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The Loving Father

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
March 21, 2023 4:00 am

The Loving Father

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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This is not to say that every sinner who repents gets this bad.

That's not the point. Not every sinner does get that bad. Not every sinner is that wretched. Not every sinner spends his money on harlots. That's not the point.

The point is we want to know what this father is going to do to a sinner who is as bad as it can get. A spectacular 38-mile ride descending more than 11,800 feet from the Andean Mountains into the Amazon jungle. That's how one travel brochure describes the youngest road in Bolivia. But before you set out to drive this highway in the sky, you should know that the youngest road is one of the most dangerous in the world, with harrowing turns and no guardrails.

And you should also know that the locals don't use that road anymore. These days, drivers make what could be called the world's smartest U-turn and go a different, safer route. Well, today on Grace to You, John MacArthur shows you an even smarter U-turn, one you can't afford to miss. I'm talking about the change of direction that will save you from eternal destruction. The Bible calls it repentance. Find out what it means to repent.

Follow along with John as he continues his series called The Tale of Two Sons. If you will, take your Bible and turn to the fifteenth chapter of Luke and I confess to you that my heart and mind is overflowing with things I want to say to you and I'm doing the best that I possibly can to restrain myself from saying everything to treat you in a reasonable fashion. But this is such a rich chapter, as we have come to find out already. Now as we look at this story, it demands careful attention.

I feel like I'm giving you a lot but cheating you at the same time because I can't get it all in. This is so rich and so deep. And on the surface, a lot of it is lost to us because we live in the western world two thousand years later and this is back in the time of Jesus in a Middle Eastern village and we don't have the unconscious sensibilities, the cultural insights and the attitudes that were a part of everybody's life and didn't need explanation. So if you wonder why it only takes a little while to read it but so long to explain it, it's the difficulty of filling in the blanks. The story divides itself into three parts that overlap. The first part is about the younger son. The second part is about the father. The third part is about the older son.

It is dramatic and climactic as we go along. Each of those parts overlaps as we're looking at the younger son, it overlaps into the father. As we're looking at the father, it overlaps into the older son.

And so we're trying to sort it out and yet let it flow. We looked last time at the first part, verses 11 to 16, about the younger son. And we divided that into two parts, a shameless request. Verse 11, he said, A man had two sons. From the beginning it is a tale of two sons. The younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me, so he divided his wealth between them. This was an outrageous, shameless request tantamount to wishing your father was dead. Because it was customary, it was acceptable only for a son to receive his inheritance after the death of his father. The son is therefore saying, I wish you were dead, I want what is mine, I want it now.

This is shameless in its request. And it allowed him to perpetrate not only the shameless request, but a shameless rebellion. Not many days later after he had received his part of the estate, the younger son gathered everything together. That means he turned it all into cash, went on a journey into a distant country. There he squandered his estate with loose living.

Later in the story it is said that he engaged himself with harlots, among other things. He squandered his estate with loose living when he had spent everything. A severe famine occurred in that country. He began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating and no one was giving anything to him. A shameless request leads to a shameless rebellion. And all of that, as I told you, pictures the irreligious rebellious immoral sinner, the very kind of person that Jesus was associating with. The people who were treated badly by the culture, who were scorned and made outcasts by the society, they were as bad as bad can be. This young man demonstrates someone who has gone as low as you can go, all the way to the bottom in a Gentile country, living in an outrageous and immoral way, ending up not only taking care of pigs, but eating with pigs, becoming one of them.

This is as bad as it gets. And he ends up destitute and helpless. Now at this point, the father reenters the story. The father reenters in the mind of the son, first of all.

And we go from a shameless request and a shameless rebellion to a shameful repentance. We see that in verse 17 as we begin to talk about the father. Verse 17, but when he came to his senses, he said, How many of my fathers...stop there just long enough to say, all of a sudden his father comes to mind. I'm sure he had done everything he could to make sure he kept his father out of mind while he was indulging himself, but now left with nothing, destitute, in a famine, dying of hunger. He comes to his senses. He comes to himself.

He has a conversation with himself. And what he says in his soliloquy is, How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger? And this is where repentance really begins.

It begins with an accurate assessment of your condition. It's really important for the profligate sinner, for the prodigal, for the wasteful irreligious outcast to come to an honest assessment of his own situation, or her own situation. He knows he is in a situation for which he has no resources to get out. He knows he is dying of hunger and no one will give him anything and he's losing the battle with the pigs for what they can eat.

It's the end. And all repentance begins with an honest assessment of one's condition, of destitution, helplessness, no resources and impending death. And so he thinks about his father and how many of his father's hired men have more than enough bread while he's dying of hunger. Now that says a lot about the father.

This is where we start to learn about the father. Let me tell you a little bit about what it was to be a hired man, a misthas. A hired man was a day laborer. Sometimes you see them around, don't you, standing on a corner waiting for somebody to come along and give them a job that day?

Even today in our society and all around the world and all through history. They are at the lowest level. They are basically the poor, the poor who are willing to work, who need to work. And everybody who was poor in these days in biblical times had to work. Day workers hoped somebody would come along and hire them. They were, for the most part, unskilled, although some of them may have developed some skilled craft that they would be hired to do.

But for the most part, they were just unskilled workers who were available to help in the harvest or to do something that was temporary and therefore earn a little money to survive. Now he remembers that his father paid them more than enough. That is to say, he remembered that the hired men had more than enough bread, which is to say their father was what?

Generous. He remembered that his father gave them more than they generally needed to survive. His father was loving. His father was good. His father was kind.

His father was generous. You see, hired men were even protected by the Old Testament law. Leviticus chapter 19 verse 13 says, The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning.

If you hire somebody to do work and he eats on the basis of that work and that money sustains him and his family, you have to pay him the day he does the work. Well the father was a man who not only did what the Old Testament law said, but he did more. This comes into the mind of the son and it's very important to remember that his father is not a hard man. His father is not an indifferent man. His father is kind and generous and good. And he knows his father well enough to know that he's a merciful man, that he's a generous man and that he is a forgiving man. He has all of that knowledge because that has been revealed to him in the revelation of his father which he had when he was in the home.

He doesn't know anybody else like that. He doesn't know anywhere to turn to and somebody might say, Well wait a minute, I mean he would expect that his father having been so totally disgraced and dishonored in the village by such a request from such an ungrateful and profligate son would have been ashamed and embarrassed and dishonored to the point where you wouldn't want to go back to him at all. But he knows his father better than that. He knows his father is not vengeful.

He knows his father is merciful and generous. Now hired men were not slaves. Slaves lived in the family. They weren't necessarily paid wages. Typically they were just supported. They were part of the household. So if you were a slave, you worked in a family, they gave you your food and your lodging and took care of all of your needs and maybe there was a little pocket money for discretionary things. Hired men were lower than that. They had nobody continually caring for them. They were out on their own at the lowest of the low. But they received wages and those wages, believe me, were given at the discretion of the man who hired them. Do you remember when Jesus told the story about going into the marketplace in the gospel of Matthew to find some people to come and work in the harvest? Then they first found some at six o'clock and then some at nine and some at twelve and some at three, took them out and they didn't negotiate at all what their wage would be.

Remember that? The ones who came at six, nine, twelve, three, all received what? One denarius, the same wage and that was due to the generosity of the man. They were not in a position to negotiate.

Day workers weren't. They took what they could get to survive. But this was a generous father. All the people who heard him tell the story would have processed all of that which I have to fill in for you. But he's ready to go back to this man that he knows to be merciful and generous and compassionate and kind. He is ready now because he doesn't have an alternative.

There's nowhere left to go. All he can do is humble himself, face his shame, admit his terrible sin and disgrace, go back and try to be treated with the same kind of mercy and compassion and kindness that he knows his father treats poor people. And maybe...maybe if he can work long enough, he can earn back what he lost and make restitution back to the family and then have a reconciliation with his father. He's thinking the way the people in Israel thought because that's the way Jesus wants him to think. They would have all understood this. They would have all said, well, boy, if he's truly repentant, he'll go back, he'll go back to his father, he'll confess, he'll repent, he'll be humbled, he'll be humiliated, he'll be scorned, he'll be shamed and that's just and that's fair and that's right because of what he's done to his father. Very severe in an honor-shame culture, very important to protect the honor of the old man. That's what he needs to do and he needs to go back and then he needs to receive from that father mercy and forgiveness based on work that he does. He needs to do restitution. So they would have been with him in this story up to now. They would have been horrified at what the young man did.

They would have seen him as an absolute outcast and if there was any hope for coming back, he would have to come back, receive mercy and forgiveness and do the work to earn back his reconciliation. Well, he's ready. He's broken. He's alone.

He's sad. He's penitent. He has nowhere to go and he believes in his father. This is a picture of one whose repentance leads to salvation because you see not only repentance here, but faith in his father. He trusts in his father's goodness, compassion, generosity and mercy. Repentance is linked to faith. He knows the kind of man his father is and in spite of the horrible way he has blasphemed his father, dishonored his father, shamed his father, the horrible way he has treated his father, the terrible way he has lived his life, coming to the very bottom, he knows his father is a forgiving man. And penitently he trusts to go back and receive forgiveness and do whatever works he needs to do to make restitution and be reconciled. So verse 18, I'm not going to just stay here and die. I will get up and go to my father and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight I am no longer worthy to be called your son, here's my plan, make me one of your hired men. That's all good. They would...all the Pharisees and scribes would say, that's it?

That's exactly what it needs to do? That's sensible thinking, boy. He came to his senses. He had a little dialogue with himself. He had a soliloquy. He understood he had nowhere to go but home. He understood something about the goodness of the father. He's ready to place himself on the mercy of the father, having repented of his sins. He's going to go back and he's going to do what he needs to do by making himself a hired man at the lowest point on the totem pole in terms of socially. No intimacy with the father, not even a slave in the house, let alone a son. He has no right to the home, no right to deplete the family resources any further. He's just going to work when they want to invest some money in something that's going to bring a dividend like anybody else will work.

He's ready. His sensible thinking then moves his will. This is how repentance works. First of all, the sinner comes to himself, comes to his senses, begins to really look and assess where he is and where he's headed to the inevitable death and destruction and eternal damnation. The sinner says, I can't keep going this direction, there's only one to whom I can turn, that's the father whom I have flaunted and dishonored. I have to go back to him. I have to go back bearing my shame and full responsibility for my sin. I have to cast myself on his mercy, forgiveness and love and I have to tell him that I'm willing to work to do whatever I need to do to earn my way back.

Everybody would have understood that. It's very humbling. It's very, very embarrassing, very shameful. But he says, I'm going to do it. And listen to how severe he is about his own self-indictment. I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. Against heaven is actually eis tu urenon, I have sinned into heaven. And it may well be that what he means by that is my sins pile up as high as heaven.

This may be a reflection of Ezra 9, 6, Oh my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to Thee, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens. He's not holding anything back. He is genuinely penitent. He is denying himself fully. This is the stuff of real repentance.

He is saying my life has been a total disaster. I am facing death and there's no one to blame but myself. I rebelled. I disobeyed.

I wasted my life. I dishonored my father. My sins rise to the very presence of God they stack so high. This is true repentance, holding back nothing, no excuses, no blame anywhere but himself. And so, true penitence matched with true trust in a father's love and forgiveness starts the sinner back. He has to go back to save himself from his sin, empty, alienated, headed for eternal destruction. Every sinner who ever repents starts with powerful conviction of his own or her own condition, destitute, empty, headed for eternal death. Every sinner who comes back takes full responsibility for that sin and sees it as an offense that rises as high as heaven. Every sinner who comes back sets his course or her course toward God to come back.

And the Jews would have understood that when you come back, God will accept you if you do the work. He had no rights, forfeited them all when he took his part of the estate and liquidated it and squandered it. No rights, no worthiness. He'll never be a son again, at least that's his view. I'm no longer worthy to be called your son, just make me a hired man, just give me a job and over all the years that it takes, I'm going to work to earn back everything I lost. I have no rights, he says. I have no privileges.

I lay no claim. I don't ever expect you to receive me on my terms. Remember now, he's dead. They had a ceremony when he left, a funeral.

That's why he's referred to twice by the father as my son who was dead. I don't expect to live in the home. I don't expect to be a slave. I don't even expect a relationship with you, Father. I just want to work and I'll earn my way back. Make me as one of your hired men. You know, there's real faith here in God and there's real repentance.

This is the real stuff. And those Pharisees and Sadducees at this point would be applauding. They would be, ah, this is right.

It's what he's got to do. Up to now they're generally affirming the story. They didn't like the story at the beginning because dishonoring the father was distasteful to them. They were horrified when the young man left and conducted his life in that way, and even more horrified when he ended up with pigs who were considered, of course, utterly unclean. But since then, they like the idea that he came to his senses. They like the idea that he's coming back and they know there's no instant reconciliation. That's not how it's done. He's penitent and he trusts his father, but he's going to have to earn his way back.

That's pure Pharisaic theology, along with every other religion in the world. He comes back and says, I'll take my punishment. I'll take the exclusion from fellowship in the family. I'll take the distance from my father. I'll endure the humiliation of lowly work. I'll take the pain of hard labor for years to restore what I lost. I'll work my way back until I can be reconciled. Oh, he's filled with remorse for the past. He's filled with pain in the present and he's looking forward to even more pain in the future as he works for years to earn his way back.

Everybody would get it because that was the way they thought it had to be done. All the glitter is off the gold in the far country now, right? All the freewheeling lifestyle has turned to a terrible crushing bondage. All the dreams are nightmares. All the pleasure is pain. All the fun is sorrow.

All the self-fulfillment is self-deprivation. The party is over for good. The laughs are silenced. The friends are gone. It's as bad as it can get and he's about to die.

There's nowhere to go. Well this is not to say that every sinner who repents gets this bad. That's not the point. Not every sinner does get that bad. Not every sinner is that wretched. Not every sinner spends his money on harlots. That's not the point. The point is we want to know what this father is going to do to a sinner who is as bad as it can get because if he acts in grace toward the one who is as bad as possible, then there's hope for those who aren't.

But the case has to be extreme to make the point. He's ready to humbly come to his father. He's ready to confess his sin without excuse.

He's ready to do whatever work he needs to do to come back. He reminds me of that person in the story Jesus told in Matthew 18 who you remember embezzled money and said to the ruler, let me work and I'll earn it all back. That was the typical way. That's the typical religious way. You get into God's family by your works. His thoughts were of a dishonored father and he felt bad. His thoughts were on the horror of his own sin and he felt bad. And he was willing to do whatever he was told to do to make restitution. This is Grace to You with John MacArthur.

Thanks for being with us. John's current study from Luke 15 is looking at the tale of two sons. You know, John, this is a 2,000-year-old story that you're taking our listeners through, and some may be thinking, is the gospel of repentance we're hearing from Jesus still the gospel today? I mean, someone's going to say, aren't we under grace now?

What a question! Is the gospel of repentance we're hearing from Jesus still the gospel for today? When John the Baptist came, he came preaching repentance. When Jesus came, he came preaching repentance. When Jesus told this story, it was about repentance.

When Jesus first revealed himself as Messiah from his own lips, he revealed himself to a Samaritan woman, and the record of that is in John 4. And he told her about living water, he told her about the gift of God, he was talking to her about salvation, and she said, sir, give me this water to drink, give me this water to drink. And he stopped her in her tracks and said, wait a minute, go call your husband. And she said, I don't have a husband. And he said, you have said it so. You don't have a husband.

In fact, you've had five husbands, and you're currently living with a man who is not your husband. Jesus said, before I give you the water, we need to talk about your sin. This is an adulterous woman, this is a scarlet woman, this is a kind of social pariah. Maybe that's why she was at the well at noon instead of in the evening when the women would normally come, trying to avoid the scorn of the people.

Five husbands? We assume that she had been divorced so many times because of adultery, because that was the biblical cause for divorce. Oh, Jesus hasn't changed his message. This woman needed to take a hard look at her sin and be willing to turn from that sin to embrace the grace of the gospel. When the apostles preached, they preached the same message in Acts. They preached repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to turn from our sin.

That never changes. You have a call for repentance, even in the book of Revelation, as the New Testament ends. The gospel is always the same, repent and put your trust in Christ. That's right, and friend, if you're struggling to repent and trust Christ, maybe you wonder if God is even willing to forgive you. I would encourage you to pick up John's book called The Prodigal Son.

It's based on this study that we're airing this week. To get your copy of the book, contact us today. Our toll-free number is 800-55-GRACE, and our website is This book, The Prodigal Son, would be a great gift for someone you've been giving the gospel to, and it can help him or her see how kind and how undeserved God's grace really is.

The book costs $12.50 and shipping is free. To place your order, call 800-55-GRACE or go to And by the way, our goal is the same whether you hear our teaching through John's books or his messages on grace to you. We want you to see that God's truth applies to every circumstance of your life, and we want to equip you to dig out that truth on your own. If that's the kind of ministry you believe in, you can play a vital role in sustaining our outreach, both around the world and in communities like yours. If you'd like to make a donation, just call 800-55-GRACE or go to

Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Thanks for praying for John and the Grace To You staff and the team at this radio station. Your prayers are important. Also, be here tomorrow when John looks at the depths of God's mercy for sinners like you and me. It's another half hour of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time, on Grace To You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-21 06:42:10 / 2023-03-21 06:52:54 / 11

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