A Tender Word for Pharisees

2014 Messages

Don't stay on the porch of merit, come into the family, and come into the family to celebrate grace where the inheritance is found. Recognize the unconditional love of our Savior and not be blinded by our own jealousy of others. "It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found." Luke 15:32

John PiperFeb 16, 2014Luke 15:1-32; Acts 17:25; Mark 10:45; Philemon 1:8-9; Luke 16:14; Luke 15:1-32

Thank you, Todd, and thank all of you for coming and letting me talk to you. I love to talk about the Bible and especially this message which has to do with a kind word to Pharisees. Let me pray for us.

Father in heaven, this is a message largely and mainly for me since I don't know these folks. I just know me, so when I go to places where I don't know them I just preach to myself and hope somebody might get helped. I pray, God, that you would open this word and apply it to everyone here according to their need and that Christ would be magnified, our faith would be strengthened, our love of mercy would be built, and our disgust with sinners would be overcome. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

Luke, chapter 15. If you have a Bible and want to watch and read with me, that would be where we're going to go. If you don't, that's fine; you can just listen. I'm not going to read the whole chapter. I'm going to talk about the structure of the chapter for just a moment, and then I'm going to read the last part of it. Let's go to the beginning. Luke, chapter 15, verse 1.

"Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him." Tax collectors are these turncoats, these Jewish expedient compromisers. Nobody likes them. They cheat. They're bad, and everybody knew they were bad. The term sinners doesn't mean there are people who are and people who aren't. This term is used for flagrant, open sinners. Everybody knows them that way. So now they're gathering and drawing near to Jesus.

"And the Pharisees and the scribes…" That's the other end of the religious pole. These are the experts in law and commandments and the most rigorous religious folks around. That's where I'm seeing myself here. I'm a professional religious guy. "…grumbled, saying, 'This man [Jesus] receives sinners and eats with them.'" That's the setup of the chapter.

Now Jesus' response to that is the whole chapter: three parables. There's the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son, which we used to call the parable of the prodigal son. Those three parables are an answer to their question, "What are you doing?"

In their mind all he could be doing in eating with tax collectors and sinners is compromising: Treating sin lightly. Not really getting what's going on here. Not rigorous in holiness. That's what they see and hear, and Jesus responds by telling three parables about what's really going on, right?

This happened once before, back in chapter 5, where they said to him point-blank, "Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?" He answered, "The well don't need a physician; it's the sick who need a doctor. I didn't come to call the righteous to repentance; I came to call sinners to repentance."

In that text what's going on here is he's a doctor. When a doctor meets with a patient, he's not loving sickness. Here, that's not the answer. Here the answer is three parables: First, a parable where a man lost one sheep out of a hundred. He goes out and he looks and looks. He finds it, and then look what happens in verse 6.

"And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me…'" Then he says in verse 7, "…there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous…" He applies this party that he just threw, the celebration of the found sheep… He says that's what happens in heaven when one of these tax collectors and sinners repents. "That's what I'm about. I'm about looking for people who have repented to join the party in heaven."

Then, there's another parable. "Let me give it to you again in case you missed it, Mr. Pharisee." The lost coin. A woman loses a coin. It's just a little coin. She sweeps and sweeps. "I want my coin back!" She finds it, so she calls all her friends together. Verse 9: "…she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin…""Let's have a party. I found the coin!"

Then, he says again, "…there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.""Do you get it, Pharisee? Do you get it, scribe? This is what's going on here. I'm recruiting people to repent and come to the party in heaven where the angels are already making merry over their repentance."

Then comes the most famous parable of all: the parable of the prodigal son. It's long. There's this son who says, "Give me my inheritance. I want to live on my own. I'm tired of the father. I don't want to be in his house anymore." He goes away and spends all the money, squanders it. He lives riotously and winds up eating pig food in the sty.

He wakes up by grace (goodness, it's grace) and says, "It'd be better to be a servant in my father's house than this. I'm going to go home and see if he'll take me." So he comes homes. (Remember, there's the lost sheep, the lost coin, and now the lost son.) Here, you don't get exactly the same description. It's a lot fuller.

Verse 20: "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him…" This is what's happening in verses 1 and 2. "Are you listening, Pharisee? Are you listening to me, Pharisee and scribe? Do you see what's happening when I'm eating with these tax collectors and sinners? I am the Father, running…I'm God, running…to these people."

"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.'"

So you have a third party. "Do you understand this, Mr. Pharisee? Do you understand? You got it wrong. You're grumbling about me eating with the tax collectors and sinners, thinking 'This is a compromiser. This is a man who doesn't love holiness, who doesn't care about the law and keeping it.'" He said, "That's not what's going on here." Three parables to show what's going on in seeking lost sinners.

Now that's not what I'm going to talk about. I'm now asking a second question that Jesus asked. The first was, "What's going on with the tax collectors and sinners and my eating with them?" The second question is, "Why are you grumbling? Why are you so bent out of shape? Why don't you have categories in your mind and in your heart to process properly what's going on here? What's wrong with you?" That's what the last half of the parable is about, starting in verse 25. That's what I'm preaching on. Let's read it. We'll pick it up in verse 24.

"'For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate." You have to get that the tax collectors and the sinners are the younger brother, and the Pharisees and the scribes are the older brother. He's been explaining how he's relating to the sinners and the tax collectors, and now he's looking over the heads of the harlots, the mafia, and the drug dealers to the critics and is talking to them with this part of the parable. Have that in your mind.

"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.'"

End of story. So much unresolved and so much said for us. This is a message for churchgoers and those who grew up in the Bible Belt. I grew up in Greenville, SC, so this is me. I don't know you. I'm just here with one shot and then I'm gone, so I thought the safe thing to do is to preach to myself and see if there might be one or two out there like this. This is a message for the older brothers among us, and I hope it encourages the younger brothers too. It's sure meant to.

This is about God's coming into the world to save hypocrites, not just sinners. Jesus is really hard on the Pharisees. He gets really angry. There are not many tender words in the Bible for the Pharisees. There are dozens of hard words. "Whitewashed tombs." "Brood of vipers." "Blind leaders of the blind." "Fools." "Making disciples and turning them into sons of hell worse than yourself."

Jesus knows how to talk tough, and he knows how to talk tender. This is it. If you have never been spoken to tenderly, as a Pharisee, this is it. What's wrong here is that this son has a relationship with his father that is just totally distorted and on the wrong footing. It's all dysfunctional, distorted, and corrupted. The relationship is broken. Let's see this. Verse 29 is the key to let you begin to see into what's wrong.

The older brother says, "Look, for so many years I have been serving you, and I have never neglected a command of yours, yet you have never given me a kid that I might be merry with my friends." Now there are clues here about what's wrong with this relationship.

The first clue is the word serving. This is the language of slave and master. "I served you, Master." Can you imagine what his father is feeling at this moment? "Why are you even using that language? Why are you talking that way? Why are you looking at me like that? I'm not that way! Why do you put me in that category? What's wrong here? I didn't do anything for you to do that, did I? Why have you turned this relationship into a slave/master relationship? I'm your father!"

The next clue is "I've never disobeyed your command." "You're just a command-giver. I measured up, and he didn't." Acts 17:25 says God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything, but he himself gives life and breath to everyone. You've got a slave, you've got commands, and you've got a master.

That's all wrong. You're supposed to have a son, love, and faith. To love being with the father. "I'm so glad I can be with my father. I love being at the table with him every night. He's so wise, so strong, so generous, and so kind." That's not going on here at all. "You give commands, and I have kept them!"

Mark 10:45 says, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served…" So this is a son who thinks he does all the serving. "I work, I work, I work. That's what I've done. Why aren't you paying?" That's not what sons and fathers are about. It's not about work and payment. This is just so deeply broken.

"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.""I'm coming into the world to give my life as a ransom. I'm after people. I'm serving you; you don't serve me. I don't recruit." The gospel is not a "Help Wanted" sign. It's a "Help Available" sign.

I used to jog through Minneapolis. Well, I still do, but this is a route I don't take anymore. It's too long. I used to jog down Franklin, turn left on Cedar, run up to Washington then come around and down 11th Avenue. There was this machinist shop on Cedar Avenue that had a permanent "Help Wanted" sign outside. Permanent. It was nailed to the wall. It was always there. Year after year. When they didn't need help they hung a big red "NO" in the middle of it.

Every time I went by it was like, "Yeah! That's the gospel! 'No Help Wanted.'" God is not coming into the world to get helpers; he is the help. We're the needy ones; he's the helpful one. I'm jogging by saying, "Glory. Glory. No help wanted in heaven. I need help." This son doesn't get that at all. He doesn't get that at all.

If you want to test yourself here about whether you're the older brother or not… This was where I failed the test. When I was a teenager and read this there rose up in me as I got to the end and heard him say, "I've served you all my life and I kept all your commandments, and you never gave me a kid," my heart kind of said, "Well, that's a legitimate beef." If you feel that way, you're in trouble. You are.

I was in trouble. I didn't know me. I didn't know what was wrong with that. I probably had the same beef over in Matthew 20 where they paid the guy the same who worked one hour as the guy who worked all day. I said, "He's got a beef." Jesus said, "Can't I be gracious? Is your eye evil, because mine is good? What makes you tick, Piper? Work makes you tick. Keeping the commandments makes you tick. Looking at whether you've measured up…"

"That crummy brother of mine didn't measure up. He's getting a party, and I didn't get a party." That's a broken view of a relationship with the father and with God. There are so many people in the church and outside who don't get grace at their gut level, which is why they're saying, "He's got a legitimate beef here." He doesn't. We'll see shortly.

What happens when you relate to God this way? When you relate to God the way the older brother relates to the father, the first thing is does is it disunites you with sinners. You feel intuitively like, "I worked hard; they didn't. I should get; they shouldn't." It's just a gut feeling. A good way to test yourself (the one that indicts me the most) is…When you watch sin happen…ugly sin, serious sin…do you feel mainly disgust or mainly compassion? It's a pretty indicting question for a lot of us.

The second thing it does is it makes you blame. I just feel disgust but start blaming. Listen to these words in verse 30. "…when this son of yours came…" What is that? "When my brother came home…" No, "When your son…" It's almost like Adam saying to God, "The woman you gave me told me to eat it." What are you saying? "It's God's fault I ate this because he gave me her."

In other words, when you are guilty and functioning in terms of work, merit, and pay, you become a blamer to the core. I can read off of John Piper's soul whether I am living in the enjoyment of mercy or not by how quickly I blame my wife and my daughter emotionally, whether I say anything or not. Blaming is interwoven. A life of blame, blame, blame, blame, blame, blame is interwoven with this older brother's way of relating to God. It really ruins a lot of things.

So what does the father say to all this? That's what we want to hear, mainly, in the time that's left. I want to linger over this with you. He does five things. If you're a younger brother and you're here and were glad to hear God is out after you to hug you and run down the road to get you, and that's good news, well you just sit and enjoy right now mercy going to the older brother, because this is mercy. This is amazing what happens here.

If you're in the older brother category, with me, then prepare to be loved by Jesus, who is represented by the father. That's the point of the parable. He's not just eating with tax collectors and sinners; he's talking to the Pharisees who are grumbling. He does five things.

1._ The father came out to him._ Verse 28, the second half of the verse. "His father came out…" The son is angry. Really angry. Now, when I'm around people who get angry, I get angry at their anger. That's not good. That's not helpful. This father didn't do that.

So the son is angry. He won't come in. We've all done this, right? It's Thanksgiving dinner. Three families are coming together, or whatever. Somebody just got really bent out of shape half an hour ago. They're up in the bedroom and will not come down. They're about to ruin the whole day. That's what going on here. "I'm not going in there. He's a jerk!" At the table, everybody is totally tense.

Dads, you have to do this. The dad has to go up to the bedroom. How are you going, Dad? What are you going to say? "Get down there. You're going to ruin the whole day! You idiot. This is not worth it." That's not what he did. He comes out… This is the same thing he did with the younger brother, right? He got on the road, he ran, and he hugged him. Here the kid is on the porch. He will not come in. He has his arms folded in anger. The father comes out. You can tell by what he's going to say that he's not coming out with fists. He's not.

2._ The father came out beseeching._ Verse 28, near the end. "His father came out and entreated him…" I cannot help but believe that in Jesus' mouth, in this parable, that word is chosen precisely in distinction to "commanding," because the older brother said, "I've kept all your commandments," and at a point where he has every right to command him, "You get in there and show some respect for your brother. He's saying he's sorry. We forgive in this family. Get in there," he doesn't command. It says he entreats.

Just to let you feel the force of that, over in Philemon… I'm just looking for how language is used. I'm not saying Philemon was written in the light of Luke 15. Paul wrote this. "Though I have confidence in Christ to command you to do what is proper, yet for love's sake I, rather, entreat you." Exactly the same word. For love's sake. "I have a right to command at this moment, yet I will not command at this moment. I will entreat. I will woo. I will invite. I will exhort. I will long, ache, yearn, and plead. I will not command at this moment." Why? "Performance is not what I'm after." Right?

Parents, get this. Of course we want kids who behave. Whether they're 5 or 25, we want them to behave, but if our whole mindset is, "I have authority. I have command. There should be conformity to the commandment in response to the authority," that whole structure is master/slave.

He didn't do it, because he's not after performance here. He's not after right external behavior. He is after a new relationship with his son. "I want it to be fixed. God, if there's any way this could be fixed, use the tone of my entreaty rather than my commandment."

3._ The father calls him "child."_ Verse 31: "And he said to him, 'Son…'" In the ESV and the NIV here it simply says, "Son." Now, that's sweet, but the word in the Greek here is not the same as the word for son in verse 30 where it says, "But when this son of yours came home…" In verse 31 the word is teknon, little child. It's not a belittling thing. He's not saying, "You're just a little baby. You're acting like a baby." That's totally not the tone of this moment.

The tone of this moment, whether it helps you to use the word "son" or "child," is… For me it helps to say something like, "My little boy. I love you so much. I can remember you in diapers. I can remember you at 5. I can remember you at 15 at all the games. Come on. We want this family whole." Right? Isn't that the tone? He said to him, "Child…"

4._ The father says, "You're always with me."_ Do you see that? Verse 31: "And he said to him, ' [Child] , you are always with me…'" The problem is this kid didn't care about that. The younger son discovered, "If I could just be home with my father! If I could just be home with my father, even as a servant. If I could be home with my father, not eating pig food and with all these people who don't give a rip about me. If I could be home with the one who cares more about me than anybody in the world. I'd give anything to be with my father."

The father says to the older son here, "You're always with me." With me. The deepest void in the older brother's heart is that he lived in the house with the father and he found it quite unsatisfying. Right? He lived with all the privileges of the elder brother. He ate with the father every night and was the heir of everything, but he wasn't happy with that situation.

The unhappiness came out when there was a contrast between some privileges for an undeserving brother. His blaming, his anger, his resentment, and his dissatisfaction with his father came out. He did not love his father. He didn't. He didn't love being with him. So the father says, "You're always with me." The words of the elder brother here are the words of a person who loves partying with his friends at his father's expense rather than being with the father. "You never let me party with my friends. You never provided for what I really want."

You know, one of the most striking verses in Luke is in chapter 16, verse 14, where it says the Pharisees were lovers of money. You don't think about the Pharisees loving money; you think about the Pharisees loving the law and being legalists. Jesus said in chapter 16, verse 14, the Pharisees were lovers of money. In other words, deep down behind all this legal religiosity was worldliness. They loved to party, and they couldn't party; they had to go to church.

Are you happy in church, or is this a cloak for business purposes? I don't know if that works in Dallas anymore? It doesn't many places. It used to. It still might work in the Bible Belt. I don't know. This is safe, because you look religious here, but…you don't like it here. "Those songs? Blech."

I love them, Phil. You can sing all day and I'm with you. I recorded a response to a person on APJ the other day. The question was about, "So and so (you'd know his name) doesn't go to church and he can't worship God with singing." Some of you know who I'm talking about. "It doesn't mean anything to him."

So, you might be here in the Father's house, so to speak, and hate it. This son did not love being with his father. That's what the deepest void is. He doesn't love his father. He doesn't enjoy sitting at the table with his father. He's thinking about his friends, the money he might get, and whatever else is out there, but it sure doesn't meet his needs to be with his father.

5._ The father says, "All that is mine is yours."_ Verse 31: "…and all that is mine is yours." Jesus is looking over the heads of the tax collectors and sinners and staring at me and the other Pharisees right in the face, and he says, "Everything I have is yours." That's what God says. "Everything I have is yours."

There's an inheritance for a son, not a slave. Watch out, son. One of the most interesting things here is the father doesn't draw that out. He doesn't make the horrible implication explicit. Things hang at the end of this parable. They just hang. You tremble like, "What did he say? What did he do? Did it work? Did the son come in? Did he hear the implication that sons get inheritances and sons live with the father, but slaves don't?"

The father is saying, "Please don't stay on the porch of merit. Don't boast on the porch of merit as obedient servant. Come into the family. Receive forgiveness from your brother and from me. Yes, you too need it. Come in and celebrate grace, because there you get the inheritance."

But he doesn't mention all the consequences, and they're pretty horrible. He does mention them elsewhere, and I'll leave them out because right here he's just wooing, just entreating. "Come in from the porch of hard-earned merit and join me. Just like the younger brother came in from the far country of misery, you come in from the porch of merit. You can stay there and be miserable, you can stay here and get paid the wages of your sin (it's not an inheritance), or you can come in."

Let me draw this to a close with these words. This is Jesus' tender word for the Pharisees. It's a remarkably tender word. It's a rare word, and I want you to hear it. It's the Father's word to everybody who is bitter and hard toward sinners. One of the greatest tests of whether you love mercy is whether you feel mercy toward sinners. You can tell if you're a Pharisee by whether your heart is moving to woo and rescue gross sinners or whether you're disgusted at their behavior, period.

I think sin and sinful behavior is disgusting, infinitely more so than you know, but for those who know they have sinned themselves onto the porch of merit as well as into the far country of misery, they've tasted mercy and they want to draw people in, not push people away.

Four chapters later, in chapter 19, verse 41, Luke says when Jesus drew near to the city (Jerusalem), he wept over it, saying "Would that you, even you, had known the day of peace! But now it is hid from your eyes." In another place, "I would have gathered you like a hen gathers her chicks."

He's looking on Jerusalem filled with Pharisees and the people who said, "Crucify him, crucify him, because he's wrecking our legal system of merit." Jesus, one more time, is weeping. I'm sure the father was on the brink of tears, if not weeping, when he came out to the older brother. "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad [come in to the party] , for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found."

If you've never felt wept over by Jesus or by a father with that kind of wooing, if you never had a father who you can imagine doing such a thing, you do have one. His name is God. He's represented by Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. He's represented by Jesus telling the parable of the father going out on the porch to entreat you now to come in. Let's pray.

Father, thank you for welcoming me this morning. I felt dealt with so tenderly yesterday, last night, and this morning. I feel it now and thank you for it. I don't feel pushed away in spite of all my gut reactions to sin that are pharisaical rather than merciful. I want to ask that you would, right across this congregation, awaken a sense of the wonder of being wooed by a father of this kind, even if they didn't have one like this.

I pray that you'd just rise, Lord, for the prodigals here who've just been in a field of misery for decades and for the older sons, the Pharisees, who are out on the porch, folding their arms, angry and bitter and blaming. Would you get us both, Lord, next to you at the table? Let smiles be all around the table. Let the family be restored. I pray this in Jesus' name, amen.