LOST IN THE HOUSE

Bible Reading: Luke 15:25-32; Psalm 55:1-23

Remember that Jesus is telling three parables in Luke chapter 15 in response to the scribes and Pharisees who were critical of Him for receiving and eating with tax collectors and sinners.

Jesus’ story of the younger, prodigal son is a picture of the tax collectors and sinners – they have wandered far from God and were lost! The elder brother is a picture of the scribes and Pharisees – they were religious, and in God’s house, but just as lost as the younger brother and the tax collectors and sinners who were attracted to Jesus.

In Jesus’ story of the lost son, a lot is made of the prodigal who was a waster and lived a sinful life in the world, but if I had an elder brother like he had, then I might have left home in the same way as the younger brother did!

Many years ago, the Methodist preacher Doctor W.E. Sangster wrote a series of booklets called “The Westminster Pamphlets”. One of these pamphlets was entitled “A Spiritual Check-Up.” It is nearly 50 years since I last saw a copy of this booklet, but I can still remember one of the questions he asked: “How many people are outside the church because you are on the inside?” A part of the reason why the younger son was far from the father’s house was because the elder brother was in the house!

Over the years, I have met so many people who have been hurt in the church and I can sympathise with these people. People like the young man who said to me, “I don’t have a problem with Jesus, but I don’t like the church”. I was speaking with one of my medical doctors who told me that he saw attitudes among Christians that upset him and made him not want to go to church. He spoke to me about inconsistency, hypocrisy and unreality. Listening to a conversation around the meal table of a well-known and highly professional family in Jakarta, I suddenly realised from the conversation that, despite the fact that they were all still church members, Christians had hurt each of them.

Over the next few days we will take a closer look at the elder brother, and why he was just as lost as his younger brother. We will discover that, like his younger brother he didn’t really know his father’s heart and that his attitudes of pride, anger, bitterness, jealousy and legalism kept him out of the joyful feast that was a picture of heaven.

Questions:

In Psalm 55:12-14, David was deeply hurt by a close acquaintance that went together with him to the house of God. At first, David was angry [v9, 15] and wanted to run away [v6-8]. What did David do to get his heart right with God [Verses 16-19,22]

Have you been hurt by people in church? The tendency is for people to run away and hide, or go to another church. If you have been hurt, how did you handle it?

IT’S PARTY TIME

Bible Reading: Luke 15:1-10

“And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry. Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.” [Luke 15:23-25]

 

Every wealthy Jewish family had a fatted calf, kept for sacrifice at a special occasion. In English, the Greek equivalent in the original text of the word translated “fatted” is the word for corn or grain. This is prime, grain-fed veal. There could be no better beef. The older brother might have expected this for his wedding, or perhaps some very distinguished dignitary who visited the family, but not the lost son, who has come hungry and now enjoys a feast.

 

The fact that fatted calf could feed up to 200 people gives some idea of how big an event this was. Everyone would be invited, the family, the servants, and all the people of the village. This is the father’s celebration. I am sure that the son was happy to be home, and that “sin’s condemnation was over and gone,” but it was nothing compared to the joy of the father that his lost son had come home. If the word prodigal means recklessly wasteful, then some might think that the father as well as his son was prodigal. He is simply amazingly generous and overwhelmed by joy.

 

The word merry denotes a light, playful, jovial mirth, but the Greek word used here speaks of great joy! There is eating, music and dancing. Some experts in Greek say that the word translated as “dancing” is inaccurate, and is properly used of a choir of singers. It could even mean musical instruments that accompanied the singers. This just adds to our understanding of the excitement of this event – music, singing, a choir, dancing. It was probably the largest event in the village that year! People still remember the street parties all over the UK when Prince Charles married Diana. It was that kind of event!

 

The most important person in this story is the father. This feast honours the father. It is the father who gave the son back his life, who restored him as his son, and who blessed him with mercy and forgiveness. He had no shame for his son who had sinned so deeply – just joy that he was safely home! For the first time, the son now has a real relationship of love with his father.

 

Everything about this father is a picture of our Heavenly Father who welcomed us back home into His family. Each of the three parables in Luke chapter 15 ends with a celebration – the shepherd who has found his lost sheep, the woman who has found her lost coin, and the father whose lost son is alive.

 

The celebration of joy is what heaven is all about. It is in the presence of angels [15:10], over a sinner who repents [15:6], and heaven’s joy will never end! Let’s focus on the Father and rejoice with Him over every repentant sinner who comes.

SANDALS ON HIS FEET

Bible Reading: Joshua 5:13-15

The father had put a robe around his son, a ring on his finger and then sandals on his feet. For a long time, I was puzzled by the significance of this act, but then one day I found the answer in the book of Joshua.

As Joshua stood by Jericho, a man suddenly appeared in front of him with a sword drawn in His hand. When Joshua recognised that this was the Lord, he immediately prostrated himself before Him and asked “What does my Lord say to His servant?” He told Joshua to take his sandal from off his foot because the place where he was standing was holy. By doing this, Joshua was saying, “I may be the commander of the army of Israel, but I am your servant!” Servants did not wear shoes.

In 2 Chronicles 28, we read that the king of Israel had defeated and taken captive the people of Judah. The prophet Oded challenged the returning army of Israel about their own sins, and as a result they released the captives of Judah. They then provided them with clothes, and gave them sandals to wear before returning them as free men to Jericho in Judah [verse 15-16].

Slaves did not wear sandals but free men do!

The returning son planned to ask his father to make him as one of his hired servants, but the father would not let him even get those words out of his mouth. Instead, he commands that sandals be put on his son’s feet. Neither servants nor captives wear sandals. In putting sandals on his son’s feet the father was saying that he was not his servant but his son and that he was not a captive but a free man.

Our Heavenly Father, similarly, calls us His sons and daughters. We are no longer servants or captives to sin, but sons and daughters who enjoy true freedom. A servant has to serve his master in order to be accepted by him, but we do not have to serve God in order for Him to accept us. We are now free to make our own decisions, and choose to serve God from a position of love and gratitude. We do not serve God in order to be accepted by Him, but because He has already accepted us as His sons and daughters we want to serve Him and love to please Him.

Questions:

Why do we not have to serve God in order to be accepted by Him?

Jesus was telling this parable to the scribes and Pharisees. In what specific ways is Jesus challenging their attitudes?

What is the basis upon which our Heavenly Father accepts us and adopts us into His family as sons and daughters?

 

A RING ON HIS FINGER

Bible Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14

The second act of the father, on the return of his lost son, was to place a ring on his finger. This was a very powerfully significant act that had various meanings.

The father gave his repentant son a ring as a sign of his favour. It didn’t matter how far he had fallen, he still had the father’s favour. In fact, it may even be possible that the further he has fallen, the higher he may have risen. To those who have experienced the depths of sin, remember that this son who ended with a ring on his finger, now honoured and dignified, was the same man who herded pigs, and had fallen so low. However low he may have sunk, there was a restoration possible to a higher dignity than that experienced even by the angels. Such is the favour that the Heavenly Father gives to those who, through repentance, have received pardon and new life in Jesus!

The father gave the ring to his son as a token of authority. Rings were not just used for appearance but were used to stamp in soft wax the family symbol on official documents. The father was giving the son his authority to act on his behalf. Pharaoh gave Joseph a signet ring as a sign of authority [Genesis 41:42]. Similarly, King Ahasuerus took off his ring and gave it to Haman [Esther 3:10] and later to Mordecai [Esther 8:2]. The father restored to his repentant son the authority that he had lost.

When the father gave the ring to his son he was saying, “You belong to me – you are mine!” I lost my wedding ring whilst swimming in the Java Sea, and to replace it, we bought a cheap substitute. In Surabaya, several years later, a friend asked me if the ring I was wearing was my wedding ring. When I told him the story, he asked if he could make new wedding rings for both me and for my wife. A few days later, he presented me with two beautifully-fashioned gold rings inscribed with hearts and crosses. On my return to England, I waited for the right moment and presented the new rings to Esther. We renewed our vows, and then placed a ring on each other’s wedding ring finger. Esther then said, “Now, when you travel to those distant exotic places, people will see your ring and say that you are not available – you already belong to someone else!” When the father placed the ring on the son’s finger he was saying, “You are mine!”

When the Heavenly Father received us as repentant sinners, accepted in Jesus, He gave us favour, His authority, and our new identity. We belong to Him. The Heavenly Father says, “They will be my people,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child” [Malachi 3:17 New Living Translation].

A Question:

In our reading today, it says that we are “accepted in the beloved” [Ephesians 1:6]. In the light of the father placing the ring on his son’s finger, what do you think that this means?

THE BEST ROBE – AN AMAZING EXCHANGE!

Bible Reading: Zechariah 3:1-5; Isaiah 61:7, 10-11

“And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.” [Luke 15:21-22]

The prodigal son had rehearsed the request he was going to make to his father on his return home, but as he tried to speak what he had planned to say, the father did not allow the son to finish his sentence. Instead, the father cut off the last part of the son’s request, “make me as one of your hired servants”. The father had no intention of receiving him back in any other way than as his son. This son would never have to serve in order to be received as a son!

The Father proceeded to do several things that indicated the son’s full restoration and acceptance. The first act was to tell his servants to bring out the best robe and put it on him. There are various interpretations of this robe and each meaning has significance. It is probable that this robe was the best one in the house and reserved for birthdays or festive occasions. Some translations read, “the first robe,” that is not in terms of time but the very best quality – first quality! No “seconds” here!

The most prominent member of the family normally wore this robe and in this case, that would have been the father. The father called for the greatest celebration the village had ever known, and willingly gave away the robe that he normally would’ve worn. It was the best that he had had and he gave it to the son who, although had wasted his inheritance, in repentance had come home. The father was saying to his son, “I am giving you the best – everything that I have!” He was more interested in giving his grace and forgiveness than in his own honour. His son came home with nothing and then received everything!

What a picture of our Heavenly Father receiving a repentant sinner. It is the picture of a robe of righteousness that covers the dirty, sin-stained rags that the son was wearing as he came home. Instead of shame, he had double honour, and was clothed with righteousness. Total restoration! Our Father in heaven gives to us His righteousness in Christ.

Questions:

What is the connection between Zechariah 3:4-5 and the story of the prodigal son?

Why do think that the scribes and Pharisees would particularly hate this picture of the son being clothed with this garment?

Have you ever felt shame and dirty? Here is hope, that God, our Father, receives us and gives beauty in place ashes and righteousness in place of dirty rags. Why not thank Him right now?

JUST AS I AM

Bible Reading: Mark 5:25-34

In 1835, Charlotte Elliott was unable to sleep because of a spiritual conflict and a feeling of personal uselessness. She began to question the reality of her spiritual life, and full of doubt even began to think that her relationship with God was no more than an illusion. The conflict in her heart increased with such force that she felt a deep need to seek for God’s grace. She focused, not on her emotions, but on her salvation in Christ and the promises of God’s Word, of His power, pardon and promise. Charlotte always found it easier to express herself in verse, and so, in order to strengthen her faith wrote what she believed about the Gospel of peace, pardon and heaven. Suddenly, she realised again that she was “accepted in the Beloved” and wrote the words of the much-loved hymn “Just as I am”.

Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thy love unknown
hath broken every barrier down;
now, to be thine, yea thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am – of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come!

On the night that 14-year-old Billy Graham came to Christ, in an evangelistic meeting led by Mordecai Ham, the closing hymn was Charlotte Elliot’s “Just as I am”. Throughout his ministry as an evangelist, Billy Graham used this hymn as he invited people to come to Christ. Millions of people have come to Christ as a result of the words that Charlotte Elliott wrote, as she herself found peace with God.

Questions:

Will you read the words of this hymn today and make it your prayer? Would you come to Jesus today, just as you are?

In your own struggles and spiritual conflict, would you stop listening to your emotions and instead focus on God’s grace and promises?

Just as God has used the words of Charlotte Elliott to bless many people, would you ask God to use your struggles and surrender to Christ to touch the lives of many other people?

THE PARDONING FATHER

Bible Reading: Ephesians 2:1-8

“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” [Luke 15:20-21]

The father saw his son while he was still a great way off! He didn’t just occasionally watch for his son but was constantly watching for him, and yet there was nothing he could until the son made the first move. Nothing the son had done had dulled the father’s love for him.

The father had compassion on His son. The Amplified Bible enlarges on this and reads, “his father saw him and was moved with pity and tenderness [for him”. There is no complaint about the way his son has wasted the inheritance or brought disgrace to the father’s name. Even before the son confesses his wrongdoing, the father has forgiven him.

The father runs to the son. The Greek word translated as “ran” is a word sometimes used to describe an Olympic athlete. The father ran so fast to his son and without hesitation. It was very undignified for a Jewish father to run but compassion had overridden his dignity. Spurgeon said of this verse that the father might be out of breath, but never out of love!

He fell on his neck and kissed him. Instead of rebuking his son, the father smothered him with kisses. The word used in Greek word means “to kiss over and over again”. Such was his father’s affection for him. The son was unclean but that did not matter to the father. He still smelt of the pigs, and his clothes were dirty and mud-stained but that didn’t matter to the father. The father just cannot wait to put his arms around his son and pillow the son’s head on his chest. The father accepts his son just as he is!

Henri Neuwen, in his book, “The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Meditation on Fathers, Brothers and Sons” wrote, “Yet over and over again, I have left home. I have fled the hands of blessing and run to faraway places searching for love! This is the great tragedy of my life and the lives of so many I meet on my journey. Somehow I have become deaf to the voice that calls me Beloved … There are many other voices. The dark voices of my surrounding world try to persuade me that I am no good and that I can only become good by earning my goodness through “making it” up the ladder of success”.

Questions:

Why is it that people struggle to come just as they are to our Heavenly Father? What are the things that hold people back?

What do you think about the quote of Henri Neuwen? Even as a Christian, do you personally need to come afresh to the Father, just as you are?

 

PEACE IN THE MIDST OF TURMOIL

Bible Reading: Hosea 14:1-9

The testimony of praying and waiting for a prodigal child is very powerful. Ruth, Billy Graham’s wife, longed for her son Franklin to turn back to the Lord. He was living a wild lifestyle, and would often come home in the early hours of the morning. Ruth would sit in her rocking chair just waiting for Franklin to come home. When he came in, she would welcome him with a loving word and tell him how good it was to see him. Then it was time for her to sleep. What was her secret?

Writing about giving thanks in everything, Robert Morgan shares something of Ruth Graham’s secret:

“When her children were rebelling against the Lord, Ruth Bell Graham found herself occasionally torn apart by worry. One night while abroad, she awoke suddenly in the middle of the night worrying about her son. A current of worry surged through her like an electric shock. She lay in bed and tried to pray, but she suffered from galloping anxiety, one fear piling upon another. She looked at the clock and it was around three o’clock. She was exhausted, yet she knew she would be unable to go back to sleep. Suddenly the Lord seemed to say to her, “Quit studying the problems and start studying the promises”.

She turned on the light, got out her Bible, and the first verses that came to her were these, Philippians 4:6,7. As she read those words, she suddenly realised that the missing ingredient in her prayers had been thanksgiving: “… in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”.

She put down her Bible and spent time worshipping God for Who and what He is. She later wrote, “I began to thank God for giving me this one I loved so dearly in the first place. I even thanked him for the difficult spots which had taught me so much. And you know what happened? It was as if someone turned on the light in my mind and heart, and the little fears and worries that had been nibbling away in the darkness like mice and cockroaches hurriedly scuttled for cover. That was when I learned that worship and worry cannot live in the same heart. They are mutually exclusive”.

Questions:

Is God telling you today to “quit studying the problems and start trusting His promises?”

What is the specific promise that God gives to backsliders in our reading in Hosea chapter 14 today?

Something to do:

Ask God to give you specific promises from His word for your children. Read these promises and make pray them every day for your children, and believe that God fulfil those promises in His time.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH…

Bible Reading: Isaiah 61:1-7

For God is able to… “carry out His purpose and do superabundantly, far over and above all the dare ask or think – infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes or dreams”. [Ephesians 3:20 AMP]

How long had elapsed since the son left home – a year, two years, or maybe even five? How is his father handling his son’s absence? He is still waiting and longing for him to come home. It’s been a long wait. He doesn’t even know if he is still alive. When the son finally does return the father says, “This my son was dead and is alive again”.

We know a little of the meaning of this in our own experience. Our son left home and went off into the world. He too had experienced some unpleasant things from elder brothers. People would place expectations upon him that were unreasonable, simply because his father was a pastor. There were even those who treated him badly because he was the son of a pastor.

When he reached 17 years of age, we told him that he must make his own decisions and that he did not have to come to church with us if he didn’t want to. He went off to chef school, followed by working in various restaurants in the London area. We knew that he was not following the Lord and not living a good life, but whenever it was possible we were there for him if he wanted help. We always tried to encourage him and praise him when it was appropriate, and tried to never speak negatively to him or condemn him. We would often go into his bedroom in the early hours of the morning, wondering where he was and what he was doing, and just cry out to God for him. We will never forget the day when he called me, at 22 years of age, “Dad, I want to give everything to Jesus. Will you disciple me?” We see him today and marvel at what God has done. He knows who he is, has found himself and loves the Lord. He is able to relate his faith to the kind of people we would have struggled to understand, and His testimony is that if it were not for his mother’s prayers, he would have been in prison.

It is not easy watching someone we love wander far away from God. The burden becomes even greater because of feelings of utter helplessness, failure and false guilt. Questions such as Where did we go wrong?, Perhaps we were too strict? and Did we force our faith on him too strongly? begin to weigh the spirit down. The sense of failure grows greater as other families seem to have it all together and sail through life. Guilt is a devastating and destructive emotion that God wants to lift off you today.

Questions:

Have you got a son or daughter who has turned away from God and is living in a faraway country, spiritually? What can you learn from today’s word that will help you to relate to them?

Have you been carrying guilt that God wants to lift from you? Why not bring that to the cross in prayer right now?

THE JOURNEY HOME

Bible Reading: Psalm 31:1-24

   “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son’” [Luke 15:20-21]

The younger son made a decision, but a decision alone was not enough. There had (and always has) to be an action. He said that he would arise [v18] and he arose! An old English proverb says that the way to hell is paved with good intentions. In an evangelistic meeting in 1939, my wife’s parents both raised their hand in response to an appeal for those who would follow Christ. Her mother became one of the godliest people I have ever known but her father never went any further than raising his hand, at least until more than 50 years later. Intention without action is without value. As someone once astutely commented, “When all is said and done, a lot more is said than done!”

I wonder what was in the mind of that young man as he took that long walk home? Undoubtedly, he would be wondering what kind of reception he would receive. Although he knew his father, he did not have an adequate sense of his father’s character. His view of him had been twisted and distorted. Would he receive him back as a servant or would he be rejected? He was driven by need, but almost certainly filled with shame, and unsure of the way his father would receive him. Then there was the elder brother! Would he point the finger in judgment and call him a useless waster? That is exactly the way that people with a pharisaical spirit would treat “sinners”.

Many times when I have talked to people about coming back to the Heavenly Father, they have raised the kinds of issues that might have been going through this young man’s mind. They sometimes say, “I have sinned too much for God to want me?” Because of bad experiences, wounds and hurts, they have a distorted view of the Father heart of God. Still others are afraid of what people think, and especially church people, might think of them. In spite of these negative thoughts, the prodigal son made his way back to his father, and in a similar way, we can make our way back to the Heavenly Father.

Questions:

What kind of issues do people face in their early years that create a distorted view of fatherhood and make it difficult to relate to God as their Heavenly Father?

What characteristics you would expect of God as your Heavenly Father?

Do you feel that your ability to relate to God as Father has been damaged by your childhood experiences of your earthly father? Will you come to God in prayer and ask Him to heal your heart and then accept Him as Father?