Prodigal Gospel

One of the smartest decisions I made when I was young was to not throw out any of my toys. I packed them up and kept them, stored in the attic of my parents house. That was until we had kids. Then I once again pulled them out of the cardboard boxes that had been their home for years, and gave them to our boys. When I first brought the boxes down to them it was like Christmas morning. Who would have thought that toys from the 1980’s could still bring such joy to little boys.

Our twins who are two years old love balls. Footballs, basketballs, it really makes no difference to them, just as long as they can throw it and it has some bounce to it. They found a red bouncy ball that I had when I was a child and immediately fell in love with it. They would play with that ball for what seemed like hours. But I noticed that the ball was really flat and didnt have alot of bounce to it. But that didnt seem to bother the twins. In fact they didnt even seem to notice it at all. They had never known that ball to be restored full of air.

The ball was practically broken, but the twins didnt notice its brokenness, because it was all they had ever known.

So I decided to take the ball down to the gas station and restore it pumped full of air. And when I took it from the twins, they had a fit. They didnt want me to take the ball, even though I tried to convey that I was only taking it for a short time to fix it. When I returned from the gas station, the ball was full of air and bounce. And the boys loved it. As much as they liked the ball before I had fixed it, now they were almost giddy at the extreme bounce that it now had.

Our church just returned this week from a mission trip to Wisconsin. We were helping a church plant that has been started in the town of Muscoda. One of the things we did was to just walk around the town and talk to people about the new church and invite them to come and attend. We even had some opportunities to present the gospel to people we ran into on the streets. Sadly, most people we encountered had an attitude of indifference towards the gospel. Some even seemed offended because they were already attending another church. But even the people who claimed they already went to church looked more like the world with their language and mannerisms than a true Christian.

I told my wife upon returning that the trip was eye-opening for me. To see that it’s not just the community that I live in but predominately our entire nation that holds to this attitude of indifference towards the Gospel message. Our nation is no doubt that hardest mission field. In a foreign country, the natives are hungry for the message of Christ because they’ve never heard it. Its refreshing and new to them. But in our nation, the Gospel is not received well, because everyone thinks they already know it. Most Americans have bought into a broken Gospel from a young age. They’ve never heard the true one. And this broken gospel message is all they know.

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.” Galatians 1:11.

The Apostle Paul addressed this issue with the churches of Galatia. They were believing in a perversion of the true Gospel message. And Paul says in verse 11 that he did not preach to them a man centered Gospel, but the true one. The biggest form of lostness is not atheism, but believing in a broken version of the Gospel. One that is man centered and not Christ centered. We have a tendency to take the scriptures and water them down or add to them so that they fit our preferences.

But the Gospel, plus or minus anything, is no Gospel at all.

The broken Gospel that our world typically is seen buying into today works itself out in two ways, and amazingly, Jesus addressed and warned us of these Gospel perversions over two thousand years ago. And he did it through the telling of what we have always called, “The Parable of The Prodigal Son.” Many books have been written specifically on this parable, the best Ive read being Dr. Timothy Keller’s “Prodigal God.”

Prodigal literally means to squander or to be wayward.

The story is told in Luke 15. And we have heard this parable so much throughout our lives that at times, we can miss Jesus intended meaning due to just taking it in at face value. But if we examine the story and the context in which the parable was told, it is clear that Jesus point was to expose in detail the dangers of believing in a broken Gospel.

Now most of us know the story. There is a father who has two sons. The younger son comes to the father and demands his share of his inheritance. This is unheard of, even by todays standards. You do not receive an inheritance unless the person you are receiving it from dies. Hence, the term inheritance. But this younger son is demanding to receive his share of his fathers possessions before the father dies. He is basically telling his father that he wished he were already dead.

The father upon hearing this had rights. He could have disowned the child, had him beaten, and in some cases it was legally acceptable to have him put to death. But this father lets his younger son go. This would have had the original listeners to this parable gasping, because this was not what one would have expected of the father.

The younger son wants the fathers things, but he doesnt want the father. He wants the wealth, the comfort, and all the benefits, but he doesnt want the father. The Father in the story represents God the Father. And some of us buy into the same broken gospel that the younger son bought into. We want the comforts of knowing we have eternal life, but we dont want God. We dont want to live by his rules, we want to live life on our terms. So to soothe our minds, we convince ourselves that because we go to church or because we’ve been baptised we are free to live life however we want because God is a forgiving God and he must forgive us. But thats not the true Gospel.

“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,” Hebrews 10:26.

Hebrews couldnt make the point more clearly. Simply put, if you claim to know God but use his forgiving nature as an excuse to keep sinning, then you are not saved. You have bought into a broken gospel and not THE Gospel.

In the story of the Prodigal Son, we must remember that there are two sons in the story. We tend to make the story out to be about a son that goes wayward and comes back into the fold only to be forgiven by his father. But that’s only half the story. Jesus point in telling this parable was for us to compare and contrast the two sons, and to place ourselves into this story. Asking the question…which son are we?

As we know, the younger son takes his inheritance and squanders it on wild living and prostitutes. He ends up with nothing, living and working in a pig sty. The son remembers his father’s hired servants, who are not part of the family but are taken care of by the father. The younger son decides that he will go back to his father and ask only to be allowed as one of his hired men. The younger son has no intention of asking for his place back in the family. He wants to earn his way back.

But as the story goes, the father sees his younger son coming from far off and runs to him. One of the important things we miss when reading this story at face value is the cultural context. When Jesus said that the father ran to his wayward son from far off, the original listeners would have been astonished at hearing this.

A father and a patriarch would never run. That would mean pulling up their skirts and baring their legs. Women would run. Children would run. But not owners of estates. Not fathers. That was something that you just didnt do. But this father cared nothing about social barriers. This father ran to his wayward son. Before the son even got to the father, the father ran to meet him. And in the original Greek version of this story, it translates to say that the father fell on the sons neck.

Have you ever been so happy to see someone who you embraced them and buried you face in their neck? That is the picture being painted here of the father, and again, the father in the story is the representation of our Heavenly father. The wayward son came home, but it was the father who ran to him. And the father would hear nothing of the sons speech about being a hired hand. In fact, if you read the story in Luke 15, you’ll see that the father doesnt even acknowledge what the son said about wanting to work his way back. The father instead, immediately declares sonship on his son, and plans a great feast to celebrate the sons return.

It is the norm for most preachers to rush through the end part of the story, because they tend to focus on this one son, forgetting that Jesus intentionally placed two sons in the story. As the parable goes, the older son gets wind of this great feast being thrown. He asks his servant what is going on and is told that his younger brother has returned.

This infuriated the older son. Full of anger, he refused to go into the party. And again, we see the father leaving his party and comforts and going out to his older son. Pay attention to the subtleties in the story. It was the father who ran to his younger son. And it was the father who went out to his older son. We can never come to God the father, unless he first comes to us.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44.

The older brother was angry. He says to the father, “Look….”. Notice that the older son didnt call him father, he first said , “Look.” He went on to basically say to his father, “I have always been obedient to you and done all that you asked of me, and this younger son comes back after wasting your money and you take him in and kill the fatted calf for him?”

The fatted calf was a delicacy in those days. Meat was rare due to its expense, but especially a fine meat like the fatted calf. Yet the father kills the fatted calf for his younger sons celebration. The older brother is furious about this, even saying to his father, “You’ve never even given me and my friends a goat to celebrate with!”

The older son represents another broken form of the gospel that we still buy into. It is that of legalism, or doing good works to get to Heaven. You see, the older brother had the same problem as the younger son. He loved the fathers things, but didnt love the father. He obeyed to get the fathers things, not simply because he loved the father. He boasted of his obedience and not his love.

If God were to ask you why he should let you into his Kingdom, and your first response was to list off all of your good deeds, all of the Sunday School classes you taught, all of the mission trips you went on, or how many times you read through your Bible in your lifetime, and then you claimed that  due to your obedience, God owed it to you to let you into Heaven,  it would be a tale tale sign that you never understood the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus would have been your role model, Jesus would have been your example, Jesus would have been your boss….but he wouldnt have been your savior.

In each son, we see that they are trying to save themselves. They are trying to be their own savior. One is doing it through rebellion and watering down obedience to the father, and the older son is doing this through his works. But Jesus shows us in the parable that both sons are lost. Both sons are believing in a false or broken Gospel. And both sons are separated from the father. But it is the younger son that enters the feast. So what does this feast represent?

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” Isaiah 25:6.

The feast is Heaven. The feast is the wedding supper of the Lamb, where all true believers will sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the presence of King Jesus. The younger son came home. And again, you can almost hear the original listeners gasp. It was the lover of prostitutes that was saved and the morally upright man who was lost? Unheard of! But again, go back to the context.

Jesus was speaking to two different groups of people when he told this parable. He was speaking to the tax collectors, who lived life on their own terms like the younger son, and he was speaking to the pharisees, who were very obedient to the law like the older brother. And this story was really directed at the pharisees. Because  before Jesus told this parable, the pharisees saw Jesus speaking with the tax collectors and they said…

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  Matthew 11:19.

Imagine the shock on their faces when Jesus told this parable. They were quite aware of the meaning of his story. And they were irate. Remember Jesus wasnt nailed to the cross for being a meek and mild guy. He was relentless with truth, even when it totally went against what was culturally acceptable. Have you settle for a broken, culturally acceptable form of false gospel, or do you truly know Christ?

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the story is that which is not spoken, but rather referred to. Prior to telling the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus told two more parables. The first was that of a lost sheep, and in the parable the good Shepard went out to find the sheep. The second parable was that of a lost coin, and the lady of the house searched until she found it. But in the parable of the prodigal son, no one goes out looking for the younger son. This didnt fit in line with the mold of the parables Jesus was telling.

And the reason was that Jesus wanted the listeners to ask themselves the question…”Who should have gone out to look for the younger son?”  Back in this time period, it was the older son that would become leader of the family after the father passed. So it was seen that the older son had the responsiblity of holding the family together. He had that responsiblity. Were the older son a good older son, he would have gone looking for his wayward brother to bring him back home. But in the parable, the older brother did not. Why?

Because he was selfish. You see, when the younger son came home, all the older brother could see was his share of the inheritance diminishing. When the younger son once again became part of the family, he was also again privy to everything the father had. The older brother would have to split the fathers things with his wayward brother, and in the parable, the older brother would have nothing to do with his younger brother.

Sadly, the younger brother in the story had a pharisee for an older brother. But we do not. We need more than an elder brother who would go searching for us in the next town, but instead, we are in need of an elder brother who would come from Heaven to earth in search of us. The elder brother in the story despised the thought of having to give up any of his inheritance. But Jesus gave it all up, and the comforts of Heaven, in exchange for a persecuted life and death on a cross, so that you and I could come home back into the family of God. Salvation was pure grace to the younger brother, but the younger brothers salvation was costly to the older brother.

You see, Jesus is the true and greater elder brother. Jesus gave up everything…his inheritance that he had rightly earned with his obedience to the Father, so that we could return home. And because of his great sacrifice, our hearts should be so pierced that we are not rebellious and we do not obey to get things from him. We live an obedient life because we are so moved by what our true elder brother did for us, and that God the father ran to us when we were so far off, and fell on our necks.

That is the true Gospel. Sometimes we grow so used to the broken things in life that we forget that they were ever broken to begin with. Have you forgotten the true Gospel? Read Luke 15 and ask yourself which son are you? Is your idea of the Gospel of Christ works based or are you running from God to hold on to your sins? Both are easy to justify, but they’re not the Gospel. Salvation is found only in one, and that is through the mercy of our elder brother Jesus Christ, and the grace of God our Heavenly father.

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