As we stand let’s pray together. Heavenly Father, we pray that as we look at the bible together, we may hear your voice, not just in our brain as we take it in but that it might penetrate to our hearts and our wills, and we ask that you would do this in ways appropriate to each one of us, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
The talk that I am going to look at with you this morning is called ‘A Second Chance’. If you want to read the story as we go, which would be helpful, it’s on page 2 of the service sheet and also on page 1048-49 of the bible in front of you.
Context of the parable
Where our story starts this morning is says “Jesus continued..”, verse 11 of chapter 15 of Luke, “Jesus continued..”. So of course, before we start we need to say what is he continuing. Well he is continuing something that happens right at the beginning of Chapter 15 which is not on the yellow sheet. But if we look at 15 verse 1, here’s the scenario. It says this,
1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Him. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
Here is a typical scene in the life of Jesus. He is hanging around with the down and outs, the wasters, the people you should not go near, the rascals. He is spending time with the people the authorities deemed unfit, real horrible people in the eyes of those who counted. It is impossible to think of ways that cross cultures to define such a person because it would vary from culture to culture. This is a poor link and it's probably weak, but it’s the best I could think of in this culture today. I understand you might have come from cultures across the world, but if you lived in Britain today, if a story had broken yesterday in the local newspaper about somebody who is abusing children, sometimes called a paedophile, if you had seen a picture of somebody who was doing that in yesterday’s paper and they were sitting in the same row as you this morning and you looked along the row, you would be appalled to see them sitting two spaces down from you. Sorry if that’s rude and offensive, and maybe it doesn’t help some of us. I just have to ask you to cast your mind to the kind of person in your culture who would be awful to have to spend time with, a complete disgrace to your society. It’s a tame effort to get close to how Jesus appeared. He was the kind of man who would hang out with people who were disgusting. How can that be?
And so when our story starts today, Jesus continued. This is how he is viewed by those in authority, even in religious authority at the time. The point of the story as we will read it in a moment again is this. Jesus is saying to the people who criticise him, ‘Let me tell you a story about a young guy (which we have heard read) who said to his father “I wish you were dead Dad. Die, because I want the money that will be mine when you go.”’. Jesus tells the story to people who look down at him for hanging out with people who are a disgrace. And Jesus is saying this, ‘No one is worse than this guy.’ This guy’s father in the story today is a really important man in his culture and his son spits in his face and says ‘I wish you were dead. I want your money’. Yes, Jesus’ point, ‘No one is worse than this. To treat your own father like that’.
The story will have no meaning when we look at it unless I can ask you a question as I asked myself first. Do you think there’s no hope for you? This week do you look at yourself and think ‘I couldn’t start again. Why should I be able to start again? What right have I got? If only you knew. I know I am in a church building. I know it’s pretty respectable to be here and I know that there are respectable people all around me. But deep down I haven’t got a right that God would accept me. Not me! I mean I’ll try, but a new start for me? I don’t think so.’. Well you know at the heart of Christianity it is pretty plain. Anybody can have a new start. Anybody! Everybody, anybody whatever they did, however disgusting, however unpalatable, every human being in this room can have a new start. It doesn’t matter what your religious background is. It doesn’t matter what your faith starting point is. It doesn’t matter if you have no faith. It doesn’t matter what you have done. God has made it possible for me and you to have a brand new start and to be innocent before the Creator of the universe this morning.
The Parable of the Lost Son
Now in that context let us look at our story. As you see in eleven to sixteen, isn’t it shocking?
11“There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.”.
He might have well have said as I said earlier “Die! Just die, will you.”. To the father just imagine how sad this was. ‘If I divide the money up between him and his other brother’, [who comes up later in the story] he splits the money and says ‘Here take yours’. The boy cannot believe his luck. Look at verse 13:
Not long after that the youngest son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.
Do I need to explain? He has got loads of money in his pocket. He is going to have a riot – and I think I will let you fill in the details for yourself of how it might have looked. After he had spent everything, v14:
there was a severe famine in the whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself to a citizen of that country who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.
The Jewish scriptures say that eating pork is not to be done by the Jews and so this boy has the worst job in the universe, feeding pigs for slaughter. It doesn’t get any lower than this, after he has blown his money and lost all the friends who hang out with him for money. Remember Jesus’ point. There are people saying to Jesus, ‘How dare you hang out with rubbish people’, and Jesus says ‘Rubbish people? You want a story about a rubbish guy? Here’s a guy who spat in his dad’s face and blew it all and ended up feeding pigs. Hey! Let me tell you about hanging out with people who you think are rubbish. Here’s the point’, says Jesus you see, ‘You don’t get it do you? You think you are good enough don’t you?’ Get this. No one is good enough for God and yet God will take everyone! How does this work?? Here is the story, v16:
He longed to fill to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating but no one gave him anything.
We know that at the end of his story his father accepts him home. Look at verse 24:
‘For this son of mine was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
We know that the ending is nice and do you know that if we finish just there, those of us who are parents and grandparents might say what a great story. I have had my fights with my children. I know what the prodigal thing feels like. They may be teenagers now and you have had a fight just this morning. Oh I know what that feels like and the joy of them coming home and you wrapping your arms around them. All of us who love our parents and we know that we have done something wrong and they accept us back and we are loved for it however big or small, what joy isn’t it, if we can be accepted. We could leave this morning feeling ever so good and warm in our hearts at the beautiful story like this, and say ‘Doesn’t the Bible teach us nice stories about decent human behaviour?’. And it does! But friends, I would like to get specific because Jesus gets very specific in this story. And if we can walk out of this door this morning having looked on these specifics and acted on them, if you are not a Christian this morning as you come in, you could leave an entirely different person. You could be a brand new creation. There could be hope for you of acceptance from God. And may I say if you have been a Christian for fifty years, this story should cut to the heart as well, because there is a God in the universe who knows all your prodigal behaviour this week. Nobody else may know, but He knows, and guess what! Because he loves us so much as to die on a cross for us, because he took the judgement we deserve for being prodigals, for being people who turn our backs on him, today he accepts us as he has done year after year, week after week all our lives, because we trusted in Christ. Ah! the Christian life is gorgeous! If you are exploring it, come with me on this. Have a look at some of the stories as we go. Let’s be specific.
How do we get a second chance?
Let’s start with verse 17 shall we? Here is the first thing he did. He came to his senses. Nobody ever got right with God, according to Jesus, without coming to their senses, realising that there is something wrong. He is feeding pigs for slaughter. He thinks he’s skint, he’s got no money. He looks at his cracked mirror, looks at his face and says ‘What if they saw me now? How did I get here?’. Have you ever done it? Have you ever after a night out?... After something you have done?...After something you have said?...Gone back to somewhere private and said ‘How did I get to this point? Why??’ Any human being who has ever said ‘Fool. Come to my senses’, can taste what it means to start the journey to being right with God. Is that you my friend? have you ever looked in the mirror and said ‘Why did I do it? What’s the matter with me? Why can’t I stop?’
The story is lovely, but there are specific things in it that can entirely change us, completely transform our lives for ever, and give us hope before the Creator of the universe. Let us see a second thing in verse 17:
When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am, starving to death!
How does a human being run back? Of course the father in the story is a picture of God. And do you know what the bible says and what Jesus is telling us here? Like this young man in this story, like those making a judgement on Jesus to whom he tells the story, here is the awful truth. We have all spat in God’s face and said ‘Thank you. I’ll do it my way thanks very much, I am in charge of my own life. I like you being around a bit but I am in charge. Give me my life, it’s mine’. And God allows us the freedom to say ‘You take your life my friends, see what you do with it’. You know that moment when you come to your senses. Or you may not be a Christian yet, but you have come to your senses a few times you have looked in the mirror. Have you ever said this? ‘I am at the end of my resources’. In this story I am starving to death. I have got nothing left! ‘Who can help me now?’, he says, ‘No friends. No money. In a pig’s building! Who can I turn to?’. God is watching for people who are saying ‘Who can I turn to?’ And my friend it must apply to you even if you have been a Christian years! Today who will you turn to behind the decent behaviour? Who is waiting with arms open wide? Who has got all it takes for you to flee to Him this morning? God has done it. This is the beauty of being a Christian. God has done all we need! Are you at the end of your tether? Good!!! It’s good because you stop depending on yourself you fool. Oh, he’s at the end of his tether. or maybe in your heart now there is somebody saying ‘That’s me! How do you know me? How do you know me??’. I don’t, but God knows you.
That’s why he gives us the Bible and that’s why Jesus told these stories, because they cut to the heart of the human being as we hear the words through our mind. Here’s the question. Will you act on them, because as we press on in the story, look at verse 20. He starts to rehearse in verse 18. He starts to rehearse the story. He’s got to go home, where will he turn? ‘I will set out to go back to my father and say to him, “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired men. Give me a job, any job”’. He is rehearsing the story. Verse 20, “he got up and went to his father”. Oh now we are in the real world. How many times have you heard the message of Jesus? Once? Twice? Six thousand? How many times have you heard? This may be the first time today. There is a moral being at the centre of the universe. He hates wrong. He loves right. He is perfect rightness, and you and I are in trouble because we said, “I’ll do it my way. Thank you very much!”. We spat in his face! We took our lives and ran. We lived then as we wanted to, and we found ourselves in a pig-sty! Does that offend you? And the moral judge of the universe, the right God of the universe must judge it because he is right that he hates wrong, and we are in trouble!! How do we come back? The very God who must judge is the one who came as his Son to die on a cross, to take the place of those who found themselves in a pig-sty, so that justice would be done, the price would be paid, the punishment taken by the very God who is the Judge! It is an amazing message, but it counts for nothing unless verse 20 is a reality in one’s life. Please look at it:
He got up and went to his father.
You can hear it once or five million times, but unless you go to God, unless you say “That is me in the pig-sty. Old people don’t know. My friends don’t know. But if you saw inside, it is so low I am at. If you knew the state of my conscience and my soul…! What shall I do?”, you say. And Jesus says, “Flee back home to your heavenly father!”, and the wider message of the New Testament as held in the reality of the light of the story teller here, Jesus Christ, is that his death makes it possible for us to flee back to the God who made us. Today may be the day that you have a new start, when you flee to Jesus, the one who has died on your behalf, so that you can come home.
Flee back to God
But look at that verse 20 closely. You have got to go! Don’t wait, don’t wait for somebody else. Don’t just respect the whole thing, don’t look up to it. Go! Go!! Your Father is waiting. And those of you who know Christ this morning, it does not say ‘If you have done something wrong this week, earn the right, do your best, work as hard as you can before God will listen to you again…’. That is not the New Testament way to live as a Christian. here is the New Testament way. Prodigal! Come here! Because the blood that was shed on the cross of Jesus covered your guilt until you see him again and for ever. You don’t earn your way back if you have done things wrong this week. It is a gift of grace from Jesus for you. And you can take it! It is an amazing thing, to follow Christ and to know his forgiveness. Week after week, year after year, despite your own hopeless failings. Joy! Isn’t it? Joy!! ..says the New Testament…Joy!!!
Home at last
What happens when he gets home? Well let’s look at the story again. So you see in verse 18, he is reversing, he goes home. Look at that clause in verse 20, the new paragraph:
20…But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
And we are not told in the story what the son was thinking as he reaches the gates. We know he’s rehearsing the story, “I’m so sorry. Give me a job, any job, please!” Then he sees his dad running. Now, for the leader of the family in what is clearly a wealthy home, (because he throws a huge party in a minute), in this culture for that man to lift his clothes up and expose his legs so that he could run, because he would have had a long gown on; to show his legs and run would have been ridiculous. It would have lacked all dignity according to his status. So the boy gets to the gate saying, “I’ll say sorry and I’ll ask for a job. He’s a lovely Dad. Maybe he will…”. But dad runs down the drive. We don’t know that the boy did not think “Oh no. I’m going to get a kick up the back side and back to the pig-sty.” But as his dad got closer and closer, he sees the face. He sees the arms out stretched. He sees the dad running. And notice that the story changes. Look! verse 18:
18…I have sinned against heaven and against you and 19I am no more worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’
‘Let me do something. I will do anything I can to get back in. What do I have to do? Let me back in God. What do you want me to do to make up for what I have done wrong? I will do anything. Just give me a job. OK, I will try harder.’ No. Just what happens in verse 21 when he realises that his dad comes in sheer exuberant crazy love. A clause is missing. That was in verse 19.
The son said to his father, ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
He does not say “Make me like one of your hired men. Ah! Fantastic!” He doesn’t say, “God if you just let me back in I’ll try even harder to be as good as I can possibly can so that you can love me again.”, because he knows that that is rubbish! Because there is nothing you can do. Because God the Father loves you so much that he would give his own life because there is nothing you can do at all to be good enough ever. So you don’t come begging to do your best and trying as hard as you can to make up for the mistake you made last week. No!! The God of Justice and of heaven has paid the price of a cross for you! It’s free! You can’t do anything or try to do anything except this. Trust that God has died on your behalf through his Son so that you might be forgiven. And if you want to start this pathway today, it’s a new beginning. And if you are twenty years on the pathway, if you are eight years on the pathway, be glad that you do not have to beg for a job with God. He loves you outrageously! Despite what you did last Tuesday!
Forgiveness and Life
Oh my goodness! Now there is life! Isn’t there? There’s life now, not burdens and obligation – sheer joy that the Creator of the universe sees me like this, because His Son died on my behalf and continues to cover me and make me right.
Well let’s see how the story ends, verse 22:
22But the Father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf [the best animal we have got] and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found’. So they began to celebrate.
Oh! In the village the people would have been saying, “This man has lost his marbles. This man is crazy.” That means, “…this old guy has gone crazy! He has lifted his clothes up, he has run down the drive to the guy who spat in his face, who disgraced his honour, and he has embraced him and brought him in and he has thrown a party for the whole village! For this disgusting man!!”. You see why Jesus tells the story? Do you see it now? He says “God’s like that” and he says, look at the story, he says, “Get those filthy clothes off him will you? Stick him in the shower with a piece of Radox, wash him down. Don’t just put a new coat on him, put the best coat on him. Put the best clothes on him. It’s my boy!! He’s back! He is clean! he is acceptable and I want you all to know that he is mine, there is no stink of a pig-sty on him any more because I washed him clean and I brought him in.” Jesus came from heaven to die on a cross because I stink in my soul, and He has come to make me clean, to wash me clean, to take the punishment, so that God in Heaven, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ can say, “You! Come here. You are clean. I love you. There is nothing you can do to earn it. Come on! Come on!!” Well, will you come? Will you come to your senses? Will you come to him? That is what He has done.
And then he puts a ring on his finger. Do you see that there? “My boy. He’s my boy. I love him. He is mine.” Do you want to be his boy? His girl? Then flee! Flee to Jesus this morning as the one who makes it possible. Have you been his girl for a while, or his boy for a year or two? The way it starts is the way it carries on. Don’t forget it! He’s like that now. “You are mine, all mine. I love you. Oh I know you screwed it up this week but I love you. I know you blew it but I love you. Come here, let’s start again. You are mine, all mine.” That is the Christian Faith.
Heavenly Father we thank you for your word. We know that it speaks regardless of human frailty. You are kind enough as your word is explained to speak to our minds and hearts and to move our wills. We ask that you would be gracious enough today to each one of us to do that in a way that brings glory and honour to you. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.