Monday, December 1, 2008
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Finding the Father
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the story of two sons who were living with their father. The younger one came to his father and said, rather boldly it would seem, "Father, give me my share of the estate" (Luke 15:11). To me, he sounds like a spoiled brat. It seems a little brash and uncaring to ask for your inheritance before your father is dead, don't you think? It would appear he didn't really ask for his inheritance either, he simply demanded it. What the older son's response was to all of this we are not told, but the father agreed and divided his property between them at the "request" of the younger son.
Very soon after this, the younger son got together all he had and moved out to some place far away, where we are told, he "squandered his wealth [which was not really his but only that which he had received from his father] in wild living" (Luke 15:13). He took that which the father had worked his whole life to accumulate for him and wasted it. In short order, it was gone. And, just about the time that his money ran out, there was a severe famine in the land to which he had moved. The younger son went and hired himself out to a pig farmer just to try and survive. Now he was trying to make it on his own. And it doesn't appear that this was a high paying occupation, for "he longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything" (Luke 15:16). He had gone from hero to zero and no one cared.
In this state, he reflected on the hired men in his father's household. Apparently, his father was a better boss and the hired help in his house "had food to spare" (Luke 15:17). Meanwhile, he, a son, was starving to death. So, he came to his senses and decided that "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 men" (Luke 15:18-19). And he got up and went. Apparently, the father was watching. How long had he stood at the window and waited and watched? Since the minute the youngest son left. And then, in the distance, this loving father caught a glimpse of his wayward son.
"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" (Luke 15:20).
The younger son recited the speech he had been rehearsing for many days. The father heard it but was in a hurry to move beyond the sin. Forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration was all he wanted. And the same is true of our heavenly father. "As surely as I live," declares the Sovereign LORD, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33:11). This father threw a party for his son who had returned home. It was time to celebrate "for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found" (Luke 15:24).
We are all familiar with this part of the story. And, our Father God continues to call back home the prodigals. He watches and waits and prays that they will return. Many pray that these will come back to church. The Father wants them to find him again. He wants them to have a relationship with him that is like nothing that they have ever known before. He wants us to come home!
Then there is the older son. Some although not near as many sermons are preached about him. But the church is filled with older sons. Do we realize that he is equally, maybe even more lost and in trouble than the younger son? Oh, he never took what the father gave him and squandered it. He never went away and did anything bad. He never did anything! And that is the problem!
When he came in from the field and heard the party going on, he asked what it was about. He is told by a servant that his younger brother has come home and the father is celebrating. He gets angry. And he makes it known that he is angry. At the younger brother? Probably. But even more so, it would appear, at his father. "Look! All these years I've been slaving for you never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends" (Luke 15:29). This is so unfair. I deserve better than this. My brother deserves nothing. And his father said to him,
"My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours" (Luke 15:31).
This son was close but didn't know his father. This son had everything but didn't receive anything from his father. He had lived his whole life right there in his father's presence but it didn't make a bit of difference. He saw himself as a slave even though he was a son. The younger son had asked for something and the father had given it to him even though he had gone and spent it all on his own lusts. This other son had asked for nothing but when he too got what he had asked for — which was nothing — he resented his father for it. James 4:2 says, "You do not have, because you do not ask God."
God's call is not only to the prodigals. He is calling every son and daughter who have dutifully remained within the house. Come and find me. Ask me for what you want and need. Find out what I am like and how I want to give you immeasurably more. Discover the height and depth and width of my love for you. Do not see yourself as a slave or a servant — a worker only — but as an heir, a son, a daughter. God is saying that all he has is ours. "Taste and see that the Lord is good . . . those who seek the Lord lack no good thing" (Psalm 34:8, 10). He wants us to seek him and find him and he promises to be found (Jeremiah 29:13).
There is a third son in our story. The one and only but the firstborn among many. He is calling to those far and near, to those inside and outside the church. He showed us what a relationship with the Father is like. And he says, find your Father. It doesn't matter where you have been or what you have done or not done. There is more for all of us. Come home.
"He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household" (Ephesians 2:17-19).
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