All of heaven celebrates the repentance of one, single, solitary sinner.
The door, is WIDE OPEN.
If you come to him in faith and repentance.
That’s a glorious gospel truth and I am not sure of a story in the Bible that makes that truth more clear than the third story Jesus tells in Luke 15.
“And he said, ‘There was a man who had two sons.”
Which is important for us because you remember he’s talking to these two groups.
The Pharisees and scribes and the tax collectors and sinners.
And the younger of them, which obviously represents the tax collectors and sinners, said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of property that is coming to me.”’
Which was shocking.
That’s not something people said.
Essentially it was his way of saying, dad, why don’t you drop dead. And the normal response in that culture, would have been to slap the son in the face.
And yet, obviously the father didn’t.
Instead Jesus tells us, he divided his property between them.
The elder son would have gotten two thirds of the property. Though, at this point, it’s likely the father still would have retained control, and the younger son, received his in advance.
And then he left.
“Not many days later, the younger son gathered all that he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.””
Which was foolish and wicked, and sad.
Here this son has broken his relationship with his father, he’s wasted the privileges his father had given him, and he’s going to experience the consequences.
“And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pig ate, and no one gave him anything.”
Which is a pretty pathetic picture, and yet it’s so real, because, in general, while you are powerful and important, the world is celebrating with you, but once you start, experiencing the consequences of your sin, this world has very little compassion.
And, I don’t know, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pharisees at this point, were thinking the son was getting, what he had coming, and yet, God used these consequences to wake this younger brother up.
In verse 17, Jesus says.
“But when he came to himself.”
And that’s like a picture of a drunk man, finally becoming sober.
And I am not sure it’s genuine repentance yet, as much as it is, what have I done? Though that’s sometimes where genuine repentance starts. And he says.
“How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.””
Which was basically, all true.
This son, finally did have an accurate view of himself, he wasn’t worthy to be called this father’s son.
Just like we are not worthy to be called God’s.
And there are a lot of people who think this is where the story should end.
When the world says erase the categories of shameful and honorable, they are saying, stay in the pig pen, but pretend like it’s really wonderful. And when the religious people say, that’s it, that’s where you belong, they are saying, what sometimes our own hearts, are tempted to believe, that God’s not good.
But obviously, Jesus doesn’t end the story there.
“And he arose and came to his father.”
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
Which have to be some of the most beautiful verses in all of Scripture.
I mean did you read that?
His father saw him while he was a long way off.
He felt compassion.
And old men don’t run.
And embraced him.
And kissed him.
And those verses are beautiful because Jesus is saying, that is God’s attitude towards repentant sinners.
Like a shepherd who finds his sheep. Like a woman who finds her coin. Like this father who is embracing his son.
You might remember this whole chapter begins with the Pharisees who are getting upset that Jesus eats with sinners, which is why Jesus tells this story about a father eating with his son.
This is the answer to their question.
As religious people, they couldn’t understand Jesus.
There is good and there is bad, you say you are good and you are eating with the bad.
And, of course the world would come along and say, well that must mean, Jesus doesn’t think there is bad.
But, if we look at those two lists, good people and bad people, we know that can’t be the answer. It’s not that Jesus was eating with those people, because he didn’t think these things were bad.
They were bad.
It’s because he knew those weren’t the only two categories.
There was a third category.
And that’s someone who has been humbled, and someone who is repentant, and it’s that person, that God really finds joy in.
Good, bad, FORGIVEN.
And, this is really the key to this whole series.
What do we do with bad people?
We’ll never understand Jesus until we understand.
While we may only have these two categories, good and bad, God has one more.
Good, bad, forgiven!
And that’s the category that matters.
We bring the lists, I am bad I can’t come, I am good I can come, and God’s saying, put away your lists, because you are both wrong. Your good isn’t good enough and your bad isn’t too bad, because I am looking for someone who is REPENTANT and when God finds a humble, repentant person, he’s like this father, who says to his servants.
“Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and eat, and let us celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
God celebrates the repentant sinner.
This is who God’s banquet is for.
Not for good people, not for bad people, for repentant people.
God loves repentant people.
It seems like it is so hard for us to believe that.
I think it’s one of the hardest things in the world for us to believe. That God is this good, really.
You know, even unbelievers, will say God is love and God is good, and yet, they don’t really believe it.
It’s like this younger son in the story. The younger son didn’t even know how good his father was, and that’s why he rebelled against him in the first place. And that’s why, when he came back he thought he had to come up with this plan to work as his father’s servant, to pay back his debts.
But he could never have worked his way back.
And neither can you.
The way we’ve sinned against God is terrible.
And, we can’t get around that.
As we look at this list of bad things people do, we can’t pretend like those things aren’t horrible.
Just like, everything this son did to this father was horrible. And yet as horrible as sin is, the good news of the gospel, is that we serve a God who is willing and able and eager to forgive. He’s so eager to forgive that He’s made a way for forgiveness to even be possible, by sending His own Son Jesus to die in the place of sinners, like this prodigal son.
And He absolutely delights in forgiving sinners who come to Him in repentance.
And while the Pharisees were looking at Jesus and saying how can you spend time with these people, Jesus is looking at the Pharisees, and saying how can you not?
If the friends of the shepherd celebrate with him after he’s found his sheep and the friends of the woman celebrate with her after she has found her coin, how can those who say they are friends of God, not celebrate, when a sinner repents?
And, this is actually where it all starts to get serious.
How can those who say they are friends of God, not want what God wants?
How can friends of God not celebrate what God celebrates?
Because, if you look at this list, of what people would say, is good, and if you are doing everything on that list, how good are you really, if you are not finding joy, in what brings God joy?
Something is wrong if we are not seeking what God seeks and we are not excited about what God’s excited about, then something is definitely broken and the story of the prodigal son ends with a warning.
“Now his older brother,” Jesus says in verse 25, “was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called on the servants and he asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he received him back safe and sound. And he was, angry and refused to go in.”
I mean, that’s messed up.
Sometimes people call this story of the Prodigal Son, and I understand why, but there are two sons here, and they both have problems.
It’s not just people on the bad list who rebel against God, it’s also people on the good list.
You can rebel against God by living in this world or you can rebel against God by being self-righteous, and this older brother, was self-righteous, and I know, for me, it’s off easier to write self-righteous people off, honestly.
I can look at the prodigal son in the pig sty and I think he has hope, but this older brother, this attitude, like the Pharisees, all throughout the gospels, it’s hard to have any hope, and it’s easy, to just say whatever, but notice this father doesn’t.
Because, he’s just so good.
He humbles himself once again and comes out to his elder son.
And Jesus says, “His father came out and entreated him” which we find God doing through Jesus, all throughout the gospels.
He didn’t only go after the bad, he also went after the good, and yet the good had such a hard time, hearing Jesus, like this older son had hearing his father.
“But he answered his father.”
And his response helps us understand what the Pharisees were getting wrong.
“Look,” he says, “these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’”
And really, who knows if everything the son is saying is true, I don’t think that’s the point, the point is, that this son, doesn’t understand GRACE. He only thinks in terms of justice.
This man’s sinned, he should be punished, I’ve obeyed, and I should be blessed.
And while Jesus doesn’t correct that theology exactly here, we know from the rest of the Bible, if that’s the way it worked in our relationship with God, we would all be damned.
The people on the good list and the people on the bad.
If we start forgetting that, the party is over for us as believers.
Of course there is bad, and the bad is bad, and there’s good and the good is good, but if we start thinking these are the only two categories that matter to God, and if we forget, this ONE category that MATTERS MOST, repentant, forgiven, in Jesus, than the we are going to miss out on the beautiful thing God’s doing.
And I guess I am just burdened, as we seek to grow and to become good people, you know holy people, is that we don’t start becoming impressed with ourselves, and start thinking that we really have earned this, that we are better than we really are, that God somehow owes us because of these things that we have done, which is the way the older brother’s talking.
He’s not enjoying the party, he’s not enjoying his privileges, he’s angry at the father.
And it’s all nonsense.
And I am sure the father could have rebuked him.
He could have said son, seriously?
You’ve obeyed everything I’ve asked?
I mean, look at what you are doing right now, you won’t even come into the celebration, when I am out here, pleading.
But instead, you know what the Father does, he reminds him, once again, that he’s good!
“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive, and was lost and is found.”
Which I guess is where I want to end today.
If you are lost and you know it and you feel like God could never love you, because all these things on this bad list, are true of you, He can, come home to God, and you can be sure GOD WILL CELEBRATE.
And if you are good and you’ve done everything right, and you are just so proud of yourself, there’s enough grace for prodigals, and there’s enough grace enough for self-righteous, good, religious people as well, like the apostle Paul, lay down your self-righteousness, and humble yourself before it’s too late.
And if you are here and you are a believer, let’s never forget that God does save sinners, religious ones and irreligious ones, and let’s worrying so much about who is good and who is bad, and keep taking the gospel out, to absolutely everyone, because we know the CATEGORY that matters most, and that is REPENTANT AND FORGIVEN.