Biblical Foundations 17: God’s Character 5: Grace 2 (Luke 15)
Many people wrestle with not only the existence of God but also with the character of God…if He is real, is He real good? Is He trustworthy? Should I hide my sin & shame & guilt from Him like Adam & Eve, or run to Him with my sin & shame & guilt like the prodigal son? Satan attacks the character of God, the culture distorts the character of God, our sin paints over the character of God with our own false opinions, and so we must foundationally go to the Bible to learn Who God really is and what He is really like…
Back in January we started this by looking at the famous parable of the prodigal—or lost—son…please click HERE read to that message because in it we looked at the first ¾ of the parable—the younger son.
In this post I want us to get to know God’s character by looking at the last ¼ of the parable—the older son, who though he didn’t wander off into a pig pen of a particular sin he still was frying the bacon of bitterness (another sin!) in his own unique way:
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field.
[Older son was in the field working for his Dad, doing the things his Dad wanted him to do…at least on the surface. The older son was in the field, so to speak, but not “in the house.” We will talk more about this later on, but just note that he was not “in the house” with the father, he was not doing what David longed for in Psalm 27:4-5, where David describes what it means to be “in the house of the LORD”):
One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
5 For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling [in His character!];
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent [in His house!]
and set me high upon a rock.
Dwelling in the house of the LORD is specifically gazing on His beauty—it is knowing God deeply and intimately, not just working for Him coldly and clinically. That is how God gives us shelter in His tent—knowing Him deeply/personally. More on this later.]
Back to Luke 15:
When he [the older son] came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in.
[The bitterness and anger of the older brother put him in the same situation as his younger brother from before (though the older brother took a different route to get there). The younger son left the house, willfully was OUTSIDE THE HOUSE—intimacy and relationship with his father—to pursue sinful and worldly pleasure. The older son won’t go in the house, willfully stays OUTSIDE OF THE HOUSE—intimacy and relationship with his father—to cling to the idea that he isn’t like his younger brother, to protest his father’s grace to his younger brother!
Ah the subtlety of sin (as subtle as the b in subtle!): one extreme is living promiscuously with prostitutes, and the other equally sinful extreme is thinking we are somehow less sinful because we don’t live promiscuously with prostitutes! The younger son got dirty in the pig-pen, but the older brother—a pig as well!—thought his tuxedo-t-shirt made him a less dirty pig, made him a more sophisticated sinner, made him a more polished prisoner!
My friends, only the righteousness of Jesus, received as a gift & worn by faith to cover our dirtiness, gets us clean, transforms us from pigs to princes & princesses, only the grace of Jesus cried out for in repentance of our pig-ness can get us in the house to celebrate at the party! Whether going out or staying out, both brothers at one point were OUT! Their individual sins were two different rivers but they both flowed into the same ocean—the ocean of OUT.
But the father has a plan in the parable (just as God the Father has a plan in reality): the ark of the wood of Jesus’ cross to carry us from the ocean of OUT to the harbor, and house, of IN…
Back to Luke 15:
So his father went out and pleaded with him.
[YES! THIS is God’s character…to plead with and reason with and implore and pursue us in our anger, selfishness, bitterness, sin, fear, pain, etc. The father WENT OUT TO the older son just as he RAN OUT TO the younger son! God is the Pursuing God Who goes out to find the sheep who wander off! Yes! (for more on how God pursues us, please click HERE).
This reminds me of Isaiah 1, a chapter that is full of the holy judgment of God, where the LORD accurately and firmly points out the sinfulness and nastiness of His people. It is an intense chapter—as is much of Isaiah!—but it is SO GOOD as well…we need to hear it! We need the LORD to show us our great need for Him and our inability to meet our own need! He must point out our sickness so we cry out to Jesus for His heart-transplant and not just for cosmetic (behavior) surgery!
But in verses 18-20 of Isaiah chapter 1 God is tender in His judgment against His people—look at what He says:
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord.
[or let us reason together, come here and sit down with Me—you have seen My strength and firmness, now come here and see My gentleness and tenderness…come here, selfish sheep, come here you who are inwardly dead and outwardly decaying, come here and sit with Me, be with Me and let Me explain your terrible situation and My terrific plan…come now, let Me embrace you, don’t fight, don’t struggle, let Me explain to you, just listen, think it through…you’ve been running from Me, hiding, and I’ve been pursuing you, running after you…slow down, calm down, I will plead with you, I’ve come to you before I’ve asked you to come to Me…you’ve been stewing in this anger & faithlessness & bitterness for years and now the lava is flowing…let Me cool your lava and turn it into beautiful islands in paradise where I can grow palm trees and sugar cane out of the black rock…come now, let us settle the matter, once and for all…don’t just work in My fields, come into My house…there is a celebration going on and you are invited! Your younger brother had different issues on the outside but the same root issue on the inside: sin. I’ve dealt with and paid for his; let Me do the same for you!]
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
[What a promise, what an undeserved offer of salvation from the LORD!! There are consequences for rejecting the LORD’s plan, but oh the benefits for receiving it! The grass stains and spaghetti sauce stains and grape juice stains and grease stains and mud stains and oil stains of sin throughout our souls can be made clean! Even the best bleach on earth can’t make deep red bed sheets white; bleach can turn it pink at best but the stain is still obvious! But the LORD can make our red souls white, clean, holy—good as new because He can make us new through faith in Jesus!
And it is in this spirit the father goes out to his oldest son and PLEADS with him in Luke 15…don’t stay outside the celebration, don’t just stay in the fields, come into the house to know Me and be with Me…that was your younger brother’s solution—just be My servant—and I won’t let you any more than I would let him…NO to mere servanthood!…I want you to be My son and join in the party, a party of holiness and goodness and righteousness!!! Your brother sinfully partied WITH sinful prostitutes, but I am throwing a party FOR forgiven prostitutes!!!!]
And so here we see the lava flowing from the older brother, where his sinful heart is revealed through his words (just as Jesus said in Luke 6:45), where his particleboard soul is seen from underneath the plastic veneer of his faux cherry wood goodness:
Back to Luke 15:
29 But he answered his father, ‘Look!
All these years
I’ve been slaving for you
and never disobeyed your orders.
Yet you never gave
me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.
30 But when this son of yours
who has squandered your property with prostitutes
you kill the fattened calf for him!’
[For the older brother, it’s all about what he has done for his dad and not what his dad has done for him;
For the older brother, he has kept this bitterness inside for years, saying nothing to his dad, looking polite and well-behaved but seething inside in rage; he never went to his father to confess and explain and to ask for help and guidance and perspective;
For the older brother, his work for his dad was like slavery, it wasn’t joyful. It was obedience, but only on the outside, it wasn’t the beautiful obedience that comes from faith that Paul talks about in Romans 1:5. Instead, the older wanted to fruitlessly try to get the faith that comes from obedience;
For the older brother, his view of his dad’s character was wrong. He thought of his dad as stingy—“you never gave”—just like the devil and Adam & Eve in the garden of Eden! Does this dad seem like someone who “never gives”? But the son had believed a lie about his dad and it led to bitterness and rage and anger…and missing out, at least at the beginning, of a FANTASTIC FEAST! This is what will happen to us if we continue in false beliefs about the character of God…we miss out on so much! We must know the LORD through the Bible, not through the culture;
For the older brother, there is no forgiveness for his brother, no desire to see his brother found, restored, made alive again, no association with his brother—“this son of yours.”
For the older brother, he is appalled that his dad would KILL for the younger son. He is offended by the extent of his dad’s love, just as many are offended at the thought of needing to believe by faith that God the Father killed God the Son for the forgiveness of our sins;
For the older brother, his interaction with his dad is just that: an interaction, not a relationship. For the older brother, it’s all about STUFF—you never gave me a GOAT, this other son squandered your PROPERTY, you’ve killed the fattened CALF for him, I’ve done all this WORK for you, etc. All he wants is stuff from his dad…but look at how papa responds to this tirade and tantrum:
Back to Luke 15:
31 “‘My son,’ the father said,
‘you are always with me,
and everything I have is yours.
32 But we had to celebrate and be glad,
because this brother of yours
was dead and is alive again;
he was lost and is found.’”
“My son”—RELATIONSHIP! THAT’s how the father sees this older brother: not as property, not as a workhorse, not as a tool, but as a child, a dearly loved son! In your service for God—which is important!—have you lost sight of being with God? Do you know Him for whom you do so much? Are you like the parents who work so hard to give their kids the latest stuff that they don’t have time to actually know their own children? Is your relationship with God about what you do for Him or about what He has done for you? What you give Him or what He has given you through Jesus?
“You are always with me”—MORE RELATIONSHIP! I think of you all the time when you are out slaving in the fields, I wish you would spend more time being with me and less time doing for me, you are focused on you and your friends but I am focused on you! No matter where I go you are always with me because I carry you in My heart, as a mother carries her nursing child…
“Everything I have is yours”—you never asked me for a goat, or you asked but I knew that you only wanted stuff from Me so I said no to teach you how to desire mE not just my blessings! As a parent won’t put a t.v. and video games in the bedroom of a child because they know that doing so will push the relationship further apart, so God says no to us if giving us something will push us away from Him…
- Christians, are you like me when I get bitter for what God HASN’T given me, when I get envious about the ways that God blesses His other children? Are you like me who forgets that envy and jealousy is really accusing God of not taking good care of me, that envy and jealousy is really an attack against the character of God?
- Ephesians 1:3: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
- Can God give us any more than He already has through giving His Son to die for us? Do we remember that each day when we see FB photos of people’s stuff that we bitterly desire?
- Romans 8:31-32: If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? [not “all things” as in private jets–may we stop that nonsense!–but “all things” as in personal joy of deep intimacy with the LORD!]
“But we had to celebrate…YOUR BROTHER was dead and is alive, was lost and is found.”
The beautiful “was…is” or “was…am” of those who receive Jesus as Savior…I was evil and now am I am holy; I was filthy and now I am clean; I was dead and now I am alive; I was a fugitive and now I am forgiven; I was an orphan and now I am adopted; I was under the wrath of God and now I am under the wings of God. THAT is what happens to become a Christian—not just behavior correction but soul-resurrection.
Oh loved ones, do we even WANT certain non-Christians to become Christians? Do we care? Will we refuse to go into heaven when we see that certain people are there? Would we have wanted Osama Bin Laden to receive Jesus and be forgiven? Did we ever pray for that to happen to him? Do we weep when non-Christians die without, as far as we know, surrendering to Jesus? Does this grieve us? Like the father, do we go out and plead with others about the state of their soul and the gift of Jesus, even though they will probably get angry at us for doing so, even though they will be offended at the very suggestion that there is a celebration that they are currently not participating in, that they are currently outside of?
It is questions like these that we need to ask God in prayer…as we come into the house from the fields on a regular basis…
Let me close with a poem…a poem that reminds me that God wants me to want Him, not just His stuff; a poem that reminds me that I can be both the younger brother and the older brother…
Poem by John Newton 1779
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face
It was He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair
I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest
Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part
Yes more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low
Lord why is this, I trembling cried
Will You pursue Your worm to death?
“It’s in this way” The Lord replied
“I answer prayer for grace and faith”
“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set you free
And break your schemes of earthly joy
That you may seek your all in Me,
That you may seek your all in Me.”
Oh loved ones, I share this beautiful poem because of its connection in the last stanza with the father’s desire in the parable and with God the Father’s desire in reality: the desire for relationship with us, for us knowing Him deeply, for us repenting of our sins and receiving Jesus as our Savior & King and us then coming in the house and not just staying in the fields, for transforming us to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek Him in His temple, for taking away the earthly happiness that we crave and worship and replacing it with just Him, the heavenly joy of simply knowing the LORD, of teaching us to be satisfied with Him, not with what He gives us but with WHO He gives us—Himself…fully and forever and free—giving us Himself…
What is God like? If He has to cause us to suffer deeply to bring us from the pig-pen or the fields into the house, He will do it…He will cause us to suffer deeply out of love so that we would know Him better…That is the character of God, God who loves us too much to let us settle for anything less than knowing Him deeply, God who would even hurt us to heal us, God who would even hurt and kill His own Son in order to save us…That is God…
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
KNOW THE LORD! We need power from the Holy Spirit to know God and His love that surpasses knowledge! You can trust Him, my friends—He is good!–no matter what has or hasn’t happened to you, you can trust Him!
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.