Belong: We are God’s Family! (Week 2)

“The Heart Condition of the Younger Son”

At the closing of last week’s message I taught that in Jesus’ parable, neither son, younger or older, is submitting to the Father in his heart nor is either fulfilling his responsibilities as a member of the Father’s Household. How could they? They are too busy focusing on their entitlements and their inheritance, on what they could get from the Father. They both are doing their own thing while claiming the status and rewards of being a member of the Household of the Father, but not desiring to be with the Father or with one another.

 

The three parables in Luke 15 have an immediate audience to whom Jesus is telling these stories. You here who His original audience is in Luke 15:1-2, “Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”[1] (emphasis mine)

 

John Barry in Faithlife Study Bible states, “In response to the religious leaders’ complaint, Jesus tells parables to explain His purpose in welcoming sinners and sharing table fellowship with them. He teaches that each repentant sinner prompts a heavenly celebration (vv. 7, 10, 32).”[2] That is the big picture of all three of these parables: The Lost Sheep (15:4-7), The Lost Coin (15:8-10), and the Lost Son (15:11-32). Listen to Kevin Zuber in The Moody Bible Commentary emphasize the three major points of these parables in their original context:

 

The primary point of the parables, usually neglected in popular lessons on them, is that the religious leaders should not have been criticizing Jesus for seeking tax collectors and sinners (15:1; note how this verse introduces all three parables). God rejoices when such are “found,” and the sour attitude of the Pharisees and the scribes is condemned (as seen in the interaction between the father and the older brother in 15:25–32, which makes up nearly half of the parable, another point frequently neglected). A secondary, though admittedly important, theme of all three parables is that God rejoices when repentant sinners turn to Him and are “found.” “The way to God is through repentance. God’s arms are open to the person who will seek Him on His terms. God’s arms close around the child ready to run to Him and receive what He offers” (Bock, Luke, 1295). Another theme is the joy that comes when that which is lost is found.[3] (emphasis original)

 

Over the next month we are going to look at all three of these main players in Jesus’ parable: The Father who represents the God whose arms are open and ready to receive back that which was lost, the Older Son who represents the “Pharisees and the scribes,” and the Younger Son who represents the “tax collectors and the sinners.” This morning, we are going to focus on the heart condition of the Younger Son.

 

As we learned last week, Jesus was sent by the Father to restore the Household of God back to the Father. The Church is nothing more and nothing less than the Family of Believers, saved by God’s sovereign grace—members of the Household of God. In Greek, the word we know as “church” is ekklesia which technically means “the called-out ones” but in its normative usage simply means the “assembly” or “gathering.” Biblically, the church is the people called out of the world by God to gather as His family for His purposes and His glory. With Jesus as the Head, we are His body and we are united to continue the work of Jesus in building the Household of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are to carry on the work of why Jesus Christ came: “to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). And the body is not only 100% dependent on Jesus, the Head, but mutually dependent on one another. The illustration I used last week was the human body, none of the 12 organ systems in the body are fully self-reliant. The cardiovascular system does not work without the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system is useless without the nervous system. And none of it is worth a thing if the lymphatic system doesn’t keep up our immunities. This is the same in the body of Christ—we need one another, of all generations, men and women, working together with all of our spiritual gifts, talents, resources, perspectives, and backgrounds. We aren’t functional if we are not healthy!

 

This week, we learn that there is a great danger to the healthy functioning of the body to fulfill God’s purposes for this world. It is the heart condition of the younger son! We are all blinded by our own sin tendencies that causes us to act like the baby of the family when we don’t get our own way: taking the ball and going to play somewhere else. Pastor Paul Tripp states in his book Dangerous Calling, “Because sin blinds, God has set up the body of Christ to function as an instrument of seeing in our lives, so that we can know ourselves with a depth and accuracy that would be impossible if left on our own.”[4] In other words, the church is designed to be a place where sin is dealt with directly because it is sin that destroys relationships and sin that isolates members of the body from one another. The heart condition of the younger son causes us to not be a healthy, functioning body because it keeps the members from working together in unity. But if I try to help you remove sin from your life, you have a choice how you are doing to respond and that will determine whether or now we are healthy body or a dysfunctional body.

 

Listen again to Tripp as he makes an important observation about the church:

 

I’m convinced that the big crisis for the church of Jesus Christ is not that we are easily dissatisfied but that we are all too easily satisfied. We have a regular and perverse ability to make things work that are not and should not be working. We learn to adjust to things that we should alter. We learn to be okay with things we should be confronting. We learn how to avoid things we should be facing. We would rather be comfortable than to hold people accountable. We swindle ourselves into thinking that things are better than they are, and in so doing we compromise the calling and standards of the God we say we love and serve. Like sick people who are afraid of the doctor, we collect evidence that points to our health when really, in our heart of hearts, we know we are sick. So we settle for a human second best, when God, in grace, offers us so much more.[5]

 

What is the something more? It is living in the easy yoke of Jesus Christ, submitted to the Father’s will, working together as members of the body of Christ for the glory of God by making disciples to grow the Household of God to further the reach of His body on earth. In short, to seek and to save that which was lost! We must be able to gaze into the truth that is the condition of our own hearts through the body of Christ and the work of the Word, both empowered by the Holy Spirit. Let’s focus our time together today by specifically looking at three aspects of the heart condition of the Younger Son.

 

The first condition is selfishness. In Luke 15:12, the Younger Son said to his Father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.”[6] As the younger son, who is most likely in his early 20s (possibly younger) and presumed unmarried, by the Jewish law he has a legal right to 1/3 of his father’s estate upon his father’s death. For him to ask for it at such a young age and before his father’s death would be considered a vulgar act of selfishness. It is essentially wishing his father to be dead because He wanted the benefits of his father’s household without honoring his father or submitting to his authority. There is no rest found in living your life in a selfish way. It’s not all about you and what you want! It’s about God and His purposes for your life as a member of His Household. As members of the body, selfishness destroys our unity and our functionality. There are no biblical grounds for selfish motives anywhere in the church.

 

The only antidote for this is to be found in the easy yoke of Jesus Christ who promises rest for our soul by taking on His teaching, submitting to His will, and living according to His grace. Listen to Paul speak to this in Philippians 2:3-11:

 

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[7]

 

Where do you see selfish tendencies within your own thoughts and actions? How have you seen selfish decisions hurt you and others? What are some practical steps of generosity you can take today and this week?

 

The second condition is rebellion. Jesus says of the Younger Son in Luke 15:13, “And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.”[8] From the ends of this verse and 15:30 (“who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes”), we learn that the Younger Son indulges his passions in a decadent and rebellious lifestyle. Outside of his father’s household he knew no restraint and burned out his life, his resources, and his opportunities.

 

First, he dreamed of a life that was better than one in his father’s household, doing his father’s work. Second, he wished his father dead so that he could live how he wanted. Then he used his inheritance (his birthright from his father) to gain independence from the father. He no longer felt that he needed the father because he “sold his birthright” for the illusion of personal freedom and self-fulfillment outside of his father’s household.[9] Outside of his father’s household, he sought to live in such a way that was not restrained from what he perceived to be oppressive cultural norms, antiquated religious ideals, and limiting family values. The Younger Son’s desire for uncontested personal liberty through “a deliberate renunciation of a set of values”[10] led to the loss of all that was promised to him and a destruction of his very personhood until he was ashamed of himself and the depths of his loss. The pursuit of absolute freedom from all authority is a rebellion that leads to a slavery with a fickle and unforgiving master called “the flesh” (i.e. “me, myself, and I”).

 

We learn by Jesus’ example that the only answer to mastering the flesh’s desire to be in control and to rule every area of your life is to crucify it (submit it to the Father’s will). As Paul said in Galatians 5:13-17, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”[11]

 

Do you see the damage done when people are mastered by their own body’s needs and desires?  

Which dominates your thoughts and actions—your flesh or God’s Spirit in your life? What does it look in your life to take on the easy yoke of Jesus and learn from Him how to submit to the Father’s will? What would be the benefits to the whole church if we each did that?

 

The third condition is brokenness. All of us must face the heart condition of the Younger Son that is in each of us in order to be saved and welcomed home by the Father. There is no salvation apart from our ability to empathize with the Younger Son, to say that I too am a sinner in need of God’s grace, just like the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus was addressing this to in the first place. To not be able to say that would put us into the Older Son’s heart condition (the Pharisees and scribes that Jesus was also addressing) and that is another sermon for another day.

 

Here is the main issue of brokenness! Without seeing it in yourself, you can’t be saved. You just won’t see the need! The Bible says that all of us are selfish, rebellious, broken people. You can’t heal yourself from being broken or manage your life in such a way that you don’t experience your brokenness (other than self-delusion, but that is where the church helps you get honest with yourself, God, and others). The only way to be saved is to look at your heart condition without distortion, without white washing, without covering over. We need one another to be healthy members of the body of Christ. Or we can hide in shallow relationships, platitudes, and the illusion of peace (Jeremiah 6:13-16) and be a dysfunctional church that does not do the work of God, but rather spends most of its time simply trying to convince itself of its need to survive.

 

If we cannot admit our own selfishness and our rebellion and desire to rule our lives, then we will never get to the necessary state of heart to be saved: a broken heart that is willing to go back home to be with the Father, in the church family we call that repentance! Psalm 51:17 says about the Father, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”[12] A broken and contrite (repentant) heart is a heart willing to go home to the Father! A heart that has hit bottom of trying to swindle God and scheme for the pride of position in this life. For the Younger Son, the promises of the far country (that allured and beckoned him in the beginning) turned out to be “a land of faded dreams and spiritual hunger.”[13] His nights turned into loneliness and his days into bankruptcy. The Younger Son hit bottom and saw that his only way to have life was to have it as a member of his Father’s Household, even if it meant forsaking his rights as a son. When the Younger Son came to the logical conclusion of his own heart condition, he did the only thing that could save him—He went home honestly (15:14-19)!

 

Notice in 15:20 that the Father was eagerly waiting and looking for the Younger Son to return, but He doesn’t go and bless him in the far country. God is patient and His grace is available today as much as it was yesterday. He looks for you to hit bottom of your own brokenness and come home to Him. He desires for you to come Home! Our mistake is in lying to ourselves that we are either not in the far country or that the Father is ok with our disobedience and that we can live an abundant life our way. God’s arms are ready to embrace any person who is willing to come to Him in repentance. A person who admits that all his selfishness and rebellion has only caused destruction to his own life and the life of those he loves. Are you ready to come home to be a son or daughter in the Household of God? The church should be a safe place for all the younger sons and daughters to be able to come home and feel like they BELONG! Are you?
 
 
Listen to it here.
 

Footnotes:

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:1–2.

 

[2] John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Lk 15:2.

 

[3] Kevin D. Zuber, “Luke,” in The Moody Bible Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1581–1582.

[4] Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 34–35.

 

[5] Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 59.

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:12. Richard Blight attempts to answer the question of how the father would have fulfilled this request, “The son wanted the equivalent value of the property in the form of money [Gdt]. This division required that a considerable part of the holdings of the estate be sold and converted to cash [NTC]. When the father gave the younger son his share in money, he also made over the rest of the inheritance to the elder son [Hlt, NICNT, NIGTC, TH; HCSB], while retaining the legal right of using and enjoying the fruits or profits of the property during his lifetime [Hlt, NIGTC]. Or, the elder son would not take possession of his share of the inheritance until his father’s death [NTC]. In dividing the estate, it does not mean that the father gave all of the property over to both sons, since the dividing would be accomplished by giving a third to his younger son and this was probably the case since throughout the parable it appears that the father still possessed the property [AB]. Or, both sons received their shares and the elder son kept his share at home where he was still under the control of his father [Alf, BECNT, TNTC]. Perhaps it means that the elder son was assigned capital goods but not a claim to their produce while the father remained alive [WBC]. It is not relevant to speculate whether the father was wise or foolish in submitting to the younger son’s request [NAC]” (Richard C. Blight, An Exegetical Summary of Luke 12–24, 2nd ed. [Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008], 144).

 

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Php 2:3–11.

[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:13.

 

[9] In using the phrase “sold his birthright” I am alluding to the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25:33f that is referenced in Hebrews 12:15-17. As this text states, we fall short of God’s grace and harm others when we act like an “immoral or godless person like Esau who sold his own birthright for a single meal.”

 

[10] Douglas J.W. Milne, “The Father with Two Sons: A Modern Reading of Luke 15,” Themelios 27, no. 1 (2001): 13.

 

[11] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ga 5:13–17.

[12] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ps 51:17.

 

[13] Douglas J.W. Milne, “The Father with Two Sons: A Modern Reading of Luke 15,” Themelios 27, no. 1 (2001): 14. He continues, “The only employment the younger son could find was looking after pigs, unclean animals in Jewish dietary and social law. That he fulfilled this work on minimal wages is evidenced by his hunger for the food that the pigs were eating. In the context of the parable the hunger of the younger son’s body is symbolical of his inner hunger of spirit for something to sustain his human being and to rescue his life from its downward spiral into oblivion and destruction.”


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