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.’”
Every single one of us starts out as lost. We all begin out of place. Away from our shepherd, our owner, our father. We all find ourselves far 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 very thing Jesus was talking about when he said that we “forfeit our soul to gain the world.”
Our distance from God is made clearest in Jesus’ story in Luke 15 of the two sons. Jesus shows us two brothers. 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 most people, a combination of both).
The younger brother rebels against his father, demanding his inheritance right now. He wanted dad’s stuff but without dad. In fact, he is wishing his dad were dead so he could just relax without all his father’s poking and prodding into his life. And haven’t we all thought this? Haven’t we all tried to enjoy God’s stuff without knowing, or thanking, or loving God?
The story’s older brother appears to be living right, but is just as lost, or maybe even more so, than his younger brother. 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.
You might know this story as “The Prodigal Son.” But author and pastor Tim Keller calls it the story of the “Prodigal God.” Why? Because the word “prodigal means lavish or extravagant. And it is God’s grace that is the most lavish and extravagant here. God is the prodigal one who loves without limit.
The Father’s response to the younger son is possibly the most vivid picture of “prodigal” grace in all the Bible. Often we think the turning point of the story is when the son “comes to his senses” in the pigsty. But did he actually repent in that mud? The younger brother’s decision to return to his father is simply 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 of our story comes when the gracious father refuses to make his son a slave and, in kindness, 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 better Older Brother’s searching love. 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?
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