It’s Father’s Day! Today is the day many of us honor and remember fathers with cards, T-shirts, coffee mugs, and with sentiments like, “Thanks dad!”, “I love you, dad!”, “You’re the world’s greatest dad!” are being given to fathers all around the world.
Many of us, myself included, have had great dads. I have been blessed with a wonderful father who has shown me unconditional love through the years. He faithfully provided for me as I grew up, and he continues to be an encourager, a friend, and a great source of wisdom to this very day.
As great as my father is, however, he would be the first to say he is far from perfect. We fathers have our imperfections and shortcomings in love and in life. Some are easily seen; others are buried deep inside of us. We are all sinful creatures.
As I talk about fathers, I am mindful that my story is very different from others’ whose every thought of an earthly father is of pain. To those of you for whom this is true, I want you to know this: Grace and the love of God for you is found in our Abba Father.
In today’s text, we find Jesus drawing a story picture of the world’s greatest Father. It is probably one of the more popular parables of Jesus. Some call it “The Prodigal Son,” others call it “The Lost Sons.” I propose we call this parable “The Story of the Prodigal Father.” The word “prodigal” means extravagant, lavish, spendthrift, generous, which describes the father exactly in this parable.
By the way, this story is told in response to the grumblings of the religious people who are horrified as they observe Jesus welcoming tax collectors and other elements of society they considered lowlifes. He even sat at the table and ate with them! Everyone knew what crooks these tax collectors were. The Pharisees and scribes couldn’t believe that Jesus, a man of God, would give them the time of day, much less have table fellowship with them.
Table fellowship was a very important matter in that day, for it implied acceptance. The Jewish leaders called Jesus’ actions and character into question because He did this. Jesus, aware of their grumbling and criticism, told them three parables. One was about a lost sheep, another about a lost coin, and then finally the parable we have today about a father who had two sons.
Both of these sons broke their father’s heart. The younger son broke it when he rebelled. He wanted his independence and decided he didn’t want to live under dad’s roof any longer. So he demanded his share of the inheritance, which is the same as saying to his dad, I want you dead! He was selfish, insulting, and hurtful toward his father.
Surprisingly, the father gave in to him, thereby putting the entire farming operation in jeopardy. He had to liquidate his assets, because his wealth was in the property. One third of the property and goods needed to be liquidated, which would create hardship for both the father and the eldest son.
The younger son went off and squandered his inheritance in a faraway country. But when a famine hit, he wound up destitute and took a job feeding pigs for a local farmer (which is about as low as a Jewish kid could get). He then began thinking about home and how good he had it there. So he came to his senses and put together an “I’m sorry” speech: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Let me work for you as a hired hand.”
He started the long walk toward home, not sure what kind of reception he would receive. After what he’d done, his father had every right to drive him away and consider him dead to the family. But as he neared the house, he saw a figure running toward him. It was his father who had seen the son coming off in the distance! It seemed his father had looked off into the horizon and saw his son’s familiar walk. As he got closer, he knew it was his son. He had compassion and ran to the boy.
Running was considered an undignified thing for a grown man to do in those days. Children and young people run, not an older man with a reputation to protect. He would have had to lift his robe and expose his bare legs to everyone. How undignified! The children of the community would have giggled at the sight. However, he needed to get to his son before anyone else might see the boy and throw rocks at him for his insult to the community.
The father embraced and kissed his son before the boy could even fall down before him and humbly beg. As the first part of the rehearsed speech left the boy’s lips, his father broke in and said to the servants who had followed him down the road “Quick! Get the best robe, the signet ring, and sandals. Butcher the fatted calf, and let’s invite the entire village to celebrate with me! For this son of mine who was lost, now is found.” Amazing!
People only ate meat on really special occasions back then. The father was pulling out all the stops. Note the extravagance here. The father doesn’t forgive the way we tend to forgive. We prefer the father be gracious, but not overly so. Yeah, we’re glad you’re home, son. Now, let’s do away with the left earring and have a bit more responsibility out of you. We’re going to have a meal and talk about your application to law school.
But the father doesn’t do that, does he? He just celebrates! The father’s forgiveness of his son, his spending and recklessness. . . . It’s amazing! It’s crazy! The lost son was found and welcomed with open arms. He was thrown a party, though he did not deserve it.
The story isn’t over yet. Remember, the man had two sons. When the oldest son came in from the field, heard all the music and celebrating, and saw all these people coming and going out of the house, he asked one of the servants in the front yard, “What is going on in there?” The servant told him about his younger brother coming home and about the father killing the fatted calf. The older son became furious and refused to come into the house, thus embarrassing his father in front of the community.
When the father came out to him and pleaded him to join the celebration, the oldest son told him off. “Look, all these years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has devoured your property with prostitutes came, you killed the fattened calf for him!”
It isn’t fair. You haven’t treated me well. That son of yours has done harm, squandered everything away. Now having him home will cost us. And what’s left of the property will probably be divided again.
And as he spilled all this hurtful language out at his dad, we learn that although he stayed home, he was just as lost as the younger brother. He felt he deserved to have a say in all of this. We discover he wasn’t working out of love for the father, but for a reward, a payback for himself.
Even after all this, the father pleads: “Son, you’re always with me and all I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was lost and he is found, was dead is now alive.” This father shows such patience, grace, and love toward the rude, disrespectful, elder son, even though he is receiving no respect and honor from him. Extravagant, unexplainable, love, and grace is being shown.
Jesus ends the parable with the elder son standing outside of the house and the father pleading for him to come in. He doesn’t tie this story up neatly with a happy ending. We don’t know if the elder son went in.
We need to remember who Jesus is addressing: the self-righteous religious folks, the elder-brother types who were horrified that He’d give the dirty, crooked tax collectors the time of day. It’s as if He was saying to them, The kingdom of God has come! These folks have figured it out. They’ve come home! Rejoice! Come in. Join us, and celebrate God’s grace.
There we have it – from the lips of Jesus Himself. We have a prodigal Heavenly Father whose extravagant love welcomes sinners who come home to Him, even though they do not deserve it. In fact, He actually celebrates our return, even after all we’ve done to Him with our sinfulness and rebellion – how we thumbed our nose in His face. It’s amazing, crazy when you think about it: the love He shows!
This is the reason, my friends, why He deserves the title “The World’s Greatest Father”. Our Heavenly Father gives His all in all to sinful fathers and mothers and sons and daughters. An extravagant gift of forgiveness and grace is being offered to every sinful person who turns to Him, trusting in His Son Jesus Christ.
Remember, even though God gives grace freely, it is costly to Him. The Father’s Son, Jesus, who truly loved the Father from the beginning, came after us to bring us home. He lived the life of the perfect Son who obeyed His Father’s will all the way to the end. God gave Him to us to save us from our sin. Jesus ultimately paid for our debt at the cross to cover our sinfulness. On the cross, He experienced the rejection we deserve, and we hear Him cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”
Tim Keller writes,
If after service on Sunday morning one of the members of my church comes to me and says, “I never want to see or talk to you again,” I will feel pretty bad. But if today my wife or my lifelong best friend came up to me and said ‘I never want to see you or talk to you again,’ that’s a lot worse. The longer the love, the deeper the love, the greater the torment of its loss.
But this forsakenness, this loss, experienced by Christ on the cross, the relational loss, was between the Father and the Son, who had loved each other from all eternity. . .
Jesus was experiencing our judgment day. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ It wasn’t a rhetorical question. The answer is: For you, for me, for us. Jesus was forsaken by God so we would never have to be. The judgment that should have fallen on us fell instead on Jesus.
What prodigal love the Father has shown us!
Jesus rose from the grave and lives to give us His inheritance! Eternal life with God, is freely offered to us as a gift.
The central focus and wonder of this parable, my friends, is not so much on the faithlessness and sinfulness of humanity. There’s no surprise there. It is on the faithfulness and love of God the Father. He is the main character in all three acts of the drama. The most remarkable aspect of the story is his unexpected, undeserved, extravagant love. This describes the father in this parable: extravagant. Jesus tells us, “That is your God, your Heavenly Father.”
This parable reminds me of a favorite saying I came across years ago. The Gospel is this:
You are more sinful than you dared believe,
and more loved than you dared hope.
This is what the Prodigal Son story or the Prodigal God story is all about. It is the Gospel truth. Believe it, trust it, build your life on it. It is told in hopes of getting a response from people like you and me.
Some are like the first son – far away, lost in our rebellion and independence, thinking I can live without you, God. I don’t need you. Come home is the message. Jesus is showing you what awaits you: a loving Father who will receive you.
Others are far away because they’ve gotten carelessly lost as they listen to other voices. They’ve thoughtlessly strayed. This story is to wake them up. Come home to the Father who loves you!
Some of us are far away from God in our self-righteousness. We are religious, keep the rules, but we’re still sitting in the darkness, keeping our Father at arm’s length. Trying to control our own eternal destiny, thinking I’ve done a lot of good, God owes me! Friend, that is as much of a dead end as the first son. The encouragement from Jesus is simply this: Give up that kind of thinking. Put down your religious trophies. Come home empty-handed. Your Father freely welcomes you. Receive His welcoming grace.
The bottom line of this parable is no matter who you are or what you’ve done, the world’s greatest Father loves you. He loves you so much He gave His Son to die for you. Come home, enjoy the party, enjoy the Father’s presence in your life. Trust Him.
If you find yourself identifying with one of these two sons, far away from the Father, the parable says “You can come home!” Your Father is waiting to receive you into His loving arms. So come home. Come to Him now, and you will be glad you did. Amen!
Pastor Steve Kramer