Belong: We are God’s Family (Week 5)

The Father’s Heart!

Luke 15:11-32

In this series called “Belong”, we have been confronted with the heart conditions of the younger and the older sons of the Father. I and many others have found aspects of each one’s condition in ourselves. I, too, can be selfish and rebellious like the younger son, self-righteous and entitled like the older son. But the real choice comes down to not whether we see these things in us, but what we do about it when we are confronted! When confronted with the Father’s heart we will either experience brokenness over our sin or become hardened in our sin. This parable has taught us that both the older son’s heart condition of religious legalism and self-righteousness is just as big of an issue as the younger son’s worldly licentiousness and selfishness. Both are sin!

 

Here’s the main difference and in this difference, the true point of Jesus’ parable: The younger son ended in brokenness and repented for his sins against the Father. On the other hand, the older son ended hardened toward his Father and neither repented nor forgave his younger brother. The older on was too good (moralistic) for that and wouldn’t be scandalized by His Father’s grace. He, who represents the Pharisees that Jesus is addressing with His parable (ref. Luke 15:1-2), is far from the Father’s heart even though he was serving the Father and by his own testimony had never done anything but keep all his Father’s commands. But his moralistic, self-righteous superior attitude kept him far from having or exhibiting his Father’s heart.

 

What is the Father’s heart and how can knowing it help us respond to God and others properly?

 

The Father’s heart is like a diamond and there are many aspects to understanding it, so please allow me to illuminate just a few characteristics of the Father’s heart.

 

The Father is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29)! We often miss this detail in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but it is the first thing in the parable that would have caused Jesus’ intended audience to step back in confusion or shock. The Father actually gave the younger son what he asked for. This is found in Luke 15:12, “So he divided his wealth between them.”[1]

 

The Pharisees and the scribes would have thought that the Father in Jesus’ parable was a fool to give the younger son what he requested. They would not have accepted the premise of the story, nevertheless the conclusion. This story is a scandal to religious people from beginning to end.

 

What was the Father thinking? Well, since the Father in this story represents God we can only imagine that He knew something we do not. We just need to be gentle and humble in heart ourselves to believe God to be doing something true and right, good and just, especially when we don’t understand it or Him. As the Prophet Isaiah quotes God in 55:8, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”[2]

 

When you don’t understand God or His ways, don’t harden your heart in response, choose to worship Him instead! That is a much better decision for peace to guard your heart and mind, and to find rest for your soul. When in doubt, take on yourself the yoke of Jesus and learn from Him, who is “gentle and humble in heart.”

 

We see that the Father is “gentle and humble in heart” when He breaks all cultural norms of his time and runs out to receive the younger son and welcomes him back in Luke 15:20-24,

 

So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.[3]

 

The Father knew His younger son’s broken heart and saw His willingness and yearning to repent of His sin that had broken their relationship. This parable reminds me of a real-life scandal in the life of Jesus. Listen to John 8:1-11 and it’s the same cast of characters with religious leaders (older sons) on one side and a woman caught in adultery (younger son) on the other:

 

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”[4] (emphasis mine)

 

Turn with me to Psalm 51 and let’s do some heart-work together. Time of prayer in Psalm 51…

 

The sacrifice that God desires from you is a living one, your who life (Romans 12:1)—a life that is sincerely marked by “broken and contrite heart”  (Psalm 51:17) or as Jesus said, a “gentle and humble heart” (Matthew 11:29).

 

 

Jesus tells this parable to describe the Father’s heart for lost sinners (both the older and the younger), just like Jesus put on display His Father’s heart for three years of earthly ministry. There is one more way I would like to describe the Father’s Heart to you this morning…

 

The Father is “grace and truth” (John 1:14)! This is found at the end of the story when the Father is pleading with the older son to come in and celebrate his younger brother’s salvation. In 15:31-32, “And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”[5]

 

All are welcome home, but the Father’s heart is not just grace, it is grace and truth. The Father does not hesitate to speak the truth to His older son’s heart condition. The parable ends right here on purpose, because Jesus was posing an invitation to the Pharisees and scribes to stop grumbling about tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners being saved by coming back to God through faith and repentance. He is not only inviting the Pharisees and the scribes to celebrate the grace of God through the gospel, but He is also inviting them to a righteousness that exceeds their own. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”[6] The only way to Heaven is through the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. We must receive an imputed righteousness from Jesus that allows us into the Great Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

 

Allow Jesus to illustrate this point with another parable from Matthew 22:1-14:

 

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. “And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. “Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.” ’ “But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. “But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. “Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. ‘Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ “Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are called, but few are chosen.”[7]

 

Jesus Himself very clearly declares the message of the gospel as both a message of grace and truth. Jesus Himself was a person full of grace and truth. The Father’s heart calls for all to come into His family, but to belong you must have the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ covering your sin (the wedding clothes) as your justification. Your good works, your faithfulness, your track record on earth can only earn you death, but faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ for you gives eternal life (Romans 6:23).

 

What will you boast in? Your works or God’s grace? Who will you boast in? Yourself or Jesus?

 

Listen to his powerful quote from Pastor Kevin DeYoung,

 

We desperately need grace in our lives.  We need to hear from Jesus “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28)  We need to know that God doesn’t expect us to clean up our act before we come to him.  He implores us to come, now, today, just as we are–in brokenness, in pain, in humility, in repentance, and in faith.  We need to hear that wayward children, who have squandered their inheritance and lived an immoral, rebellious life, can come home into the arms of their heavenly Father (Luke 15:20). And we desperately need truth in our lives.  We need to hear from Jesus “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).  And we need to hear from Jesus what this saying really means: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin…But if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).  We need someone as gracious as Jesus to tell us the truth: you are not okay.  You do not need to push away those feelings of guilt that weigh you down.  You are guilty.  And anyone who tells you otherwise, is not telling you the truth.  And because they won’t tell you the truth, you won’t experience the grace you need. We need truth. We need grace. We need Jesus.[8]

Jesus put the Father’s heart on display for all the world to see it and respond…

 

Older sons and younger sons alike, from every culture and tribe, are invited to respond…

 

Your life and how you relate to God and others is your response to the truth and grace of the One who is humble and gentle in heart.
 
Belong Week 5:  Listen to it here.
 
 

Footnotes:

 

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Lk 15:12.

 

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Is 55:8.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:20–24.

 

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jn 8:1–11.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Lk 15:31–32.

 

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 5:20.

 

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Mt 22:1–14.

[8] Kevin DeYoung, “Full of Grace and Truth” (June 3, 2014). The Gospel Coalition. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/full-of-grace-and-truth/ (last accessed March 25, 2019).


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