Teaching Series EP096 – Parable of the Lost Son Pt 3: Embrace the Grace

Welcome to part three in our series on
the Parable of the Lost Son. In part one, we laid a foundation for why Jesus told
these stories, plural, which is what we tackled in part two is that Jesus told the
parable The Lost Sheep, and then The Lost Coin, and then told the story that we
know and love so well. And in this episode we are finally getting into that
story, but as we have identified in Luke 15 these three stories–The Lost Sheep,
The Lost Coin, and The Lost Son–go together out of a response from Jesus to
the interaction that he’s having with the religious leaders. And this is why in
verse 11 it says, “Jesus continued.” So let’s look at the story in this episode
through the eyes of the younger son. See if there isn’t something new we can
learn, and then ask the question, “How do we more faithfully walk after Jesus as a
result of what we have learned?” So here we go. “There was a man who had two sons.
The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’
So he divided his property between them.” Now when the younger son says, “Father, give me
my share of the estate,” this is shocking. The father would not divide the estate,
or have it divided, until his death. This is not something you did in the ancient
world. And so for the younger son to say, “I want it now,” was tantamount to saying
to the father, “I wish you were already dead.” I mean, the audience of Jesus, their
jaws would have been on the ground. And what would have been as equally as
shocking is the fact that the father doesn’t punish him, doesn’t beat him, in
fact it says he divided his property between them. So the father divides the
inheritance between his two sons. Now when it says property, it’s land, it’s
resources, it’s not financial money currency. This is an agrarian society,
which means that the son may now have his share of the estate, but he isn’t
able to liquidate it unless his father gives him the right to disposition. To
dispose of his inheritance, which is land, and apparently the father does that.
Because as Jesus goes on he says, “Not long after that the younger son got
together all he had.” Now this language, ‘together all he had,’ in
the Greek implies that he now has currency in order to leave. And so he has
liquidated everything, and this is not something that happens overnight. This
would have happened over the course of days, and probably weeks, and this is
something that the whole community is aware of because nothing is private in
the ancient world in an agrarian village and society like this. There is no such
thing as private business. And so everybody is talking, and everybody is
upset, and this younger son has shamed his father, he shamed his family, shamed
his community, he needs to get out of town. He is able to dispose of his
inheritance and he is off, and he is off for a ‘distant country.’ Now Jesus’s
audience would have immediately associated this distant country with the
Decapolis. And so starting even up on the Sea of Galilee, on the east and southeast
side is the northwest corner of the Decapolis. And the Decapolis was a league
of Greco-Roman city states. They are pagan through and through. And we’ve
talked about this before in the teaching series so this might be familiar to some
of you. But just off the Sea of Galilee have Kursi and Hippos, and here is a
picture of the archaeological remains of Kursi. You go a bit south and here is
Hippos, which is this big hill up here, and there’s amazing ruins on top of it.
And then if you go further south this is the city of Scythopolis, which has
astounding ruins, and this is in the land of Israel today. But for Jesus’s audience
they would have thought ‘the Decapolis.’ And Jesus isn’t up by the Sea of Galilee,
he is on his way from Galilee up to Judea and so he’s somewhere along the
way, but everybody would have immediately associated this with the Decapolis
because it is there where you can squander your wealth in wild living. Now
Jesus doesn’t give us details about what he spent this on, but later on in the
parable the older son says to the father, “My brother has squandered this wealth
(in fact he says it’s your son has squandered his wealth) on prostitutes.” Now
this is a story that Jesus has made up, but it’s so fascinating to look at some
of the connections to Jesus’s Bible, the older Testament, and how Jesus seems to
be including echoes in this parable. And here’s what I mean.
Check out Proverbs 29:3, “He who loves wisdom makes his father glad, but a
companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.” And I just wonder if Jesus didn’t
just drop this in as a little echo here because all of the details are lining up.
But regardless, the younger son has squandered everything. And then we are
told that after he had spent everything there was a severe famine in that whole
country and he began to be in need. How bad is it for the younger son? Well as Jesus goes on in verse 15 he says, “So he went and
hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.” Which these are unclean for Jewish
people, and this citizen of the country sees a lone Jew far away from home,
gives him a job that he believes will be rejected, and shockingly the younger son
says, “Okay, I’ll do it.” And then it says, “He longed to fill his stomach with the pods
that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” Like, this is dire
straits to the hilt. And now he has to figure out something else. So what does the
younger son do? Verse 17, “When he came to his senses 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.'” Now as we’re hearing this part of the story,
and as this section began, “when he came to his senses,” as the audience we’re going
“Yes! Like, this situation has presented itself in such a way that the younger
son now recognizes that he has made a huge mistake and he is going to repent,
he is going to return, he’s gonna go home, he’s gonna reconcile, he’s going to
apologize, he’s going to make things right. Oh, this is going such a great direction!” Au contraire. You go, “What do you
mean Au contraire?” Well the answer lies in what he wants to be.
He says, “How many of my father’s hired servants?” And then in verse 19 he says in
his rehearsal of what he’s gonna say to his father, “I am no longer worthy to be called
your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” Twice on the lips of the
younger son Jesus has him saying, “I want to be a hired servant.” So what’s the
issue with that? Well again, it goes back to the culture of the first century
world. There are actually three levels of servants. There was a bondsman,
which was a servant who was part of the estate. I mean, they
were almost like family. They lived on the estate, they worked on the estate,
they interact with the family men. Again, they were like family. And then you have
another level of servant which is a lower-class servant, which was a
subordinate to the bondsman. But then there was another level, and this was
just called the hired servant. Sound familiar? Well who is a hired servant? Well Kenneth Bailey in Poet and Peasant is quoting
other research that he has found, and he has an amazing experience of living in
the Middle East for sixty years so this dude was an amazing scholar–now a
blessed memory, but here’s what he writes in Poet and Peasant quoting
some other scholars’ work. He says, “The hired servant was an
outsider, he did not belong to the estate, he had no personal interest in the
affairs of his temporary master; he was merely a casual laborer to be employed
when required…His position was therefore precarious…though, unlike them, he was a
free man.” And so twice the younger son says, “That’s the servant that I want to
be. I want to be an outsider, I don’t want to be in relationship or even in
connection with my father or son, I want to be free, but I want to benefit from
them as a hired servant.” Now notice how Kenneth Bailey goes on. He says, “As a
‘hired servant’ he will be a free man with his own income, living independently in
the local village. His social status will not be inferior to that of his father
and his brother. He can maintain his pride and independence.” But friends,
as Kenneth goes on he says, “But there is more.” And you go, “What more can there be?”
Check this out. “If the prodigal becomes a hired servant,
he may be able to pay back what he has lost…Now he will make up for what he has
lost. In short, he will save himself. He wants no grace.” Isn’t that astounding to
understand this in its context? Now for some of you, you may look at that and go,
“Okay, I know you’re quoting some scholars here, but is that really what’s going
on? That’s not how I’ve often understood this story.” Well there’s another piece in
the story that gives credence to this, or credibility to this idea, and it’s when
the prodigal says, “Hey, I’m going to say to my father, ‘I have sinned against
heaven and against you.'” Now the Jewish people would never say God’s name.
And so they would always substitute it with Hashem, the Name, Adonai, Lord, or they
would say ‘heaven’ among some other ones. And so what the younger son is planning
to say is, “I have sinned against the Lord, I have sinned against God, and against
you.” Now for Jesus’s audience who know their text, this would have struck a
chord of something Pharaoh said back in the Exodus story. On the heels of the
eighth plague, the plague of the locust, when Pharaoh wants Moses and Aaron to go
to God and just stop the plague check out what Pharaoh says. “Pharaoh
quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘I have sinned against the Lord your
God and against you.'” Sound familiar? “Now forgive my sin once more and pray the
Lord your God to take this deadly plague away from me.” Pharaoh
has no intention of following God, he just wants the bleeding to stop. And this
is the language he uses to get his way. Friends, I would submit to you this is
exactly what the younger son is plotting to do as well. And notice how the story
continues. “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; he ran to his
son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Oh, this whole scene is so unexpected.
Notice all the things that the father did. He was filled with compassion as the
word splagchnizomai, we’ve talked about this before in another series. It’s
to feel it in the deepest recesses of your gut. The father has this compassion
and he ran to his son. Something many scholars have identified, no man like the
father in the first century world would run. This was undignified, to lift up your
robes, to expose your legs and to run, was not something that dignified men did.
And yet the father runs to his son, he throws his arms around him, and he kisses him. He
doesn’t give a lecture, he doesn’t say, “I told you so,” he doesn’t say, “Oh, you think you’re coming home now after all of this?”
None of that. And notice what the response of the
younger son is in this unexpected embrace? It says, “The son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be
called your son.'” And then apparently he’s interrupted because we read, “But the
father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him.
Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf 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.”
So in the middle of the speech he gets cut off, and then the father says to his
servants, “Quick, bring the best robe (which by the way whose robe would this have been? It would have been the father’s!)
Put a ring on his finger (this is a family signet ring, he is restoring him to
sonship) put sandals on his feet (servants didn’t wear sandals, sons did) bring the
fatted calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.” Which is astounding!
Because remember, when the younger son asks for his share of the inheritance,
when he liquidates it, when he disposes of it, like, he has angered everyone.
And the father has come and he has put his arms around him, and the community would have
been watching this. I mean the moment the son crests the hill to come back all the
little Jewish boys and girls who are out playing would have ran home and said,
“The younger son is coming home!” I mean, this is a massive scene that has gathered. And
when the father says, “Bring the fattened calf,” this is not just for a celebration for
his family. A fattened calf will feed the village. The father is saying,
“I am reconciling myself to my son. Let’s celebrate!” And you look at this, and you
go, “What an amazing scene! What extravagant love, and grace, and mercy, and
kindness that the father has showered upon the son.” Exactly. And it’s exactly
this that I actually believe that perhaps the younger son isn’t cut off in
his speech. Remember he had this full speech planned out, but all we get from
him is, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer
worthy to be called your son.” I actually don’t think that the father cut him off.
I think the younger son cut himself off from going through the rest of the
speech about becoming one of the hired servants. And
here’s why I believe that, is that when we are embraced by the grace of God,
everything changes. I think that in that moment as that younger son is being
embraced, it’s like all of the plotting that he has, all of the conniving, all of
the ‘well I’m gonna try to find a way to earn myself back into the good graces of
my family,’ all of that falls to the side. And the only thing he is left with is,
“God, or father, I am no longer worthy to be your son.” And yet the father says,
“No, you are still my son.” And in that moment the younger son has been embraced by the
grace of the father, and that at the heart of this story is the embrace of the grace that he is given. And friends, only when we embrace
the grace that God is embracing us with do we actually experience a change in
our lives. And I believe that this is what the son is experiencing in this
moment, but he has to embrace the grace of his father in order to experience
that transformation. And in this moment the son is experiencing the grace, and
this is so amazing, and this is why I believe this is a story that we love so
well is because we know what it’s like to be far from God, we know what it’s
like to be distant and for God to love us, and accept us, and to forgive us, and
this is a story that I believe that we need to soak deeply in again because God
loves us as we are. We don’t have to connive, we don’t need to angle, we don’t
need to try to find a way to earn God’s love. God loves us as
we are, but in addition to that God also loves us too much to leave us the way he
found us. And so we live into this grace of God embracing us in order for us to
change, because sin messes things up. It messes things up in our relationship
with God, with one another, with ourselves, with the world, but we don’t live into
the obedience of God pushing us to grow, and to go deeper because we’re trying to
earn God’s love. We already have God’s love. And so in order to embrace the
grace daily we need to sit and say, “God, thank you for what you are offering me.”
But also part of embracing the grace is to recognize that God is going to
challenge us in order to grow deeper in our relationship with him, in order to
experience more restoration and wholeness in our lives. And friends, this
is what the younger son had to do. He had to embrace the grace. But friends, I would
also look at this and say we have to embrace the grace, not only for our own
transformation and our own growth, but also in how we love and reach out to
other people. Because remember who is Jesus’s audience? Well on one level, yes
it’s the tax collectors and sinners whom Jesus is giving this story. And they’re
going, “We know what it’s like to be embraced by that grace.” Because Jesus is
sharing a meal with them at that moment. But remember the audience that Jesus is
telling these stories primarily for are the religious leaders who do not approve
of what Jesus is doing in loving and accepting these tax collectors and
sinners. And I would just say this, it’s easy to forget how much we’ve been
forgiven. And I believe that this is what’s going on with the religious folks
at this moment is they have forgotten how much they have been forgiven, because
when we are reminded of how much we have been forgiven we can extend that kind of
grace. Or you could say it this way: those who have truly embraced the grace are able to extend that kind of grace to others. And
friends, to embrace the grace is not only for our benefit in our relationship with
God–it’s so that we can extend that same kind of grace and love to those we
interact with. And I believe that through the eyes of the younger son is something
that Jesus was challenging his audience with 2,000 years ago and he is
challenging it to us today. So friends, may we embrace the grace, and may we walk
out the love, and grace, and mercy of Jesus to anyone and everyone we
encounter. So friends, thanks so much for watching, thanks for listening, and may
you walk out this text well in your life.

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