Charles Dickens was famous for works like Oliver Twist and a Christmas Carol. Dickens is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the twentieth century critics and scholars had recognized him as a literary genius. Charles Dickens said that the story of the prodigal son is the greatest story ever told!
This past Sunday we looked at this story about a son’s journey from arrogance and selfishness to brokenness and shame. But the story doesn’t end there for him. He calls a meeting with himself at his lowest point and says, “Self: you suck. Remember how good you had it when you lived in your father’s house? Look at where you are now! Starving, dirty, and abhorrently smelly. Are you finally ready to go back to father?”
The story ends with the father receiving, no, embracing his son back into his arms. Knowing he would eat crow for an appetizer, he fully expected to also partake of the main dishes of guilt, punishment and shame. He was ready for it. After all, it would be better than dying of starvation. But what he received from his father was joy, embracing, fatherly kissing, honoring, and a full restoration to sonship without having to “pay” any restitution for his actions. The repentant act of coming home to the father was enough.
The father’s joy is to welcome those who feel far from God…home! Death, according to God, is when people live independently of Him. Listen to the very words of Jesus telling the story: “We had to celebrate! My son was dead but is now alive. Was lost, but now is found.” The father restores the son’s ACCESS to the father’s household privileges, AUTHORITY of the family name with the family ring bearing the family’s coat of arms, and, the IDENTITY and honor of the family name with the covering of the best robe.
It’s an epic story and we’ll have the audio online soon on our website.
But in my message, I never got to the story of the older son (hey, I ran outta time!)—a crucial character in the story.
So, the father threw a HUGE party because his son came home.
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go into the party. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
The older brother became “angry”. He had served his father for a long time. But he didn’t understand his father’s heart. The father is relentlessly loving and pursues his older son out in the field, but he’s met with a stern “Look”. No address of “father” or “dad”. Only anger, bitterness, resentment.
The older son was lost too, just lost in a different way. They were both outside of the house of their father.
To the pharisees and scribes listening to Jesus’ story, the only sensible one in the story was the older brother. They identified with him. They wanted justice and restitution performed on the rebellious but repentant younger son. Jesus’ point of the story must have stung hard. The implication was clear: they were like the older brother because they resented Jesus celebrating the faith of tax collectors and sinners.
By telling this story, Jesus was insisting: “If your god doesn’t look, run, embrace, kiss, and throw a party for lost people who return home to the father, you don’t know God.”
What ever happened to the older brother? Does he ever come into the celebration? We aren’t told. Jesus purposefully leaves the parable open-ended. And Jesus never writes anybody off. But the prospects don’t look good for him unless he has a real change of heart. While there were some Pharisees who received Christ throughout his ministry, most stuck together and did not.
It’s easy to be resentful of other people. It’s especially easy to be resentful of a God who we think should give us more or better. But the father's kindness reveals the sin of resentment in our hearts.
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
A sign of the kingdom is when someone, anyone, repents and starts to walk in a different direction—home to the father. A sign of the kingdom is when we team up with God to walk people back to God. It’s a sign of the kingdom when we throw parties and celebrate anyone’s journey from lost to found. It’s a sign of the kingdom when Jesus tells us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven and we party like heaven’s partying (“In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10).
At NorthCreek Church, you can come as you are (unless you’re a 49er’s fan). We love to see people’s lives transformed by the good news about Jesus Christ. Lives that were once far from God but have been brought near by the compassion and grace of a God that accepts us at our lowest points is what we're all about. Come party with us!