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The Prodigal Son

Sermon Series:

Religion vs Relationship

Jon Delger
Jon Delger

Executive Pastor

Peace Church

Main Passage:
Luke 15:11-32


Hey everyone, great to see you this morning. My name is Jon. I get to serve as Executive Pastor here at Peace and it's also my privilege this morning to get to bring God's Word to you. So if you got a Bible, would you grab that and let's open up to Luke chapter15? If you don't have a Bible with you, there are some around the room whatever venue you're in this morning. It's great to get to be with you whether you're in the worship center the chapel the family venue or online. Awesome to be together this morning.

Luke 15. As you're turning, this week we kick off a two-week series looking at religion vs. relationship. We're going to look at two stories of Jesus, two parables of Jesus that he told about our relationship with God. And the first one here comes in a very popular passage, a very historic passage, the prodigal son. Or the prodigal sons, we'll see as we go through the story this morning how we think about that. So prodigal son, Luke 15, we're gonna start in verse 11. I'm gonna read it, then we'll pray, then we'll get to work. All right, here we go, Luke 15, starting in verse 11. Let's read. It's a little bit of a longer passage, but it's a beautiful story, so hang with me. Let's follow along and let's read it.

Luke 15:11-32

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 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. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said 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. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, 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. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'

This is God's word, amen. Hey, let's pray, then we'll dig into it. Father God, we come before you this morning and we are thankful for your word. God, we are also thankful this morning for Friends at Peace and for the chance to worship with them. God, we're also thankful this morning for our veterans and their service and their work to protect us. God, I pray that you would open up our hearts now to your word. I pray that you would focus our minds on it. I pray that you would help us to be challenged and convicted and encouraged. God, I pray that you would be with me, a broken instrument to bring your word to your people. I pray that you would fill me with your spirit to do just that and that you'll be glorified in all of it. Praise the son of Jesus, precious and powerful name. Amen. Amen.

Well, a number of years ago when I was about 15 years old and learning to drive, I remember my dad taking me out in our 1998 black half ton pickup and going out into the middle of Yankee Springs over near gun Lake. And I remember us driving through these windy roads through the woods. And all of a sudden he pulled off to my surprise onto a dirt road and stopped and he got out of the driver's seat and he came around to the passenger seat and he opened the door and he said son find your way home and I and he pulled me out and he hopped in and he got out his Blackberry if you remember those days I think he played solitaire the whole way home and so there I am 15 I have no idea what I'm doing just learned to drive and I don't really know where I'm at and there's no, you know, out in Yankee Springs there, the roads are going curvy around Gunn Lake, they don't go straight and they don't go through towns. And so I wandered for who knows how long trying to get home and I made all kinds of wrong turns and wrong direction and every once in a while Dad would kind of give me a suggestion and I think being stubborn as I was, I'd probably go the other way just because I wanted to spite him a little bit. So despite all my wrong turns and misdirection and being on the wrong path, eventually we got home and my father was immensely thankful when we finally got home.

And I think similarly in this story, we've got two sons who go their own way, take their own paths, make a lot of wrong turns, and the father all along the way is there waiting for them to come home and finally overjoyed when they do come home. And so we're gonna dig into that story this morning. And the main idea I want you to consider in your mind as we go is this.

No matter how much bad you've done, no matter how much "good" you've done, there is always a way home.

The three perspectives we're going to look at on this, the three ways or the three paths are these the way of the world, the way of religion and the way home.

  1. The way of the world

  2. The way of religion

  3. The way home

1. The way of the world

So we're going to look at each of those three things. Let's dive in. First one, the way of the world. If you look at verse 11 and 12 with me. So Jesus says, there was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me. All right. So you got these two young men and you got a dad and the younger son comes to dad and says, I know I got inheritance coming, dad. Now give me my inheritance now. Now I know a lot of us can't identify with that, because I know at least for me, my kids probably don't have an inheritance to look forward to. We're going to use that all up. I know that's kind of how we operate in the modern world, but back then people tended to have a little bit left over and the sons could look forward to some kind of inheritance.

So the son comes to him and he says, dad, I know my inheritance is supposed to come at the end of your life, but I actually want it now. Which in essence is to say to his dad, dad, you're as good to me as dead. In fact, I'd rather you were dead. I want my inheritance now. That phrase, give me my share of the property, that word property could also be translated, give me my share of you, of your essence, of who you are. Dad, what you are to me, your value to me is not in relationship, it's not in being my dad, it's in your stuff. It's in the money. And that's what I want out of you. Give me my share of what's valuable to me of you. It's an extremely offensive thing to say. It's a very non-traditional. It's a very painful thing to say to a father.

But what's amazing is in verse 12, dad agrees. The verse goes on, and he divided his property between them. He divided his property or his life, his essence himself. He divided it and he gave it to his sons. Dad lets him have what he wants. It actually makes me think of another passage, makes me think of Romans 1 in scripture where God is talking about his relationship to us sinful human beings and it says that us sinful human beings, although we knew God, we did not honor him as God or give thanks to him. Sounds a little bit like the younger son. And at the end it says that God gave them over to the lust of their heart to the impurity of their minds. Sounds a little bit like that doesn't it. God sometimes gives us what we want so that we can find out where that gets us God gives to his son. He lets him have what he want. Try it your way. See what happens. I'll let you have my gifts without having me. It's a heartbreaking situation. I can only imagine as a dad being a father in this situation. My sons come to me and say, I want these things and me saying, you know what? I know it's not going to be good. I know it's not going to turn out the way you want, but I'm going to let you go and have your own way.

What happens next? Verse 13, it says that the son packs up and leaves. He gathers all that he had. He journeys to a far country and he spends, he squanders the property, it says, in reckless living, okay? So he gets as far away from dad as he possibly can, different path, different direction, different country. Reckless living, it says, that he has. Verse 30, down at the end, we hear from the older brother that apparently he used it for prostitutes. So the son goes and he lives the way of the world, right? He gets the full experience, all that the world has to offer to those with money. He gets everything that he thought that he wanted. And yet he hits rock bottom and finds out that he didn't get everything that he really wanted. Right at the end of the story, he's he's lying in the mud with the pigs wishing that he could eat what they are eating. And I think this gives us a key point in the story. We think that we know what we want, but it will not satisfy. This is precisely the way of the world, isn't it?

You and I, as human beings, our natural disposition is that we think that we know exactly what we want, but it doesn't actually give us happiness when we get there.

A few weeks ago, we just had Halloween, we just had Halloween, and went out with my kids in the snow and the rain and all that fun stuff, and they go up to people's doors, and people give them candy. It's an interesting exchange to me. Please give me candy, yes, here's some candy we go home and we dump it out on the floor we always pile the candy and eventually one of my kids that one of my one of my sons there four and three they pick up one and they show it to me they say dad open this for me I've grabbed it from their hand and it says warhead and I say son you don't want this no dad I really want this especially now you told me I shouldn't have it and so I open her up and hand it to him, and all of a sudden you get this face, that big puckered up sour face look, right? He thought that's what he wanted, but it's not actually what he wanted.

Or every Christmas, at my in-laws house, I know that if I go there around Christmas time, actually probably starting even now, there's Hallmark movies on the TV all the time. And I've only seen a couple, but I know enough to know that the plot line is exactly the same for pretty much all of them. They're all really the same. Here it is, young lady grows up in small country town, has big ambitions, goes to the big city, gets the big job, makes all kinds of money, but it doesn't satisfy her. She's not actually happy. So around Christmas time she goes back to see family and she meets a farm boy and realizes that's what she really wants. They get married and she is finally happy. And all the country folk of Middleville said, amen, that's right, that's how it works.

This is a story of humanity, isn't it? We think we know what we want, but it doesn't actually make us happy. It's not what's actually good for us. And that brings us to the second point of this part of the story, that God doesn't want to limit your joy. He actually wants to give you the greatest joy. I think a lot of people look at this book right here and they say, this is a book of rules. This is a book of a God who doesn't want us to have any fun. But really,

This is a book of guidance and love and wisdom from a Father who knows what's best for us. That's what's in this book. Not a God who wants to limit your joy, but a God who wants to give you full and complete joy.

One of my favorite movies to watch around the holidays is Jingle All the Way. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the hero. And he spends the whole movie, especially Christmas Eve, out shopping and running around and fighting angry elves and Sinbad and crazy mailmen and all kinds of stuff, trying to get this doll called Turbo Man. And he wants to give it to his son, because his son says that's what he wants, and he thinks that's going to make him happy. And the end of the movie, the son has the line of the movie, Dad finally, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has Turbo Man, hands it to his son, he thinks this is it, makes the day, and then the son actually takes it, and he turns and hands it to another kid. And Dad is just baffled by what's going on. The son says, Dad, why would I want the Turbo Man doll when I got the real Turbo Man at home? Oh, right there. That's a hallmark moment if there ever was one, right? But it teaches Dad the real point, right? The point was not the thing. That's not what he really wanted. What he really wanted was time with his dad.

I think the same lesson is true for us. We think that we know what we want, but what we really need is a relationship with the Father. So that's the question I want you to ponder today. What is it that you think you want? And is it what you really want? Are you going the way of the world right now? Can you identify with the younger son, the prodigal son? Are you going out there trying to get everything that the world has to offer, thinking that's going to bring you happiness? Are you out there chasing that down? And if so, ask yourself the question, is it really making you happy? Is it really the greatest thing that life has to offer, or is there something else? And if you don't identify with that wayward son, we got another son for you. We're going to look at him next.

2. The way of religion

Let's take a look at the second way, the way of religion. If you look, we're gonna jump past the beautiful part of the story, we're gonna come back to it at the end. Jump down to verse 25 and look at the oldest son with me for a moment. Verse 25, it says, Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing, party going on. He called one of the servants and asked what these things meant, and he said to him, Your brother has come, your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound. Verse 28, but he was angry. He was angry.

So we've had the story of the younger son going his own way, partying it up, living it up, spending it all, having a blast. And how does the older son's story open? He was in the field. Younger son partying, wasting, living it all up. Older son doing his job. Working hard day after day, week after week, year after year, doing the good thing, doing the right thing, staying at home, tending to the farm. He's the good son, right? And he comes back and he hears a party going on. And he says, what in the world is going on out there? Your brother is back and he is ticked. He's angry. Why do we call this the way of religion?

What is religion? I think religion is essentially an equation. Live a good life, get a good life. If you do this, then you will get this. If you do good things, you will get good things. If you be good, and play by the rules, God will reward you. It's a way to control your life through performance.

I think that's what we see in the way of religion. And I think that's exactly what we see in the older son. Take a look at the very next verse, verse 29. Verse 29, he answered his father, look, look here, dad, not a great way to talk to your dad. These many years I have served you and I never disobeyed your command, right? So he says, he says, dad, remember, I'm the best son. I'm the, I'm the, I'm the one who's been doing the right thing the whole time. Okay. I never disobeyed your command yet. You never gave me a young goat. He really wants that goat. You never gave me a goat that I might celebrate with my friends. You never gave me what I wanted. Right? The, the older son is saying, I've been working my butt off the whole time for you. Now it's about time that I get what's coming to me. And how come you're giving it to my younger brother? Right, it actually sounds a lot like the younger brother back towards the beginning of verse 11. The younger brother was saying, right, I want my inheritance that's coming to me. Now the older brother is saying, I want what's coming to me. It's not fair that you haven't given it to me. This is the way of religion.

Makes me think actually of an Adventures in Odyssey story where there was these two boys, one who really struggled in school, one who always had an easy time in school, and the boy who always struggled in school, just always did really bad on tests and stuff like that, and he finally gets a good grade on a test, and the teacher gives him ice cream. And the good student over here is just mad, right? He's like, I always get an A on the test, how come I don't get any ice cream? Just lacks that perspective. Just like the older brother, lacks that perspective and doesn't celebrate that this one who has been struggling so hard has finally come and done something well or received something good.

Makes me think also of Jesus's parable of the 11th hour worker. Remember that story Jesus tells of all these workers that go out in the field to work and they were all promised a certain wage and some worked all day, but some only worked one hour. And the guys who started early and worked all day at the end are so mad that the master would give the same wage to them as he gives to the 11th hour workers. Not just being happy that this master would be so generous as to bless them. Can't see it that way.

Religion is this basic equation. Be good and go to church equals God owes me. You ever thought that way? Maybe not explicitly, but have you ever seen that rise up in your heart? You think to yourself, if I'm good and I go to church, then God owes me. What is your equation? How would you fill in the blanks. I'm good. I go to church. God, how could you possibly let me get cancer? I do all the right things as a parent. I send my kids to the right school. I bring them to church on Wednesday nights. We do devotions at night. Now they've grown up and how could they possibly go and do that? I was a good parent. God, you, you owe me, this should have worked out. I went all these years through this really tough marriage, got all the way through the kids getting out of school, and now this happens. God, what are you doing? You owe me. I've been a good person, I've gone to church, I've done the right thing, and now here we are. What's your equation? How is it that you think God owes you? I'll tell you what, religion doesn't work.

God is not a means to an end. God says, I will not be used. You can't use me to get to something else. I must be the end in itself.

Unfortunately, I think we're starting to see that the older brother is actually not so different from the younger brother. Neither one of them is actually interested in a loving relationship with their father. They want something from him. They want to get something. It looks a little bit different. They take a little different path, but both of them want something. The younger son, his heart is selfish and he takes the path of rebellion. He says, dad, I just want your money. I'm going to go get money and sex. That's what I want. I'm going to go the way of the world, and I'm going to live that way. The older son is also selfish, but he takes a little bit different path, the path of morality. He says, I'm going to do the right thing. I'm going to do the good things. I'm going to do what you want. I'm going to obey you, but with hopes that the result will still be that I get money and friends and a goat. This is the path that he chases. Right, both of them operate out of a selfish desire, even though they take a path that looks a little bit different, to get there. The younger son wants worldly goods, like money and sex, but the older wants something more subtle and more dangerous. He wants God to owe him. This is the danger of religion.

3. The way home

And this brings us back to our main idea. No matter how much bad you've done, like the younger son, you've been living the way of the world, no matter how much bad you've done, or no matter how much "good" you've done, no matter how much religion you've lived in, like the older son, trying to twist God's arm to give you what you want, whichever path you've gone down, there is always a way home, a way back to the father. So let's look at that final and last way, the way home. Take a look at the most beautiful part of the story here. Look with me, jump back up to verse 17, the story of the younger son finally coming home. It says, when he came to himself, he said, 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.

Let's take a look closer at what he's saying there. I think two really important things happen in these couple of verses. The younger son has an opening of his eyes. It says that he came to himself, living the way of the world brought him to the bottom. I think this is actually one of the advantages of living the way of the world, that it's actually a faster path to an obvious dead end. And when you live the way of the world, it's a faster path to realizing this is a dead end, this is not going to get me where I want. Unfortunately, people who walk the way of religion, those of us who do that, we can go years before we ever open our eyes and wake up and realize what we're doing.

So the younger son wakes up, he comes to himself, his eyes are opened. And then if you go down a couple of verses, it says, "'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.'" That's repentance. He realizes that what he's done is wrong. And he sinned against his dad and he sinned against God. "'I've sinned against heaven and before you.'" He has a repentant heart, a heart that is apologetic, a heart that is sorry, and a heart that wants to change and mend his Relationship with the fight with his father. It's a huge step Let's jump to verse 20 the most beautiful passage in the story verse 20 and he rose 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.

This is the story of the gospel, isn't it? This is a story of the love of a father. His son has been running the wrong direction, his son has been disobeying him, his son has been living the way of the world, and yet he sees him and instead of sort of standing there, arms crossed, toe tapping, shaking his head, I told you so, look who's come home, the prodigal son returns. None of that. He runs. I mean, they wear robes in these days, right? I mean, like, he hikes up the robe and he runs. He gives a big old hug to the son who's come back. We keep reading, it says he called one of the servants and he says, go and get the best robe, put a ring on his hand, put shoes on his feet, go and kill the fattened calf, let's eat and let's celebrate.

This is the love of the Father, no matter how much bad you've done, no matter how much "good" you've done, the Father is ready to receive you when you turn towards him.

I heard an interview once of a pastor of a really large church, and the lead pastor got to do the final interview for any staff that were hired at this church, and the lead pastor had just one question that he asked when somebody got to that part of the interview process. One question, final interview, pass, fail. He would ask each staff member, when was the last time the gospel made you cry? When was the last time the gospel made you cry? I know we're tough guys around here, right? We don't cry, we don't show emotion, but do you feel it? Do you think it? Are you on the verge of it? I'm not somebody who shows a ton of emotion. But when I hear this story, and the story of the love of the Father, this is my story, this is your story. This is a story of God the Father who reached in to save us.

Now, as you're thinking about this gospel story, and you're thinking about the love of the Father, I think one of the things that you might think at first glance is missing. What's missing? The story of sacrifice. Where's the story of somebody paying for all this? Where's the story of the cross? Where does that come in? Who paid the price for the prodigal son to come home? Now I think from one perspective, the Father pays the price, right? He has to swallow his pride, he loses a bunch of money. But on the other hand, we could really say that the older brother is the one who pays the price. When the younger son comes home and dad rushes out to see him and he says, put a ring on his finger, give him the best robe, kill the fattened calf, let's have a party. On the one hand, it's the father's money, but on the other hand, he's already given his share to the younger son. The younger son's already gotten one third. There's two thirds left. And who do those two thirds belong to? The older son. Dad's really given away more of the older son's inheritance. The older son is the one who's paying a price. And in this story, the older brother is ticked about that. He sees the dollar signs. He knows what's going on. He's angry about this.

But in the gospel story, I think the true older son is Jesus himself. The one and only perfect Son of God. The one who really never did disobey his father's command. The one who's been perfect all the way along and the one in spite of his perfection, in spite of the fact that he deserved all the good, and that he had no need to sacrifice at all, he decides to get off the throne, to descend to the earth, to be born in a manger, to live a hard life, to be beaten, to be tortured, to die on a cross for the wayward sons and daughters, for you and for me. The true and greatest eldest son, Jesus Christ, didn't just give up his wealth so the other wayward children could be brought in, he gave up his very life so that the wayward children could be brought in. That's the gospel story. That's the gospel story.

If you're in the room this morning and this is news to you, if this is something you've never heard, then I would love to have a conversation with you. This is the very core of the Christian faith. This is the very core of who we are as a church. I would love to chat with you afterwards if you want to come up here and chat with me or chat with somebody in the prayer room. We would love to talk to you more about this good news of the gospel. The story is simple.

You and I are sinful people. We're imperfect. We've broken God's law. We deserve eternal wrath. And yet instead of simply leaving us to our own course, God the Father sent His son to live and to die and to rise. So if we put our faith in Him, our sins can be wiped away and He welcomes us with an open embrace. To sit at His table, to live in His home, and to feast with Him.

And it's that feast that we're about to celebrate in communion. So let me pray for us.

Father in heaven, we thank you for your love. We are awestruck and amazed by this picture and this story of our story, that God, even though we have gone astray, we have gone against you, we have sinned, you reached in, you came after us, and you saved us. God I pray that you would fill our minds and our hearts with longing and anticipation for that day when we will finally sit at the table with you once and forever. And God I pray that you would just fill our minds with a picture of Jesus and his sacrifice as we celebrate communion. as we celebrate communion. In Jesus' name we pray.

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