[This was a sermon I did at church I think last spring sometime. It was while writing this that I actually came across the book called Prodigal God by Timothy Keller, but I just got around to reading it last month. It’s a really good book–definitely worth a read. At any rate, it was good to see I wasn’t totally off track with my thinking here either.]
When I was about 11 years old I decided to run away from home. See, I just had this terrible life. My parents had the nerve to make me do chores like wash the dishes. I had to share my video games with my little brother. But the worst offense, the one that pushed me over was that was I had to go on vacation every summer to Florida for one whole month! Can you imagine how terrible that would be? Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Key West, Everglades, Daytona Beach, Miami. It was terrible. The only people I had to talk to for an entire month was my family! I got pretty good at making new friends quickly, but it was just torture. And of course, as fair skinned as I am, I’d always burn the first day of vacation, peel and then look like a freak the remainder of the trip.
So that was it. I had enough and I set off on a hot July day to leave home. I packed up some clothes and money and headed down the road. I made it about as far as the others side of the gate from my house…after all, it was pretty hot out, and I’ve already told you–I burn easily. I decided I could probably tolerate life with my family a little longer.
Probably all of us as children (and maybe as adults) have wanted to run away from home at some point. You didn’t like the rules or the chores or you just thought you could do better on your own. You didn’t need no stinkin’ family.
Well, that’s basically the story of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). It’s one of the most well-known stories in the Bible. Sometimes it’s called The Lost Son, but whatever you call it, it’s probably a familiar story and most of us can relate to it on some levels, which is why Jesus used it. He knew that it’s something that most everyone can relate to in some way.
Many times we see ourselves in one of the two brothers. The rebellious one who comes home seeking forgiveness, or the loyal, obedient, but full of jealousy one because he just doesn’t “get” it. Or perhaps we’re like the unconditionally loving and forgiving Father.
But rather than just being one of the characters, they all have qualities that I think God desires to see in us.
Let’s start with the Prodigal son. He went out and wasted away the money his father gave him–money his father didn’t have to give him. He worried his family and just royally messed up. He did some idiotic things. But in his time of desperation, he humbled himself and went home with this tail between his legs and his head lowered. He didn’t have high expectations, but he recognized his father’s love for him. Now, we could go a bit deeper than that, but for now, let’s just look at the fact that he returned home, admitting he messed up. And that’s what God wants from us. A humble spirit, confessing our sin and asking for forgiveness.
Then there is the jealous brother. He just didn’t understand unconditional love and he was
a little a lot self-righteous. But despite him failing to see the big picture and the bad rep he gets for this, he does have some qualities to be desired. He was loyal, faithful and obedient–perhaps not for all the right reasons, but he was still obedient. Guess what? God wants those same things from us. Yes, He wants them as an act of love in a real relationship with Him, but He wants them all the same and wants us to be assured of His love, which this brother wasn’t.
Obviously the father represents God in this story. Unconditionally loving, forgiving and waiting on us to return to Him. And unconditional love and forgiveness toward others are qualities He expects of us as well–not just of Himself. But let’s look at what else we can learn from the father.
I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to understanding things, so I pulled out the dictionary and looked up the word “Prodigal”. Prodigal is defined as a “wasteful expenditure or something given or done in abundance”. Recklessly extravagant. An unneeded expense. The son was indeed prodigal. He was recklessly extravagant and he lost everything. But there is another character in this story that was also recklessly extravagant. The father was also a prodigal. Think about it. The culture of the time, and maybe even our own time, would say the father owed nothing to the son. He didn’t have to forgive him. In fact, the fact that he did probably caused quiet a stir in the town. Now God tells us we have to forgive. But this father didn’t just forgive his son, did he? He didn’t say, welcome home, you’re forgiven, now go out there and help your brother in the fields. That would have been okay, right? As long as his heart was in it, that’s all that required of us, right? But he didn’t just stop there. He lavished his son. He threw a feast and killed the fattened calf. He did things that were recklessly extravagant and perhaps even a little wasteful, but chose anyway to show his son his abundant love. In verse 20 it says he ran to greet his son. He was watching and waiting for him.
When God sent His son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, so that we could receive forgiveness, wasn’t that a little reckless? Couldn’t God have just given us another way–a way a little less painful for His Son and for Himself. A way that didn’t require Jesus to die a painful death on a cross? I mean, He IS God, right? He can make all the rules He wants. But God’s love for us is anything but basic. It’s extravagant. Jesus’ death on the cross was extravagant. The world that was created for us is extravagant. God doesn’t just dole out love as a means to an end. He drowns us in it and grants it to us unconditionally.
Even when we don’t deserve it. Especially when we don’t deserve it. And He wants us to love Him–and others–in the same fashion. John 15:12 says: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” As He loved us…extravagantly.