Luke 15:31-32. 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.’”
At the church where I serve as a pastor we consistently try to teach people how to interpret a passage of scripture using three simple questions. 1) What do we learn about us? 2) What do we learn about God? And 3) what do we learn about grace (or what do we learn about our union with Christ)? Your answers to the first two questions about us and God should create a “gap” between your sinfulness and God’s love and holiness. Our answer to question 3 then fills this gap with God’s grace and salvation in Christ.
Let’s try it with Luke 15. If you have never read this amazing chapter, please pause and do it now. It is required reading for every Christian.
What do we learn about us?
The thing that should jump out at us from the start is that there are only two conditions in Luke 15. Two kinds of people. Lost and found.
Every single one of us starts out as lost. We all begin out of place. Away from our “shepherd,” our “owner,” our “father.” Away from God because we have refused his love and care. As the prophet Isaiah says, “all we like sheep have gone astray.” What looks like freedom and independence, self-discovery and self-determinism is actually the exact thing we saw in yesterday’s reading – forfeiting your soul by trying to gain the world.
This picture is clearest in the story of the two sons. Here we see two brothers, both of whom are alienated from their father. They’re both lost. But in two very different ways. We could say that they picture the two ways that every person is lost – either by rebellion or by religion (or, if you’re like me, a combination of both).
The younger brother rebels against his father, demanding his inheritance right now. I want dad’s stuff but certainly not dad. In fact, I wish dad was dead so I could just relax without all his poking and prodding into my life. Haven’t we all thought this? Haven’t we all wanted to enjoy God’s stuff without knowing, or thanking, or loving God?
The older brother is just as lost, or maybe even more so. Why? Because whereas the younger brother knows he’s running away, the older brother is deceived into thinking he’s actually living a good life. His religious slaving justifies his hatred of his brother and his displeasure with dad. In the pigsty the younger brother knew he was lost, but in the backyard the older brother thought he was found. But he was still just as far away from the father’s heart.
Can you see yourself in Luke 15? Are you a lost coin, completely incapable of self-salvation? Are you a lost sheep, confused and wandering aimlessly through life? Are you the younger brother, rebelling against God in a “far country,” squandering his grace? Are you the older brother, keeping God in your debt by being very good and working so hard?
The truth is we are all all of these things.
What do we learn about God?
Who is God in Luke 15? He’s the seeker. He’s the shepherd going after the lost lamb. He’s the woman desperately sweeping for her lost coin. He’s the Father going out to his lost sons, welcoming them home, and inviting them into the party. He’s the father who bears the guilt and shame of his kids, dishonoring himself by receiving rebellious younger sons and entitled older sons into his arms.
What do we learn about grace?
God’s grace pursues us. God’s grace never gives up on us. God’s grace is all compassion. God’s grace gives us everything when we deserve absolutely nothing.
The Father’s response to the younger son is possibly the most vivid picture of grace in all the Bible. Often we think the turning point of the “Prodigal Son” story is when the son “comes to his senses” in the pigsty. But did he actually repent in the mud? You notice in the story that his decision is one of pragmatics. He decides to go home and be a slave so that he won’t starve. Even his confession is rehearsed (in fact, it is word for word the same confession as Pharaoh’s in Exodus, and we all know how sincere that was). He’s not choosing his father’s grace. He’s not asking for son-ship. He’s asking for slavery. He’s asking to earn his way back.
The real turning point comes when the father refuses to make his son a slave and graciously restores him to full son-ship, giving him his own robe, his own ring, his own sandals, his own identity. A son beautifully reconciled and fully restored by the undeserved love of the Father.
“To live is Christ” means we who were once lost are now found. Found in the arms of our running, hugging, kissing, rejoicing dad. Brought home by our searching shepherd, our sweeping woman, our welcoming father. Now, back home in God’s love, we are freed from younger brother rebellion and from older brother religion.
In Christ we are found! We are home! We are sons!
Are you like the younger brother? The older brother?
You in Christ
In Christ you are found! How can you celebrate this today with the angels in heaven?
Christ in you
Where do you need to allow Christ’s freeing love to remove your rebellion or your religious slavery today?
Playlist: Songs for Prodigals.