Ten questions to start …
1. Do you ever take secret pleasure in the failings of other people?
2. Do you ever find yourself replaying conversations in your head so that you come out on top?
3. Does serving in the church ever feel like drudgery?
4. Do you ever exaggerate the good things you’ve done?
5. Do you ever feel weary because you’re struggling to meet your own expectations?
6. Do you ever think of yourself as a better Christian than other people?
7. Do you ever feel disappointed when some good work you’ve done goes unnoticed?
8. Do you ever gossip about other people?
9. Do you ever resent the expectations other people have of you?
10. Do you ever feel hard done by?
Then you need to hear the good news that God is gracious.
I want us to look at three sons.
Read Luke 15:11-24
1. A younger son
The behaviour of the son is remarkable – especially seen in the context of the culture of the day. Asking for your inheritance was tantamount to saying, ‘I wish you were dead.’ Selling off your inheritance would have been a cause of great shame because you were losing the land that belonged to your family. Moving to another city is no big deal for us, but moving away from home would have been a shocking thing to do – a rejection of the family. And we have not even got to the wild living yet! And then feeding pigs was the lowest you could get for a good Jew because pigs were unclean animals. And then wanting to eat their food! Do you know what people feed pigs? Rubbish. Wanting to eat pig food is shameful in any culture!
And this son is a picture of you and me. We have wished God dead. We have rejected his love. We have moved, as it were, as far away from God as we can. We tried to break free from love and we have ended up in the pig trough – longing to be satisfied with rubbish.
So the selfish behaviour of the son is shocking. But the gracious behaviour of the father is even more shocking. This would have left Jesus’ hearers gasping.
If a son asked his father for his inheritance while he was still alive, you would disinherit him. If a son said he wanted to break free of his father’s rule, you would have beaten him. If a son left home to indulge in wild living, you would disown him.
But this father is looking at the horizon. He sees his son coming a long way off. He is on the look out. And then he runs to meet him, throws his arms around him, organises a party. All of those things are deeply shocking in the culture of Jesus’ day. Elderly men, especially patriarchs, did not run. It was beneath their dignity. and if a son came before his father, especially a son who had wronged his father, the father would wait for the son to honour him. But this father does not wait for any of that. The boy starts blurting out his carefully prepared speech when the father throws his arms round him. And instead of putting him the dog house, he gives a place of honour and celebrates his return.
The father is picture of God the Father. God the Father is always waiting, arms opened, ready to embrace us ready to welcome us home. In fact the other parables in this chapter suggest that God actually goes out searching for us. He takes the initiative to bring us home.
In one sense we’re far away from God. We have put this distance between us and God. We are erected this barriers between us and God. We have created this conflict between us and God. And yet … always God is very close to us, waiting to embrace us, waiting to forgive. Think about what this story says about God. It suggests God is more willing to accept you that you are to turn to him. God is more willing to forgive than you are to ask for forgiveness.
I used to think that when I sinned, when I let God down, I was probably going to get a bad day or God probably wouldn’t hear my prayers or that I probably wouldn’t enjoy knowing him for a while. I guess I assumed God would act in the way I act when people let me down. Or maybe I thought I could kind of pay it off – I could atone for my wrong-doing by having a miserable day or sweating it out in prayer – as if the death of Jesus on the cross didn’t quite do the job and I needed to top it up. And so I stand at a distance from God. And all the time he is looking for me, ready to embrace me, ready to welcome me home.