Prodigal Grace


This my second installment of the digging deeper series. I will try and post this series by Wednesday or Thursday each week. The idea behind this series is that we don’t want to lose the benefit of Mark’s sermon. As I said last time, I have found myself moved by a sermon on a Sunday and then by Monday or Tuesday morning I have nearly forgotten the entire sermon.  So, my prayer is that this series will help us keep the benefit of Mark’s sermons, and force us back to the text and dig in deeper one more time.

So, lets dig into Luke 15 again. Mark started off by quickly talking about glory. He said that we all love seeing something that is glorious. Since it was Super Bowl Sunday, Mark mentioned how later that afternoon many of us would be watching the game on large HDTV’s and when something glorious happens in the game we will see it from 20 different camera angles in slow motion.  We will later go online and watch the same amazing play on YouTube 20 times and tell our friends to watch this play. We are telling others to come see glory. Mark then reminded us that Luke 15 contains something far more glorious than the most amazing football play of all time.

Mark then focused our attention on the first two verses of Luke 15 which says: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Mark pointed out that there were certain types of people who were attracted to Jesus. Those types of people included tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors in the days of Jesus were one of the most despised groups of people. Most people think of tax collectors in the days of Jesus as thieves, but Matt Chandler says it goes well beyond thievery.  Chandler adds: “At the time that Jesus is walking on the earth, at the time that the gospel of Luke is written, Israel is ruled by Rome. In fact, Rome, at this time, rules from England to India. Try to get your head around how massive of an empire that was. And…they were a ruthless, ruthless, ruthless empire that conquered the world by slaughtering hundreds of thousands of men, women and children…So for Rome to rule ruthlessly like this, they had to have a massive, massive, massive army. How do you fund a massive, massive, massive army? Taxes. In the 1st Century, tax collectors were Jews who paid Rome for the right to gather taxes. At this time in history, the best bet is that almost 90% of a household income went to taxes.” So, we can begin to see why the tax collectors were so despised.

Then the passage tells us that ‘sinners’ were drawing near as well.  Mark said that the Bible tells us that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So, we are all sinners, but this word sinners here in Luke is describing a group of people who are known for their sin. They have their scarlet letter on them. Matt Chandler says: “So, a sinner in the 1st Century wasn’t everybody, but it was a class of people, specifically those who had jobs that were considered questionable or immoral. So, slave traders, prostitutes.” Mark pointed out how the people who were coming to Jesus were the outcasts, the broken, the shamed and despised. Mark then in essence asked if our churches today are drawing these same types of people? Tim Keller in his wonderful little book The Prodigal God says: “Jesus’ teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches,…We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners doesn’t have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.” Matt Chandler helpfully reminds us that: “Where the true gospel is, even the tax collectors will push close to hear.”

In verse two the Pharisees say that Jesus: “receives sinners and eats with them.” John Piper says that this word ‘receives’ means: ‘eagerly await or expect and look for.’ Piper adds: “In other words, Luke 15:2 says that Jesus is not just receiving sinners; he is looking for them and eagerly awaiting their coming. He has his eye out for them. The word “receive” sounds passive. But Jesus is not passive. He is seeking sinners and tax-gatherers to come to him and eat with him.” Praise God that Jesus came to seek and to save lost sinners like you and me!

Mark then jumped into the main text for the sermon. Starting in verse 11 of chapter 15 he read: “And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 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.” Mark pointed out that most people call this the parable of the prodigal son, but Jesus never calls it that. The parable is about a man who had ‘two sons.’ Tim Keller says that a better name for this parable would be: “The Parable of the Two Lost Sons.” The younger of these two lost sons comes to the father and disrespectfully demands his inheritance even though his father is still living. Tim Keller points out that for this son to ask for his inheritance now, “was a sign of deep disrespect. To ask this while the father still lived was the same as to wish him dead. The younger son was saying, essentially, that he wants his father’s things, but not his father. His relationship to the father has been a means to the end of enjoying his wealth, and now he is weary of that relationship. He wants out. Now. “Give me what is mine,” he says.”

Mark then said that the father in the parable actually gives his younger son his inheritance. This would have required the father to sell a portion of his estate. Keller again says: “The father patiently endures a tremendous loss of honor as well as the pain of rejected love.” Verse 13 of chapter 15 says: “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.” Mark then asked if the younger son took his inheritance and moved into a house down the street? No, he went to a ‘far country.’ He wanted to get as far away as he could. He probably ran out of his father’s house filled with joy as he gets to enjoy his newfound freedom. He lived recklessly with his inheritance for probably a few months, but eventually the money dries up, and the joy that he had a few weeks back is long gone. A modern day worship song describes the prodigal son so well: “The sin that promised joy and life Had led me to the grave.”

So, a famine arose in this far country and this younger brother begins to be in need, and in desperation he takes a job feeding pigs. While feeding the pigs he longs to be feed with this pig slop, but he can’t even have that.  Verses 17-19 tell us: “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! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 1I am am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ Mark asked how many of us have been in trouble and have worked up a speech to try and spin the situation to our advantage the best we can? The younger brother in this parable works on his speech in verses 18&19. Once he has his speech ready he rises and makes the long journey home to his father.

Charles Spurgeon talks about the long journey home for this younger brother. He says: “It is a long and weary journey. He walks many a mile, until his feet are sore, and at last, from the summit of a mountain, he views his father’s house far away in the plain. There are yet many miles between him and his father whom he has neglected. Can you conceive his emotions when, for the first time after so long an absence, he sees the old house at home?…You would imagine that for one moment he feels a flash of joy, like some flash of lightning in the midst of the tempest, but…a black darkness comes over his spirit. In the first place, it is probable he will think, “Oh! suppose I could reach my home, will my father receive me? Will he not shut the door in my face and tell me begone and spend the rest of my life where I have been spending the first of it?”

Spurgeon says as the prodigal son gets closer to home he thinks that his father is going to be harsh with him. He expects his father to say: “Well…you have wasted all your money, you can not expect me to do anything for you again.” Spurgeon then asks: “what would you do if you had a son that had run away with half your living, and spent it upon harlots?” Well here is the glory that Mark talked about at the start of his sermon. Here in verse 20 is stunning, glorious, prodigal grace: “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.” Mark pointed out that a Middle Eastern father in the 1st century would never run. Tim Keller says that: “Children might run;…young men might run. But not the…owner of the great estate. He would not pick up his robes and bare his legs like some boy. But this father does. He runs to his son and, showing his emotions openly, falls upon him and kisses him.” Mark reminded us that Christianity is the only religion that has a God who picks up his robes, bares his legs, runs after us and then warmly embraces us.

The son stunned by his father’s kindness tries to give his rehearsed speech in verse 21: “‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” He can’t even finish the speech before his father calls for the best robe, the fattened calf, and then gives his reason for the celebration in verses 22-24: “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. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”

Mark told us that the robe that the father calls for would have been the fathers very own robe.  Tim Keller says that the father is saying: “I’m not going to wait until you’ve paid off your debt;…You are not going to earn your way back into the family, I am going to simply take you back. I will cover your nakedness, poverty, and rags with the robes of my office and honor.”

Before we get into the older brother in this parable, I think it would be helpful to see how the two characters in this parable correspond to the people who are listening to Jesus tell this story. In the first two verses of this 15th chapter of Luke we saw that tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to Jesus, but there are also Pharisees and scribes that were close to Jesus as well.  As verse 2 says: “And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled,” Tim Challies helpfully points out that: “The tax collectors and sinners correspond to the younger brother—people who left the traditional morality of their families and social groups and engaged in what others would consider wild living. The religious leaders, on the other hand, correspond to the older brother, representing the moral and obedient who have never turned from the traditions of their culture and religion. Where the first group seek God through some kind of self-discovery, the second group seeks him through a type of moral conformity. Jesus’ message is that both of these approaches are wrong and in this parable he offers his radical alternative.”  Tim Keller adds: “There are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord,…One is by breaking all the moral laws and setting your own course, and one is by keeping all the moral laws and being very, very good.”

With that said, the older brother is highlighted in verses 25-32. He is out working in the field when he hears the uproar at the house. He asks a servant what is going on and the servant tells him: “‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’” This angers the son and he refuses to go in to the party. Verses 28&29 tell us that the older brother: “was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 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.” Mark pointed out that the son speaks very disrespectfully to his father, in the way he addresses him. He doesn’t address him by saying father, but simply says: “Look, these many years I have served you.” You can feel the anger that is coming out of this son.

Mark pointed out that the younger brother and older brother are more similar than we might think. The younger brother wanted the share of his inheritance so he could celebrate with his friends, and the older brother wants the same thing when he says: “you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.” Tim Keller helpfully writes: “Underneath the brothers’ sharply different patterns of behavior is the same motivation and aim. Both are using the father in different ways to get things on which their hearts are really fixed. It was the wealth not the love of the father, that they believed would make them happy and fulfilled.”

Elisabeth Elliot shares this very helpful fictional story that describes an elder brother: “One day Jesus said to his disciples: “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.” He didn’t give any explanation. So the disciples looked around for a stone to carry, and Peter, being the practical sort, sought out the smallest stone he could possibly find. After all, Jesus didn’t give any regulation for weight and size! So he put it in his pocket.  Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey. About noontime Jesus had everyone sit down. He waved his hands and all the stones turned to bread. He said, “Now it’s time for lunch.” In a few seconds, Peter’s lunch was over.  When lunch was done Jesus told them to stand up. He said again, “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.” This time Peter said, “Aha! Now I get it!” So he looked around and saw a small boulder. He hoisted it on his back and it was painful, it made him stagger. But he said, “I can’t wait for supper.” Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey, with Peter barely being able to keep up. Around supper time Jesus led them to the side of a river. He said, “Now everyone throw your stones into the water.” They did. Then he said, “Follow Me,” and began to walk. Peter and the others looked at him dumbfounded.  Jesus sighed and said, “Don’t you remember what I asked you to do?  Who were you carrying the stone for?”

Tim Keller in speaking about this story from Elisabeth Elliot adds: “Like Peter, elder brothers expect their goodness to pay off, and if it doesn’t, there is confusion and rage. If you think goodness and decency is the way to merit a good life from God, you will be eaten up with anger, since life never goes as we wish. You will always feel that you are owed more than you are getting.”

Mark then towards the end of his sermon asked about our prayer lives. He asked if when we pray are we mainly praying about us and our circumstances, or are we praying for more of God? Are our prayers overflowing with spontaneous joyful praise? This was convicting for my wife and I and we discussed this later Sunday afternoon after the sermon. Tim Keller says that if our prayers are wholly taken up with a recitation of needs and petitions, not spontaneous, joyful praise. Then this reveals that our main goal in prayer is to control our environment rather than to delve into an intimate relationship with a God who loves us.

Lastly, Mark talked to us about our true elder brother. In the parable the younger brother doesn’t get a true older brother, he only gets a Pharisee. We however, get a true elder brother. Our true elder brother doesn’t just go into a far away country to find us, he leaves the throne room of heaven and comes to Earth. He can’t just pay a sum of money to bring us back. No, he has to pay the infinite cost of his life to bring us into God’s family. Tim Keller again powerfully writes: “Our true elder brother paid our debt, on the cross, in our place. There Jesus was stripped naked of his robe and dignity so that we could be clothed with a dignity and standing we don’t deserve. On the cross Jesus was treated as an outcast so that we could be brought into God’s family freely by grace. There Jesus drank the cup of eternal justice so that we might have the cup of the Father’s joy.” As we consider our true elder brother, the Lord Jesus Christ, how can we not overflow with spontaneous, joyful praise in our lives and our prayers?

Picture from bayviewfamilychurch


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