REDEEMED WEEK FOUR: The Wayward Son
Intro: We are in our final week in a series called, “REDEEMED.” Up to this point, we’ve been looking at Old Testament stories to gain a deeper insight into what it means to be the redeemed of the Lord.
In the first week we looked at the redemption of Lot by his Uncle Abraham. Lot had been captured by King Kedorlaomer and other kings while Lot was associated with wicked Sodom. Abraham risks his own life and the life of 318 fighting men in his bet ab (his household) in order to save his kinsman. We may find ourselves down the wrong alley, having made some unwise choices of our own. Or maybe because of the evil intentions of others, we may find ourselves trapped in circumstances beyond our control. The good news is that we have a Redeemer who risked his own life—in fact, gave His own life—so that we might be set free.
In week two, we talked about the beautiful story of a widow named Naomi, her daughter-in-law, Ruth (also a widow), and a kinsman named Boaz. Life had become bitter for Naomi as she found herself without a husband, without sons, and without an economic future. But the love of Ruth for her mother-in-law and the faithful obedience to the social and religious mores of the times not only gave Ruth a future, but also Naomi. Boaz risked his own financial future to buy back the estate of Ruth’s dead husband, Mahlon, one of Boaz’s kinsman. Life can throw us some serious curveballs and we may feel as though we have no family and no future. But Jesus left his heavenly home to redeem us from the place of utter despair and desolation. Jesus is our great kinsman Redeemer.
Last week we looked at one of the minor prophet’s in the OT to examine another example of redemption—the story of Hosea, the holy man of God, and Gomer, the promiscuous woman. The prophet’s oracle to the Northern Kingdom of Israel was actually lived out by his life. He crosses the “other side of the tracks” to marry a woman with a bad reputation (maybe even a prostitute). The story illustrates God’s faithfulness to Israel amidst her unfaithfulness to God. Not only that, but even after marrying Gomer and giving her a good life with children, she chooses her old life again. To demonstrate his unfailing love for Israel, God has Hosea buy Gomer back on the auction block for 15 pieces of silver and a homer and a half of barley. God redeems even the most lost of sinners. No matter how many times we blow it, the winds of God’s grace blow stronger.
Today I want us to jump into the New Testament to a story Jesus tells a mixed group of disciples, “tax collectors and sinners,” and religious establishment known as Pharisees and teachers of the Law. Jesus is responding to the judgmental and critical words by church folk against Jesus for hanging out with the wrong crowd. He actually tells three parables…each about LOST THINGS.
The major point Jesus was making to the Pharisees was that God’s people should rejoice when sinners repent and come to salvation instead of pouting. Jesus illustrates this point with the stories of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son. I want us to hear again the story of the lost son with new ears and an open heart. [Read Luke 15:11- 32 NIV]
Thinking about Jesus’ major point of celebrating when a sinner repents and becomes a follower of Jesus, we could spend the rest of our time talking about the dangers of church folk thinking we have the market cornered on Christianity and certain kinds of folk ought not try to “photo bomb” our party.
It’s easy for folks who have been “in church” all our lives to judge others as less worthy of God’s grace on the basis of their limited church activity. With our non-verbal disapproval, we claim that they have to prove their worth as a church-goer before we will accept them as a full-fledged follower of Jesus. They have to pay their dues, as it were. And while we certainly look for fruit commensurate with one’s salvation experience before inviting a person to lead certain activities within the church, there is no pre-requisite for a new Christian to be of service for God’s kingdom in hundreds of ways!
That said, I want us instead to focus on the matter of the lost being found…or to borrow the word we’ve used for four weeks…REDEEMED. I want us to hear this story through the ears of the original listener…with the worldview of a 1st century Jew located in the Fertile Crescent during the time of Jesus. Let’s listen in again.
There’s a man who had two sons. They were part of the bet ab…the father’s household. We don’t know much more about the size of his household, other than that he had hired hands. This means that THIS man was a person of means. Maybe he had other daughters. Maybe the eldest son was already married and had already built on to his father’s house for HIS family. In either case, the elder son was the future head of this household. He would have been raise as such. He knew his responsibilities and he was seemingly faithful to them. Later we learn in his resentment that the elder son had not even asked for a small party with his friends, yet alone would have dared to ask for his double-portion of the inheritance that was rightfully his.
The younger son, who had far less economic status and responsibilities than the elder son, makes a bold and socially unacceptable imperative to his father: “Give me my share of the estate.” Remembering our patriarchal, patrilineal, and patrilocal relationships in the Ancient Near East, what this younger son was asking bordered on downright illegal! Every male in the father’s house was entitled to an equal inheritance except the first-born son, who is entitled to a double portion BECAUSE upon the death of the oldest living male, the next oldest living male (son) would be responsible for the economic wellbeing of the entire household. That’s a huge responsibility!
But this younger son, who would receive his fair share of the father’s estate, was still an important part of the household. What if something were to happen to the first-born son? The second-born son would then be responsible for the household. Not only is it irresponsible, it is a sin against God and his earthly father.
In essence, when asking for his portion of his father’s estate WHILE the father is living is like saying to the dad, “You’re as good as dead to me.” “I think so little of you, your household and my responsibilities in it, that I just want out. I want away from you!”
How terribly hurtful this must have been for the father. No doubt he felt the pain of rejection, but also the anger that accompany the disappointment over the actions of his young son. How might our heavenly Father feel when we reject the norms of His household…His kingdom…in search of our “own kingdom.” This kid wanted to be his own “head of household.” He wanted to do with his life what HE thought was best! He didn’t want to follow Daddy’s rules. He didn’t want to live under Daddy’s expectations! So he says, “Give me what’s mine, Daddy. I’m outta here!”
Don’t we do that, too? We say we want to be a part of God’s kingdom…so long as the kingdom fits into our agenda. We will love our neighbors, but not sacrificially. We will respond to the cries of the needy, so long as they can be heard above our own whining for more safety, comfort, and security. We will obey Christ’s words to forgive, so long as I don’t have to forgive the ones who really hurt me.
But when the demands of the Christian faith become too demanding, we too, can demand our inheritance. We still claim to be a part of the family, just not a part of that “church family.” We want to do our own thing.
Notice the father’s response. There was no argument. No persuasive speech attempting to woo his son back. No demanding imperative that the kid has NO RIGHT to treat his Dad like this. Instead, the father does as the son asks and allows him the freedom to go his own way.
That’s the way our heavenly Father is. He gives us a choice to love and serve him. If we choose not to, he will not chase us down. He will let us go find out that there’s a bad, dark world out there that cares nothing for our wellbeing. The lures of our culture seem appealing, fun, and good. It’s a seemingly easier, broader path; but it’s not what it seems. Jesus puts it like this: 13“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV) Jesus tells his followers in John 10, “I am the gate for the sheep.”
We know the rest of this prodigal son’s story, don’t we? He goes to another country, loses his inheritance on wild living, and when a recession hits the land and he’s out of resources, he ends up selling himself to a hog farmer from Arkansas. (Okay, I threw that last part in!) Jews were never to touch the unclean split hoofed farm animal of a pig! He had reached the end of his rope…when he came to his senses.
This is where I like to think that the Holy Spirit got his attention. It’s interesting that while we’re in the midst of sinning, we often can’t or won’t listen to the still small voice of God calling us back. But the morning after…when we can see the carnage of destruction our behavior has left…somehow there is clarity. Maybe it’s the morning after another night of drinking. Maybe it’s six months after you had a fight with a friend or family member and you realize that it was because of your stubbornness and insistence on being right that has led to this broken relationship. Maybe it’s after your spouse left you because you were never there for her or him emotionally. No matter the situation, after our sin, sometimes our ears get bigger.
So he decides to return to his father’s house…NOT as a son but a slave. Rather than a REAL kinship with his dad that he USED to have before his sin, the son is hoping for what is commonly called a “FICTIVE” kinship, one made up by a treaty or covenant of some kind. Husbands and wives, for instance, are not blood/real kin, but are “like” kin, so there is a fictive kinship. Employers and employees, masters and slaves are a sort of fictive kinship. And this is the best the young man is hoping for.
But when he’s still a long way from the gate of his father’s compound, his dad spots him in the distance. Do you see it? The Father is looking for the son…presumably daily…otherwise he wouldn’t have seen him coming. God is looking for us, too. While He may give us enough rope to “hang ourselves,” he’s holding on to the other end of the rope. So the father does what no respectable Jewish elder would do…he hikes up his robe and runs to meet his long, lost son, kissing him and hugging him.
Once the son realized his sin against his father and turned back for forgiveness, the father was already available and willing to redeem, to restore the son to his rightful place in the bet ab. He puts the best clothes on the redeemed son and throws a great feast, celebrating the return of his once-dead son.
What we’ve seen from these OT stories and now this NT parable from Jesus is that God can redeem anything.
With Abraham and Lot, we learned that God can redeem our mistakes
With Ruth and Boaz, we learned that God can redeem our bitterness and loss
With Hosea and Gomer, we learned that God can redeem our repeated sins
And with the story of the loving father, we learned that God can redeem that which is dead because of sin and make it alive again.
That’s the story of every Christ-follower. We were dead in our sin, but the Father sent his one and only Son, our Kinsmen Redeemer, to make us alive in Him. The penalty for sin is death, but the free gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Abraham risks his own life and the life of 318 fighting men of his household. Boaz risked his financial security to redeem Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi. Hosea risked personal ridicule and shame by redeeming a harlot. And the father in Jesus’s parable risked cultural and social norms to welcome back his son.
Redemption always costs somebody something. Our redemption from sin and death costs Jesus everything. The Father had to turn his back on his only Son while He satisfied the wrath we very much deserve. But that’s redemption. It comes from a place of faithfulness and love.
How about you? Have you accepted the free gift of salvation…the redemption of your soul by the blood sacrifice of Jesus our Lord on the cross at Calvary? If you haven’t, don’t wait another day; it could be your last. And if you have accepted your redemption, do you find ways to invite others to God’s family? The New Living Translation puts Psalm 107:2 like this: Has the LORD redeemed you? Then speak out! Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies. Do you speak out about your redemption from the enemy?
Are you excited when another prodigal son or daughter comes to their senses and returns to the Father through Jesus his Son? Are you looking down the road for others to return? That’s part of what it means to be in the household of God, you know.
Each week we gather as a reunion of the rescued…the redeemed. We don’t deserve God’s goodness any more than that prodigal son deserved the kindness shown by his father upon his return. But God is so rich in mercy. And as image bearers of Christ, we are called to be merciful, kind, forgiving, and loving. This is how the world can tell that we have been redeemed. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, and let us live so. AMEN.