So, we’ve been looking at the parable of the Prodigal Son for the past few messages. I have a question to ask, not just about this parable but Jesus ministry in general. That question is this – What is Jesus doing? What’s he doing in his table practice, excessive hospitality, his parables, his life, his ministry, just what IS Jesus doing? JESUS, IN ALL HE DOES, IS SHOWING US WHAT GOD IS LIKE.
This is so important, do not miss this. Please don’t miss this. This question has haunted humanity for millennia. We are here, we try to figure things out, we discover fire, invent the wheel, indoor plumbing, then we’re going to the moon. But through it all, one question remains, it hangs over us. Is there really a God, what’s he like, what about God? All kinds of theories spring up, all kinds of religions, some come close, some not so close. But, FINALLY, the question gets answered – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 ESV. Can I get an Amen??!! The logos, the logic of God becomes flesh, and in flesh and blood we can SEE what God is like. Jesus is NOT saving us from God, that is bad theology. Jesus is not saving us from God, He is revealing God. Jesus is not saving us from the Father, he is revealing the Father. Jesus never does anything but that which is an expression of the will of the Father. Jesus and the father always act in concert with one another, never pitted against one another. Jesus is showing us definitively what god is like. Jesus is the true and ultimate word of God.
What is God like? He is like Jesus. What does God do? He does what Jesus does. “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” John 5:19 ESV. Everything I do, everything I say, every time I heal, every time I forgive, I do that because that’s what God does. I’m only showing you what the Father is like. You haven’t known, but now you do, I’m showing it to you. On his last day he has this exchange with Philip – “Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” John 14:8-10 ESV. Phillip says show us the father, Jesus says what do you think I’ve been doing for three years??!! If you’ve seen me in what I am doing, you have seen the father. That’s the message. Jesus unconditionally receives the sinner who comes to him because that is what God is like.
Let’s try this again – Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God, not to change the mind of God about humanity. Don’t get this twisted. Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about us – “well I guess they’re ok after all, if you say so Jesus.” No, Jesus came to change our mind about God. As we look at Jesus and learn from Jesus and listen to Jesus, we finally begin to know what God is really like.
In the parable, the father requires no payment (no blood) and issues no punishment. The Prodigal has already been punished. His punishment is, he’s in the pig pen. Sin has a way of punishing us, we are punished by our sins. Sin is taking its toll. He doesn’t like it. The wages of sin is death, and he’s dying in that pig pen. So he decides he is going to go back to his fathers house.
The Prodigal goes home, arrives at the fathers house, and there is no punishment and no payment. He’s just pardoned by a kiss. That’s all that is going on. The Prodigal, if he will come home, will be welcomed and pardoned with a kiss.
The elder son, the angry brother, wants there to be punishment and payment. But – you can’t pay it. It’s gone. He sold the land and livestock for cash, wasted it on prostitutes, wine, women, and song. Sex drugs, rock n roll, some of you will shout Amen to that. He did a bunch of coke, had a bunch of hookers, lost it all in Vegas, that’s it, it’s gone. You can’t pay it back. It’s gone.
But – what can be recovered is the relationship!!! So the older brother is fussing about “all the stuff is gone, the moneys gone, what about the stuff! All the land, all the livestock”…the Father says “Shut up about the stuff!! It’s the relationship that can be recovered!! That’s what we are going to recover, the relationship, because that’s what matters.”
There’s no payment, no punishment, there’s only reconciliation and an extravagant celebration. Meanwhile, the elder brother cries out “He broke the rules, he broke the rules Father!!!” The Father says “Yes, I know. He broke the rules. But I pardoned him with a kiss. NOW COME TO THE PARTY!!!” He broke the rules, disrespected the father, lost all the stuff, but the father pardons him with a kiss. He is forgiven. He’s pardoned.
Come to the party. But the older brother refuses. What, exactly, is the older brother doing here? He is consigning himself to hell, the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth…
They’ve both been in hell. The Prodigal Son has been in the pig pen. “This is hell. I’m going back to my fathers house. Even though I’m not worthy.” He goes back, the Father says “I don’t care about worthy. Worthy, not worthy, you’re my son! Robe, ring, shoes, fatted calf, let’s have a party!”
The older brothers been sweating in the field all day. They’ve been laboring st home as well, they’ve got a BBQ going (beef not pork). There’s a band, the sun has set, it’s dark, they’ve moved all the furniture, and everyone is dancing. It’s a party! The brother comes home, says “What’s going on?” He’s told by one of the servants tells him “Your brother came home, your father pardoned him by a kiss, killed the fatted calf, he’s so happy to have him home safe and sound, we’re having a party.”
The older brother is angry, he won’t go in. He argues with his father when his father comes out to him. So what do we have? We have the older brother, outside, in the outer darkness gnashing his teeth (can you picture it?). “It’s not fair, it’s not fair!!” So, who’s suffering? The elder brother is suffering.
If you want to, you can call this the wrath of god. What’s really going on is simply that God refuses to act in a manner inconsistent with his mercy. If the older son refuses to forgive, he will be excluded from the party (the kingdom of god). Not because the father excludes him, but because he excludes himself. You can call it the wrath of god if you want to, but what really going on is the father says “If you’re asking me will I act inconsistent with my mercy and punish my son, I will not. We are going to celebrate his reconciliation and you are invited. I urge you, I beg you, I plead with you, come to the party. But I will not be manipulated to act inconsistent with my nature which is mercy.”
Either the elder brother is good with that and says “yes Father, you are merciful and that’s a good thing, I come to the party.” Or he will stay out in hell, in the outer darkness. You see how this works? That’s why we are taught if we don’t forgive we won’t be forgiven. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Matthew 6:14-15 ESV. It’s not because god is petty and says “if you won’t forgive, I’m not forgiving you!” It’s simply because when we will not cooperate with the nature of god, which is extravagant mercy, we exclude ourselves from God himself, and consign ourselves hell.
We must always position ourselves on such a way that what Jesus announces and enacts comes across to us as good news. The Pharisees saw what Jesus was doing and said ‘this is not good.” The sinners and tax collectors said “this is the best thing I ever heard!”
How do you position yourself in such a way that what Jesus announces and enacts comes to you as good news? You stay poor in spirit and need of mercy. “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. Who’s more poor in being spiritual than the prostitutes, the sinners and tax collectors? The get F – minuses at being spiritual. Jesus says “Come to the table anyway! This is for you too!” REALLY? “Yes, really.” Sinners – “that’s the best thing I ever heard of!” Pharisees – “that’s terrible, he’s compromising, he’s maligning the integrity of our faith.” All those things Pharisees say.
We must always position ourselves in such a way that what Jesus announces in his beatitudes and enacts in his ministry strikes us as good news. Be poor of spirit and in need of mercy, and it will always seem like good news to you. But the moment you feel like a gatekeeper of the mercy of god, as though you are the immigration officer determining who gets in and who’s left out, who deserves it and who doesn’t, the moment you take up that position you’re about to miss the party and be left out in the darkness gnashing your teeth.
There are two kinds of Christianity in America. There is compassionate Christianity and angry Christianity. Both of the these have great energy. Both can build churches, have movements, write books, have websites, podcasts, television programs, both have all of this. Angry Christianity probably has even more energy, because it is easier to attract a crowd around anger than co-suffering love.
You find both kinds in this story. The father and the angry brother in the story of the Prodigal son both have their sources of energy compelling them to act according to their own way. The father in verse 20 saw his son from far off and was moved by compassion, co-suffering love, and he sprang into action, ran out to meet him, pardoned him with a kiss and threw a party.
In verse 28 the older brother heard this, became angry and refused to go in. “I will point be a part of that! That’s not fair, that’s not justice. That’s not right, I won’t go.”
Two kinds of Christianity. Compassionate Christianity and angry Christianity. One says let’s kiss the leper, the outcast, the excluded, those who’ve been marginalized and told they don’t belong. Let’s kiss the leper, forgive the sinner, and walk the world as the pardon of a God. Let’s have a party.
The other says let’s get mad about something and make sure the sinners know how mad God is at them. Let’s have a protest, let’s protest something.
One says let’s kiss the leper, forgive the sinner, walk the world as the pardon of god, and try to be a party of reconciliation. The other says let’s get mad about something, tell sinners how mad God is at them, and have a protest. Both can use the Bible. Both have their bible verses.
There are a lot of energy in both kinds. But only one gets endorsed by Jesus, only one reflects the Father, and only one gets to go to the party that is the Kingdom of God. So, let’s kiss the leper, forgive the sinner, walk the world as the pardon of God and make what we do feel like a welcome home party and not mandatory sentencing.
“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. 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. 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. “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.”‘ 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. “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.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 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!’ 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.'””
Luke 15:11-32 ESV