The Beauty of Forgiveness

Steve Viars October 11, 2008 Luke 15:11-32

- I’d like to begin our time by asking you a few questions...

1.  Does God ever rejoice?

- would it be theologically correct to speak about God expressing joy?...

- and if so, can you picture what it would be like for God to do that?...

- the answer to this question is “yes”...in a minute we’ll look at a passage of Scripture that makes that very clear...but it’s pretty hard to get our brains around the concept of God in heaven rejoicing at something...

2.  Here’s a second question...

- Do we know what those things are?...that would lead God to rejoice?...

- not only “does He”...but “why does He?”...

- the answer to that question also is “yes”...

3.  Here’s a third one...

- Do human beings automatically rejoice at the same things?...

- is it likely that whenever God is in heaven rejoicing, that human beings are on earth doing the same thing for the same reasons?...

- you’d probably answer that one with a “no”...but let’s sharpen it...

- do human beings who call themselves followers of Christ automatically rejoice at the same things that God does?...

- or is it possible for people like us who say we’re Christians to sometimes rejoice when we shouldn’t and fail to rejoice when we should?...

4.  Last question...

- What does God think of people who say they are His children...but who have not cultivated the same tastes when it comes to reasons to rejoice?...and what might that failure to rejoice look like?...and how serious an issue should that be to people like you and me?

- with that in mind, let me invite you to open your Bible to Luke chapter 15...page 60 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you...

- this morning we’re going to be studying the parable of the Prodigal Son.

- it is a very well known story in the Bible...but it also one that is applied in ways that are not really consistent with the text...

- one of the ways to prevent that is to back up and actually consider the context in which the parable is given...

- verse 1-2 set the stage – READ

- Warren Wiersbe made an interesting comment about this setting – It is significant that Jesus attracted sinners while the Pharisees repelled them (What does that say about some of our churches today?)  Lost sinners came to Jesus, not because He catered to them or because compromised His message, but because He cared for them.  He understood their needs and tried to help them, while the Pharisees criticized them and kept their distance.  The Pharisees had a knowledge of the Old Testament Law and a desire for personal purity, yet they had no love for lost souls.

- in that setting, Jesus gave a series of three parables...all intended to help the Pharisees and scribes see the error of their thinking and change...

- though we’re going to concentrate on the third in the series this morning...let’s read the first two because there are a couple of contextual points that are going to become very important later on...

- READ Luke 15:3-10

- now, there’s a lot we could say about those stories...but please notice the three commonalities...

- something is lost...something is found...and there is great rejoicing...

- another important principle is that both the shepherd and the woman go to great lengths to find the object that was lost...

- the shepherd left the 99 and went after the one...

- the woman lit a lamp and swept the house and searched carefully...

- there’s also the great delight when the items are found...

- so much so, that parties are thrown for and by the person’s friends...

- the shepherd gets his friends and neighbors together...

- the woman does exactly the same thing...

- there is a sense of unbridled delight when something that was lost was found...

- why would Jesus tell stories like that in a setting like this?...I think you know...but please keep all of that in mind as we read beginning in verse 11...READ 11-32

- we’re in a series right now entitled Seeking God’s Plan for Forgiveness...

- so far we’ve talked about the Challenge of forgiveness from Luke 17

- and the Basis of forgiveness from Jesus’ last supper with His disciples recorded in Matthew 26

- and then last week, the Model of forgiveness from Ephesians 4:32

- this morning, we’re going to study The Beauty of Forgiveness from the story of the prodigal son.

- passages like this are one of the reasons I love being a Christian, and I love being a pastor…

- someone said to me not too long ago – you act like you really like your job…that is very true…and having the privilege of representing a God like this is one of the strong reasons that’s the case…

- because of course the story isn’t simply about a father and his sons, it’s about the heavenly Father and His children, or those who are considering establishing that position…

- now, with the time we have left, let’s scour these verses and look for Three principles to help us be impacted by the beauty of forgiveness.

I.  Understand the Lengths to Which God Goes to Rescue and Restore People.

- just like the sheep was lost, and the coin was lost...this son was lost...

- please think about what the text tells us about...

A.  The son’s sin.

1.  Demanded his inheritance – v. 12

- he said, give me my share of the estate now...

- many students of Scripture think that would have been incredibly insensitive because in essence what the son was saying was, I wish you were dead now...so let’s get on with the party...

- by the way, and this is almost entirely off the subject, but perhaps we should mention this lest this part of the story be misapplied...

- remember that in parables, there are generally one or two main points...it is always dangerous to try to match up all sorts of other ideas and make the story say something it’s not...that’s called allegorizing...

- if a person left here and said...because the father chose to give his younger son his share of the inheritance now...it would be OK for me to make that demand of my parents today...

- I don’t believe a parent biblically has any obligation to leave any material possessions for his children...and sometimes it is the worst thing that a parent can do...

- Thomas Huxley said – A man’s worst difficulties begin when he is able to do just as he likes.

- I’ve seen family members fight over what they thought belonged to them from their parent’s estate in ways that were shameful and terribly destructive to the family...it is an attitude that they are somehow owed something...

- my sisters and I made it clear to our parents that we wanted them to spend their funds and enjoy them while they could...we were not making some kind of financial plan based on what we would get from someone else...

- in fact, my dad liked to kid me and say...son, if I end up leaving you a dime, it’s only because I misfigured!

- and he said that in jest, but from our perspective, that was fine...I want to warn everybody here against doing what this younger son did...looking at his father through the lens of what he would get from him...

- the passage goes on to say...

2.  Squandered it with loose living – v. 13

- it’s amazing how forthright the Bible is...later in the passage the elder brother suggests that the money was spent on prostitution...we don’t know if that’s true but it probably was...

- you can imagine this young man chafing to get out from under any authority in his life [some people never get over that one, by the way, and look for ways to get around God-given authority all their days...]

- but he decides his father’s work is boring, and his rules are boring, and his food is boring....so he wants out...where he can be his own boss, and his own man...

- and you can imagine him taking this wad of money and taking off...

- he probably buys some new clothes, and some fancy meals...he’s got friends everywhere, and he can have anything he wants...

- but all the while he’s squandering all that money...

3.  Became impoverished – v. 14

- his money’s gone, and his friends are gone...so the Bible says that...

4.  Became enslaved – v. 15

- he’s a Jewish young man in a foreign country and he suffers the indignity of having to work as a simple day slave for a Gentile...

- and as if it couldn’t get any worse...he’s sent out to feed these lousy pigs...the filthiest animal possible to a Jewish person...

- it’s amazing how quickly he goes from riches to rags...and it’s just like Jesus had taught...

- John 8:34 - Jesus answered them, Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.

- and then verse 16 gives us this haunting analysis...Luke 15:16 - And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.

5.  Was starving and alone – v. 16

- now, what was the father doing during this time?...

- one of the mistakes that is often made with this passage is to fail to remember the first two parables, and to assume that salvation is all of man because the father isn’t doing anything...I’d like to suggest to you that that’s not true...

B.  The fathers’ grace

- and you might say...Pastor Viars – the notes are wrong there---the apostrophe should be between the “r” and the “s”...

- no, there are two fathers at work in this situation...but remember this...

1.  The context.

- in order to understand the proper response to a person who is lost...remember to factor in the actions of the shepherd with his sheep and the woman with her coin...

- they went to great lengths to rescue and restore what was lost...

- you say, what about...

2.  The earthly father.

- he gave in...he let the son go...he approved his request...

- this is hard friends, but that’s sometimes what grace does...

- see, the sheep was lost by foolishness...that’s how sheep are...

- the coin was lost by carelessness...that sometimes happens...

- but the son was lost by willfulness...and that can’t always be controlled...

- and do you think there was any question in the father’s mind that the money would be squandered?...

- do you think there was any question in the father’s mind that his son was about to go through some very difficult times?...

- no, but sometimes grace let’s a person you love suffer the consequences of sin with the goal of repentance...

- that’s, by the way, what I Corinthians 5 means when it speaks about the third step of church discipline delivering a person to satan for the destruction of the flesh...why...so the person’s fleshly desires will be destroyed through experiencing the full consequences of sin so that repentance will hopefully occur.

- but remember this...it wasn’t just the earthly father involved...there was also...

3.  The heavenly father.

- He’s the one who allowed the famine to come...

- and He’s the One who built the principles of cause and effect into His world...

- and He’s the One who provided a job with of all things, a pig farmer...

- and the skeptic might say...yes, so He can jam human beings up...no, because he loves human beings and wants to put them in the best possible position to repent...

- someone else might say...yea, God is going to do all of this for the repentance of one person...

- absolutely...the God of the Bible is a rescuing God...a saving God...a forgiving God...

- now, someone might say, but PV, how do I know when I should be like the shepherd, or the woman, or the father...

- friends, that requires the wisdom of Solomon...because different ministry situations require ministry approaches...

- that’s why it is so important to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ so that you have the Holy Spirit inside to guide you as you apply biblical truth to specific ministry situations...

- that too is why is so wonderful to have the privilege of praying...and asking God to help know when we ought to aggressively pursue, and when we ought to hold back...

- when we should rescue, and when we should allow someone to suffer consequences...

- but I believe God will bless us and help us and guide us if our hearts are right...John 7:17 - If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself.

- see, if we’re like the shepherd, and like the woman, and like the father...in that we value rescuing and restoring people...we’ll know the best way to respond when we need to...

- but if we’re like the scribes, and the Pharisees, and like the older brother, we’ll get it wrong every time...

- of course that leads to an obvious question, doesn’t it...what evidence is there that you highly value the rescue and restoration of troubled people?

- you say, how would I know?...

- just think back through the week...have you spent time crying out to God for people in your life who don’t yet know the Lord?

- did you wade through some of those bad habits because you long to see them come to Christ?

- or have the last few weeks been all about the economy and the election?

- on the other hand, some of God’s people are incredibly committed...I marvel at the way many people serve at our church, and reach out in our town...it’s because they have their eye on the ball...they’re like the shepherd after a lost sheep...the woman after a lost coin...a father weeping over a lost son...

- they’re focused on that because they value people...

II. Follow God’s Example When a Person Repents.

- there are some very critical principles here about the nature of the forgiveness process...

- part of it deals with...

A.  The nature of the son’s repentance.

1.  He came to his senses – v. 17.

- that’s why the father didn’t chase after his son and try to shield him from all the consequences of his actions...

- sometimes we have to be real hungry...physically but especially spiritually, before we’re ready to do business...

- Matthew 5:3-6 - Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

- by the way, this is why we talk so much about personal responsibility...

- I realize that out in that field, this young man might not have looked much different than those pigs...but there was a fundamental difference...he was made in the image of God...

- and yes, when human beings ignore and deny the Person in whose image they are made...they can end up living in very animalistic ways...

- but the good news is... Romans 5:20 - ...where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

- and one of the purposes of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ was to restore people to the image in which they were made...

- that’s why it was so important when Paul said in Romans 8:29 - For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son...

- it is possible for human beings, even if for many years they had denied God, and failed to reflect the image in whom they were made...it is possible for human beings to come to their senses...

- that, by the way, is why we spend so much time doing biblical counseling around here...

- we practice nouthetic counseling --- from the compound Greek word nouthtew – nous – mind///tithemi – place or put....putting biblical truth in the mind...

- that is the essence of the word repentance...changing your mind...

- and friend, do you mind if I ask you directly...have you come to your senses?

- has there been a definite time when you admitted your need...I’m hungry...I want to go home?...

2.  He changed his view of his father – v. 17

- all of sudden, the father’s work, and the father’s ways, and the father’s food didn’t sound so bad...

3.  He planned his words – v. 18-19

- this is another very important point in the repentance process...he wasn’t just sorry...

- he knew he had to say some things, to God, and to the person he sinned against...

a.  Father, I have sinned against heaven (against God).

b.  I have sinned in your sight (against you).

c.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

d.  May I have a job and be one of your hired men?

- that’s repentance---that’s called turning it around---coming to your senses...

- friend, can I ask you again...have you done that?

- and if you’d say...but I don’t know how God would respond...

- I’ve ignored Him for so long....

- I don’t know that much about Him...

B.  The nature of the Father’s forgiveness.

1.  Expectant – v. 20

- But while he was still a long way off, he father saw him...

- why?...because he had been looking for him, and waiting, and praying...

- and please notice, all of this follows repentance...

- if you just bail a person out without them acknowledging their sin and guilt, they’ll be right back in it...

- yes, you should always have a forgiving spirit, a desire and willingness to forgive them...but God is no universalist...forgiveness follows repentance...

- he was also...

2.  Compassionate – v. 20

- the verse says that he felt compassion for his son...not anger, not hatred, not bitterness or revenge...

- and he embraced him and kissed him...the tense of the verb in the original language suggests that he did it over and over again...

3.  Quick to forgive – v. 21

- if you compare what the son planned to say in verses 18-19, you’ll see the father didn’t even let the son get it all out...

- he could tell that his son’s repentance was real, and that was enough..

4.  Ready to restore – 22

- the best robe, sandals, and a ring --- signs of authority and sonship

- then he called for the party to begin...

5.  Celebratory

- he called for the fatted calf to be killed and called the servants together they rejoiced because the lost son had returned...

- just like the shepherd rejoiced over the sheep, and the woman rejoiced over the coin...this father was overjoyed by the return of his son.

- if you’re here this morning and would say...I’m a lot like the prodigal son, and I’m not sure how God would respond to me...

- friend, the answer is right here in this passage...

- the heavenly Father would act like this earthly father...which would make me ask...why would you wait one more minute to come to Him?

- wouldn’t it be great if the story ended right there?

- but the truth is, while everything we’ve said this morning is very important...the central figure in this passage is not the prodigal son, and it’s not the father...instead it’s the older brother...

III. Avoid the Temptation to Withhold Grace and Refuse to Forgive.

A.  The older brother’s response.

1.  Angry – v. 28

2.  Would not respond to his father’s plea – v. 28

- can you imagine this dear father pleading with his older son, but he refused to listen.

3.  Self-righteous – v. 29

- I have never neglected a command of yours.

- I doubt it...but while his father had focused on the joy and hope of forgiveness, this older brother had rehearsed the sin, and rehearsed the hurt...day after day...

- and his heart became more and more bitter...and more and more hardened, and more and more self-righteous.

- the truth of the matter is—he was in the process of neglecting a command of his father at that very moment...

4.  Selfish – v. 29

- for so many years I have been serving you...you never gave me a young goat so that I could celebrate with my friends...

- James Boice – ...we have within us the spirit of a hired servant, who works for money, rather than the spirit of a son, who works because he loves his father...

5.  Hateful – v. 30

- did you notice that he wouldn’t even refer to the prodigal as his brother?

- this son of yours

B.  Lessons for today

1.  Be ready to rejoice when a person comes to Christ, regardless of his/her past.

- one little boy is said to have prayed,“Lord, please make bad people good and good people nice.”

- when we do that, we are rejoicing with God...and that is a very good thing...

2.  Don’t confuse religious activity with closeness to God.

- Kent Hughes – It is possible for us elder brothers to leave the Father without leaving the farm.- [develop --- people who have been “faithful” for many years, but who have lost their joy...]

- Kent Hughes – The older brother was good on the outside, but something was missing...he did not share his father’s joy.  There were no festivals in his life, no music and dancing—only serious, tedious monotony and boring, mildewed piety.

3.  Be ready to quickly forgive others when they repent.

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video