In view of Christmas being this week, I wanted us to meditate on a passage that would be a little more appropriate for the holiday. I wanted something that would be more suitable in getting us ready to celebrate the birth of our Lord.
So earlier this week I asked my wife if there was a passage that she thought would be a good for a Christmas meditation. And my wife suggested we consider this passage.
[So if you don’t like it, you can blame her!]
One of the sermons she has come across was by Jonathan Edwards. The text that he preached was this one here. My wife found it quite thought provoking, and that’s why she suggested this text.
It certainly isn’t a text you would immediately think of as a Christmas passage, but the theme is certainly there. It has to do with the Birth of Christ and how special this event was. More specifically, it has to do with the lofty position that Mary enjoyed as the mother of Jesus.
The text tells us that some random woman who was in the crowd, cried out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed.” You can likely sense her emotion. There can be no doubt that this woman was overwhelmed by the richness of the teaching that Christ had been presenting.
And it might be that this lady recognizes that Jesus is indeed the Promised Christ and Messiah from God. So impressed is she with the person and the work of Christ that she exclaims how great a blessing it must have been to be his mother.
You know, that’s one thing we as Protestants don’t often think about. We don’t really recognize how grand that must have been. Mary is one who holds a rather significant position in Church history. To say that she was blessed, is probably something of an understatement.
You will also notice that Jesus does not object to what this woman says. There can be no objection laid against it because she is indeed blessed. As a matter of fact, there are a number of Scriptures that testify to the fact that Mary is.
For instance, way back in Luke chapter 1 we see it repeated 2 times (and perhaps even 3 times). The first time we hear it is when the angel Gabriel first brought the news to Mary that she was going to give birth to the Son of God. Now there is a texual discrepancy here. This is what the King James Version reads. In Luke 1:28 Gabriel greets her with the words, “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”
Now, again. There is a textual discrepancy here. But that doesn’t discount the other two passages. Look over at 1:42. You will remember that after the Angel visited Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. And when she arrived Elizabeth spoke prophetically. And she said, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” And she repeats it in verse 45, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
After that, Mary bursts into song. By the inspiration of the Spirit she lifted up her voice. And in verse 48 she sang, “He has regarded the low estate of his handmaid: for, behold, from this time forth all generations will call me blessed.”
Now I realize that all of you are die hard Protestants and in your mind little red flags are waving furiously. Your Catholic Alarm is going bonkers right now. But I want to assure you that I have not converted. Neither am I advocating any sort of Mariology. We are certainly not going to sing the Ave Maria at the end of our message today and ask if there is anyone here who would like to ask Mary into their hearts.
But as Protestants, have we really thought seriously about how blessed Mary was? Do we really understand the favor that was bestowed upon her and the elation that she must have experienced as a result?
After all, that’s what the idea of being “blessed” is all about. It is that state of happiness and fulfillment that comes as a result of being the one singled out to be the recipient of the bounty of God’s kindness.
And I want us to consider for a few moment just how blessed Mary was. I think that it couldn’t be a better thing for us to think about as we stand here at the brink of Christmas.
I. How greatly blessed Mary was for having born the Christ child.
After all, Mary was the “God bearer.” That title might make some of you a little squeamish. I understand that. And for good reason. As a matter of fact, there was a whole Ecumenical council held early on in church history over that very term.
Some of you might know the controversy surrounding the guy by the name Nestorius. Around 430 people would sometimes talk about Mary and use the term “Theotokos,” which means “God bearer” or “the mother of God.”
I’m not going to go into the details of the controversy, but the controversy had to do with that term. And there is a sense in which yes, we have to be careful. On the one hand, we don’t want it to sound like the divine nature of Jesus started with Mary—as if to say if there were no Mary, the second person of the Trinity would never have existed. We know that the Son of God has always existed (there never was a time when he was not).
Neither do we want to make it sound like Jesus did not have a human nature. He most certainly did. Technically speaking, Mary wasn’t just the bearer of God. She was the bearer of the God-man.
But it is not theologically incorrect to say that she was the one who brought forth God. For Christ is indeed was wholly divine. And to say that she was the God bearer is most certainly an orthodox statement because she did carry in her womb He who was divine.
There is the radical mystery (and profundity) of Christmas. He who was the very substance of God, dwelling in the unimaginable excellencies of heaven, came down to earth—and more than that, he entered her womb. Though the world could not contain him—being that he is infinite God and so exceeding vast reaches of the universe, he made his home within the Virgin Mary. This lowly girl, who was for all practical purposes entirely obscure—a complete nobody, was chosen by God and raised up for this one purpose: to be the instrument through which the second person of the Godhead would come.
Just think of that! In the reproductive organs of this little lady, you have the manifestation of the three persons of the Trinity. The Father, before all time, ordained that she would be the one in whom the Savior would be housed. Remember that Jesus came “in the fullness of time.” That means that the Father had ordered all history so that at just the right moment Christ would be born. That of course implies that He had not only foreordained all the events of history, but he had specifically written her into his divine decree.
Of course, it is obvious how the second person of the Trinity is involved. But you also have the third person of the Trinity operating here too. The Holy Spirit, was the one who caused the Christ to be conceived within her. Due to the nature of the miracle it was necessary that the Holy Spirit descend upon her. For, if there was to be a Second Adam who did not have the spot and stain of sin, the ordinary rules of conception had to be overridden. And as the Angel Gabriel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
So, of all places to witness the Trinity at work, it was here in the womb of Mary! Now, how blessed is that? I would say that to have the Trinity so openly acknowledged anywhere is a grand thing. But that it was (of all places!) within Mary’s body, should make us pause and consider the wonder of it all.
But of course, her blessed state is most clearly expressed in that she was given the honor of bearing the Lord Jesus.
Now we would all agree that someone is most certainly blessed of God if they are His instruments in sharing the gospel. To have the opportunity to talk with someone about Jesus is a blessing. He or she is even more blessed if they not only be the one who communicates the content of the gospel, but he go on to actually see that person with whom he is talking convert.
But to talk about the gospel and to actually give birth to the gospel are two entirely different things! To speak about Jesus is a great blessing. But to be the one who bears him and gives birth to him is blessing on a whole different level!
Listen to what Jonathan Edwards once said:
“Some [people] G are blessed with a very Great and extensive knowledge in matters of Religion. They are Great Divines and [the Lord]& makes them Instruments of doing a Great deal of Good. They are means Instruments of the Conversion of many souls;they are Gnot & not only are are they means of a Great deal of Good in their own Particular flocks but tha many have been Great Lights in the [broader] Church; n Generalthey by their Preaching & writings have done a Great deal of Good towards advancing the Cause of Truth & Piety thou throughout a whole nation; or all in many nations some have Gloriously defended the Cause of Truth against heretics & Gainsayers; there have some have been Instruments of Propagating Religion & Instructing Poor heathens & Converting them to Xtianity; some [such as Luther] have been Great Reformers andLuther have been the meansend of Reviving the Church after a Long night of darkness & time of General Corruption; some Xtian Kings & Emperours have been Privileged by being made Instruments of a Great Good to the Church: Constantine the Great was a Establishing theChristian who overthrew the heathen Rom Empire & setting up a Xtian [government in its place]Rom.”
If these are all considered blessed, ought we not to understand how greatly blessed was she who did bring forth the Son of God and Savior of sinners?
And think about how blessed she was for having nursed that child and raised him all through his years.
We sing, “In Christ Alone.” It is one of our favorites. You know, there is the line in that song that says, “Fullness of God in helpless babe.” That boggles my mind every time I sing it. The God who upholds all things, was a helpless babe. Isn’t that crazy? I mean, if it were not for Christ holding them in their positions, the stars would fall right out of the sky. The stars were not hung there like ornaments on your Christmas tree. They don’t just sit there by themselves. They have to be held in place by the hand of God at all times.
Yet, this God, who upholds all things, was a helpless baby. He was completely dependent upon Mary. She was the one who gave him food and drink. And understand, without her, he would have been in a lot of trouble. His survival rested upon her and her tender care.
He who was divine was coddled in her arms and fed by her breast.
The incarnation is by far one of the greatest wonders known to man and the preeminence of Christ cannot be fully comprehended by any one of us. And all that only serves to highlight how superbly blessed of God Mary was.
But why is it important to point all of this out? Why is it wrong for us Protestants to downplay Mary’s status? And why is important that we not shirk back from acknowledging the extent of her blessedness?
Well, for one, it provides us with a great opportunity to remember the incarnation of our Lord. But more than that, it reveals how blessed we are if we take the word of Christ to heart.
II. How much more blessed are we if we hear and heed the word of Christ.
I said earlier that Jesus does not object to the truth that this woman spoke. But you’ll notice that he doesn’t dwell on it either. He doesn’t correct her, but he does redirects her focus. He says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” One way you might translate it is, “Yea, more than that blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”
All that is to say, don’t focus on Mary. Sure, she might be blessed, but Jesus wants those around him to know that there is a blessing to be had that is greater than the one that was bestowed on Mary.
Now, I doubt we can fathom just how blessed Mary was. The favor that the Lord bestowed upon her was no doubt a rich and glorious thing. And we might say that we haven’t even begun to plum the depths of what she experienced. But Jesus tells us that it pales in comparison to how blessed one is if he is a disciple of Christ.
To be one of Christ’s disciples and to make His word the very foundation for your life is enter a state of virtually infinite blessing.
You remember what it says Psalm 1. Blessed are those who walk not in the counsel of the wicked, nor sit in the seat of the scornful nor stands in the way of sinners. But his delight is in the law of the Lord and on it he meditates day and night.
Who is the one who is blessed? It’s the one who delights himself in the law of the Lord.
The psalm goes on to give an illustration of just how blessed he is. It says, “He is like a tree planted by steams of water, which yields its fruit in season and its leaf does not wither.
That tree is a metaphor for the blessing that we experience when pledge to live by God’s word. The analogy speaks of life and vibrancy. The fruitfulness of the tree illustrates how productive and successful one becomes. The whole picture of a tree by a stream of water is one of abundance and peace. In sum, when you take Christ to be the Lord of your life and you make his law the standard for your life you are filled with the fullness of life.
And that is much greater than being the God bear. vessel used in bringing forth Christ.
I’m told that Christmas is sometimes the time of year where many people experience discontent and depression. Many are disillusioned. But the cure for this is found here. The way to find happiness is spelled out right in these words. It is by looking to Christ. It is taking heed to every word that was uttered by his tongue.
The moment you say, “I will follow you, dear Jesus, and I will follow your word.” That is the moment you enter into a new world of joy and peace.
And may this Christmas you not only take joy in the birth of the Savior, may you take joy in the fact that as his disciple you enjoy the vast measures of his blessing.
Jonathan Edwards, Sermon on Luke 11:27:-28 http://edwards.yale.edu/archive?path=aHR0cDovL2Vkd2FyZHMueWFsZS5lZHUvY2dpLWJpbi9uZXdwaGlsby9nZXRvYmplY3QucGw/Yy40NDoyLndqZW8=
I have to say that I never would have chosen this section of Luke for this time of year. But I think that, in God’s providence, we’ve come across some good passages of Scripture for Advent.
Last time we were together, we talked about the Parable of the Lost Sons (or Parable of the Loving Father). It that passage we saw how that was an appropriate sermon for the Christmas season.
The passage before us today really suits well too, at least for us in our American context.
Jesus has just talked about the Prodigal son who had wasted his inheritance. His eyes were consumed with riches and he loved what he could do with the wealth that he had recieved. And in this passage, it is almost as if Jesus says, “Oh, since I mentioned the love of money and living a life where you are consumed with the things of this world, let me add one more thing. Let me tell you another little story about a guy who was in love with money.”
Jesus takes this opportunity to once again help us understand the nature of discipleship, particularly as it pertains to stewardship. Jesus is reminding us that the things of this world (i.e. the wealth that we have—or the wealth we want), can be something that is detrimental to our eternal welfare.
And again, this is so appropriate for us given our American, materialistic context. We’ve all come through Black Friday—and thankfully it seems that everyone is here and made it through alive. There is actually a website called, “blackfridaydeathcount.com.” It records how many deaths and how many injuries occur in America on that one day of the year. As people make a stampede on the retail stores of our land in order to satisfy their covetous desires.
I read one article recently that says that Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become holidays in and of themselves. And, from a sociological standpoint (and even a theological standpoint), I think they are right. They are the high holy days of the god of materialism.
Given the affluence of our culture, and given the propensity to do harm our fellow man for a “Tickle Me Elmo,” it is good to think about our how much we are inclined towards money and mammon. You might not be one who enamored with holiday shopping; you might not be burning the magnetic strip off your credit cards, but you would be a fool if you didn’t stop and think about your financial expenditures and just how attached you are to worldly goods.
Being that we are a part of this culture we need to really evaluate what takes preeminence in our lives. And this passage is really helpful to that end. This passage is designed to get us thinking about help us think about how important money is to us. It is here to get us thinking about how we use our money. And it is important to do that because how you use your money will reveal our hope and it will reveal our heart.
Now, if you look at the first 12 verses of this passage, you will see that Jesus focuses our attention on the future. He wants us to think about eternity. And he basically says that those who have the hope of eternal life will demonstrate that in the way they handle their finances.
I. How you use your money reveals your hope [1-12]
Now, the first 9 verses can be a little difficult to understand. Jesus tells a parable about a servant who has been cheating his master. And after he’s been caught, the way he gets out of it is by cheating his master some more. His master comes to him and says, “Hey, you’re fired.” And the guy thinks, “What am I going to do? I can’t do manual labor and I can’t go out and beg. What am I going to do? Well, he gets an idea. He sees his long term situation is not good, so he begins to make some deals with his master’s debtors so that perhaps he can ingratiate himself to them and get a job with them.
Now, Jesus isn’t commending dishonesty. The lesson you are to take isn’t that you should cook the books and use deceit in your business dealings. This servant is commended because he is shrewd. He understood that things needed to change. He was wise because he saw that the future was bleak and things needed to change if he was going to survive.
That’s the point that Jesus is making. And that’s the point we should take home. A Christian is going to be one who is wise enough to understand that there is a life beyond this one. He understands that there is going to be a day of judgment and if he is going to escape the wrath of God his life must radically change. He’s got to repent of his materialism and begin to use his money in a way that corresponds to a heavenly life.
Now, this is not buying your way into heaven. You can’t do that. But how you spend your money should reveal that your hope is not in this world or the things of this world. It should show that you have been more concerned with things that have an eternal significance.”
Jesus elaborates on this in verse 10-12. In these verses he talks about being faithful in little things and how that validates your being able to handle greater things. Now, he’s talking about the treasures of this world and the greater treasures that are to be had in the world to come. If you haven’t been able to handle the things God has given you here. If you have simply lived a life where you have been consumed with yourself and not been responsible enough to serve the Lord with the funds he has given you here, how then can you be trusted with the riches of heaven?
Young people, if you take a job at a fast food restaurant and you are irresponsible with your job—perhaps you are eating French fries you are supposed to be serving or you are not cleaning up the tables after the customers have gone, is your boss going to let you stand behind the cash register and handle the money? Is he going to give you a promotion where you will have more responsibility and greater goods at your disposal? Of course not.
That is kind of what Jesus is saying right here. This life is an entry level position. How you handle yourself here (i.e. how you handle your wealth) will express to a great degree what your lot will be in the life to come. And if you are not living in such a way that shows you have no regard for eternity, then you shouldn’t expect to enter it when the time comes!
I’d say that in a day like ours, this is incredibly relevant stuff. I don’t know what people at this church, but I know the national average among evangelicals is. It is a pittance in comparison to the liberality that God has demonstrated towards them. Some surveys say that it is less than 2% of their income.
(“I mean, I can’t give to the Lord and His kingdom, I have to pay for my second car.)
I was listening to a sermon by Joe Morecraft this week and he talked about how much money people spend just on their hobbies. It is true. People can be a little fanatical about their personal pastime. Morecraft gave the example of someone who is an avid golfer or who is really into hunting. You know it’s not just about the golfing or hunting, but it is all the equipment that they got to have to go along with it.
Now there is nothing wrong with having a hobby. There is certainly nothing wrong with playing golf or hunting gear. But I think you know what Morecraft is saying: It can become obsessive, and it can impede the greater investments in God’s kingdom.
The point is that it these kinds of things can demonstrate a near-sightedness. It can show that your heart is not enamored with the kinds of things that the Lord is interested in. It reveals that your hope is more upon this world that the kingdom to come.
But a Christian will demonstrate some godly moderation when it comes to his or her entertainments (whether it be your hobbies, your pets, your cars, your house). And, if the Lord is causing you to prosper, then you will show your hope by the fact that charity and missions have a real and prominent place in your life.
In other words, when someone looks at your credit card statement it should be obvious to them that you are not living for today. Or if the Lord were to audit your checking account, what do you think He would find? Would He find that your life was dedicated to advancing the cause of Christ? Would he see that you have been honest in your business dealings? Would he see that you have demonstrated a charitable frame of spirit? Would he see someone who has been living for an eternal kingdom, or would he see that you are living like there’s no tomorrow?
In sum, this passage tells us that our eschatology influences our economics. It is not simply something that is fun to debate or simply a matter of ivory tower thinking. The study of the last things should not be one of the last things we study. It should be one of the first things because it is one of the most practical doctrines. For this passage reminds us that where you will spend your future will directly influence how you spend your finances.
How you spend your money will reveal your hope. But our passage tells us that it will not only reveal our hope, it will also reveal your heart.
II. How you use your money reveals your heart 
You might say that verse 13 is the heart of the matter because this verse deals with your heart. In verse 13 Jesus says, “No servant can serve two masters, either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
The last word in that sentence is actually “mammon,” which means wealth. It is more than just money. It has to do with all your assets. It is can apply to what is in your bank, or your house, or even refrigerator.
In essence, Jesus is asking where you heart is. Is it with Christ? Or is it with the things of this world? To which are you going to be faithful? Which is the one that you serve? Because it is impossible to serve both. You are either going to trust God and seek to serve him, or you are going to trust in your riches and seek after them.
You cannot coddle both of them. It is as impossible as a child who has horded together all his toys in his hands trying to give his mother a hug. You cannot hug your mother when your arms are filled with stuff. Neither can you have faith in God if you are overly consumed with the things of this world.
This is the test of idolatry here. Jesus is bringing us back to the heart of the first commandment and saying, “You shall have no other gods before me.”
You know what that means, of course. If you are going to have no other gods, then you have to have this one. You have to own him and acknowledge him. You have to delight yourself in him and esteem him above all others. You have to put your faith in him and trust him. In sum, the first commandment requires you to devote yourself wholly to God. He must become the object of your heart’s desires.
Of course that means turning your back on all others. There can be no other who captures your heart.
This past weekend Elizabeth and I had the pleasure of attending her brother’s wedding. In that service something very important happened. That lovely couple took vows and were knit together in marriage. In those vows they promised to “have and to hold one another.” And in making that pledge, they promised to forsake all others and remain faithful only to this one.
Now you can ask my brother in law, “Who has your heart?” The answer should be obvious. How is it obvious? It is by the way he serves his wife. Is he spending the proper amount of time with her? Is he treating her with respect and giving her the attention she needs? Is he coming to her and repenting when he sins against her? Or is he spending most of his time at his work? When he is with her is he thinking about something or someone else?
You will be able to tell where his heart is by who or what he is serving.
The question that arises out of this text is this: Who or what has your heart? What is it that you are serving?
Perhaps I would suggest to you going back and reading the book of Amos. Amos was a prophet who spoke out against the Israelites because they had become mammon worshippers. They were not only living in an age of affluence. That in itself was not wrong. But their riches had come to consume them. It had stolen their hearts away from the Lord. So now they were more concerned with the Almighty Dollar. Their economy was booming, but their faith was failing.
They didn’t care that their profits were at the expense of others and that their deals were deceitful and oppressive.
In chapter 6 Amos speaks out against those who had “beds of ivory.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with having some nice things in life. But these luxurious beds were indicative of their religious temperament. They had no sense of frugality. They were living for the day and enjoying a life of exorbitant excess. It wasn’t so much their having the excess as their over infatuation with it and their revelry in it. It was in how they proudly flaunted their wealth for all to see.
In a word, there was no sense of modesty or moderation.
There is another good illustration in chapter 8. Amos there talks about how they were so caught up with their wealth that they couldn’t wait for the Sabbath to be over. There was a sense in which they were very religious people. They still observed the Sabbath. They still did all their religious activities. But deep down they were itching for it to be over so they could make a buck. This day of worship was a torment to them because they wanted to get out and get back into the marketplace where they could cash in.
When it came to “who had their heart?” the answer was pretty obvious to Amos.
And Jesus asks the same of you: Who has your heart? Guys: Are you able to sit here today and enjoy the service of worship? Or are you thinking about how you can get that promotion or seal that deal? Ladies: Where is your focus? Is it on getting all the best clothes and having your own little bed of ivory?
You have to take an honest inventory. For where your heart is, there is your treasure also.
Godfrey Davis was an author who once wrote a biography about the Duke of Wellington. He once reflected on his research into the life of the Duke and he said that the one thing that was the most revealing about the Duke’s life were not his letters or his speeches, but his account book. Davis said he found an old ledger that showed how the Duke spent his money. And he said that this gave a far better clue as to what the Duke cherished most.
It is my hope that a similar thing could be said of you. For you can be assured that there will be a day when our biography will be plainly published for all to read.
One day we will all stand before the Lord. And when we do, you can guarantee that it will feel like the Lord is conducting an audit of what exactly was your hope in life. When the books are opened, it will no doubt seem like he is simply reading through all of our financial receipts and bank statements. All our financial transactions will be laid bare. It will become apparent what our hearts truly treasured.
This story is an emotional roller-coaster. In a matter of moments you experience a barrage of grief, anger, outrage, elation, back to irritation, compassion.
The mood swing that you experience is so incredible that there is a sense in which you don’t know if your tears are those of joy or sadness or outrage.
There’s no doubt that the pathos of the passage is so great because you find yourself in the story somewhere. You identify with one of the characters. And that is what Jesus specifically intended. He designed it for that very purpose.
But we should not miss the main element of the story. The story turns on one figure. And really, it wouldn’t have the effect that it does if it were not for the father figure in the story. And that is where your attention needs to be focused.
That is why I think the parable has the wrong heading (at least in my Bible). The parable is typically known as the Lost Son (or the Prodigal Son). A better title would probably be the parable of the Lost Sons because, in reality, the story is about two sons who are estranged.
But even that doesn’t really get at what is really the central focus of the story. Perhaps a better name for it would be the parable of the Loving Father.
Tim Keller has written a book which is aptly called, “Prodigal God.” It’s an attention grabber, for sure. After all, it is the younger son that is the prodigal. He’s the one who squanders all his goods on reckless living.
But the word Prodigal means reckless, or wasteful. And Keller makes the point that the father figure’s love is so extravagant that it is almost seems wasteful and reckless. And it kind of has to be, if he is going to love sinners such as us.
This morning, I want us to consider the three sons in this story so that we might just how great our Heavenly Father’s love really is. .
We begin to see the depth of the father’s love as we look at his dealings with the younger son.
I. The Father’s great love, as it is witnessed in the younger son
And indeed, there is no missing how grand his love is. The story commences with this boy saying to his father, “Show me the money.” He asks for his inheritance. Then after a couple of days, perhaps waiting long enough to liquidate his assets and turn it all into cash, he hits the road.
Some scholars make a big deal out of his asking for the inheritance. They say that this was his way of saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead.” Others downplay the idea because it was common back in those days for the family patriarch to doll out the inheritance before he died.
But one thing we can say is that the son was estranged from his father. And his life was given over to a hedonistic glut. He went away and squandered it all in reckless living. He was living for the moment without any consideration of his Father or His wishes.
Everybody sitting around Jesus knew exactly who he was talking about. This boy represents all the sinners who were gathered there. And perhaps even some of you may identify. You’ve taken your leave of the Lord. You’ve disavowed his authority over you and have given no heed to his commands. And you’ve sought to live a life of independence and self indulgence. And perhaps, even like the prodigal, you found yourself sitting among pigs, wallowing in the folly of the lifestyle you’ve chosen.
Perhaps you’ve wondered if, after having lived this way, the Lord would ever receive you back? The answer is given to you in verses 17 and following. The son decides to return home. Why not just become one of the slaves in the household. That would be better than his present conditions. So he starts back and he resolves to confess his sins to his father and beg for his mercy.
But what does the father do? (Remember this is more about the Father’s love than it is about the son!) The old man hikes up his robes and runs out to meet him. He’s so elated at the child’s return that doesn’t care about what his neighbor’s might think. He casts off all protocols when it comes to how to act dignified. Over his shoulder he cries, “Get me a robe! Get me a ring! My boy is home!” He lavishes his love upon him as he embraces him and kisses him.
You’ll notice that He does not wait to have the boy clean up. You have to picture the boy bearing all the marks of his disgrace. Maybe he tried pressing the wrinkles out of his tattered clothes. Maybe he tried running his fingers through his hair to look a little more presentable. But nothing can disguise the filth that still clings to him. The father grabs him, despite his wretched state.
Years ago we would go and visit my grandmother. And if the wind was blowing the wrong way, we could catch the rather strong aroma that wafted over from the pig farm that was located just a couple miles down the road. If your nostrils have never had the pleasure of sniffing the delights of a pig sty, let me just say, “There’s a reason why they were considered to be unclean animals.” It is one of the foulest smells you can ever experience.
The boy here could not have been in the least bit appealing to his father. But that didn’t stop his father from wrapping his arms around him and planting his lips upon his face.
That is how great the Father’s love is.
You may be estranged from the Father right now. There may be no end to how foul your sins may be. But you must know that such things do not keep the Lord from receiving you as one of his children. The Lord loves sinners and if you turn to him he will pardon all that you have done.
The Lord assures you of this by affirming his love, and giving you and indication of how great that love really is.
But you’ll notice that the story does not end there. The story goes on in verses 25-32 to talk about the older brother’s reaction to all this. And in these verses you have another opportunity to witness the depth of the Father’s love.
II. The Father’s great love, as it is witnessed in the older son
The older son, of course, represents the Pharisees and the scribes. Here you have guys who were “good people.” All their lives they had sought to be faithful to the Father. They have been obedient, never even asking for a goat.
But you see something of the heart. Outwardly there has been compliance. But here the inward attitude slips out. The older son is outraged that such extravagance is being displayed towards his younger brother. All this singing and dancing! The guy is a male whore! He’s so indignant that he will not even go near the house.
But notice how the father’s love is displayed. He goes out to him. He could have sent a servant to the son and demanded that he come. That was his right as the head of house. But he accommodates his son so as not to further offend him. And rather than yelling at him and reprimanding him for how foolish he is being, in verse 28 it says that he “entreated him.” To entreat someone is to gently coax them. It’s kind of like the father is pleading (almost begging!) him to come in.
Verse 29 tells us something of the resentment that the older son has. He says, “All these years I have served you; I’ve never disobeyed your command, yet you never even 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, you throw a big party for him.”
Now, think for a minute about what is being communicated here. What is the older brother really saying? If you would summarize what he just said, how would you do it? Is he not saying, “That’s not fair!” He’s also saying, “You owe me! He doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment, but I do!”
Keep in mind that this represents a lot of us. It is typical of our attitude. I made the joke last time about these tax collectors and prostitutes representing democrats. But the older brother is your white, upper middle class, republican. He is your average evangelical or Reformed church goer. We are obeying. We are not living any scandalous life. Things look like they are (for the most part) all together. We are teaching Sunday School, we are leading worship, we are doing the homeschool thing—just like good Christian people should do. And deep down inside we think we are racking up points.
Even though all our life looks nice and tidy, in reality our hearts might not be set aright. Even though we are right here on the farm, or in the church, we very well may be just as far away from the Lord as the younger brother was.
Notice then how the Father responds. (Remember, that’s to be the real focus)
He even begins his speech by calling him, “son.” It was his way of affirming his love for the man. In other words, He’s saying, “You are not my slave. I don’t deal with you on the basis of your performance. I deal with you on the basis of what you are in relation to me. I deal with you on the basis of the covenant I have with you.” And he sweetly reasons with him, saying, “It is fitting to celebrate. Don’t you understand that this is a time for merriment because he was lost, and now he is found! He was dead, but now he is alive!”
Notice the love here. We often think that the Pharisees were Jesus’ primary enemies. And, yes, they were. But in all his dealings with them, he still loved them. Even though he might have dealt harshly with them at times, that didn’t mean that he hated them. Always and at all times he was reaching out to them. He was calling them to repentance and extending even to them the offer of salvation.
And here, the Pharisees and scribes would have identified with the older brother. And they understood that Jesus was extending an olive branch to them. “Please, won’t you join us? There is joy to be had. There is a celebration within these doors, will you not accept me and my offer? Will you stop thinking about yourself and how good you’ve been and start delighting in how gracious I am?”
You will notice that that is where the parable leaves off. It doesn’t give us the end of the story. You are left wondering, “What does he do? Does he come in or does he just keep on pouting?” I think that was purposeful. It was Jesus’ way of saying, “The ball is in your court.”
When I was growing up, there were a series of books that were very popular. They were called, “Choose your own adventure” books. When you got so far into the book, the author would give you options from which to choose. You could either open this door, or you could keep running down the hallway. And if you chose to open the door, then you would have to turn to a certain page to find out what happens.
That’s essentially what is happening here. You get to choose your own adventure. The question Jesus asks is, “Are you going to join us? Will you continue to hold a grudge against God? Or will you come to the grand celebration and glory in the bounty of his grace?
I once heard a man preach on this passage, and he did a great job concluding his message that way. He left it with a real cliffhanger.
But I don’t feel I can do that. No matter how important it is for you to feel the weight of what Christ says here, I feel that the message cannot be concluded without having properly considered the last son.
Perhaps you thought I misspoke earlier when I said there were three sons in this passage. But I did not. There are three sons here. The love of the father is seen in how he deals with the younger brother. His love is displayed in how he deals with the older brother. But we must not forget that the one who tells the story is the Eternal Son. And the love of the Father is most clearly expressed in him.
III. The Father’s great love, as it is witnessed in the eternal Son
The story of the lost sons has to be kept within the larger narrative of the gospel. As Jesus tells this story of two estranged sons, you have to keep in mind that he himself was estranged from His Father.
There could perhaps be no better text for the beginning of advent season. Because this passage reminds us that our Heavenly Father lost a Son. Jesus had existed in the bosom of the Father from all eternity. But when the time had fully come He came down to earth and he was estranged from the Father.
You all know the verse so well that tells you of the love that the Father had. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him will have eternal life.”
When you hear that exacerbated cry on the cross, “My Father, My Father, why have you forsaken me?” You need to hear the echoing pain of the Father who is turning his back on his own son!
There is that story in the Old Testament where King David’s son, Absalom, turns on him. He seeks to usurp the crown. After a series of events, Absalom ends up dying. Despite all the evil that he did, at the end of the story David weeps over his son. He cries, “Absalom, Absalom, My son. My son Absalom.” No matter what evil was done, David loved his son. And the loss was altogether unbearable.
There is nothing easy about losing a son. And the grief that the Father must have had over the loss of His Son, cannot be fully grasped.
Yet he did it for you. He did it so that he might have a relationship with a sinner like you—so that you might be called His son.
This whole story started out with the preposterous notion: he receives sinners? In response Jesus gives a resounding, “YES!” The only question left to answer is, “How will you respond?”
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.