Lost Boys: Prodigal God (2)

. 6 min read
Christ Church, Mountain Top
Psalm 27
John 3.1-17
Luke 15.11-32
week, we began our investigation of the story we know as “The Parable of the
Prodigal Son” by examining the audience to the story and the two stories that
immediately precede it.  This week, we’ll
investigate the first act in the story, the interaction between the younger son
and the father.  I encourage you to go
deeper – reading the book, The Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller, whose
resources contribute to this message series, and being part of one of our small
title this message “Lost Boys” because the story is about two sons, not one,
and both are lost.  I also use this title
to allude to the J. M. Barrie play and novel Peter Pan.  Pan and his lost
boys, who never grow up, who refuse to deal with time, do battle with Captain
Hook, who is obsessed with status and, in his own unique way, running away from
time, banishing all clocks and watches from his presence.  Their behavior is different, they are sworn
enemies, but they share the same life-defining issue: time.  In Jesus’ story here in Luke 15, the father
has two boys.  Their behavior is
different, their lifestyle choices are miles apart, but they share the same
issue: the father’s wealth.  And both are
the prophet Isaiah, we find descriptions of both forms of lostness (Isaiah
57:10-13).  The lostness of the younger
grew weary from your many wanderings, but you did not say, “It is
useless.” You found your desire rekindled, and so you did not weaken.
desires lead us on “many wanderings” … exactly where the “pursuit of
happiness” can take us.  We’ll only find
ourselves at home when we are found by God. 
The lostness of the older son:
will concede your righteousness and your works, but they will not help
you.  13 When you cry out, let
your collection of idols deliver you!
are righteousness and idols connected? 
In a self-sufficient spirituality, a spirituality in which we “earn” our
way, we are our own Savior, we are our own idol.  But an invitation to the kingdom feast is a
gift, not a reward.  And you are born
into God’s family by a work of the Spirit, you don’t gain leverage over God by good
 “There was a man who
had two sons.  12 The younger
of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that
will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.

Wow!  I’m at the point in life at which, from time
to time, my parents will ask what of their stuff I’d like to have.  The first time they mentioned that, it was a
bit of a surprise.  I didn’t want to “go
there”, and still don’t.
      But this younger son has no trouble
hitting fast forward with his dad’s life: “Give me my share of the inheritance
now.  Wish you were dead.  See ya!” 
The normal response by a father in a traditional honor-shame society would
be something along the lines: “You wish I was dead?  By the time I’m done with you, you’ll wish
you were dead.”  Even if no violence was
involved, the father would be expected to disown and disinherit the son.  But not this father.  This father does what the son requests.  He dies, he divides his possessions, and the
son leaves.  What the son does not
realize, the unintended consequence, is that, while the father actually lives
on, albeit through much pain, the son begins to die.  When the son returns at the end of the story,
the father celebrates and exclaims, “This son of mine was dead and is alive
again; he was lost and is found!” (Luke 15:24, and see 15:32).
wrong with this younger son?  His loves
are out of order, disordered, inordinate. 
As Tim Keller says, “He loves the father’s things, but not the father.”  Did he want the wealth for the sake of
status, of freedom, of pleasures?  We’re
not told.  But he loved the wealth enough
to wish his father dead.  “The love of
money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10, and see Hebrews
      Our loves, when out of order, get us into
all kinds of trouble.  We love our honor,
and we bristle and fight to protect it. 
We love our job, and we enslave ourselves to keep it.  We love our family, and we’ll become violent
in its defense or we become incapable of saying “no” to our children.  Jesus made the audacious statement: “Whoever
comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers
and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.  27 Whoever does not carry the
cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).  That is, to follow Jesus, your disordered
loves, even loves for good things – and love of wealth can hardly be considered
love of a “good” thing – even loves for good things must be laid down at the
cross and set in order by God.  We must
lay down every idol, everything that we put in the place of God in our lives.
      On this particular, there is not much
difference between the two sons.  The
older son, just like his younger brother, loves the father’s things more than
the father and is willing to humiliate dear old dad publically at the great
feast.  The older son displays this lack
of love when he declares, “For all these years I have been working like a slave
for you” (Luke 15:29).  On occasion, our
boys, when home, might express some minor displeasure at a chore they are being
asked to do.  We’ll call them
“Cinder-fella” and tell them, “This is why we had kids.”  The truth is that our desire is to raise
sons, not slaves.  But the older brother
valued stuff more than sonship.
wrong with the father?  He doesn’t do the
predictable thing, the socially acceptable thing.  He doesn’t banish his son, disown him, beat
him.  When the son leaves, he leaves on
his own.  The father doesn’t hunker down
and protect himself.  Instead, he
subjects himself to pain, humiliation, and loss.  If he does the predictable thing, his son
will not just be dead but the father will be “dead to him”, a wall will be
erected that may not be possible to open. 
This father kept the door open.  I
love what the wise woman said to King David about reconciliation with his
banished son: “But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so
that a banished person may not remain estranged from him” (2 Samuel 14:14).
the brothers, our loves get out of order. 
Like someone in a committed relationship, who gets too close emotionally
to someone else, our loves are out of order. 
Maybe we protest: “But nothing’s happened.”  But something has happened.  Our loves are out of order.  We’re controlled by what we love, whether it
is the career, or the kids, or our peers. 
We can kill ourselves with work, but the job will never return the
favor.  It is idolatry.  As Isaiah says, “When you cry out, let your
collection of idols deliver you!”  That
ain’t happening any time soon!
      God has done for us what the father in the
story did for the son.  Instead of
disowning us, instead of visiting us with judgment and vengeance, he delivered
us, “he was wounded for our transgressions”, he took the nails in his hands.  And, as Jesus died on the cross, his only
remaining property – his clothing – was divided among them, divided between
us.  Because of this, we can know true
forgiveness, we can come home to God and discover the door already open to us,
discover the one love that can forever capture our hearts.
      John Newton, the writer of the hymn
“Amazing Grace” also wrote these lines:
      Our pleasure (younger brother) and our
duty (older brother),
      Though opposite before,
      Since we have seen His beauty,
      Are joined to part no more:
      It is our highest pleasure,
      No less than duty’s call,
      To love Him beyond measure,
      And serve Him with our all.
            (From Tim Keller’s notes for pastors
and Prodigal God, the book)

Keller, The Prodigal God, and notes
for pastors