Since God loves sinners, and pursues them with His love, so should we. If there is a celebration in heaven when someone comes to the Lord and receives that salvation, we are to rejoice as well. There are two messages I want us to think about from these three stories. Number one is this: There is hope for everyone. It doesn't matter what your life looks like now, it doesn't matter what kind of sin you've been engaged in, in the past or even today, God loves you and He wants you to be a part of His family. He is pursuing you with His love, and more than anything else, He wants you to come home to Him, to be embraced and welcomed. And when that happens, there will be a party in heaven. But then secondly, if God rejoices when someone is lost and then found, we should do the same. We too should celebrate and rejoice because the salvation of God has reached those who are in desperate need of it. I would invite us today to consider where we fall into these stories. Are we in need of God's salvation? Are we in need of rejoicing, of celebration with those who have been lost who are now found? Let us never forget that God is a compassionate Father who loves us more than we will ever know.
Have your children ever come home from school and said, "Hey mom, dad, I've got this note from the librarian that says if I don't turn in a book, then I won't get my final report card." Well, you look everywhere in that child's room. You turn the room upside down, under the bed, in the drawers, everywhere, looking for that lost book. You simply cannot find it. You realize that you have to pay a fine, a price, for that lost book in order for the child to receive a report card. Oh, that's disheartening, but it reminds us of the story in Luke chapter 15 about the father who had two sons and the younger one took his inheritance, went off to a far country, and spent his money foolishly. And every day the child was gone, the father would get up and he would look down the road just as far as he could see, hoping that today would be the day and that boy would come home, that lost child. And finally, one day, the boy came to his senses and he came home to his father. And the father was so excited and glad to see him, he embraced him, he kissed him, he threw a party, and he celebrated and said, "This, my son who was lost, is now found." Today, you may be feeling a little bit lost, perhaps like that book that cannot be found, or maybe like that son caught in the midst of wayward living. I want you to know something: God the Father, is looking for you, and He is waiting for you to come home. Maybe it's time that you do that. Maybe it's time that you wake up and realize the wonderful blessings that God has in store for you and you come home to Him. And keep this in mind: He's already paid the fine. He's already paid the price, with the blood of His son, Jesus, who died upon the cross. You don't have to do anything, you don't have to find anything; but, realize that God is searching for you. He's looking for you. My encouragement is for you to simply come home to the Father today.
Thank you for tuning in to today's broadcast. The message of Luke 15 never grows old. It is as relevant to us today as it was so many years ago, and no matter what our life looks like now or what kind of mistakes we have made, it is good to know that our loving Father is always willing to receive us back. This message, along with many others, can be found on our website. I hope you will visit that site and look at the variety of things we freely offer. Short devotional thoughts and one minute messages and other resources are there to view and download. Each of these lessons contains a series of questions that will help you make practical application to your own spiritual life. While on the website, perhaps you are interested to learn more about our mission efforts in India. A quarterly newsletter, with many photos, is available, which gives an overview of this exciting work. My email address is on the site, as well, if you would like to send me a message. The phone number on the screen is a toll free number and can be dialed at any time. Leave a message with your questions or concerns and we will be in touch with you very shortly. Oh, it is our privilege to provide these resources and weekly messages. Hopefully they offer spiritual encouragement. Please consider tuning in again, next time, at this same time, as we continue to study the Bible, on "Key to the Kingdom."