Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Parable of the prodigal son



May God’s name be glorified! Recently, I happened to hear Tim Keller's sermon on the parable of prodigal son and it greatly influenced me. I went through the parable bit more deeply and wrote my observations and thoughts.

Passage: Passage Luke 15:11-32

Context: Jesus says this parable as part of the series of parables. Jesus was doing his ministry. Lot of sinners, tax collectors got interested and they came near to Him to hear him. They were the people who found the ministry of Jesus useful. When Pharisees saw that Jesus was surrounded with sinners and tax collectors, they did not like it they said “This man receives sinners and eats with them”. They themselves were the king of sinners and they are saying, he receives sinners and eats with them. What they expected is a person like Jesus Christ, should gang with the Pharisees and scribes, He should join their club. Things were the opposite. Jesus knew their heart and he said to them 3 parables – Parable of the lost sheep, parable of the lost coin and parable of the prodigal son. After saying the each parable Jesus says a key statement in as a conclusion of the parable in v7 and v10. I find these verses as the key verse in understanding these 3 parables. We need to think of the parable of the prodigal son in this context. There is more joy in the heaven over the repentance of one sinner than the 99 just people who need no repentance.

The Pharisees and scribes had a wrong understanding about God. They thought God would side with the just people, or God would be happy to be with the good guys. But Jesus is redefining their concept about God, and telling them what creates joy in the heaven is the repentance of a sinner than the just people who don’t need any repentance. This is the context in brief.

Let’s come to the parable, it’s a beautiful story. Let’s read it Luke 15:11-32. It’s a story about a Father and his two sons. We have heard that we can relate to the God like a son to the father. But even in that relationship also we can go wrong. Lets see that in this parable. The two sons represent two ways of relating to the Father. Two wrong ways.


Redefining the relationship with God

 

The lost younger son - Self discovery way

This is the first half of the story. Let’s look at the first way of relating to the Father – that is the way of the younger son.

In this story, we see the younger son asking for his possessions from his Father. Possessions were given to the children normally after the death of the Father. The decision to divide the properties and writing the will is normally taken by the Father when he is almost nearing the death. But here we see the son is asking for his portions. Asking for the possessions when the Father is alive is just wishing him dead

The crux of his request is, Father, I want your stuffs, I want your money, I want the status, I want the wealth but I don't want you. I don’t want to live with you as your son, but I want to get out of your control and live in my own way. Or I don’t want you to control my life or I don’t want you to involve in my life but I need your possessions. This is one way of relating to the Father, loving the Father’s stuffs and Father’s possessions rather than loving the Father or loving the blessings of the Father rather than the Father. When they get what they are looking for they will end the relationship and live as they like. That’s what the younger son did, He asked for the stuffs of the Father and once he got it, he started his way to live his own way.

The story progresses the younger son, get away from his Father and goes to a different country and squanders everything. The one who decided to find happiness and pleasure fails miserably. He thought he can find happiness and joy he gets the freedom to live in His own way. He thought he can find happiness and joy if he is out of the control of the father. This is a kind of liberal thinking that people has. There are people among believers itself of this kind. They wanted to break free from the father. They wanted to break free from God but need the possessions of God. They will find it a big struggle to lead a Christian life.
These kind of people are not atheists but want Gods stuffs and live their own way. It's too difficult for them to live under the control the father. That's the reason this prodigal squanders everything when he is independent, he spends in his own way, he went to the prostitutes to get pleasure and happiness. The fundamental idea behind philosophy is that if we do whatever we wish we can find happiness, but there is a flaw in this philosophy, this view is based on the assumption that you can control everything if you have money and independent. It's based on the assumption that you have the power to control things. But things are not in your control. God controls everything. See what happened, famine happened, things went out of control for the son. He was ruined. The way of life which he thought would give him pleasure and happiness has become his ultimate pain and sorrow now.

The lost elder son - The religious way

The second half of the story is about the elder son, who also loved his Father's possessions or wanted to get control of the Father’s stuff by living a good life. This is another way in which people relate to the Father – the ones who wanted to control God or to get control of his blessings through their obedience and service. When they don’t get that their true image will come out, they will be angry at God, they cannot accept the works of God, cannot accept others also. That’s what exactly happens with the elder son.

He is on the way back home and he finds there is a party going on at house. He gets to know from the servant that his younger brother had returned and his father is celebrating and giving a feast by killing a fattened calf. The elder brother couldn't accept it. He couldn't accept the actions of the Father (v29) – he is keeping himself away from the party; he could not accept his younger brother who had returned (v30). “This son of yours”. He is angry at his Father; he expresses his anger by not attending the party which His father is throwing.

What do you think is the reason for his anger? The reason for his anger is the obedience and the service he has done to the Father. That’s what he says, he says v29 “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; yet you never gave me a young goat that I might make merry with my friends”. He is extremely angry. He is not even addressing his Father as Father but says “Look you”. Then he says, I deserved lot more from you because of my obedience and my service to you all these years. He dint like Father spending money for the celebration of his younger brother.

The younger brother already took his possessions, now the rest of the portion belongs to the elder son. All these are going to come to the elder son after the death of the Father. He is asking “How dare you give the wealth?” I also have a say in this. That’s the attitude of the elder brother. His primary love is the stuffs of the Father rather than the Father, his way to attain it was by living a morally good life. While his younger brother decided to live in his own way. But that good life that he lived is now preventing him from accepting the return of his lost brother and Father's decisions.

This is a danger that can happen to us too those if we are relating to the Father in this way. We really need to examine the real reason why we are obedient to him and serving him. Is it to get hold of the possessions and wealth of the Father? Is it to control the Father with our good works?

This is what has happened to the Pharisees, they related to the Father in this way. They thought the sinners, tax collectors does not deserve anything and they deserve much more because of the moral conformities.


Redefining God



As we said in the beginning, Jesus was surrounded by 2 groups of people – the sinners, tax collectors and Pharisees, religious people in the second group.

The Pharisees or religious, were having a wrong concept about God. They thought of God as someone who loves only the just people and hates the sinners.

The sinners might have thought that God cannot accept sinners like them. God won’t forgive them.

But here we see Jesus addressing both the groups and correct their understanding about God by comparing him with a Father of this parable.

Let’s reaction of the Father towards his younger son, he is standing before the son who just wanted him to be dead. The father has all right of his possessions and he can drive the boy out of the house but he is not doing that. Understand the heart of the Father, he is enduring the most painful thing that human can endure. His own son, whom he loved so much and cared so much and brought him up. The Father is getting to know that his son loved his possessions more than him - Rejected love. If we were in that situation, we would have done to overcome this. But this is his love towards the people who breaks the Father’s heart by demanding the Father’s possession and not him.

And later when the younger son was aware of his mistakes and later thought of coming back we can see how this Father receives him. The Father saw him from afar. Father was always looking eagerly for the return of his lost son. That's why he runs to him. The father at those times was not supposed to run. The brother used to run but the father never he was supposed to maintain some dignity. But here we see the father whom the son disowned is running towards him breaking the social and cultural barriers to reach his son.  Even before the son repents, the father kissed him, hugged him even when he was in his filthy dress. The father didn't wait for him to take a bath and change the dress.  This initiating love of the Father made the son truly repent of his sins. The sons say his plans to come back to the family. But before he finish off his plans of paying him back the Father says to put the best robe, ring and shoes. Putting the ring is the sign of authority, putting the ring on him is the sign of acceptance. His Father dint want his son to earn his way back to home, but unconditionally accepted him, kissed him, treated him like the son without remembering his past actions. This is our father in heaven. This is the way in which he had accepted us. He He didn't want us to earn our way back to home back to home. He just accepted us as we are. This is radically different view compared to other religions. This is radically different from the picture of the God which other religions portray. He didn't want us to earn our way back to home. This is the picture of God that Jesus is giving to the sinners and tax collectors.

Father’s reaction towards elder son:  We have seen that the elder son is equally lost as his younger one because of his self-righteousness. Father knew the elder son also wanted his possessions more than him. He is publicly insulting the Father by keeping himself away from the party which his Father planned. Even still the initiating love of the Father reaches out to his elder son. The elder son didn’t treat the father with respect. He didn’t even address him as Father. Even still, the father is calling him "my son". This is the words of the Father to those who are obeying and serving him not because of love but to get control of his Father’s possessions- “All I have is yours”.. This is how Jesus is showing the picture of God to those religious groups. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of this fact that we are heirs of that heavenly inheritance. And remind ourselves to obey him and serve him not to control his possessions but because of love.


Redefining sin


The first act of the youngest son we can see it as sin - squandering the wealth, living with the prostitutes. That's the traditional definition of sin. We don't have problem with that. Then his repentance makes sense. Because that’s the way he should come back to the Father by repenting of his sins. He has lot of things in the list to repent for wasting the wealth, living with prostitutes etc.

But look at the second son, he has nothing in the list to repent for unlike the younger son. The younger son produced a big list to repent for but the elder son has an empty list. What a situation! He has only the list of the things which he has done – the list of obedience, the list of service. Nothing to repent for - totally lost. The father is not denying anything. This is something which we hear often when we share with the catholics, I don’t see anything in our life to repent for. We are good people, we don’t need to repent about anything. This is the state of the elder brother. They have nothing to repent for. They don’t need a saviour because their works are their own saviours. Sometimes we have to repent for the good works that we are doing just because the motive behind the good works are wrong. Trusting in the good works is also a sin which needs repentance but sadly we don’t see any repentance from the elder son. That’s why Jesus saying in the key verse v7, 10 – Heaven rejoices at the repentance of 1 sinner than the 99 just people who don’t need repentance.

Lastly and quickly, what’s the application?

 

We should be motivated by the price that was paid to bring us home. In this parable, the elder brother was extremely angry when a part of his possession was taken by the Father to celebrate the return of the younger son. If he was a true elder brother, he would have understood the heart of the Father. He would have understood that the Father is longing for the return of his lost son. Then he would have gone by himself looking for him city after cities to bring back his lost young son even if it would cost some of his possessions. But sadly he was not the true elder brother. But we had a true elder brother Jesus Christ he paid the price to bring us back home. Jesus Christ knowing the heart of the Father, knowing the father’s deep love for his lost sons, came voluntarily to bring us back to the Father.

Today we are playing the role of that elder brother.  What do we feel in our heart towards our lost younger brothers? Can we see the heart of our father? Can we feel the pain of our Father towards his lost children? Or are we like the lost elder brother filling up our list with the list of obedience and service and looking down with contempt on the sinners and tax collectors of today’s society.  Being the elder brother let us reach our lost younger brothers. And heaven will rejoice when his lost ones come back to Him. May God help us. 

Kingdom of Heaven: The inestimable worth of it [Matt 13:44-46]


Is there anything that comes to your mind, that to get that, you will sell everything that you have? What if, there is something that you sell everything to get that and when you get that you become the richest guy in the world, and it will make up for everything that you sacrificed -A treasure. That is the only thing, for which you will sell off everything that you have happily and after possessing that you will become the richest guy. Possessing that treasure, you will have in-expressible joy, you will enjoy all the benefits of that treasure, your life will be drastically different from the former way.

Bible talks about one such treasure for which you will sell whatever you have – it’s the kingdom of heaven. Matt 13:44-46. Today we will try to understand the inestimable worth of being part of the kingdom of God through the parable of hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl of great value.

Short and simple parable but profound meaning. Palestine – place to treasures because of the constant wars and absence of lockers. Pearl hunting: Diving into the sea on a single breath to find a precious treasure. Hidden treasure, pearl of great price - Kingdom of heaven

These parables talk about the inestimable worth/value of the kingdom of God. As we have discussed in the previous parables, entrance into the kingdom of God happens by hearing and accepting the gospel. So we can substitute the kingdom of God by the word salvation or being saved which we use more. Which means that salvation or getting saved is the most precious thing happened in your life, it is like you have got a hidden treasure of great value. Knowing Christ, being part of the program of God, being a child of God is the treasure that we possess; we got the deal of a life time and beyond. Earthly treasures are valid only for your life on earth, but this treasure has much more value, this secures your life after death also. Aren’t we the luckiest people of earth?

Today from these two parables, we will see 3 things about the kingdom of God.
  • Finding the treasure
  • Acquiring this treasure- Making it our own
  • Effect on us: Living to the fullest potential

Finding the treasure

Hidden treasure: If we carefully read these two parables we see that this treasure is hidden. Not all people find this treasure. People have eyes but do not see it, they have ears but do not hear this. It's hidden from the intellectuals and the wise of the earth.

Two ways of finding this hidden treasure: Jesus used two parables for a reason. These two parables describe two ways of finding this treasure. People get into Christianity, or people find Christ in two ways. They find it accidently or they find it as a result of their search for the truth.

Finding the treasure accidentally: Look at the first parable, there the person is not hunting for the treasure. He is not expecting to find the treasure. He may be in the normal walk of life. He may be working on someone else field, he may be plowing there. But then he accidently finds this treasure. He hides it there because it’s not his field. He then gathers all the money by selling his possessions then comes and buys the field and possesses the treasure. This kind of finding the treasure, relates to some of our stories. We were in our traditional churches thinking we are already in his kingdom. We were in the normal walk of our lives, doing the routine things and going forward not primarily searching for this but through some people or through some ways we came to find this treasure. That’s how the God works, even for those who are not actively searching for it, God puts it there before us to find it.

This was the story of apostle Paul. He was not looking for finding the kingdom of God. He was already thinking he is in the kingdom of God, he was carrying out his normal duties of persecuting Christians but on his way he struck by God and he finds this treasure.  This was the story of the Samaritan woman. She was living her normal life, as she did everyday she came to the well to take water. But you know the story she went back home after finding the living water. This is one way of finding this treasure.

This was the story of CH Spurgeon. He was a person who used to go to church but not really because he knew the truth. One day on his way to his church and there was a snowstorm. Because of that he had to stop going to the actual church and had to enter into a small Methodist church nearby. It was small church of 12-15 people. He was hesitant to enter into the church because he had heard, Methodist used to sing very loudly that caused headache. But still he entered the church.  Because of the snowstorm, the actual preacher could not come to the church so some other person he was a tailor or shoemaker, he was asked to preach. He went on to the pulpit and started preaching. His text was “Look unto me and be ye saved; all the ends of the earth (Is 45:22). Since he was not prepared, he had nothing to say, he simply said “Look.. everybody can look, you don’t need to be educated to look, without moving your feet or finger you can look, Look unto me”. He preached like this Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me, I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sitting at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!" He was totally unprepared to preach and for 10 minutes he was only preaching about looking, he was almost at the end of his sermon. He saw young Spurgeon sitting there.  Looking at him, the preacher said like this, even though he had not seen him before. "Young man, you look very miserable. And you will always be miserable—miserable in life and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved." Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, "Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but look and live!" This was what spurgeon said about his reaction. I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said—I did not take much notice of it—I was so possessed with that one thought . . . . I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, "Look!" what a charming word it seemed to me. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun;
Glory to God for his ways. 


Searching for the treasure: Now let’s come to the second parable. Here we see a pearl merchant. Paul hunting was a job at those days. They are actually in search of the precious pearls. Somehow he found this pearl of great price, on their search for the normal pearls. These merchant, he had got some pearls on his search but had not found the actual pearl.  On finding this pearl of great price, he sold all other pearls that he had to possess this great pearl.

These represents some people who are genuinely searching for the truth, about life, about purpose of life etc. They are not satisfied with what they have but they are searching to find out the actual meaning and purpose of life or to find out the true God. On their pursuit they find this treasure. Again it’s God who reveals it to them. But they were on the genuine search to find the truth. On their search for truth, they will find this absolute truth (that Jesus is the truth), on searching for true life they will find Jesus is life; the eternal life.
We may be people brought up in actual believer family. We have seen our parents having this treasure, we have heard them talking about this. But we never realised the worth of this treasure. But as spirit reveals and may be after a search we find out this is that pearl that I am searching for.


Acquiring this treasure

In both these categories, whether you find the treasure by accident or whether you find it on your search, both of these people takes some extra ordinary steps to acquire or possess this treasure. This treasure is of extreme value. That the one who finds it on the field goes back and sells all his possessions, to buy this field containing the treasure. The other person the merchant, sells all his other pearls to acquire this particular pearl of great price. Pearl - may be today's diamond ( Cullinan diamond -620 gram - 2600 crore Indian rupees, Kohinoor priceless). That's the worth.

Yes dear brothers and sisters, this kingdom of God, the kingdom where we are in, the salvation of we enjoy, this Jesus that we possess is of inestimable worth, so precious, its worth selling all our possessions and all what we have to get this one. Losing everything to get this one is not stupidity. Because this will make you richer than anything else, this will make up for everything that you lost to gain it. Its worth more than everything. It’s a deal of eternity.

Why this gospel is so precious? Why is it worth selling all that you have?
Everyone in this work is searching for happiness. They resort to different ways to be happy. Pubs, drinking, bars, girl friends, friends, drugs and what not. Temporary joy. The joy that fadeth away. No thing other than gospel gives the true joy. Nothing other than gospel gives us everlasting joy.

How can I be right before God? Rom 1:17 - Gospel is the revelation of Gods righteousness. The standing that we get before God (righteousness) that we get through Jesus. The feeling of being the child of this creator is worth more than all our possessions that we can sell everything to trade this. Yes this gospel can solve the problems which no others or religions can solve.

Gospel is the solution for your acceptance. Have you thought why the youths are ready to do anything for acceptance among their friends and in colleges? Some people start smoking, change their looks, start drinking,  change their behaviors to get accepted among their friends. Why do they do that? Because they have only seen acceptance based on works, your merits or your looks. They have not yet seen a loving Father who will accept not based on your works or looks, but because of His son.

Some people get so depressed, they find themselves of no value, they think their life has no significance and purpose and end their life because they have not yet seen the loving Father who send his own precious son to die for you. They have not yet seen a Father who had put such a tremendous value for your life which is the blood of his son.

Some people have lot of insecurity, what if I lose my job, what if I lose my health, what if I don’t have this degree ( this is what I am going through now), what about my children's future? Again we have not fully understood our loving Father who has promised I will take care of you, I will turn everything into good whatever happens in your life.

Those who are looking for the truth, will find absolute truth, those who look for a gracious one will find him who is full of truth and grace.

Those who fear about death  and the uncertainties of life will find eternal life, a life beyond death.
This makes the gospel and Jesus so worth and a priceless treasure. Gospel is not just the ABCs of Christian life but the A-Z which you apply in life all time and solves your problems. This is the reason why these people who finds the treasure sells everything to possess it. I know some of you who are sitting before me, have left their parents, left the inheritance that they should have acquired from parents, they have said no to their relatives and went on to acquire this priceless treasure. Some of us did not have to go to that extent but we have decided to have Jesus than the acceptance of our friends, than the worldly ways of our college friends or colleagues. That should be our response towards gospel.

Romans 14:17 – For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Yes dear brothers, this gospel is our righteousness it made God to accept us, it gave us standing before God, it is the in expressible joy, it is the peace that surpasses all understanding no matter what situation you are going through and calms our soul.

Sometimes we don’t remember the value or worth of this kingdom we are in because forget about it. We hear the gospel to get saved and then forget about it and go on. But this gospel is the solution, we need to hear it everyday.

“Here I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law,) but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me : to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.” – Martin Luther. Yes gospel is not just for getting saved it should be beaten up into our heads continually.

Joyfully sell: All these people in the parable, with what attitude they sold their possessions? V44: With Joy he goes and sells of everything. He is not regretting his decision of selling all his possessions. Because he knows the treasure that he is going to possess is so valuable it can make up for all you have sold. Imagine if you get a treasure which will keep you rich no matter how lavishly you live, you will happily sell everything to gain this. That’s how it is with this kingdom. We can leave everything happily, whatever our possessions are, our traditions, our group of friends, our comforts to gain this treasure.

Paul's response to gospel in Phil 3:7-8- He sold his old Jewish culture, position of tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of Hebrews, self-righteousness for the excellencies and knowledge of Christ. He considered it all waste when compared to the excellence and knowledge of Christ. Weighing scale illustration.

While entering into this kingdom, while accepting the gospel, we surrender all our possessions, whatever we have and we happily acquire this treasure of knowing Christ and being his Son. This is the transaction happening when we accept Christ as our saviour. Joyfully surrendering what we have to him and receiving him.

Dear brothers and sisters, what I was trying to explain is the tremendous worth and value of the kingdom we are in, the tremendous worth of the gospel we have accepted, no matter how you find it, whether by accident or by searching for it. Its worth selling or surrendering all our possessions and trade it with the pearl of great price.

Effect on us: 

Knowing the worth of the treasure will help us to live up the full potential: Why this message about knowing the worth or greatness of living in this kingdom? Listen very carefully, Imagine, you got a treasure  but you don’t know how worth it is, how rich you will become, but you don’t realize the worth of it and living like an ordinary man, living like a poor man, that’s a tragic thing that can happen. People will call you a fool. You can only live up to the full potential of your life, only if you know the worth the treasure that you are possessing. Similarly, we should not be living like fools who don’t realize or forget the worth of what we are possessing. But remember, realize continually the worth of what we are having live up to the full potential of a Christian. You can unleash the full potentials of Christian life only if you realize the worth of Christ that you are possessing. As Luther said, beat the gospel into your heads continually, live up to the full potential. May God bless.

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