David uses the parable of the Prodigal Son to teach us of God's reckless love for us and what our response to that should be.
Retold: Jesus Calms the Storm
Retold: The Prodigal Son
Retold: The Beginning of the Church Part 2
Retold: The Beginning of the Church
Retold: Jonah and the Whale
Retold: Daniel and the Lions' Den
Retold: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
Retold: David and Goliath
Retold: The Ten Commandments
Retold: Jesus Washes the Disciples' Feet
Retold: Ruth and Naomi
Retold: The Good Samaritan
Have you heard the story of the Prodigal Son? As we continue our series, Retold, David Marvin teaches through Luke 15, showing us that God’s love for you is not determined by what you do. He could not love you more and nothing you can do will make him love you less.
Hello to everybody in the room and everybody tuning in, wherever you are joining us from. My name is David. I have the privilege of leading our young adult ministry called The Porch. I've been on staff the last 11 years here and am excited to continue this series Retold. Retold, if you've missed it, has been a look at stories from God's Word that we think everybody should know. We're continuing that tonight by looking at another story.
Let me start with a little bit of a story that will frame up where we're going. My grandfather died when I was 6 or 7. He had cancer the last couple of years of his life. So while I have memories of him and him being alive, I didn't totally get to really know him. I knew that he was enormous, but when you're 5, everybody is enormous. I knew that he had spent time on a farm.
I knew that he wore Chaps cologne, which is the manliest cologne of all time. I knew that he went by Jack, my Grandpa Jack. But through my grandmother, who lived much longer than he did, I was able to get to know him over years and years after he was gone. She would sit me down and show me pictures and tell me stories of when they got married or him out on the farm.
He was a huge farm boy in Wichita, Kansas. Here he was working as a security guard. Here's what his faith was like. Here's how much he loved my mom. Here's a picture of him doing wrestling, being a professional wrestler in his 30s. It wasn't WWE, very different back then. Here was kind of some of what he was like.
In fact, his name wasn't actually Jack. It was Cleo Monroe. He just went by Jack. It was like, "I would too, I guess." I just got to know what he was like through a person who spent 40 years with him, who knew him really, really well. The reason I start there is because part of the reason that Jesus taught so many of the things that he did and part of what he did on the planet was he helped correct and helped inform people on what our heavenly Father is like.
Just like my grandmother spent years and years with him and knew my grandfather really well, Jesus spent eternity past with the heavenly Father and knew him completely and fully. So today for the next handful of minutes, 30 minutes (famous last words), I want to look at three things that Jesus teaches us and taught that were radical ideas, that still are today, from Luke, chapter 15 about what God is like.
If you take notes, we're hearing firsthand from Jesus what God is like. Though I don't know every single person here, I do know that all of us came into the room with a flawed perspective as it relates to what God is like. Maybe when you think of God, for whatever reason, you think of him like a big judge in the sky who, at the end of your life, is just there to say, "Heaven or hell."
Maybe you think of God, and part of the way that you think of him, is he is kind of a genie who you go to, and when you need something like you're running late for work and, "God help me to hit all the green lights," or "Please help this to come through," or "Help me to be successful here," and you go to him whenever you're in need, similar to almost a genie.
Maybe when you think of God… You wouldn't put it this way, but it's almost like the scorekeeper. God is keeping a list of rights and wrongs. He is checking it twice. He knows who is naughty and nice. That is some of what you think as it relates to God. Maybe when you think of God, again you wouldn't say this, but he resembles almost like a distant, maybe even disappointed Father who, when he really thinks about you, you know he loves you and all that's true, but he really wishes you'd try a little harder.
I don't know what you think about when you think about God. I'm sure it's some mixture of all of those, but I do know that it has been said one of the most important things about a person is what they think about when they think about God. It has tremendous implications for our faith, your ability to keep enduring in the faith, and your peace and joy in life if we get that question wrong.
Jesus spoke in Luke, chapter 15, and he spoke to an audience that had two groups primarily in it. We'll look at those two groups here in a second. He launches into three back-to-back stories to correct, much like in today's audience, there are people where all of us have some flawed understanding of who God is. He launches into correct, "Man, you don't know what God is like. This is what God, your heavenly Father, is actually like."
So we're going to look at three things that he tells us about the God who is there and what he is actually like. We're going to start in Luke, chapter 15, verse 1. This is by far the most detailed parable that Jesus ever told, and maybe the most famous of all the parables that he ever told. Starting in verse 1 it says, "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus."
Let me hit pause. When we hear sinner, we think, "Everybody is a sinner." At this day and age, they had basically classes of people. One of those classes was a sinner. So in other words, you had the breakdown of society look like this. You had the really religious godly people. Those were the religious leaders.
Then you kind of had the average person just going about their life. Then beneath them, you had the sinners. That was a group of people that because of decisions they had made, they couldn't go worship at synagogue or go to church. They were told God didn't want anything to do with them mainly because it seemed, based on how they lived, they didn't want to have anything to do with God.
Then even below them, you had the tax collectors. Tax collectors… Don't think of IRS. It's someone who basically had purchased the right to steal and cheat their fellow countrymen, their fellow Jewish neighbors. So they were a not-liked group of people at the very bottom. They also couldn't go to synagogue, couldn't go to church, because they basically abandoned their faith.
Yet this group, the sinners and tax collectors, when Jesus, or God, walked on the planet, couldn't get enough of Jesus. So Jesus has this audience around him of sinners and tax collectors, but there is also another group in the audience. It says this in verse 2. "But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'"
They're muttering and they think, "This guy Jesus claims to be from God, yet he surrounds himself with really ungodly people." Jesus knows they're muttering, and he knows that because he's God, but he also knows one of the reasons they're doing that is because they have a flawed view of what God is actually like. They're not the only ones.
This group over here thinks that God doesn't like them and doesn't want anything to do with them because of the way that they act. This group of religious people think that God does want something to do with them because of the way they act. So he launches in saying, "Both of you guys have missed it." In the three back-to-back stories, here's what he says.
"Then Jesus told them this parable: 'Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, "Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep." I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.'"
So Jesus brings up, launches in. He is such a brilliant storyteller. He brings up a topic everybody then, just like everybody today, can relate to: losing something. He points out that, "Hey, whenever you lose something, a very common thing happens, which is you begin to focus on what's lost, not on what is secure or what is found and still there."
In other words, if this morning you were trying to find your keys, and you were like, "Hey honey, I can't find my keys." If your spouse responded with, "Yeah, but at least you still have your car." You'd be like, "That doesn't help me." Of course we all get it. Hey, I shift my focus onto what is lost, not on what is here.
Jesus says that's exactly from heaven's perspective what God has done. When he looks at humanity, he looks out at the earth, his focus shifts on what is lost, on those who are lost. When a person who is far, who is lost, who doesn't have faith in Christ turns back to God, there's a celebration in heaven that takes place.
Then he launches, without even a chance for a Q&A, into the next story. He says, "Here's another example. Maybe you didn't relate to the farming/agriculture thing. Maybe this will help." "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn't she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.'"
Now the coin thing kind of breaks down on us because we're like, "Oh, she lost a coin. Wow, she needed a nickel? She turned the house upside down for a nickel?" No, in this culture, a dowry would've been given whenever a woman got married, and that dowry consisted of 10 coins she would wear in a purse around her neck. So this would be much closer to a wedding ring.
Jesus is not saying, "Hey, you know how you turn up the house for a nickel? We've all been there, right?" He's saying, "When a woman loses her wedding ring, doesn't she turn the cushions upside down? She's not stopping until she finds that, right? She's going to intensely go after that." In other words, if you lost your wedding ring, you wouldn't be like, "Oh it's cool. We have another one. I have plenty of those lying around."
You would never stop until you found it. Then he concludes it with saying, "In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Jesus looks at his audience and says, "Did you know that with the same intensity a woman who lost her wedding ring is going to pursue trying to find that ring, God pursues people who are separated from him?"
Some of us may have heard that story before, but Jesus is introducing God is not distant, apathetic, uncaring. His focus, his concern is deeply on those who are far from him. So much so, in other words, they are so valuable to him that he brings up a celebration anytime a person is restored. What's interesting, this is the only time in the whole Bible…think about this…we're told a celebration in heaven happens.
Not in a theoretical way. It literally says there is a party that goes down when this happens, which reflects the value that clearly God has on this uniquely. Why do I say it reflects the value? Because whatever a person celebrates reflects what they value. If you're dating and engaged? Man, this is just free advice. If you're here, you need to know this.
You're going to get married to someone someday likely, or maybe you're moving in that direction with that person, and they're going to have different things that they value that translate into how and what they celebrate. For example, they may be somebody who in their family they grew up and they didn't do birthdays, they did birth weeks, birth months.
So they didn't have just one dinner off like you did. You grew up. Maybe you were a December baby or a summer baby and it wasn't a big deal in your family. You're like, "Yeah, we just went to Golden Corral. That's what we did." And they were like, "Oh no! This is a marathon! We are going day after day."
If you don't know that, you're not going to celebrate in a way that reflects that you value what they value, because whatever somebody values, they celebrate. Companies. What do companies do when they meet a certain quota? Because they value that, they throw a party. They give out bonuses. Cities, because they value a team winning, will throw a huge parade for the Super Bowl, because they value winning.
Whatever someone celebrates reflects what they value, and what and how they celebrate reflect that. The only time we're told in all of the Bible God throws a party in heaven is when someone who is far from him is restored. The clear idea that Jesus gives us is that God values lost people turning to him. God values lost people turning to him.
When I read that story, it's easy for those of us who have been in church for a while, we kind of think of it like, "Yeah, I know God really cares about that lost person." I don't put myself as once in those shoes. I was once that person who was separated and far. In other words, if you're a believer in Christ, so were you. There was a party that took place with your name on it.
You weren't present, but the angels were there, and they were waiting for, "Oh my gosh, Sarah is about to put her faith in Jesus. Get the confetti ready!" A party took place with your name on it in heaven because God values when lost people turn to him. The question I walk away with as I read this text is, "Man, do I value that?"
It's tremendously valuable to God. "Is seeing lost people come to know and turn to God through faith what I tremendously value? Is that at the height of things that I would put on my list of value? How am I doing at sharing my faith with people and sharing the message of Jesus with people who God really, really values and wants to see come into a relationship with him?"
I don't know if this has been the case for you. COVID has not made this any easier. This is a message that I need to be reminded of: God really values the lost. Do I? Jesus said when he gave his mission statement in Luke, chapter 19, "I came to seek and save the lost. That's why I'm here. That's on my business card. That's what I'm here to do." Is that what I'm here to do?
One thing that was really helpful… Like I said, I joined the staff 11 years ago. I never had seen leadership the way that there is leadership here that really, really values and prioritizes this. Jesus is all about seeing lost people, connecting with lost people, and seeing them connect with the heavenly Father. Am I about it?
I can tell you, I have seen it firsthand for years. Our leadership is all about it. I remember the first breakfast that I ever had with Todd, which is, again, 11 years ago. We're sitting at a breakfast, and there were three of us who were in a small group that he was leading. The waiter comes up and asked what we wanted to eat. I think he asked how our day was going.
At some point, we flipped it back and said, "It's going great. How are you doing?" He said this. "Oh, I'm doing amazing. My life has never been better." To which Todd responded and said, "Why is that?" "Well I started this new vitamin regimen. Changed my life!" Todd looked at him. I was like… He responded just without missing a beat.
"That's amazing. Hey, when you get back, I want to tell you about something that changed my life, and hear more about those vitamins." The guy walks away and comes back. Todd shares the gospel with him. It was the smoothest thing I'd ever seen. It was like seeing Jordan jump off the free throw line to dunk.
It was like, "How did you do that? You weren't awkward. You didn't Jesus juke him." Like, "This coffee is hot. Do you know what else is hot? Hell. Do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ?" You just went smooth into it and were normal. I've seen him do that over and over and over again. Because he, like so many in this body and like our leadership here, values lost people returning to God just like God values that.
So Jesus, without giving a chance for them to respond, launches into a third story. It's probably the one you're most familiar with. "Jesus continued: 'There was a man who had two sons.'" Again, he is looking in this audience. Think about it. Put yourself there. It's a small group of people, maybe 30 people.
He is outside and he looks into the faces of people who think God is so done with them and people dressed up well, religious leaders who think God is so for them. He begins to tell this third story. "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.'"
Now when his audience would've heard this, everyone would've gasped. Because here's what they would've heard. They didn't just hear, "Give me my share of the estate." They would've heard, "Hey Dad, here's an idea. How about we pretend like you're dead? Because when you die, I'm going to get an inheritance, and I'd like to get that out of the way. So how about we pretend like you're dead and we just get this show on the road and I'm going to be on my way."
Now commentators point out, "It's so offensive in Jewish culture that he would've done such a thing." But it's offensive in any culture. In other words, the average father in the room is not going to respond well to a child who is like, "Hey Dad, how about we pretend like you're dead? Because when you die, I'm going to get an inheritance and we'll move on."
The average dad would probably be like, "Yeah, here's a better idea. Let's pretend you're dead, and get back to your room. Okay?" Right? It's offensive, period. That's what his audience would've heard. Then Jesus says the father does it. Verse 12: "So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living."
Jesus says not long after that, he leaves town, goes by the condo in Vegas, and throws party after party. Later in the story, we're told it was prostitutes and alcohol, a party. He is blowing his dad's life savings on himself. Verse 14: "After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need."
So not only does he run out of money, a famine, which would be like a great recession, hits the country. It's not great times. So in order to make ends meet, verse 15, "So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything."
Again, you have to sit back into what Jesus' audience would've heard here. So Jesus says the younger son can't find anything to eat. The only job he can get is being a pig keeper. Why is that a big deal? In Jewish culture, you were not allowed to touch pigs. You couldn't eat pigs. There was no bacon back then. You didn't get any of that.
His audience would've heard, "Man, this is a worst-case scenario." He becomes ceremonially unclean. He is touching pigs. You're commanded not to have anything to do with that, and that's the only job he can find. This is a worst-case scenario they would've heard. Here's what else they would've heard.
Had Jesus stopped the story right there, the audience would've thought, "That's exactly what happens. You rebel against your father, you disrespect, you do that through your actions, your behavior, you're going to reap what you sow. You get what you deserve. He should be feeding the pigs and starving to death right there."
The sinner group would've heard, "It's like my life. I made some decisions and found myself in a place that I don't want to be. That's just how life goes, right?" Jesus doesn't stop there. He says, "When he came to his senses…" Sitting there, staring at the pig food. "…he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.'"
He says, "Man, I'm starving. I can go back. I know being a son is off the table, but maybe he'll allow me to come back in and be a servant. I could enter back into the estate in that way." He begins to think through, "Here's what I'm going to say." He is speech writing, essentially. He is planning it all out.
"I'm going to go back. I need to really apologize. I need to say, 'Dad, I'm so sorry for what I have done.' Oh no, that's not good. 'Dad, I'm ashamed. I'm an embarrassment.' No, that's not it. 'Father, I've sinned against heaven and against you.' Yeah, that's it. That's the one. Write it down." He gets his speech ready, picks himself up, and goes back to his father.
"So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him…" This is where Jesus looks into the eyes of his audience and says, "None of you really understand what God is like." On your worst day when you've done and made decisions that you know were wrong, that you regret…
Maybe you don't even know you're wrong and you don't even really regret them and you're running from God and you want nothing to do with him in life. When you look in God's direction, do you know what he feels for you? Compassion. Not disappointment, not anger, not rejection, compassion. Think about that.
I know inside of the room, there are a lot of us who when we think God looks in our direction, he probably thinks a lot of things, but compassion? Jesus says, "You don't know what God is like." He says that the father "…ran to his son…" This further would've made the audience go, "He ran?" That feels normal to us today. Dads run all the time. Somebody went on a jog this morning.
In this culture, a patriarch didn't run. He would never run. It would be the sign of a servant to run. Part of which was because in that culture, you would've worn essentially a long robe, dress sort of thing. For a father to run, he would have to hike it up to take off after. It says "…he ran to his son, threw his arms around him…"
If you read the Old Testament, you'll be introduced to when things are unclean, you shouldn't even touch them. His son had been with prostitutes and pigs. You can't hug him. He throws his arms around him. He is bear-hugging him. The audience would've been thinking, "What is going on?" I think with a smile (I don't know this) on Jesus' face, he said and added, "…and kissed him." He welcomes him back.
His son launches into his speech. He says, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son." The father cuts it off. Doesn't even let him finish his speech. "Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet." A ring, a robe, and sandals all were marks of sonship.
Servants didn't have sandals. Servants didn't get the signet ring, which would've basically said, "I'm a part of the family." It has the family crest on top of it. "The best robe that we have? Throw it on him." Immediately restored him as the son. "Bring the fattened calf…" The best delicacy we have. "'…and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate."
Jesus says it was before the son did anything right. It wasn't, "All right, well, if you want to really apologize for what you did, we can talk about it." It wasn't, "After you go to rehab, after you get things together, then we'll talk about you coming back to the family." Or "After you really prove this is not just some one-off instance, but you prove how sorry you were. You show me that it's actually real. You show a little real, long-standing life change." No, none of that. It says he was immediately restored back into the family. Jesus says, "That's what God is like."
The second idea, as simple as it is, is that bad behavior doesn't stop God's love. Regardless of what you've done, he couldn't love you more. There's nothing that you could do that would make him love you less. If you're thinking, "Man, you don't know what I've done. I have stuff. I know that if there's a God, he can't want anything to do with me." That's the point of this story.
This was a worst-case scenario. It couldn't have gotten worse. Then the decisions that he made and his behavior. He said despite all of that, the father rushes out. Because bad behavior doesn't stop God's love for you. Do you know what God's biggest concern is, the most pressing thing for people who are running from him or people who haven't turned to him and trusted in him through faith?
It's not their sexuality. It's not who they're living with. It's not the decisions that they made today. It's one thing. It's being restored to their Father above anything else. It's similar to this. About a year ago over Labor Day, my family had a reunion in Atlanta. We got extended family together, and while we were there, we had been told Atlanta has one of the best aquariums in the world.
Who knew? Apparently only Japan beats it out. So we were told, "You have to go see it." We got the family together to go see it. Apparently, everybody else in the entire world had the same idea, because I've never seen in a place so packed as that was before. Clearly this was before COVID. As we were there, we're going in.
If you have little kids, man, this is just for you. We're on the same page here. When you go into a really crowded environment, you know that it's like an obstacle course with children, little kids. Do you know what I'm talking about? "I need you to hold onto the stroller, your sister's stroller. You lock it on there. We're going to get through this."
You're trying to weave through the obstacle course and keep all the kids connected together and, "You hold on." I've never had more compassion for people who put leashes on their kids and never thought that I really needed to consider doing that than when we were in that environment. There are just so many people, you can't see everything. You're like, "Hold on!"
Man, I'm having fun. Anyway, in that moment, we're walking through, and I'm telling my son, "Hold on to the side of your sister's stroller. Keep walking." He does, but at that point he was 3, so he did what 3-year-olds do, which is like, "Oh, squirrel." Gone. In the blink of an eye, my wife and I are going, "Where's our son? (His name is Crew.) Where did he go? Did you see him? Did you see him?" We begin to scramble.
Parents, you've been there where your heart begins to panic. You're like, "Where can he possibly be? He has to be somewhere near here." We're looking everywhere. I'm beginning to jog through, around people, trying to look down to see if I can see a 36-inch kid anywhere around us. It felt like an hour. It probably was only a matter of minutes, but eventually out of the corner of my eye I look up, and across this large auditorium that they had, through a crowd of people I see my son holding the hand of somebody who is working there, tears flooding down his face.
I can tell she is bent over, trying to find, "What do your parents look like?" I run over and I grab him. Do you know what didn't go through my mind that entire time I was separated from him? "Well, you reap what you sow, buddy. You should've listened to me. I told you to hold on. I hope you learned your lesson here. I hope you find somebody nice to adopt you." Nope, not once.
We have rules in my house. You have to do certain things. It's like, "Every house has rules. If somebody gives you something, you say, 'Thank you.' When you want something, you say, 'Please.' When people talk to you, you look them in the eye. You don't punch your sister." There's a list. Do you know what never went through my mind?
"I don't know where he is, but he'd better not be punching anybody's sister, and he'd better be saying please and thank you when people talk to him!" Nope. One thing, "Where's my son? I'm separated from my son." I couldn't think about anything else. I wasn't going to go and stop until I was restored to my son.
Jesus looks into the eyes of his audience, and he would look in the eyes of this one and say, "Do you know that's exactly how God is? Your decisions, your behavior, those don't make him stop loving you. When you run from God, when you leave God, you'll experience less of his love, but he never stops loving you because bad behavior doesn't stop or change God's love."
He keeps going with this story. Verse 25: "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field." Because remember, Jesus said there were two sons. "When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing." I don't know what kind of party you're having, but if you can hear dancing from out in the field? That is a party.
You're doing tap dancing or something is going on. Because if you can hear that all the way outside… It says he can hear that there's clearly a party going on in there. "So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' The older brother became angry and refused to go in."
The father's response is compassion and love and care and excitement, and the older brother's response was anger and bitterness and apathy. "So his father went out and pleaded with him." Man, Jesus is such a good storyteller. It's so brilliant. You notice the parallel. The father goes out of the house two times and gently pleads with his son. The word plead is the same word for entreat. It's like speaking tenderly to him.
The son responds, "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. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!" Look at the language he uses. He doesn't say father. He says, "Look." He doesn't say, "My brother." He says, "When this son of yours." He says, "I'm a slave." He saw himself as a slave.
In other words, all these years despite being obedient, despite being around the father's farm, despite never leaving it, he never got to know the father's heart. He didn't look like the heavenly Father. He didn't look like this father. He is angry. He is bitter. The father says in verse 31, "My son…"
If you take notes in your Bible, you can make a note that is the first time there the word for son is used. Every other time, it's not this one. This is the word teknon, the word for my child. It's really tender. "…you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 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."
He says, "Everything I have is yours, my child." In other words, "This doesn't change how I feel about you. You think that I loved you more because you never left? You think I loved you more because of the good things you've done? You think that your good behavior is how you earn love?" At this point, Jesus is speaking right at the pharisees, I think. I don't know how you could think anything else.
I don't mean directionally looking. I mean just…tenderly talking to a group. Often, we think of the pharisees and they're kind of like the arch nemesis, the bad guys of the Bible. That's not how Jesus thought of them. Jesus loved the pharisees, gave his life for the pharisees. He wanted them to know what their heavenly Father was actually like, and he speaks right at them.
I mean, this group, who had mastered the art of being a good religious person… When I say that, they are far better than anybody in this room, anybody on staff, anybody you've ever met. Why do I say that? Because to be a pharisee, you're a professional religious person. Business card, "I worship God 24/7."
They had memorized the first five books of the Old Testament. Memorized! That's Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers. Most of us are like, "Oh man, it's a little heavy to get through." They had put them to memory! They were so strict about avoiding sexual temptation that they were written about to be called bleeding pharisees.
Why? Because in order to avoid sexual temptation, they wouldn't look up to see another woman around, so they would only look at the ground, which led them bumping into walls and being known as bleeding pharisees. This group, in the midst of all they had done for God, thought that their good behavior would earn them a relationship with God, earn God's love, had earned God's favor. Jesus says, "You don't know what God is like."
Thirdly, good behavior doesn't earn God's love. John said this earlier. We think in terms of performance. We're like, "Hey man, if I read enough Bible this week, if I lived out everything God told me to do this week, man, I'm in a good place for me. God is for me. Everything is great. If I'm not, then karma is going to come around, and I may get struck by a lightning bolt. I just want to be in a good place."
We think in terms of performance. God doesn't think that way, Jesus would say. God thinks in terms of position. Son restored, lost. Lost and found son, or not restored to him. He looks out and he says, "You think that I love you more because of the actions that you do? You don't understand what God is like."
Now there are two things that I think, probably for most of us who have been in church a long time, that we can pull away really quickly from this older brother scenario. I think there are a lot of us in the room who really don't believe that God doesn't operate like performance. Good behavior doesn't earn his love and bad behavior doesn't stop his love.
Because if we did believe that, there would be a confidence and a comfortability as it relates to our relationship to God that would likely mark us. What do I mean by that? The relationship that a parent has with their child, even the child if they see themselves as, "Yeah, that's my dad. That's my mom."
They feel a comfort and a confidence when they know, "Man, they love me. They care about me. I'm not walking on eggshells. I don't have to be really careful. I can approach them because he's my dad, she's my mom. They really care about me." Especially if it's a good father and a good mother. A few of us, I think when it comes to us approaching God, talking to him in prayer, just our lifestyle, what we think about when we think about our heavenly Father, we don't think of him that way.
We think of him like he is kind of some distant, "He cares about me, but I'm not blood. I'm not his child." Even in our prayer life. Some of us, the way that you pray, you shift into… Here's an illustration that may help it. Whenever you were a kid growing up or if your neighbor has kids and their kids come over to your house, there's a distinct difference between the way that a child talks to their parent about something they need and the way that a neighbor kid or a friend of your child talks to you.
Do you know what I mean by that? The neighbor or the kid who is not your child is going to come in and be like, "Um, Mrs. Smith, would you mind if I could have something to drink?" Like they're on Downton Abbey or something. "Please, may…?" Versus a child. A child is not going to go, "Mom, can I please have something to drink?" "Mom! We ain't got no Capri Sun! When are we going to the store?" Right?
But some of us as it relates to the way we think about God, we don't feel comfortability and we don't feel confident in that, "I know that they love me and I can go to them with anything I want." We feel like, "Um, please, God? If you could help me with rent this month, if you're not too busy, and I would love more patience. And COVID?"
It's a reflection of… I mean it. I know I'm being playful. I don't think you see yourself as God's child. I know there are areas in my heart where I don't. I don't believe it. Things that Jesus says, man, that's what God is like. It's really true. Could it be true? Jesus would say, "Yes, it is." God's love for you is not determined by what you've done or by what you do. He couldn't love you more. Nothing you could do could make him love you less. He has invited all of us.
Are we going to have the heart of the father as it relates to people who are lost in the world or the heart of the elder brother who is apathetic, who didn't care, who didn't run out to his brother, wasn't concerned about what his father was concerned about, and didn't value the things his father valued? I don't know where… The questions I walk away from the text going, "God, help me to see and believe what you say about me is true. Will you help me to have the heart of the Father that is focused on what is lost, not on what is found?"
In conclusion, God values, when lost, those who are lost or restored back to him. Bad behavior doesn't stop his love. Good behavior doesn't earn his love. We have a chance to be those who share the heart of the Father for a world full of lost men and women.
When I was preparing this message, I got an Amber Alert. An Amber Alert is one of those things that… It's actually been around for a number of years, but through invention of the smartphone, it just seems to be much more prevalent. Do you know guys know what an Amber Alert does? Follow me on that? It kind of blows your phone up. In that moment, an Amber Alert was actually started or connected to the death of a girl in 1996 in Dallas named Amber. At that time there was no Amber Alert, she went missing and, tragically, was found dead three days later.
That began an increasing push for, "We need a mass communication and ability to communicate if there is a child who has been abducted or taken or missing." They came up with certain criteria. If there's going to be an Amber Alert, they have to meet certain criteria. They have to be a child. They have to be in significant threat of their life or in danger. They have to be separated from their parent.
There's a common response, I think, that happens almost universally when an Amber Alert happens. It goes off. If it went off right now, what would we do? Quick! We move to silence it. In the moment, you're like, "Oh, silence that." That is, unless it's your child that's missing or the child or somebody who you know or somebody who you're connected to like a friend or somebody in your family.
You would more quickly go, "Hey, everybody needs to know about this. Please read that Amber Alert. If you see any details on this…" There's a very different response that happens. What Jesus says is that from heaven's perspective, it's like God is sending out to humanity… There's an Amber Alert for any person who has been separated from him, their heavenly Father.
He is not going to stop looking. No parent would stop looking for their child until they're found. He is not going to stop going after them. You and I have a chance to either be people who go, "Oh, that's nice, God; I'm sorry you lost those people" or share in the heart of a father, not the heart of an elder brother, who cares about what God cares about and pursuing people who are far from him.
Because God has an Amber Alert. He has a Sarah Alert, David Alert, Kyle Alert, Kevin Alert, and he is not stopping and won't stop, and he won't let it end until that person is restored to him. The most reckless person in the story is not the son; it's the father. As has been pointed out by, at least Tim Keller, it may have been somebody else, the phrase prodigal son is not a great capturing of really the story.
Because the word prodigal and the definition in the dictionary, if you look it up, the first thing that you see is not "wayward." It's "recklessly extravagant and lavish with resources or spending." It's a person who says, "Whatever the cost, I'm in." Maybe a better title for it that's been pointed out is the Prodigal Father. Because the most recklessly extravagant, "Whatever the cost, I'll go to that length. I'll never stop until I'm restored to those far from me."
He is the prodigal who would go to such a length, recklessly extravagant, with resources that, "Whatever the cost, I'll pay it. Even the life of my own Son, I'll pay it." That's how much he valued you. That's how much he valued me. That's how much he values every person who has ever lived on the planet.
Every person you will ever see eyeball to eyeball with today as you go about your day and you run your errands, every single one of them is someone who God says, "I have an Amber Alert out on them if they are not restored to me. They are someone who is so valuable to me. I don't just throw a party in heaven. I gave the life of my Son."
I have to walk away and go, "God, do I have the heart of the father who sees like that, who is concerned like that? Or do I have the heart of the older brother who just wants to move about my day, doesn't care about what you care about? Will you help me to make me more like you and understand more about what God is like?"
If you have a prodigal son in the room or a prodigal daughter, someone who has been running, you can rest knowing God is not done. God is pursuing that person. God loves that person and is going after that person with intensity. If you are a prodigal son or daughter, God is not done. With intensity, he is going after you.
Even the fact that you're here listening is him saying, "I love you. I gave my life for you. I value you. That love will never go away. Nothing you will do will stop that love and nothing you could do could increase it. I'm inviting you to accept that by trusting in what I did on the cross, to seal that." Let me pray.
Father, thank you that no matter the story of our lives, you love us. You've proven that love by going to the greatest length that you could possible, recklessly. You are a prodigal Father. I pray for friends who are discouraged because a son or daughter is running, that they would find a comfort that your heart breaks as much as theirs does. That you're not done.
I pray that they would return to you and trust in you and that a celebration in heaven that we can't even see right now would just erupt over and over. Maybe for some people right now today as they put their trust in you for the very first time, they'd recognize, "I'm a sinner. I can't earn a relationship with God. I can accept what you did, dying in my place on the cross, rising from the dead, and paying for everything I've done. I accept that." Would now, even now, the heavenly realms be erupting with joy. Give us all the heart of the father, God. We love you, amen.