A Father’s Welcome - Luke 15:11-32

The United States of America is a great nation. It is a great nation because it has been a nation built on freedom.  The freedoms that we hold so dear have been provided and protected for us by the brave men and women of our armed forces.  It is hard quantify the sacrifices that military families have made for this country.  We tend to think about a soldier’s time fighting overseas, but we often forget about their families who are left behind.  They deal with the emotional struggle of being away from their loved one and thoughts of whether they will ever see them again.  Jessica Gerren is one such woman who had to deal with her husband being deployed to Afghanistan.  During her husband’s 6th month deployment, she gave birth to their second daughter.

Corporal Christopher Gerren missed the birth of this daughter and the opportunity to support his wife during her labor.  One can only imagine the emotional angst and inner turmoil both Jessica and Christopher Gerren felt being separated during those 6 months.  It is indeed hard to quantify the sacrifice that military families make to preserve and protect our great freedoms.  The sacrifice runs deep and the emotions run high, which is why I love to watch military reunions.

            Jessica Gerren appeared on the “Ellen Show” under a ruse to see her husband on a live feed via satellite.  They pretended to have Chris on a live feed in Afghanistan before he surprised his wife by walking on stage.  Tears of joy and relief filled Jessica’s face.  Her husband was brought home safe and sound.  After the greeting with his wife, Chris was introduced to his daughter for the first time.  It was amazing to watch this father welcome his daughter into his arms for the first time.  It is hard for me to watch a surprise military reunion without crying. For a brief moment, you are invited into the joy and relief of an extended period of longing.  The longing of a solider to be united with his family and the longing of a family to be united with their solider, it is a beautiful picture of joy and grace.  It reminds us of a simple fact: fathers want to be with their children.  This longing is a small picture of the longing that God has to welcome his children home into his loving arms. 

            Jesus has provided us with a parable to show His deep longing to welcome His children home.  This story is a very familiar one to many of those in the church. It has often been referred to as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.  And although it is a story of a prodigal son, it is much more about the gracious love of our heavenly Father.  I pray you will see how much our great God longs to welcome you home.
But before he can welcome us home, he watches us leave.

The Father Watches the Son’s Rebellion

Luke 15:11-12,

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.

Jesus starts the parable showing us who the parable is primarily about in the first sentence, “There was a man who had two sons.” We will see how this man interacts with both of his sons.  The first son asks his father to give him his share of the property that is coming to him. The son is asking for his inheritance before his father is dead.  And in many ways, he is turning his back on his father and treating him as if he was dead. 

Notice the father’s response, “And he divided his property between them.” The father watches his son rebel and allows him to walk away.  The father allows the son to follow his sinful heart (Romans 1:18-32). Verse 13, “Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.” The son threw away this inheritance by chasing after sin and the father watched him go. 

      God will allow us to chase after sin. If we do not acknowledge Him as Lord, he will let us serve other gods, but there will be consequences for our disobedience.  God allows people to walk away because he knows the fruit of sin. When tempted to sin, we always see the fun, but never the failure. Although sin is appealing, it comes with severe consequences.  Watch the progression of this younger son who turned his back on his father and squandered his inheritance with reckless living.  Verse 14-16,

And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

This son lived for himself and now had to face the consequences by himself.   

A severe famine arose in the land and he was in trouble.  In his desperation, he hired himself out to a Gentile to feed his pigs.   Jews looked at pigs as unclean animals.  This son was so desperate that he longed to be fed with a pig’s food.  He was in desperate need and yet, as verse 16 says, “no one gave him anything.”  This is a great picture of what happens when we chase after our sinful desires.  When God gives us over to ourselves, we are left with only ourselves: no help, no hope and no home.  This should be a reminder to us here who are being tempted to walk away from our Father.  Sin may look appealing, but its end is death.  Romans 6:21, “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things death.” Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”  God warns you not to go down that path, for it is dangerous.  He wants to spare you the pain of sin, but if pain is necessary for repentance, He allows the pain.  This son reached the bottom…and that is exactly where the Lord wanted him to go, so that he would see his need.  God will allow you to turn from Him so that you will come to the end of yourself. It is only then when you will realize your need for God. 

Verse 17,

“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! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’

The younger son “came to himself,” and realizes that life with his father is far better. After his grievous sin in squandering his inheritance and turning his back on his father, this son could not be expected to be received as a son.  He says, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”  The reality of his decisions finally hit him.  He forfeited his place in the family and his relationship with his father.  The best he could hope for was being welcomed as a hired servant. 

            Have you ever asked, “How could God love me?” or said, “If you only knew what I have done then you would know that there is no way God could love me?”  These are questions that I have wrestled within my own heart.  When we finally come to ourselves and realize the ugliness of our sin and how we have spurned our heavenly Father, it is natural to doubt that God could love us as sons or daughters. We say, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”  Does God want us to think like this? Does He want us to say, “I am just so awful that God could never love me? How could he love me after what I have done?” 

Verse 20, “And he arose and came to his father.”  You can imagine the son replaying the talk again and again in his head.  Will my father forgive me? Will he welcome me? So with his heart in the pit of his stomach, with fear and trepidation, he came to his father. And,

The Father Welcomes the Son’s Restoration

Verse 20,

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

The son’s fear was relieved. His father must have been watching the horizon. For while he was still a long way off, his father saw him. And four things happen after seeing his lost, presumed dead son: he felt compassion, he ran, he embraced him, and he kissed him.  It would have been a severe break in cultural norms for an older man to run.  This father would have looked undignified, but he did not care.  He threw tradition and social rules aside, because he felt compassion. 

            Notice that the son has already been welcomed and embraced by the father when he said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven (referring to God for all sin is first against God) and before you I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ Now do not miss this!!! The father interrupts him and said to his servants,

‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

The father cut off his son’s speech and fully restores him.  He was clothed with the best robe, a ring and shoes visibly showing that the son was fully restored. He was lost, but is found. 

            Reverend Joshua Symonds was a pastor of a church in Bedford England in the late 1700’s.  He was good friends with John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace. Newton and Symonds corresponded back and forth by letter for several years.  Symonds was very aware of his depravity and his utter sinfulness.  Newton tried to get Symonds to see that his biggest problem was not thinking of himself too lowly, but in thinking too lowly of the Savior. He writes,

You say, you find it hard to believe it compatible with the divine purity to embrace or employ such a monster as yourself. You express not only a low opinion of yourself, which is right, but too low an opinion of the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer; which is certainly wrong…You have not, you cannot have, anything in the sight of God, but what you derive from the righteousness and atonement of Jesus. If you could keep him more constantly in view, you would be more comfortable. He would be more honored.…Let us pray that we may be enabled to follow the apostle’s, or rather the Lord’s command by him, Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice [Philippians 4:4]. We have little to rejoice in ourselves, but we have right and reason to rejoice in him.[1]

Symonds believed he should be treated as a hired servant and not a son.  He rightly understood his depravity, but wrongly understood the great love of the Father through His Son Jesus Christ.

If like Symonds, you are all too aware of your own sin, look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.  He was made like us in every respect so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God atoning for all our sins in his death on our behalf.  When we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are united with Christ.  2 Corinthians 1:20-22,

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

We are in Christ and all of the promises of God find their Yes in him.  So when you feel that you are so bad that God could never love you, remember the love of Christ,

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

This was why Paul prayed, listen to Ephesians 3:14-21,

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

The Father welcomes restoration as sons and daughters. We are not mere servants for we have been adopted as children and are heirs of the life to come. 

Those sweet promises kept Pastor Symonds, for on his deathbed he wrote that Jesus, ““filled him with a steady, constant peace, and sometimes with unutterable joy and transport[2].” I pray those promises will give you a steady and constant peace with unutterable joy. 

The Father celebrated with his son, but not all rejoiced.

The Father Wills the Son’s Repentance

Remember the beginning of the parable started there was a man with two sons.  We have already seen the fall and restoration of the first son, but now we turn to the older son. Verse 25-27,

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’

Remember this parable was told to the Pharisees and the scribes who were grumbling against Jesus (Luke 15:1-2).  Jesus came to bring salvation to the uttermost sinner.  He came first to his own, but his own did not receive him (John 1:11). Verse 28 says, “But he was angry and refused to go in.” Jesus is showing how the older brother is the Pharisee. The party has started and they refuse to go in. The kingdom God has begun, but they refuse the invitation. 

And look at how the father shows his love to his older son, second half of verse 28, “His father came out and entreated him.” The father wills and pleads with his son to come into the party.  He wants the elder son there. He wants him to be at the party as Jesus wants the Jews to come to Him.  The elder son reveals his selfish heart, verse 29-30,

But he answered his father, ‘Look, these many 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 came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

Do you hear the main concern of this son?  Me, Myself, and I.  He cannot celebrate because he is focused on self.  He even refused to be called his brother for he says, “when this son of yours came.” He was ashamed to be called his brother.  He does not have in mind the things God, but the things of man.  The son is enraged by grace.  How could you treat him like that after he did what he did?  How could you? Where is your justice against his sin? This was the complaint of the Pharisee against the Gentiles.  How could you welcome sinners like them?  The answer is simple.

Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers.  He took on flesh and blood and died.  He was not thinking of Himself, but His Father’s will and desperate need.  He worked in the field like the older son, but he worked in the harvest field with joy. His joyful work led him to the cross fulfilling God’s work of redemption. His suffering led him to the right hand of the Majesty on high. So they asked, “God, how could forgive and restore sinners?” I forgive and restore sinners on the basis of the finished work of my Son: His death and resurrection for sinners. 

            This son is outside of the party. He is outside of the kingdom of God. And the father pleads with him, verse 31,
And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’

The parable ends there with the older son outside.  Will the son enter the party?  Will he repent of his selfishness? Will he embrace his father? Will he welcome his lost brother? Luke leaves that question unanswered. He wants us to ask ourselves, “Are we outside of the party?   Are we glad when the dead receive life? Are we glad when the lost are found? Will we receive lost sinners as our brothers or refer to them as “this son of yours?”

            Praise God for the growth He has been giving our church.  It is humbling to have families chose to covenant together with us. When the join us, they become part of our family.  Will we rejoice that they are with us or distance ourselves from them?  I am grateful for the welcoming spirit within our church. I am grateful that God has given you a spirit of grace and joy, but be warned for the evil one loves to stir up strife among the brethren. We must fight against the selfish “me, myself and I” in our hearts. Let us not be like the elder brother who was shut out of the kingdom of God because he was ashamed to call a saved sinner, brother.  Our God is not ashamed to call repentant sinners brothers, therefore neither should we!!

            Beloved, if we think too lowly of ourselves, then we think too lowly of our Savior’s great love. If we think too highly of ourselves, we think too lowly of the cost our Savior had to pay for us.  Jesus saves to the uttermost. The cross shows God’s hatred for sin and God’s immense love for the sinner.  All of your sin is paid for in the cross by faith.  All of the sin of others is paid for in the cross by faith. Amazing love how can it be, that Thou my God shouldst die for me and the sinner next to me.  We need never ask how can God forgive, but rejoice that our God does forgive all who call on Christ as Lord.  Acts 2:21 says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The cross is God’s invitation to the party.  He pleads with you to repent.  Will you stay outside or will you come in? The Savior is inviting you. Come, for it is fitting to celebrate and be glad, for those who were dead are alive, those who were lost are found. Are you lost? You can be found.  Are you spiritual dead? You can be made alive.  Are you ashamed of the brothers? Believe in the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for all who believe. The father welcomed the lost son, I pray we do as well.