I love parties. I love having parties. I love being invited to parties. Have you ever been invited to a party and the invitation read, “Please omit gifts?” Those are cool parties in that the people who invite you aren’t in need of anything but your presence. They just want you to be there. I enjoy going to parties where I take a gift to celebrate the person or the occasion, but those parties where gifts are omitted are neat too in that the people having the party just want you to share in their happiness. They want you to be a part of their joy. They just want you to be with them. Hold onto that thought.
So, in Luke chapter 15 Jesus tells the story known as the story of the Prodigal Son. There are three characters in the story, a father and two sons. One of the two sons basically, selfishly decided to demand his part of his father’s inheritance while his father was still living. He had, had enough of living at home and thought things would be more fulfilling, interesting and exciting outside of his father’s home. His father gave him the inheritance that would have been his upon his death, and the son left in order to run his life his way and in order to seek whatever happiness his new-found fortune would buy for him.
Luke 15:13 tells us that the young man traveled as far as he could to get away from his father and his old life. We know he also left a brother behind. Two relationships, gone in an instant. He headed for a distant country. He didn’t just move across town. He put so much distance between himself and his home that no one could even send him a “We miss you” or “Please come home” message.
Well, he got wherever he had hoped to get, and he wasted all of his money on what the text called “wild living”. (Insert whatever comes to mind there.) With nothing left, he had to find a way to feed himself, so he started looking for a job. Not only was there a famine, but at the same time jobs were very scarce. The only thing he could find was a position as a “bacon preparation assistant.” That’s a fancy way of saying he fed pigs. J He was so hungry and desperate that he even wanted to eat the pigs’ food, but he couldn’t even sneak any of that.
How stubborn do you have to be to take this scenario all the way to the pig pen before you will admit that things haven’t worked out so well? Just sayin’. Well, verse 17 tells us a lightbulb went off in his mind. Luke tells it this way:
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
He is going back home with the mindset that he is a failure, and that he will have to beg his father to let him come home. He is going back home with the mindset that he has been an embarrassment, and that if his father lets him come home, he is going to have to live as less than he had when he gets home. He has convinced himself that he can never be a son to his father again, but that he will have to live as one of the hired servants in his father’s home. Wrong living really does a number on the way we think.
We pick up the story at the end of verse 20: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
How cool is that? Before the son could start the speech he had rehearsed, before he could utter a sound, the father welcomed him with a heart-warming embrace. And the picture of the father running towards the son is so incredibly moving. That didn’t happen in ancient times. Respectable men didn’t run towards someone who had wronged them with compassion in their heart. Respectable fathers who had been disowned and betrayed by their sons wouldn’t have welcomed them back with eagerness and great affection. They certainly wouldn’t have kissed and hugged someone who had been living in the pig pen. The father in the story had no reason to even want to ever see his son again let alone run toward him and embrace him.
This picture is really a picture about the outrageous love of God. God’s love is ridiculously radical. He can’t turn it off. He is always love and is looking for someone to embrace. And here is the amazing part! When the son was the most unworthy of his father’s love that is when his father was the most welcoming! It gets more unbelievable by the minute, doesn’t it?
You get the sense from reading the story that even though the father ran toward the son and embraced him the son still wasn’t thinking things were going to be ok. He wasn’t thinking his sonship would be restored. He wasn’t expecting things to go back to the way they had been. I can picture the father smothering the son in his embrace and can almost hear the son saying, “Wait a minute, dad. You don’t know the whole story.” Pick up the story with me in verse 21.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ The son didn’t feel worthy. The son felt disqualified. The son knew he had been dislocated from his father because of sinful choices he had made, and he didn’t see any way that gap could be closed. He didn’t see any way things could go back to normal. He didn’t see any way their relationship as it was supposed to have been, that close father/son relationship, he didn’t see any way it would be restored. The best the son could have hoped for was that he would start as one of his dad’s servants and over time, he would work his way back into his good graces. He would earn his dad’s love and favor. He would earn his dad’s approval. He would earn his sonship back.
It was like the father didn’t even hear what the son said. He turned to his servants and started giving orders. He told them to find the best robe in the house and to put it on him. I am sure the son was quite a sight after basically living a pig pen. Imagine wearing a fancy robe with mud all over your body. His dad told them to find a ring and put it on his finger. Back then a ring was a symbol of authority. The third thing the father told the servants to get for his son was sandals for his feet. Apparently he had walked home barefoot!
Think about what the father was doing in that minute. He didn’t try to convince the son with words that he was welcomed back into his house and that their relationship was restored but he showed him it was by placing the robe on his back, the ring on his hand, and the sandals on his feet.
The robe said, “It doesn’t matter what you have done or how dirty your deeds have been. I’ve got you covered!” The father wasn’t going to let the son walk around in the covering of pig slop and sin. He was going to clothe the son with the finest clothes available.
The ring said, “Take your authority back, son, and live with the authority that a son of mine should exercise.” He was telling the son he had value. He had purpose. There was still life to live and a place in life to occupy. He may have made a mess of his past, but his future was still unwritten.
Robes and rings were big deals back in the ancient day.
In Genesis 41:41-43 when the Pharaoh of Egypt was making Joseph, a non-Egyptian, basically the Czar of Egypt we read: Genesis 41:41-43-41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet RING from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in ROBES OF FINE LINEN and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and men shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.
Yes, a robe and a ring would have communicated something significant to this prodigal son. There was a third item the father asked the servants to get for his son. He asked them to find some sandals. Back in that day only servants and slaves went barefoot.
The sandals said, “No son of mine is going to live as a slave.”
Oh yes, actions speak louder than words! And the father didn’t stop there. He said to the servants in verse 23: 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
The father threw a “Welcome Home” party! What a dad! His son wasn’t going to live in shame, but would be celebrated! It was an instant party, and he didn’t just order pizza and ask for the free paper plates and napkins that came with it! J It was the best meat. It was the finest meal. It was a feast.
So the father in the story represents God, and the son in the story represents all of us who have gone our own way instead of God’s way. We have all been there. Some of us have run farther away than others. Some of us have stayed gone longer than others. Some of us have done more to try to keep from being discovered than others. But we have all been runners at one point or another. For those who have “come back home” and been reunited with our Heavenly Father, there are lots of reasons God celebrates, and He invites us all to the party and a life of celebration.
A lot of people have believed the lie that reconnecting with God means disconnecting from anything fun or happy. Satan is really good at twisting things and helping people draw conclusions that aren’t true. He isn’t called the “father of lies” for nothing. He wants to keep people disconnected and away from God and so he convinces people of at least two things:
He convinces people that life is better apart from God or that God could never love them again because of what they have done. Well, when you get to the pig pen stage, you realize life isn’t better without God. Sometimes that downward spiral takes time, maybe a few years or even a decade or two, but slowly, over time, you remember what it used to be like before you set out for the “distant country.” By the time you get to the pig pen stage, you know you had it better “in the father’s house,” but returning seems impossible. I mean, you’ve burned too many bridges. You’ve crossed too many people. You’ve compromised too much. You are in too bad of shape to make the journey, and even if you could make it, you think God wouldn’t take you back.
I have good news for anyone with that mindset this morning. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you have been or what you have done, God is waiting with balloons, confetti, and streamers for you to come home because He can’t wait to embrace you and throw a party for you.
That coming home party is such a great celebration for many reasons.
- It means we have had a change of heart.
- It means we desire a changed life.
- It means we regain a relationship with the Father.
There is only one thing needed for someone to have a change of heart. Humility. Admitting that going our own way was the wrong way to go is the first step home. Realizing and recognizing that we were wrong and confessing that is the first step to living a life of celebration with our Heavenly Father. It is the turning point in our recovery and reconciliation with God. It is the turning point that gets us back to our destiny, to living the way we were meant to live with relationship, provision and authority. That is something to celebrate.
But pride is a big stumbling block for many. It is a big hurdle to cross. Getting to that point where we desire to say, “Father, I have sinned against you” can take a long time for many and some people never get there. That’s why it is a big deal when someone comes to that realization and confesses it. A change of heart is a cause for great celebration.
People who choose to live apart from the father become hard-hearted. They are stubborn. They are always living in a defensive and protective mode trying to prove they’ve got it all under control. It would be hard to receive anything good from a loving Heavenly Father in that condition. Until we honestly think about where we are and understand what is available to us in the “Father’s House” inside a relationship with a generous and loving Heavenly Father, it is difficult to see our need for God.
When we allow God to change our hearts, He takes away the desire for sin which leads to destruction in our lives. He takes away the desire for things that will steal joy and health from us. He takes away things that can sabotage our lives and relationships and futures. He gives us a heart that seeks good things, God’s things, and they are the things that lead to freedom and celebration. Lasting peace and joy are only possessed by people who let God change their hearts.
The coming home party also celebrates that someone desires a changed life. A true change of heart will result in a real change in life. I believe the father in the story, even though he didn’t take time to hear the son’s whole story, he was celebrating the reality that the son was choosing the life in the father’s house rather than life on his own. The son hadn’t decided to just come home until he could acquire enough supplies to try to live on his own again. He was coming home. It was a permanent decision. The change of heart was leading him to a change of life.
Now listen, the Christian life isn’t just about surrender and giving up. If it all stopped there, who would want that? Who would want to think they were just turning their life over to Someone else to run? Who wants to think about giving up control? But that isn’t the total picture. That isn’t an accurate portrayal of what happens when people decide to be in a relationship with God. That is just part A, but there is a part B! We lay down our lives so that we can pick up a life that is a gazillion times better! We turn over the navigation of our lives to the only One who sees the future and knows best. We give up a flawed way of living for a life that leads us to perfection. We give up dead end block parties for paths of righteousness that lead to the real party life!
Our way of doing things apart from God leads to death. Left to our own wisdom we do crazy stuff that costs us emotionally, relationally, financially and physically. If we embrace that God exists do we truly think that we can lead our lives better than He can? If we embrace that God exists do we truly think we are better off without the wisdom of the One who has always existed, without the One who created the Heavens and the Earth?
Besides His perfect guidance, He has resource upon resource. The Bible says He owns the cattle on a thousand hills which is a metaphor or a simile (I don’t know which at this point) but it is an analogy to help us understand He is extremely well-to-do. He is the God who not only possesses all things, but He can create anything from nothing anytime He so chooses. Sticking with Him means we have our needs met. We are provided for. The Bible says He has everything we need for life and godliness, and He will give us all of that through relationship with Him (II Peter 1:3).
When God throws a party, not only can we celebrate a change of heart, and not only can we celebrate a change of life, but a huge reason to celebrate is the restoration of the relationship between God and us. We were created to be in a relationship with God. Sin in our lives destroys that opportunity, but God has a remedy. He has a way to solve the problem that puts that distance between us and Him.
You know how in the story, the father ran to the son? In essence, the father made the first move. Listen, God has made the first move with you and me as well. He sent Jesus, His only Son, to pay the price for our sin so we can be right with Him. He is reaching for us! You know how the father in the story didn’t use words to demonstrate his love for his son, but he covered him with the robe, the sandals and gave him the ring? God has done the same thing for us. Our sin, our brokenness, has been covered by God. He covered us when Jesus took our place on the cross of Calvary. He welcomes us with no questions asked.
You see, God isn’t past-oriented. He is future-oriented. He wants to take us somewhere positive, somewhere exciting. He doesn’t want us to live ashamed and stuck in our past. He doesn’t need a big long explanation of why we have done what we have done or where we have been. He already knows because He is God! He just wants us to acknowledge that we desire a change of heart and a change of life, and that we want to live in His house, and He will make it happen! He will take care of the rest. God is the Ultimate Caretaker and Party Thrower because He wants us to live a life without worry, without condemnation! He wants us to live a life of celebration.
The only way to spend eternity in Heaven is to accept God’s forgiveness and provision for our salvation. It involves a changed heart, a changed life, and an ongoing relationship with this amazing and generous God. Verse 20 that tells us the father ran to the son. It says that the father’s heart was full of compassion. God not only knows what we have done that has landed us in the mess we are in, but He feels bad for us. He wants to rescue us. Our pain and dislocation move Him.
Once we are in His care, for real, we can’t imagine being anywhere else. God’s love is perfect love, and in His perfect love He throws us a party even when we are far from perfect.
Before we wrap this up, I just want to make one more point, but it isn’t about the brother who ran away. It is about the older brother. He wasn’t really in the party mood when he heard his brother had come home. He wasn’t happy that his dad so quickly welcomed his baby brother back into the fold. It is understandable how he might have felt like he was getting the short end of the stick. I mean, he didn’t disrespect his dad the way his brother had and his dad hadn’t thrown a party for him.
Notice what happened when the father heard that the older brother had gotten upset and had refused to come to the feast. Verse 28 tells us that the father, this dad of compassion and relentless love, this dad who couldn’t stand for anyone to miss the celebration, he left the party to go talk to the older son and to encourage him to come back to the party.
Here is the point: People get dislocated from God for lots of reasons. Some, like the younger brother, want to try to run their lives their own way apart from the guidance of God. Some, like the older brother, get hurt and angry over something that happens to them. Sometimes the hurt and anger are about a person. Sometimes they are about a circumstance. Both brothers represent all of us at times. We may have our “reasons” for leaving the Father’s house, but the reality is when we go our own way either out of arrogance or offense, we are missing the party.
Remember when I started the message I talked about being invited to a party where the tag line says, “Please omit gifts.” Just bring yourself. The same invitation is being issued by God the Father right now. We don’t have to bribe Him in order to get in to this celebration. We don’t have to bring anything to Him in order to try to earn His favor or to work ourselves back into His good graces. He just wants us to be with Him, and when we have a change of heart and desire a change of life and desire to be in relationship with Him, He truly brings an order and satisfaction to our lives that no inheritance or earthly experience can compare to.
It doesn’t matter who we are, where we have been or what we have done. It doesn’t even matter how long we have been away. When God throws a party everyone is welcome and everyone is wanted.