Shame And Perfection
December 22, 2019 | Randy Smith
Shame And Perfection
Sunday, December 22, 2019
Pastor Randy Smith
A parable is a clever teaching device that uses an earthly story that all would understand in a particular culture to convey a spiritual meaning. Luke chapter 15 contains three parables taught by Jesus. All of them basically follow the same theme.
In verses 1-7 a sheep is lost. The shepherd searches, finds the sheep and rejoices when the animal is located. In verses 8-10 a coin is lost. The woman searches, finds the coin and rejoices when the money is located. And in verses 11-32 a son is lost. The father is a little more passive on the searching, but rejoices when the son returns home.
The spiritual truth, just to be clear is presented at the end of each parable. Verse 7, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Verse 10, “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” And then in verse 32, “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.”
Here is the spiritual point: God rejoices over lost sinners who repent and turn to Him for forgiveness.
Today I would like to cover the third parable with you. Commonly this parable is referred to as “The Prodigal Son.” Author Charles Dickens called it the greatest short story ever written. I am sure most of you have heard a dozen of sermons on this passage. Yet despite our familiarity with this text, I pray God will give us, 14:35, fresh spiritual “ears to hear” God’s Word this morning. Let’s remember, the main point of the Bible is to see how it points to the greatness of God in Christ. That is what we’ll seek to discover!
I have divided this sermon into three points. First, we will seek to understand the story. Second, we will seek to understand the shame in the story which is key to the spiritual interpretation. And third, we will seek to understand the spiritual meaning itself as to how this shows us God and His relationship to people.
Let’s Understand The Story
So, let’s begin in the first point with the easy stuff, a simple retelling of this fictitious, but fantastic story. It’s rather straight-forward .
The setting is a small peasant town in the middle east . There is a man with some apparent wealth. He owned an estate (verse 12) and had many hired hands (verse 17). He also had two sons (verse 11). As we will see, his relationship with both his sons was very weak.
Unlike the ordinary custom, the younger son asked for his share of the father’s wealth (verse 12). Although 1/3 would had been his inheritance, it was not transferred until the father died. Nevertheless, the father agreed (verse 12). In a few days (verse 13) the son liquidated the assets and departed to a distant country with a boatload of money.
While away from home he wasted all the money on what verse 13 calls “loose living” – sinful behavior. The older brother in verse 30 says the money was spent on “prostitutes.” Maybe. Perhaps it was just his best guess or a rumor going around the town.
After all the money was gone, verse 14 informs us that a severe famine occurred where the young brother was living. With no money in his pockets, he was given a job to feed pigs (verse 15). No one was helping him, and he reached the point that he gladly would have filled his belly with the food he was feeding the pigs (verse 16). Unfortunately, the human body I’ve been told can’t digest these pods. This was life and death, total desperation.
However, when he hit rock bottom, verse 17 says, “He came to his senses.” While he was dying of hunger, he knew his fathers hired men – day laborers – always had more than enough to eat. His plan is to repent before God and repent before his father (verse 18). In shame he would go home and accept a position as a hired hand, even if his father refused to receive him back as a son (verse 19).
So, he begins the long journey home. Yet when he was still a long way off, verse 20, “His father saw him and felt compassion for him.” Before he spoke any words, the father ran to the child, embraced him and kissed him repeatedly.
The son, no doubt shocked by the father’s compassionate and joyful response, says his first words. Verse 21, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” This is the same line the son prepared in verses 18 and 19, however, the ending he rehearsed is omitted. He never says, “Make me as one of your hired men.”
Did he realize once he was embraced by the father that these words were unnecessary? Did the father simply cut him off with his call (verses 22-23) to place the best robe on his body, a ring on his hand and scandals on his feet. The father even called for the “fattened calf” to be slaughtered on his behalf, enough food to feed 200-300 people. It was time for a party because (verse 24) his son was dead and is now alive, lost and now found. For the father, this was an occasion to celebrate.
Yet the story does not end. In verse 25 we learn another son returned home as well. He came in from working hard for the father in the fields. When he arrived, he was surprised to hear music and dancing (verse 25). Verses 26-27, after asking a servant for some details he was informed of the whole story.
Unfortunately, his response was much different than the fathers. Rather than celebrating, verse 28 says, “He became angry.” He “was not willing to [even] go in” [the house].
So, the older son did not go in, but the father did come out to meet with the son and plead with him (verse 28). He listened to the son’s complaints about how his younger brother shamed the family name. He listed to the son share how his father’s treatment of his younger brother was both unfair and foolish (verses 29-30).
Then in verses 31-32, the father speaks to the older brother. “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.”
With that the story ends rather abruptly.
Let’s Understand The Shame
So, let’s go to the second point and analyze this story a little deeper from a cultural perspective. We might not see it, but the key to understanding the parable is to see how the whole story is filled with tremendous shame. All three characters – both sons and the father – all acted very shamefully according to the customs of the day. Did you catch any? Permit me to point out the five observations I made. Let’s remember, this was a shame/honor society. Everything hinged on avoiding shame and receiving honor.
Number 1, you wouldn’t even dream of asking your father for your share of the estate while he was still alive. Here is how a father in that culture would have heard the younger son’s request: “I wish you were dead, but since you are not, I can’t wait any longer. I want my share right now.” Extremely disrespectful! The expected response of a father would have been to slap the son and possibly subject him to a public whipping. To punish the son severely would have been the only way for the father to restore his honor.
Number 2, it was shameful for the father to give into the son’s shameful request. We don’t know how much the son revealed to the father about his desire for reckless and immoral living. Probably very little! It’s an argument from silence, but there is nothing in the text about the son pleading with the father because of his desire to work hard and use the money to build a reputable business in the city. How shameful it was for the father to blindly give away a third of what he labored for and took years to accumulate. And then to see it wasted in short time. The shame was multiplied when the village realized how the son wasted the father’s assets. This father would have been viewed as a joke – lacking any wisdom, discernment, self-respect and backbone.
Number 3, few things would have been more shameful than to see a Jewish boy not only working for a Gentile, but also working with pigs. So shameful! This young man has lost his health, his finances and now his spiritual direction. In the eyes of all, he had disgraced himself, his family and his God.
Number 4, the father’s response to the son was shameful. This is when the story gets completely out of hand. When the son returned home, on the strict end, that son should have been stoned. On the merciful end, that son should have been forced to work as a servant until he was able to pay back all that he wasted. And then possibly, the father would receive him back as a son.
But to celebrate instead? Embracing him? Kissing him? Robe, ring, fattened calf? Running to greet the son? No dignified Jewish man did these things. No discipline for the son? No lecture? No restitution?
And number 5, the older son’s actions were shameful. He didn’t love or respect his father either. He disapproved of his father’s generosity. He questioned the father’s sense of justice. He was angry. He refused to enter the house. He was upset for his portion of the estate. He is more concerned about the property wasted than his brother’s life. To truly honor the father, he must do more than simply obey the father’s “commands” (verse 29), he must also enter into the father’s joy. And the story ends with him remaining outside the celebration.
There is no doubt that the listeners to the story, especially the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders, would have been in shock after hearing it. It was so extreme. It was so shameful that it was unimaginable that something like this could ever happen. And that’s true and that will be the point that Jesus will now make regarding the heart of God as we move to the final point.
Let’s Understand The Savior
So, the goal of all Scripture is to see how it points to God. Let’s be clear, from a human perspective (regardless of the title people have assigned to it), this story is more about the father than it is about the son. And we must determine what about the father’s actions point us to better understand God the Father.
Let’s keep things in the context of chapter 15. The Jewish religious leaders were grumbling (verse 2) because Jesus was receiving sinners (verse 1). They viewed their supposed righteous actions as a means to obtain favor with God. Jesus demonstrated that we cannot earn God’s favor and we must receive it based on grace. God receives those who humble themselves, turn from their sins in repentance and receive His free gift of forgiveness. Do you see that in the Prodigal Son story?
Then in the two previous parables we see the joy a person experiences when he or she finds something that was lost. When lost sinners humbly come to God, God is not angry, indifferent, grumbling or reluctant. He receives them with overwhelming joy because they are now found. Like verse 7, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Let’s walk through this final parable of chapter 15 and see a complete picture of this same lesson.
It starts with repentance, specifically, the young son toward his father. There is no doubt that that younger brother repented (verse 18) while the older brother was the self-righteous individual that knew nothing about the need to repent.
The first step of repentance is an understanding of our sin. The son had a mental realization that he was off-line with his father and was bringing Him shame. It is (verse 17) coming to his senses. There was no blame shifting – “I lived in a dysfunctional family.” “I was a victim of bad luck.” “I was uneducated.” Rather it is a full confession that what he did that was wrong.
In his case, verse 18, he sinned against his father by loose living and disrespect. He owned his sin and was prepared to confess it before his father and accept the consequences (verses 18-19).
Second, true repentance then experiences emotional grief. Sure, the physical needs were enough to drive him home, but what primarily drove him home to the father was his guilt, his remorse, his shame over his actions. We call this a contrite heart. This is humility. Before was the cognitive side. This is the emotional side. This was the brokenness and the desire to be forgiven and be reconciled to his father.
And then the third and final aspect of true repentance is a change of action. The young man left his old lifestyle of dishonoring the father and returned home with the goal of honoring his father with his actions.
So, what ultimately motivated this son’s actions? Desperation! That is what ultimately sparks repentance. And what hope did the son have to seek the father’s forgiveness? I believe that answer is found in verse 17 when the son said, “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!” What’s that? The son remembered the father’s goodness. His dad was gracious even to his most menial servants.
The son knew he had no excuses. The son knew that he deserved tremendous punishment. Yet the son also knew that the father had a compassionate heart. And we see that in verse 20. “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.”
So how does this apply to us and God ? Seeing things from the human perspective, we are the parodical son . We must realize we are spiritually desperate. We must “come to our senses” after a true assessment of our condition. We must accept responsibility that we have shamed God with our sin with no ability to pay back our debt. We must seek His forgiveness. We must understand that reconciling with God is based on grace because God is compassionate and therefore delights to forgive repentant sinners. We must repent by seeking to die to self and live for Christ. We must “return home” to be received by the Father.
Seeing things from God’s perspective: The Father sees us from far away before we see Him. God’s compassion is there prior to our seeking forgiveness. The Father offers us forgiveness simply because we ask for it. There is instant mercy – not giving us what we deserve (hard labor, beating, debt until we pay back, shame in return, loss of sonship ). And there is grace – giving us what we do not deserve (ring, robe, scandals, fattened calf). Unconditional love. Immediate reconciliation. Joyful reception. Verse 32, “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.”
But two necessary thoughts before we finish.
You know who doesn’t accept this? People like the older brother who was the parodical son in the truest form. It’s not just the ones that are given over to gross sins, like the younger son or the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners (in chapter 15) – they are more likely to come to Christ, but the ones that are self-righteous (doing commands) and see no need to repent like the older son and the Jewish religious leaders. (in chapter 15). They are the ones that really shame the father by not only questioning, but also refusing His grace. They are the ones that “grumble” and are “angry.” They are the ones that will be left standing on the outside of the party.
And second, the only reason God the Father can forgive us is because God the Son was born for us and died for us. The story of the first Christmas gives hope to the story of the Prodigal Son. God is love and God receives sinners, but He receives repentant sinners and one purchased by the blood of Christ. We shamed the Father, but Jesus took that shame upon Himself. We are all that young man, but Jesus went to the cross to put away sin to allow the compassion of the Father to shine forth. We now can have hope that when we return in repentance that we will always find God the Father there to receive us with great joy.
Have you “come to your senses,” realized your desperation and humbly acknowledged your sins before God? If not, receive God’s greatest Christmas gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. God takes no delight in punishing the wicked, but He does take great joy in forgiving the repentant. Give God and all of heaven one more reason to celebrate!