“No one gave him anything”

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(image courtesy of hbomax.com)

I recently had the opportunity to preach a sermon based on the well known parable that Jesus taught of the prodigal son. (You can read it in Luke 15:11-31)

I have heard and now have spoken about this many times. Often the focus is on the younger (prodigal) son, who demands his part of his father’s inheritance to then only squander it.

The older son gets some attention at times as well. He sees himself as the unappreciated, hard working and loyal offspring who does all that he is supposed to do, but doesn’t seem to derive any enjoyment in doing so.

The father in the parable represents God. Again, much has been spoken about the loving forgiveness he displays as he welcomes his once ‘dead’ son back into the family. There is a wealth of wonderful teachings about God’s unconditional love for all contained within this story.

Any or all of the above would have served me well for my recent presentation. But as I thought, prayed, and did my study, I landed on an area I had not heard brought forth from this old account.

Those of you familiar with the prodigal son know that during a time of great desperation after his funds were completley depleted, he takes on the job of a swineherder, possibly the most repugnant thing a Jewish male could do during that time. And even though he has debased himself in this way, he is still starving.

It is at this point in the story that Jesus said, “He longed to fill his stomach with the pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” As I thought about the people who would have been passing this young man by, I began to see another place we can learn from Jesus as we ponder this famous account.

This young man was in obvious distress. I think the picture at the top shows this quite well. How, I want to think jugmentally, could people be so cold and uncaring? I understand from reading the text that there was a severe famine in the land. This tells me there wasn’t an abundance available to share. But no one gave him anything?

Upon further reflection, as I stepped down from my high horse, I began to see with more clarity the possible motivations of those who passed the prodigal by; and in so doing discovered some not so pleasant truths abut myself and how I think/react when confronted with the needs of others.

First, self-preservation. I have barely enough for me and mine, I couldn’t possibly share anything. This is shamefully selfish thinking in my context today. I never have to wonder where and when my next meal is coming from. I need to live into this blessing of God to be ever more willing to share from what God has first given me. God has proved faithful in every circumstance, I can certainly trust that to continue should I give some money or other items to someone in need.

But more disturbing than that first thought is the judgment that wants to rear its ugly head in my head. Thoughts like, “He probably deserves what he is experiencing” is one that pops up. Or, “if he would only apply himself, he could make improvements in his life situation.”

Maybe as you consider this, some other thoughts come to your mind. If they do, please know that neither I or anyone condemn you for them. God’s grace and forgiveness is big enough for all!

What I am asking, of myself and you too, Dear Reader, is to take that extra moment when you are confronted with an obvious need of someone and in so doing, consider just what you might do in that moment to help alleviate someone’s trouble. There are countless ways we can do so in each of our own context. And hopefully as we act to help in an individual case, we might all be working toward ways to eliminate the social ills that can leave people in such vulnerable positions in the first place.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

What’s in a Name?

(The following is an excerpt from a message I preached several years ago at Lakeside Christian Ministries.  The four-part series focused on the names the Prophet Isaiah gave to the coming Messiah.  This is the third installment which examines Jesus as Everlasting Father).

What’s in a name? Quite a bit actually, especially when we consider the names the Prophet Isaiah gave to the coming Savior some 600 years before He was born! They are recorded in Isaiah 9:6: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (NIV)

Before we dive in, allow me to share a question I have been wrestling with to get us started: What, if anything, is different this Christmas season from last year’s? Or any other Christmas season, for that matter?

Where is the focus? If it is to get the many things done and to go to the many places we go simply because it is Christmas time again, may I kindly suggest that the focus is misdirected.

Because December 25th is approaching ought not put us into a frenzy to get the house decorated or the perfect gift purchased.  Yet, like most, if I look back at this time last year, that pretty well describes the lives of many of us.  We celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus by running ourselves ragged with what we think has to be done to make this season successful, happy, memorable, etc.

If you find you are caught up in any or all of the busyness going on around you, please take some time to consider Jesus Christ.  Yes, this is the time of year we celebrate His birth, and rightly so! This is the Savior of the world, who came to the world because He so loved us.  Take this time to re-set your focus.  Place it solely on Jesus and watch if all the other ‘important’ stuff going on doesn’t fall into its rightful place.

As I said, we’ve been discussing some of the wonder of the birth of our Lord through the lens of the prophesy of His birth given us by the prophet Isaiah.  I find it truly amazing that God’s word spoke to people in their context over 2000 years ago, and it is still speaking clearly to those who would listen today!

Remember, the ancient Israelites Isaiah wrote to were living in a dark period.  They had weak leadership nationally and spiritually.  They were in this condition because they had turned their backs on God. Despite this, God in His mercy and love gave them the encouragement of the awesome promise of a Savior.  He still holds this promise out to all today.  His light can/will still shine brightly into any area of darkness.

So far in this series we’ve considered how Jesus fulfilled the names Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God by which Isaiah said He would be called.  All the wisdom and power of heaven was/is on display through the child born, this son given.  His counsel is true, his power unlimited; we should seek Him out continuously as we walk this earth.  He will guide us if we ask Him, his power will supply us if we allow it to.

To help us discover the light God wants to shine on all of our lives, let’s look at the third title Isaiah gave to the coming Messiah, Everlasting Father.  Let me help with any confusion this title might cause at first: How can Jesus, the Son, be an everlasting Father?  It’s an excellent question that comes with a straight-forward answer that the original language will help us to find.

In Hebrew, the phrase translated Everlasting Father is literally “the Father of Eternity.” This speaks of the purpose of his coming.  Ray Pritchard of Keep Believing Ministries explains it this way: He (Jesus) is before, above, and beyond time. He is the possessor of eternity. He is eternally like a father to his people. This is not a statement about the Trinity but about the character of our Lord. All that a good father is, Jesus is to his people.

Jesus is this type of father, forever.  My earthly dad, Ken, was a wonderful man who taught me life lessons by his words and deeds.  He played a large part in making me who I am today.  But, like all mortal fathers will, he has passed away.  He was a great dad, but not an everlasting one.  Only God possesses eternity.

Ray Pritchard again: Because he is like a father, he cares for his people. Because he owns eternity, he can give us eternal life. That’s important for those who live on this sin-cursed planet. No one lives forever. Sooner or later we will all find our own place in the graveyard. We are not immortal but transitory. We’re here today, gone tomorrow. A dead Christ will do us no good. Dying men need an undying Christ.  Praise God, our Lord Jesus is eternal!

This had to seem like a bit of a stretch to those who first heard Isaiah utter this prediction.  After all, he was proclaiming prophesy of a child not yet born in Isaiah 9:6.   However, the text clearly says that this newborn Messiah is in fact to be an Everlasting Father! Go ahead, get your mind wrapped around that!

Helping us to do this will be the mind-set we bring to it.  We talked last time about child-like wonder at the things of God; how God often challenges us to get past our logical thought process in order that we might see more clearly how He is at work around us.  Remember, this is God Almighty coming to the world as an infant.  God chose Bethlehem, not even big enough to make most maps back then, to be His birthplace.  Given these facts, in all their heavenly contrast, let’s see how Jesus was/is indeed an Everlasting Father.

To do this, we do have to consider the term Father in the context that the Prophet Isaiah used it.  In our day we have watered down the concept of father in many ways.  Be it the bumbling portrayal of a Homer Simpson, to the real-life dad who works 2 full-time jobs, supplying materially but not emotionally to his family, to the no-account who fathers children and then disappears from their lives; part of each of these, plus many others, tend to make up today what we consider the title ‘Father’ to mean.

Being a father in Isaiah’s day carried with it much more than the above.  To be a proper father then meant that you oversaw the entire process of family life.  As one commentator put it, the father was the head who provided nutrition, education and protection for his household, including all those who might work for him.  It was a title of respect that was earned through bringing compassionate care as well as proper discipline and correction.  The Father was involved in all aspects of life in order that those under his care could live and grow in a loving and nurturing environment.

It will also help our understanding if we realize there was a tremendous stigma attached to those who didn’t have a father back then.  Being fatherless as a child in Isaiah’s time was to be virtually an outcast in society.  You had no advocate or anyone to look out for your best interest. This information ought to help us see all the more clearly that Jesus fulfilled/fulfills the title of Everlasting Father.  God left clear instructions in the Old Testament that teaches about providing care and provision for those who were in need (For more on this, read Deuteronomy 24:17-21).

Throughout His earthly ministry the Lord Jesus displayed this type of loving, paternal heart as He met the needs of so many.  Here are just a few examples found in John’s gospel:

  • He turned water into wine at his mother’s request when they had run out at a wedding reception.
  • Jesus took the time to explain to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, the necessity of being born again through salvation. He took the time to show a Samaritan woman at the well that he was Messiah.  Jesus invested His time in others.
  • He spoke a word and healed the royal official’s son; healed a lame man at the pool called Bethesda, gave sight to a man born blind and to a beggar on the road, miraculously fed thousands of people from a few fish and a loaf of bread and, let’s not forget that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. All evidence of a Father’s heart beating in His chest.  In this case, the Everlasting Father who showed great love and compassion for people.

But Jesus went well beyond merely meeting needs.  His love for all people, especially those who were lost in their sins, was abundantly clear. There is a poignant example of this recorded in Luke 13.  As the Lord approaches Jerusalem, he receives a warning to not go there as King Herod is planning to have him killed.  Rather than avoid the problem by not going or giving in to anger about this threat, Jesus instead reveals His loving parental heart:

“O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)

On another occasion, as the Pharisees looked down at Jesus for dining with ‘tax collectors and sinners,’ the Lord told the parable of the Prodigal son.  Of the many lessons that can be gleaned from that teaching, primary among them is the loving and patient heart of the Father who longed for the lost child to return:

“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)

There are many more examples of the parental heart Jesus had for people.  As it is my hope that our previous examinations of the Scriptures revealed Jesus to be the Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God Isaiah spoke of, so too my prayer is that this brief study sheds light on how Jesus clearly fulfilled the pronouncement that He would be the Everlasting Father as well.

As mind boggling as it can appear to be, our Lord Jesus, along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, is God.  These three distinct persons, the Trinity, exist simultaneously together as God.  Jesus was well aware of the confusion this was bringing to his original audience, as well to people still today.

Because of this fact, Jesus made many other statements that were meant to bring clarity that He was indeed the prophesied Everlasting Father in Isaiah 9:6.  One can be seen as He spoke with Thomas:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)

To bring this all into focus in our context this Christmas season, please remember that the Messiah promised in Isaiah Chapter 9 is indeed Emmanuel, God with us.  Today we have concentrated on the eternal Father that Jesus is.  That He is everlasting is more than a statement of time; or of His always having been there or that He will always be there.  Though wonderfully true, the point of application is that He is always with us now!  We can know that this promised Messiah, Emmanuel, is indeed with us each and every moment.

My hope and prayer for all of us in this particular season is that we can experience a deeper sense of God being with us.  This is God; who made us and loves us.  He’s not merely sitting somewhere above, watching and ready to pounce on our mistakes.  Rather, He is always and everywhere around us, as our Everlasting Father, offering us His peace.  The Messiah, Jesus Christ, stepped into this darkened world to bring forgiveness and salvation to all who would accept Him.

The miracle only began at His virgin birth because the miracle continues in the heart of each person who puts their faith in the Lord.  Once you have done this, the everlasting care of God is available to you.  He will guide and comfort you, He will direct your steps.  You need only allow Him to and He will do so as your Everlasting Father. Amen.


A Forgiving Father and another Prodigal Son

Regardless of a person’s familiarity with the Bible, most people seem to know the story of the Prodigal Son. But in case you don’t, it can be found in the 15th Chapter of the Gospel according to Luke. It is the third of three consecutive parables told by Jesus about how God saves us. The first two use the example of lost sheep and a lost coin. Jesus often taught by telling stories that used illustrations that His hearers would be well acquainted with. The beginning of this chapter tells us that Jesus was in the middle of a gathering of every day sinners (of which I would have fit in comfortably) as He uses these common place illustrations to so wonderfully explain what the forgiveness of God means to us.
The parable of the prodigal son contains three main characters, a Father and his two sons. The father represents of God, the older son is the judgmental religious leaders of that day and the younger son is a picture of everyone who is selfish, disobedient, foolish, wayward, etc.
If you don’t know the story, please allow me to quickly paraphrase it. A Father had two sons, the older of which was duty bound, carrying out the requirements of life that the order of birth, in that culture, placed in him. The younger one had a wild and impulsive side. He demanded that his Father give him his portion of his inheritance, while his dad was still living! An incredulous demand in that time; it reveals a selfish attitude that cared nothing for the feelings of anyone but himself.
Maybe even more incredible is the fact that the father grants the young man his request and gives him what he was due (In those days the father’s wealth would have been split with 67% for the first born and 33% for the other). Jesus then states that the younger brother gathered all his possessions and headed for a far-off country. He was leaving his family with no intent to return. The story then tells us he quickly squandered all his money (prodigal is defined as a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way).
More problems soon follow as an awful famine strikes that land and the younger son is left destitute. With no money and even less hope, this selfish guy farms himself out to a lower than low job, tending to pigs. There’s a whole cultural message contained just within that idea that I won’t cover now; suffice to say no little boys grew up back then hoping to slop pigs for a living!
It is at the nadir of his life that the prodigal son comes to his senses (Jesus’ words, not mine: Luke 15:17). He realizes that it is his choices and actions that have brought him to this point. Feeling genuine remorse for what he has done, he humbly heads back home to acknowledge his guilt and to bear the consequences of his actions. The younger son recognized and understood he had given up his rightful standing in the family and was willing to throw himself on the mercy of his Father for his very survival.
Here the parable Jesus tells gets to its focal point, the forgiveness of God our heavenly Father. The narrative tells us that while the wayward son was still far off in his return journey, the Father saw him coming. What a wonderful picture; this Dad, undoubtedly deeply hurt by his boy’s actions, is still hoping for his return. Why else would he be looking in the direction his son had left?
Not only do we see the eternal hope of God’s love illustrated here, we get to see it in action! For Jesus then says that after seeing his son was coming home, the Father runs to meet him. As they embrace, the Father lavishes his love, forgiveness and acceptance of his once lost child. Rather than reacting in understandable anger, love led to “mercy”—God’s compassion for the helpless, issuing in action for their relief. There is an inexhaustible treasury of such mercy in the loving heart of God. (The Expositor’s Commentary).
Please don’t miss the richness of this truth, God’s love is beyond what we can imagine and is available to all who seek it, no matter what type of ‘pig-pen’ your choices have turned your life into. But, we must understand that although God’s love is unending, for us to truly experience it we do have a part to play. Like the younger son, we must examine our hearts and admit our failures before our heavenly Father. I realize the thought of coming clean is unsettling. The question becomes; will we allow our stubbornness and fear of change to keep us immobilized? Hopefully the answer is no, for we must see past the current state of our affairs and into the wonderful fellowship God is waiting to bestow on those who seek Him earnestly.
There is no depth you or I can sink to that is beyond God’s ability and desire to reach. Not only has my personal experience with alcoholism taught me this, but also the many other lives I have seen reborn by the power of the Almighty. What this change looks like will vary with each individual, but be assured, the changes God implements will certainly be for our good and His glory.
Consider as an example the major change that comes over the prodigal son as Jesus tells this story. When we first met this young man, he was telling his Father to give him his inheritance, now. What disrespect; as if he were telling his dad that he was already dead! His only concern was for his wants to be fulfilled, regardless of how much his actions might hurt others.
Once he undergoes the powerful transformation of his heart, the young man returns to his Father with another request: This time it is, “make me like one of your hired men.” (Luke 15:19) Realizing he is no longer worthy to be called a son, he asked only that he be able to earn a living to provide for his basic needs.
It is at this point that Jesus reveals the necessity that we see our sins for what that truly are, affronts to God, and then ask Him to forgive us. The lavish response of the Father in the parable tells us what divine forgiveness looks like. It is complete.
There are many passages in Scripture that speak of the total forgiveness that God grants, here are just two: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) and, as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).
The key word in these two examples is if. God’s forgiveness is indeed complete, but we must humbly seek it. We must also know that it doesn’t come cheap, that Jesus Himself paid the ultimate price by His death on the cross to make it available to us. Once we do seek to be forgiven, we are restored into the family of God just as the younger son was restored to his family. And don’t miss this: God keeps no records of our wrongs. He forgives us and when He does, it is as if we hadn’t sinned. He will not hold onto the memory of our transgressions to hold over us at some future time.
What an encouragement for all! What’s more, though this story was told some 2000 years ago, God is still seeking prodigal sons and daughters that want to come back to him. If that’s you, don’t wallow in your mess any longer. Come to your senses and ask God to forgive you, because He will. His love is far greater than any darkness inside of you. Remember, His loving eyes are searching, not to bring shame or punishment but to simply love you and help you set your heart right. He is ready to welcome you back with open arms, are you ready to let Him?