Stories Jesus Told
Part 2: Great Victories
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11-12 Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’ 12-16 “So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any. 17-20 “That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
20-21 “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’ 22-24 “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.
The story of the “prodigal” son!
Prodigal: spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.
I want to suggest this morning, that there is a bit of the prodigal son in all of us. Let’s focus on his story for a moment today.
One day, seemingly out of the clear blue, the youngest son asks for his “rightful” inheritance. So, being a good and kind father, he gives him a bunch of money. He takes what his father gives him, which, according to Jesus’ story is significant and proceeds to spend it foolishly. What the youngest son doesn’t realize, is while what he receives a sizable gift, it’s only a portion of what the father has. His father has a business that will continue to grow through the years and make more and more money – which in turn would increase the size of the inheritance. So what he receives at the time of his asking, is only a portion of what he would get if he would have stuck around to help work the family business. Not only is it just a waste of the smaller portion of what would have been his inheritance, he totally misses out on everything his father would have taught him about relationships – with a wife, with servants, with children and grandchildren – dynamics that were treasured beyond an earthly value.
But none-the-less, he took what he got and promptly wasted it.
The parallel for us, is simply, when we take what God has given us and don’t stick around to benefit from additional resources, let alone the incredible benefits of an intimate relationship with God, we waste our initial treasures.
In the Middle East, if a son were to ask for his inheritance before his father’s death, the son would be wishing his father dead. This culture has not changed much since the time of Jesus. People who have observed this culture have noticed that almost never does this happen – even today.
In Jesus’ story today, he is painting a picture of what our use of God’s gifts looks like when we live our lives – using what God has given us – and don’t stick around for the relationship. In fact, we, like the prodigal son, are, in essence, wishing God dead – telling Him we’d rather spend our time and resources with others, not thinking of Him.
To show God’s patience with us, let’s look at the reality of what happens in this story. If you were to stop the story at the point where the youngest son asks his father for his inheritance – Middle Easterners would say that more than likely the father would explode with anger and refuse the request.
However, this father doesn’t do that – he simply gives his son what he is asking for.
This answer, illustrates the difference between God and earthly, cultural relationships. God, like this earthly father, grants the request. God knows that blessing us without a lasting relationship could quite possibly widen the gap between us and himself. God could then choose – as He sees us going our own way, wasting the “life gifts” He has given us, simply turn His back on us and leave us to our own bitter end.
But that’s not what our Father does! In Jesus’ story, this earthly father (just like our Heavenly Father), suffers in silence – hoping against hope for future reconciliation. As the days stretched on and on – the father, in agonizing heartache, simply waits.
Then… one day, the son comes back to his senses and returns. He has no idea what to expect – in fact, all he wanted was just to survive, willing to be a servant – not even worthy to be called a son.
If this were to happen in Middle Eastern culture – the son would return home in shame. He had wished his father dead – and now, having lost everything – expected shame and rejection from his father.
Kenneth Bailey, author of The Cross & the Prodigal, explains that if a Jewish son lost his inheritance among Gentiles, and then returned home, the community would perform a ceremony, called the kezazah. “They would break a large pot in front of him and yell, ‘You are now cut off from your people!’ The community would totally reject him.
But that didn’t happen! IN fact – the father ran toward his son!
So, why did the father run? He probably ran in order to get to his son before he entered the village. The father runs — and shames himself — in an effort to get to his son before the community gets to him, so that his son does not experience the shame and humiliation of their taunting and rejection. The village would have followed the running father, would have witnessed what took place at the edge of the village between father and son. After this emotional reuniting of the prodigal son with his father, it was clear that their would be no kezazah ceremony; there would be no rejecting this son — despite what he has done. The son had repented and returned to the father. The father had taken the full shame that should have fallen upon his son and clearly shown to the entire community that his son was welcome back home.” --The Cross & the Prodigal (Kenneth Bailey – Intervarsity Press 2005)
God, our Heavenly Father, is like this earthly father! God has taken our shame of sin – and, through Jesus Christ who willingly faced death on the cross now runs toward us with This Gift!
There is no “kezazah” ceremony with God – no breaking of our cracked and dirty pot we know as our life – no yelling emphatically “you are no longer a part of my family” – just God with His arms open wide – willing to give us more of an inheritance we could ever dream of.
The son in Jesus’ story gave up His sonship. Sin has estranged us from our Heavenly Father. Only the father in Jesus’ story could restore full sonship to the prodigal. Only our Heavenly Father can restore full sonship to us.
Will you accept what God has for you and stick around for the relationship? If you’ve strayed far or even just a little bit – will you allow God to absorb your shame through His Son Jesus’ wounds?
God is waiting for us – agonizing for one single step back toward Him – and He’ll come running!
“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.”