Addressing an audience made up of sinners and Pharisees alike, Jesus told three parables, each expressing the broken relationship between God and His people. These parables, however, went on to reveal God’s desire to pursue His children and restore them to Himself. Examining each story, Alistair Begg turns our attention to the greatest barrier standing between us and God: thinking that we have no need of Him in the first place.
I invite you to turn with me again to Luke chapter 15. For those of you who are visiting today, we are in series of consecutive studies through the Gospel of Luke, and we finished at the end of chapter 14 last Sunday, and therefore there’s no doubt about where we’re supposed to be this Sunday—namely, at the beginning of chapter 15. It really is one of the great benefits of just working consecutively through the Bible. And we are here again with our Bibles open on our laps, and we want to pause and ask for God to help us as we study the Bible together.
God, we pray that far beyond the voice of a mere man we might hear your voice. “Make the Book live to me, O Lord, Show me Yourself within Your Word, show me myself … show me my Saviour, And [please,] make the Book live to me,” for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Well, we might say that the fifteenth chapter is at the very heart of Luke’s Gospel. It really is. And what we have here from the beginning of chapter 15 through to the thirty-first verse of chapter 16 is a succession of five parables in a row. And these are set, as you will see by glancing back at the end of chapter 14, within the context in which Jesus has been urging his listeners to pay attention to what he’s saying. And Luke 14 ends with this rather pithy statement of Jesus, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Now, clearly, all of us have ears; it’s perhaps as a result of some malformation that we wouldn’t have. But by and large, the part of the statutory and requisite provision of humanity is that we would have ears. Jesus is saying, “I know that each of you has ears, and I know that you actually can process the information, but I want you to be paying very close attention to what it is I have to say.” And then that goes immediately to the beginning of chapter 15, where we discover who it is that was listening and who it is that would have their fingers in their ears. Remember, of course, that in the original there is no chapter break, so there is no pause, there’s no heading at the beginning of chapter 15. And so, immediately Luke tells us that “the tax collectors and [the] ‘sinners’ were all gathering [round] to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law” actually were paying very scant attention to him at all.
It’s quite striking, and very important that we understand this, because this opening paragraph sets up all of these parables which follow in this chapter. Jesus is addressing a situation in which the sinners gathered to hear him. These folks who were ostracized and stigmatized by the religious leaders of the day were actually the ones who were paying very, very close attention to what Jesus was saying. The fact that they were ostracized was not a surprise to them; indeed, the accretions to the Jewish law, as we will hear in just a moment or two, had some striking things to say about why the Pharisees should stay away from them as far as possible. And in a couple of chapters, when we get to 18, we will have there for us the record of the prayer offered to himself by the Pharisee who stood and said, “I thank you that I’m not as other men are, and certainly not like this poor sinner and this tax collector here.”
So, those that we might think would feel that they couldn’t listen or were so bad that there was no remedy for them, they’re the ones who are listening. And the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, the people who like to go to the synagogue, the people who keep all the rules, the people who are always taking notes in the flyleaf of their Bible, the folks who are the religious ones and the people to whom individuals would point as having it all together, they’re the ones who just stand around muttering. And, in fact, the word here in Greek is almost an onomatopoeic word which conveys with it the sense of … so that if you listen to them, sometimes you go into a room, and you know that what is taking place here is not actually interaction and conversation of an encouraging and striking nature, but actually what you have is group of people who are just grinding and grumbling and criticizing and moaning. And there’s a sound to that that is a unique sound, and this Greek verb captures it. And that’s exactly what these Pharisees were doing.
And what were they saying as they muttered? Well, they were saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Well, of course he does! Have you been paying attention to what he’s been saying? He said, “It’s not the healthy that need a doctor”—back in chapter 5—“it’s the sick that need a doctor. I didn’t come,” he said on that occasion, “to call the righteous, but I came to call sinners to repentance. So you would anticipate that if I’m going to call sinners, I’m going to greet sinners, I’m going to reach sinners, I’m going to spend time with sinners.” But this statement by these Pharisees was not an expression of their adoration; it was rather an expression of their antagonism and their condemnation. They didn’t like Jesus and his program, and they hadn’t really paid careful attention to his purpose.
In fact, the Pharisees, as I said a moment or two ago, classed everybody who was sort of out with their immediate religious in-crowd as “People of the Land.” If you weren’t part of their deal, then you were “aliens and strangers.” And if you then found yourself in that category, then you were shunned by those who knew how to conduct themselves in a religious fashion. And indeed, regulations followed like this: “When a man is one of the People of the Land, entrust no money to him, take no testimony from him, trust him with no secret, do not appoint him guardian of an orphan, do not make him the custodian of charitable funds, do not accompany him on a journey.” And so striking and stringent were these regulations that the Pharisees were forbidden to actually be a guest of any such individual, or in turn to have such a person as a guest. It was their deliberate policy to avoid all contact with these kind of people.
And, of course, there is an expression of religion today which is very much like that—some of you have come out of that background—where it would seem that what you need to be is a certain kind of person. Indeed, entry is only for those who are prepared to do this and that and the next thing, and keep the rules, and keep the regulations. And there is an almost inevitable feeling of uncomfortableness as a result of being on the outside of that kind of coterie. And along comes Jesus, and he doesn’t allow these regulations to interfere with his ministry.
In fact, there was a Jewish saying which goes absolutely counter to what Jesus is proclaiming in these stories, and this is how it went: “There is joy before God when those who provoke Him perish from the world.” “There is joy before God when those who provoke Him perish from the world.” You can imagine them putting that, as it were, on the outside of their bulletin board in welcoming people to the ten o’clock service at the local synagogue: “Now, we welcome you on ten o’clock at our service; we want you to know that there is joy in heaven when you horrible, ruthless people who are provoking God perish and die off from the earth! And why don’t you come and bring your mothers? It’s going to be a wonderful day, and we look forward to greeting you.”
Well, the people were sick to death of this! It was death to them. And so, it is quite striking, is it not, that when these tax collectors, these disenfranchised souls, these people who are on the periphery of things, find somebody who speaks with such clarity and with such compassion, they are drawn to listen to him? And as soon as he has taken the opportunity to address the group, he does so with great clarity and impact.
So what he is doing here is exposing the faulty thinking of the Pharisees, and at the same time exposing these sinners to the wonder of God’s searching love. And as we’ve seen already, Jesus is masterful in the way in which he tackles this. Because his approach grips the attention of the listener and appeals to their sense of reason.
“Suppose,” he says, “one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.” That’s the kind of statement that immediately makes contact with the listening group. One of the reasons that ministers make such poor contact with the listening group is because they never, ever say anything that makes contact with the listening group. And whenever somebody does, then there will be a crowd there to listen to him—because it’s not run-of-the-mill. Because on the average situation, they are used to no contact whatsoever being made; it’s simply the fulfillment of a religious duty, and out of door as fast as you possibly can.
Now, I’m not making this up. When I was in Ireland last year with some friends, playing golf, and we went to our separate services in the morning, one of my good friends came back afterwards, we met each other in the town after attending worship, and I said to him, “How did you get on in your service this morning?” Rick said to me, “It was fantastic! He did it in nineteen minutes. He did it in nineteen minutes.” “Did what?” “Did whatever you do in nineteen minutes and got us out the door. It was a great day.” It didn’t really matter whether it engaged his mind, stirred his heart, moved his spirit, forgave his sins, anything; it’s simply, “He did it in nineteen minutes, and we were gone.”
“Well,” Jesus says, “let me just help you to think about this for a moment. Imagine that you’ve got a hundred sheep. Or,” he says, “for example, think about a lady who has ten coins, and she loses one of them.” And the ladies in the group say, “Well, I’ve lost stuff before.” Whether these are ten special coins as a result of the financial element or whether it is part of a necklace, we can only wonder. But what he’s saying is, “If there’s something precious that is lost, you will notice that these individuals go at it with great care.”
In the case of the shepherd, it is a demanding responsibility to “leave the ninety-nine in the open country”—verse 4—and then “go after the lost sheep until he finds it.” And every shepherd worth his salt understands that. His family understands it:
“Dad, you’ve got ninety-nine. Do you really have to go out tonight?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Because wee Mary—the wee lamb Mary—I’ve got to go for her.”
“Ach, Dad, you’ve got ninety-nine! Ninety-nine out of a hundred. You’re not going to burn much profit margin in 1 percent, you know.”
“No, I know, it’s not just that. I love her. I like that wee lamb. I’m going to find her.”
No trouble too great for him to tackle it, no sacrifice too significant for him to go, no suffering too great for him to endure. And when he finally puts this lamb or this sheep over his shoulders and goes home, then he calls his friends and his neighbors together and he says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my … sheep.” And the people said, “That’s a nice story.” It has common interest. It engages the mind; it stirs the emotion. The people said, “I understand that. That is a lovely thing.” And then Jesus makes application.
Now, you see, in all of this you’ve got to understand that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep. And as he speaks in this way, of course, in and behind all of this he is moving inexorably towards Jerusalem. He is the one who is going out, seeking to save those that are lost. And in spite of all the hardships, and in spite of all of the challenges, he keeps on.
In the case of the coin, the picture is one of exacting thoroughness. You will notice, this lady, she “light[s] a lamp,” she “sweep[s] the house,” and she “search[es] carefully [till] she finds it.” Every lady can identify with this, and so can every man. Because why is it when men look for stuff, it’s not there; when ladies look for it, it is there? How does it get there—because it clearly wasn’t there!—in between my looking and Sue’s looking? Why is it always there?
Somebody was telling me just the other day, they said “You know, I help my wife clean the kitchen from time to time, but really, I might as well not bother.” “Why?” “Because she cleans it again—after I cleaned it!” Now, there’s something about the female psyche: “Thanks for your help. Move over! Let me take care of this. Are we looking for this thing? Are you looking properly?”
“Well, I’m looking. I’m using the verb to look. I’m using my eyes.”
“Yes, yeah, but you’re not looking properly.”
“Well, what is ‘properly’?”
“Well, you gotta sweep, you gotta move, you gotta turn, you gotta do…” And she searches with exacting thoroughness until she finds it.
Now, see, he’s telling a story here. He’s painting a picture. He said, “This is how God works. It’s not that he just bumps into somebody in the mall, you know. It’s not that he suddenly happened to meet you at a service. No, he is searching you out, he is sweeping through the chapters of your life, he is walking down the corridors of your days. He is searching you out with an exacting thoroughness.” The lamp is lit, the search is on, the coin is found, the tea party begins, and all of the neighbors rejoice: “Mrs. Levi has found her coin.”
Now, the Pharisees, as well as the others, are forced to think this out: Would you ignore or despise or neglect a lost sheep? No. Then why would you ever imagine that the Good Shepherd would take such an approach?
So, we have the Pharisees, dreadfully sour, and we have the angels, wonderfully singing. See, the Pharisees—and all Pharisees—can’t stand it when the people who instead of praying on their knees have been preying on their neighbors actually get to have a meeting with Jesus. They thought that the people that Jesus really wanted to talk to were the people who were always attending the services, and half of these people have been attending services, but not in the right place; they’re down the pub all the time. And Jesus says, “I’d be real glad to sit and talk with you fellas for a moment or two, if it’s okay.”
Then he goes to the third story. And he said, “Well, let me tell you about the one where there was a certain man, and he had two sons.” And people’s ears are perked up, you see. A lost sheep, shepherds; the lost coin, ladies; two boys. It’s a story of broken relationships. Again, it is a story with which everyone is able to identify. There are two boys, and they’re both isolated from their father—the second of which we will see when we get to verse 25 (which will certainly not be this morning), and the first we’re introduced to immediately here, in verse 12; he’s described as the “younger” boy. The younger boy is isolated as a result of his open, barefaced rebellion, and his isolation is revealed in the fact that he has geographically separated himself from his father and his father’s house. The older boy is isolated from his father while still living in the house, and his separation from his father is disguised ever so thinly because of the proximity, geographically, to his dad.
Now, you remember what Jesus is doing here. There are those who are listening whose lives are a wreck, and there are those who are not listening whose lives are religiously all tied up. These religious folks assume that if there is any message here, it must be for these poor souls, although they don’t really like Jesus going to them, but they’re dead certain that it does not have anything to do with them. And what Jesus is going to show in this parable is that these Pharisees are just like the elder brother—that their isolation from the God they say they worship is disguised by the fact that they are so intricately involved in doing “God things”: in attending religious services, in making notes in the flyleaf of their Bible, in buying tapes, in going to conferences, in being known as the in-crowd. They have no need of a Savior! They’re in by dint of what they do. Jesus says, “Listen: the elder brother thought exactly like that, but he was a slave, not a son.” And for those who thought that they were inevitably left out—“Goodness gracious, whoever is supposed to go and meet that Jesus, it can’t be me, because look at my life”—Jesus says, “No, there’s a surprise for you as well.”
Now, it’s a classic scenario, isn’t it, in verse 12? Teenage boy rebels against his wealthy father. The younger one said to his father, “I’m out of here.” He was dissatisfied with his father and dissatisfied with his father’s house. That’s not an unusual story in the time of Jesus, and it’s certainly not an unusual story today. Everywhere I go in the country, I meet young people who have done just this; they’ve done a Luke 15:12. They said, “I’m out of here, I’m gone. I don’t like your values, I don’t like your rules, I don’t really like much about what you’re doing and how you’re treating me. The only thing I like about you is the fact that you’ve got money, and if you could give some of it to me, then I could just get out of here. Your life will be better, my life will be better. Just let me go. Just let me get out of here.”
Now, we should notice in passing that it is quite normal for children to leave their parents. Indeed, that is the great of challenge of parenting, isn’t it—to prepare our children to leave us? Every time I stand, as I did yesterday afternoon, and watch that precious moment where the father takes the hand of his daughter and gives it to this chap—no matter how much he likes this chap, no matter if he thinks the sun shines out of his eyes—I’m watching very carefully to see what’s going on. And I understand why it is that Chuck Swindoll says that to give your daughter away to one of these characters is like giving your prize Stradivarius to a gorilla to play with. I’m not there, but when it rustles in the leaves, it scares me half to death. But I recognize, “You’re gonna have to do it.” It’s part of the responsibility. Indeed, when parents treat their adult children as if they were still children, they do themselves and their kids a great disservice. When parents endeavor to hold on when they’re supposed to let go, then it is a danger to everybody.
But what is happening here in this young man is not simply his expression for a normal desire for independence. It’s not that he’s saying to his dad, “Dad, I love you, but I think it’s time for me to live on my own,” or “I love you, and I’d like to have a go at business on my own,” or whatever it might be. It’s not that. He is essentially making a scandalous and preposterous request—namely, he is demanding his inheritance in advance, and in doing so, he is essentially saying to his father, “I wish you were dead. I wish you were dead! Because if you were dead, I’d get my money. If you were dead, I’d get my freedom. But you’re alive, and I’m stuck. So why don’t you cut me loose now and give me what’s coming to me, and let me get out of here?”
Now, remember, what Jesus is doing is, he’s using a picture in order to describe the nature of men and women concerning God. Now, some of us may be lost from God, living under the disguise of religion; doubtless, some of us are. But others of us this morning are even surprised that we’re here. We may have been brought here as a result of a trick on the part of our wives. We said to them, “What would you like for Mother’s Day?” They said, “Well, will you give me anything I ask?” We said, “Well, within limits”—financial limits, etc.—and they said, “Well, I’d just like you come to Parkside with me.” And you said, “Oh, I can do that,” and now you’re in here, and you’re going, “Why did I say that? Why did I say that? I’m trapped in row four, in the middle of it all, and I can’t get out! And the way he’s talking, it looks as though this goes on till about three in the afternoon. I’m stuck in here!” And the reason you’re so alarmed is because you did a Luke 15:12. You came to a point in your life, you said, “I’m done with this.” You were altar boy, you were involved in religion—bells and smells—and suddenly, in your adolescent years, you said, “I’m stuffed with this, I’ve had enough of it.” In much the same way as C. S. Lewis in his Surprised by Joy—which my wife is reading to me a second time now; it makes me wonder if I ever read the book in the first place, because of all the insights I’m now getting. But Lewis walks out of a service one morning in the Anglican Church, and he says to himself, “That’s the end of it! I’m done. I’m gone.” He turns his back on his father’s house, and he walks away. And some of you have done the very same thing. And here you are this morning.
Ah, but you say, “I’m only in once. Nothing can happen to me one time. I think I can get in and out without anything happening.” You may pray God something does happen, because you need something to happen. Because your Father loves you with an everlasting love. He stands watching for you the way the father does on his porch here. He’s not disinterested in who you are or where you are. He has compassion upon you—far greater than any compassion that you will ever know for your physical earthly children.
In this young man’s declaration of physical independence, what we have is a picture of those whose rebellion against God is open and defiant. The young man was saying, “I want to live by myself, for myself. I want to be free of any rules, of any authority. I want to blot out any thoughts of the true and living God. I do not want you to reign on the throne of my life.”
Now, the Bible tells us in Romans 1 that that is exactly true of men and women in general: “For although,” says Paul, “they knew God…” And everybody knows that God exists. “The fool [has] said in his heart, There is no God.” That doesn’t mean a dumb person; it means somebody who is morally perverse, who chooses to take the plain, bald evidence of life and turn it on its head.
I drove behind a car down on Mayfield Road the other day—I wanted to go up and bang on the roof of the car, but I couldn’t get out fast enough, and then it would have been a problem in any case—but it was a young man, and he had one of those fish on the back with the feet on the end and “Darwin” in the middle of it. And when I say I want to bang on the roof of the car, not to do him any harm, I wanted to bang on his sunroof and have him open up and say, “Let’s go in the Tasty Freeze here thing, ’cause I want to talk to you. I don’t think you fully understand what you’ve got on the back bumper of your car here. Do you really believe that you were born without chance, that you’re prolonging yourself with no reason at all, and that you’re gonna die and go to oblivion?”
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor [did they give] thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
And so—verse 12, at the end, in one sentence—the father “divided his property between them.” Now, again, please note that Jesus is drawing a picture here of how human beings made in the image of God find themselves alienated from God as a result of their moral rebellion—that in the same way as this young man wants out from under his father’s jurisdiction, so we by nature want out from under the jurisdiction of God. As he said “Give me my inheritance,” essentially saying “I wish you were dead,” so men and women today are saying—not in so many words, but essentially—that of God: “I wish you were dead.” The young man was saying, “I like the material things you can give me. I just don’t like you. I want them, I just don’t need him. I want you out of my life. I don’t want your involvement, and I certainly don’t want your interference.”
Now, why did he ask for this division of property in verse 12? Well, verse 13 tells us: because he was planning on taking off. His departure was clearly one that he had planned, and his son clearly regarded it as being permanent. He “got together all [that] he had.” When you go on vacation, you don’t completely dismantle your room—at least, it’s not normal within the sphere of reference that I have. If one of my children told me they were going on vacation, they took everything out of the room—all of the furniture, all of the books, all of the carpeting, all of the light fittings, all of the clothes, and everything else—I’d say, “Is this a vacation you’re going on, or are you leaving?” The young man “got together all [that] he had.” He didn’t leave anything behind, because he wasn’t coming back.
And man, when he turns his back on God, does it in that way: “I’m finished with this, I’m out of here, I’m gone, I’m not coming back. I might as well clean my whole operation out, because I will never be back”—despite the fact that all that this young man had was his father’s provision! And all that you and I have, dear friend, is as a result of your Father’s provision. The very mind that you use to deny God is a gift from God. The very talents that made you feel that you have a future on your own to do it your way are talents that your heavenly Father has given you. The family background that has provided the resources for you to get out and drive off down the street are the provision of a wonderful God. All of your provisions are God’s provisions. That’s why it is a tragic thing, as we’re going to see, for a man or a woman to waste their substance, to squander it—because your life isn’t yours to waste. God gave you your life. He gave you life in order that you might glorify him and enjoy him forever, not so that you might turn your back on him and say, “I’m done with you, I wish you were dead.”
In fact, the phrase, the verb that is used here in Greek, may actually have the connotation—when it says that he “got together all [that] he had”—it is at least possible that it has an inkling of the notion—synagagon is the verb—that he took what he had been given and he turned it to cash. He cashed his chips in. His father said, “Well, I’ve got stock, you’ve got a certain percentage of my stock—” Cash! “I’ve got an old station wagon, Mercedes 300—” Cash! “I’ve got this, I’ve got this, I’ve got this—” Cash! ’Cause he had the idea, which is a twentieth-century notion, as well—twenty-first-century notion—that money is the universal passport to everywhere. “If only we had the cash, you know, then it wouldn’t be like this. If we only had the money, then we wouldn’t be here. If we only had this resource, then we could be gone and make it happen.” With his money he thought he could buy freedom; he bought bondage. With his money he thought he could buy access; he bought access to a pigsty. With his money he thought he would buy influence; his influence waned with his cash, and eventually he was all on his own. And if he had had a little MP3 player and he was the average kind of guy, he’d be going down the road singing one of the Beatles’ songs to himself, you know: “All the best things in life are free, but you can keep it for the birds and the bees, but give me money; that’s what I want, that’s what I want, that’s what I want.”
Not only did he take everything, but he took it as far as he possibly could. He took it off, “set off for a distant country,” and there in the distant country, he “squandered his wealth in wild living.” The word which is used, again, means “to scatter in various directions.” He was wandering, and his wandering led to squandering. There’s a difference between going to the mall purposefully to buy something and going to the mall just to wander around—a very dangerous procedure. If you’re going just to wander, make sure you have no money with you at all and no access to money. Because if you simply wander, the chances are, you will squander.
You look at people who make a vast sum of money on the lottery, and they just go wandering out into life, and within a relatively short period of time, it’s all squandered and gone; professional football players that do exceptionally well through a relatively short career, become multimillionaires, and within five years of the end of their career are not only less prosperous then they once were, but they’re just flat-out broke. That’s what happened to the young man. His desires that had mastered him—the desire for freedom, the desire for independence—took him over and just gave way to disappointment.
And you will notice in verse 14 that when “he had spent everything…” When “he had spent everything…” And then let your eye go down to the bottom of verse 16. “He spent everything…” Bottom of 16: “No one gave him anything.” “Spent everything … no one gave him anything.” There’s a great song on one of Eric Clapton’s albums. I can’t remember how it goes, but the refrain is, “And no one loves you, nobody loves you, nobody loves when you’re down and out.” And now he’s down and out. The big shot came to town, the parties ensued, he was everybody’s friend; now he has used up everything, a famine has emerged, and it is a door of opportunity: “He began to be in [want].” “He began to be in [want].” A sad but glorious moment: lost his money, verse 14; lost his freedom, verse 15; lost his self-respect, verse 16.
There’s doubtless someone here this morning, and what you have regarded in these recent days as a cellar door to oblivion is, in the purposes of God, a wide door to freedom, to forgiveness, and to glorious hope. Because the thing that keeps so many of us from our loving heavenly Father is that we see no need of him. We’re fine. I mean, every so often a doctor’s report will rattle us a little bit, but by and large, we’re fine. So when God in his providence brings us down to see our need, then it is a moment of opportunity. And indeed, loved one, until you and I see our need, what possible reason is there for returning to a God for his welcome? Until we see our need of a physician, why would we ever go to him? Until we see our need of a Savior, why would we ever cry out to him?
And you see, the very problem with the Pharisee—the very problem with a religious person, the people who were listening on the circumference of this—they saw no need of Christ. They saw no need of him at all! But there were some who were there, by this time their eyes are as big as saucers. They’re getting it. They’re listening. “I see what you’re saying, Jesus! You’re saying that when we realize that we are spiritually broke, that we can turn now and go back to our Father, and we will receive from him a welcome.” That’s exactly it! “That we who are on the periphery of things, we who are disregarded by the religious, we who are here only once or twice a time out of all the synagogue services of the year, that the Father God loves us and cares for us and reaches out to us.” That’s exactly…
Oh, well, we’ll come back to this; our time is gone. But picture him there, sitting in a pigsty. What a place for a Jewish boy. All of the people in his PalmPilot—nobody answers his calls. No replies to his emails. Schtum, gone, persona non grata, busted, flat out, the offscouring of society. He needs food, he needs shoes, he needs a bath, he needs clothes, and “no one gave him anything.”
Let me tell you something: nobody will give you anything that can answer the awareness of your need and longing for spiritual food and clothing. But if you are prepared to admit the predicament in which you are so clearly to be found, and if you will take a step back up on that road, then you will discover that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords has been watching for you and waiting for you, that he is ready to come down the road to meet you. And he will not meet you with a lot of recriminations, and a lot of where-were-yous, and a lot of why-did-yous, and a lot about “I told you you’d get yourself in a mess like this, and you go back in here, and when your mother’s done with you, I’ll have a word with you. You just get back up in there and get yourself cleaned up, you filthy-looking wretch,” you know. “And get in the back gate, as well. Don’t let the neighbors see you coming in here. Get in ’round the back. Look at ya! Exactly what I said would happen.” None of that! A kiss! Shoes! A signet ring! A party! And for all your manky, rotten, ragged jerseys, a royal robe you don’t deserve to wear.
Can you turn your back on this kind of God? Or are you able to stand before this kind of God and say, “I don’t need you”? What a wonderful story. What an amazing storyteller. What an incredible invitation. He—she—who has ears to hear, listen! Listen!
Father, we thank you that you’ve given us a Bible to read so that we can go back and check and make sure that what’s being said is actually there. We thank you that when we read the Bible, you reveal the immensity of your love and your grace. And we pray this morning that on this day, as we give thanks to you for our mothers, that we may ponder the immensity of your fatherhood, and that as a result we may be drawn to you. And when we make sense of this at all, and when we realize that you, the King of Kings, would speak to us and give us such an amazing provision—goodness, we ought to actually bow down before you and live to sing your praise.
 R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Language modernized.
 Luke 14:35 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 18:11 (paraphrased).
 Luke 5:31–32 (paraphrased).
 William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, The New Daily Study Bible (1953; repr., Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 236–7.
 The Sifre, ed. Meir Friedmann, quoted in Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 2, rev. ed. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1886), 256.
 John 10:11 (paraphrased).
 Charles R. Swindoll, The Owner’s Manual for Christians: The Essential Guide for a God-Honoring Life (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), 19.
 Romans 1:21 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 14:1 (KJV).
 Romans 1:21 (NIV 1984).
 The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1. Paraphrased.
 Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, “Money (That’s What I Want”)” (1959). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Jimmy Cox, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” (1974). Paraphrased.