Abraham Lincoln was once asked how he planned to treat the rebellious southerners once they had finally been defeated and returned to the Union.
I plan to treat them, he said, as though they had never been away at all. And the Bible tells us, friends, that this is exactly how God treats us when we finally make up our mind to turn from doing things our own way, when we repent and change our mind and when we come back to God. And Jesus has been trying to explain that to us in what I think is the greatest short story ever told, that this parable, if you will, of the prodigal son here in Luke chapter 15. By the way, do you know what prodigal means? You say rebellious, wild living.
No, no doesn't mean any of those things. Prodigal means wasteful. This is the story of the wasteful son, but really it ought to be the story of the lost son because that was the point. The point was there was a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son, and when God found each of them he rejoiced. Now we want to continue in our study of the parable this morning by looking at the third actor, the third character in the story who hasn't appeared yet, but he's going to appear this morning.
Let's look together. Now a little review, and I know you heard it sung, but let's make sure we all understand. A man had two sons. The younger of the two sons decided that the world beckoned and he wanted to follow. So he asked his father for his share of the inheritance early and he went out, the Bible said, and he blew it all in wild living. Then he ended up friendless, he ended up moneyless, and he ended up tending pigs and fighting with them for the slob.
Now I like what one commentator said. He said if they'd had welfare in those days the prodigal son never would have come home. Well maybe so, but they didn't have welfare, and so beaten and broken this boy suddenly, the Bible says, changes his mind about everything and decides to come home. He didn't plan to come home to be a son anymore.
He thought he had lost that opportunity, that he had given it away. He only came home wanting to be a servant, but the Bible says when his dad saw him he ran to him and he hugged him and he kissed him and he wept over his son and he brought out a robe and the shoes and his ring and said go find the fattest calf we've got. We're gonna kill it and have a party because this son of mine who was dead in sin is alive.
He was lost and now he's found and it's party time. Now the story to this point has a couple of characters in it that are easy to identify. The younger son stands for the people in verse 1 of this chapter, the tax collectors and the sinners who were all gathering around Jesus to hear him, who were coming back to God. The father in the story of course stands for God who welcomed this son back with open arms, with love and forgiveness and restoration and acceptance, which is just the way God was welcoming these tax collectors and sinners. And the point so far is that whenever you and I are willing to come back to God with a broken heart and a repentant attitude, God will always receive us the way the father in this story received his prodigal son, with open arms of love, acceptance and mercy. Now Jesus could have stopped right there and it would have been still the greatest short story ever told I think, but he didn't because you see what precipitated the story is in verse 2.
And the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, the rabbis were watching all these tax collectors and sinners coming back to Christ and they were muttering, the Bible says, they were complaining, they were grumbling, they were criticizing, saying this man welcomes sinners and he eats with them. And so the point of the story is to confront their criticism and their hardness of heart and so enter character number three, the older brother. Verse 25, meanwhile the older son was in the field and when he came near the house he heard music and dancing.
The older brother was right where you'd expect, a hard-working, dependable, diligent, responsible, obedient, loyal, decent, law-abiding son to be. Where was he? He was out in the field working hard and so he comes dragging in at the end of a long day and as he gets close to the house he hears a band and he hears dancing and he hears music and he hears laughter and he hears a party and he goes, golly, I didn't know we were having a party today, what's going on? Well he couldn't go in the house because he was stinky and smelly and sweaty and dirty and he needed a change of clothes before he could go in and so he called one of the servants out to figure out what in the world is going on. Look at verse 26, it says, so he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on and the servant said, surprise, your brother is back and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound and we have the day off with pay, we're having a party, man, come on in. The older brother, verse 28, became angry, the Bible said, and refused to go in the house. He said, I'm standing right out here and nobody can make me go in, I'm not going in. Go in there and celebrate the return of my younger brother, the one who has squandered away much of the family of fortune, the one who has left me behind to do all the work, the one who went off and lived in debauchery and ruined our family name and disgraced us all, go in there and celebrate that he's back, not on your life am I going in there.
So there he is. Now, somehow the father must have heard about this because he comes out to talk to the son, to reason with him. Verse 28 goes on to say, he says, so the father went out and pleaded with him but he answered his father and said, look, all these years I've been slaving for you and I've never disobeyed any of your orders but you never even gave me a young goat to have a party with my friends, I mean much less a fatted calf, I never even got a miserably old goat and yet when this son of yours, notice not my brother, when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the best calf we've got and throw him a party. Is that fair?
Is that right? I mean I'm frustrated, you can't expect me to forgive him, if you do you're crazy, I'm not forgiving him anything and what I think is it's a waste of time to be good, that's what I think, here I've been good all this time and I don't even get a miserable old goat, he goes off and spends all your money in wild living and look what you do for him and if you think you're gonna re-split the inheritance to give him a little bit of spending money, you're out of your mind, the rest of it belongs to me, I'm not giving him a thing, he's gone off and blown all his money and now he's back blowing some of mine, that calf was mine, that you killed. Whoo-wee, good talking some serious venom here, you know and what all this shows us is that what this boy really needed was not a change of clothes, he needed a change of heart, didn't he?
A change of heart. Here was his kid brother, the kid inheritance is gone, he's been bloodied and beaten up by sin, he limped home physically and emotionally, he's like a wounded soldier coming back from battle, was his older brother glad to see him back? Was his older brother touched by any of the pain or the heartache that his little brother had been through? Did he have any pity for this bruised human being? None, not a speck, there was no grace, no mercy, no slack, no nothing. His heart was as cold as a granite slab just like the heart of those rabbis who were standing there criticizing Jesus because he had his arms open to tax collectors and sinners. You see friends, this older brother looked great on the outside but on the inside something was desperately wrong and do you know what, in the sight of God, do you know which of these two brothers I think that God feels has the worst problem? Not the younger brother who went off and blew all the money but the older brother was the one who had the worst problem because he had a heart problem and if you miss that you miss the whole point. Well what did the father do?
I mean with an attitude like this it seems to me this boy deserves to be grounded like for two years or something, you know what I'm saying? Can't use the chariot for two years, sorry, but look what the father says to him. He says my son, verse 31, my son you're always with me, everything I have is your son, I didn't hold out on you son, I wasn't unfair to you son, I've been good to you son, I don't think you're being right about your valuation here, look how tenderly he speaks to this boy, how gently he speaks to it, but he says son we had to celebrate, we had to be glad, this is right to do this, this is proper to have a party, don't you understand? I love your brother too and this boy was dead, this brother of yours, not my son, but your brother was dead and now he's alive again, he was lost and now he's found, this is the right thing to do to have a party. Son won't you please come in and join the party? Son won't you please have some pity on your little brother?
Son please come on in, come on in. And there the story stops, abruptly, with the door open and the father pleading and the question hanging, what will this older brother do? But Jesus never tells us, say I hate when that happens, I hate when that happens, this is terrible, you know I'll tell a story in here sometime and make a point and won't finish it because the end doesn't make any difference to the story and I'll go out before you and have 20 people around me going how did it end, how did it end? I say well didn't you listen, the point has nothing to do with how it ends, that doesn't matter, we have to know how it ends, I can't go home till I know how it ends, I'll think about it all day. We're like that, we want the end of the story, how did the story end?
I don't know, I don't know. And you know why Jesus left it hanging like this? The reason he left it hanging is because the people who were going to write the end of the story were standing right there listening, the rabbis, they were the ones who were gonna write the end of the story because they were the ones he was talking about. The door was open, the party was happening and Jesus was saying to them instead of standing outside throwing rocks at the party, why don't you come in and join it folks? So they got to write the end of the story, kind of like an interactive parable if you understand what I mean here. They could write the end of the parable, you say Lon what did they do?
Well I'm sad to tell you that for most of them they turned their backs, walked away and never went into the party. What a tragedy, but that's what happened. Now that's the end of our story but of course it leads us to ask the really important question and you know what that is, what is it? So what?
Right, so what? What's the point of the older brother? Why put him in the story?
What's wrong with the older brother? What was his problem? What was Jesus trying to get across to us by using him? Wouldn't you say that you could sum it all up in one word, the word compassion? Compassion? What does compassion mean?
Well if you look at the dictionary it comes from a Latin word compasio which means to suffer with somebody, but I like the definition I heard on WAVA this past week. Here's the definition, compassion is the ability to identify with another person's needs and react in a positive way. I think that's a great definition. Listen, compassion is the ability to identify with another person's needs and heartaches and struggles and pain and suffering and then to react in a positive way to encourage them. That's compassion. That's a great definition, huh?
And you know the Bible tells us that this is the way God is. That's the whole point of the story. The contrast in the story was not between the older brother and the younger brother, not at all.
If that's what you think you missed the point of the story. The contrast in the story was between the heart of the father and the heart of the older brother when they came to how they related to the younger brother. The older brother had a heart that was hard and cold and merciless and without compassion. The father had a heart that was soft and tender and merciful and compassionate. The father had a heart like God, like Jesus was displaying. The older brother had a heart like those rabbis and like so many religious leaders down through the centuries have had in their self-righteousness.
And the challenge of the parable is what kind of heart you and I have, like the father, like the older brother. Now you know what's really neat is that God's that way for us. What's really neat is that anytime we come to God we don't find him to be like the older brother, we find him to be like the father. I think that's so special that God is that way. You say, Lon, why is God that way?
I don't know, but thank God he is. It's just the way God is. That's why 1st Peter chapter 5 verse 7 says that we should cast all of our cares on him because he cares for us. And whenever I think of that I think of James Taylor's great song, You've Got a Friend. The song is all about this great friend who'll stand with you through thick and thin, through good and bad. You've always got a friend you can count on and and that's what Jesus Christ said we have when we have him. This is a good time for me to say that if you're here this morning and maybe you've never trusted Jesus Christ in a real and personal way that, folks, if that's you you're missing an opportunity to have the greatest friend the world has ever offered, the world has ever known and that's Jesus Christ who will stand with you through thick and thin, rough and and good and will always be there for you. One of the great byproducts of knowing Christ is not just that you get to go to heaven and that you get your sins forgiven but that you get a friend that sticks closer than a brother, the Lord Jesus Christ. And if you don't have that and you need a friend like that, and you do, I do, we all do, you can have it by embracing Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.
That's what these tax collectors and sinners were doing, they needed a friend like that. But you know even though it's great that we've got a God like that there's more here than just that because it's not just enough that God's that way, God wants you and me as Christians, guess what, to be that way, to be compassionate on an everyday practical level. And every time I see somebody who's compassionate in this world of ours I always wonder to myself I wonder if they're Christian because compassion folks should be one of the great calling cards, one of the great markers of a Christian in this world. That's why Colossians chapter 3 says that we as Christians are to put on and it gives a whole list of things, kindness, forgiveness, da-da-da-da, but the very first thing it says is compassion. And that's why Ephesians chapter 4 verse 32 says that we're to be kind and compassionate with one another, forgiving other people the way that God in Christ forgave us. Compassion ought to be the mark of a Christian.
Whenever I see it in display in this world I always wonder I wonder if that person's a Christian. You know there's a story about two residents living in hell that were taking a walk one day and as they were walking along suddenly out of nowhere this huge storm comes up and his big blizzard and it's freezing and this frigid wind blows out of nowhere and all of a sudden it starts snowing and it snows and it snows and it snows until there's a couple inches of snow on the ground in hell and one guy looks at the other guy and says what in the world is going on and the other guy says I don't know the only thing I can figure out is maybe the Red Sox were on the World Series. Any Red Sox fans here? Anyone? Being a Red Sox fan I think is the most frustrating occupation in the entire world. Wouldn't you say that? When Buckner missed that ground ball in the World Series I met a guy in the hallway said I was in bed with the flu and a hundred and two and when he missed the ground ball my temperature went to 104 just like that I was worse I couldn't believe it. The Red Sox I feel sorry if you root for the Red Sox but anyway I'm not a Red Sox fan I don't root for the Red Sox I don't follow the Red Sox I don't even particularly like the Red Sox but I'll tell you I'm a great fan of one of the players on the Red Sox his name is Moe Vaughn and the reason I'm a fan of him is not because I know him personally we weren't raised in the same hometown we didn't play ball together in high school never met the man personally in my life but I read a story about him last year that so captured my heart with the compassion this man showed that he won me for life and let me tell you about the story because if we're talking about compassion what a great example last April 1993 there was a little boy in Boston Children's Hospital named Jason leader he was suffering from a very severe form of childhood cancer neuroblastoma he was terminally ill I don't know what happened but I suspected he's probably dead the little boy is by now but he was real depressed because it was his 11th birthday coming and they they wouldn't release him from the hospital so he could go home because he was too sick and the people in the hospital knew that he was a move on fan so they thought if they could get move on to give him a phone call that you know just a phone call they knew he was busy but they thought if we could just get a phone call maybe it would cheer the little boy up well at the time the Red Sox were out in California playing the Angels and so somehow in their article didn't say how somebody got in touch with somebody in California and got the word to move on about this little kid and on April 24th the little boy's birthday the phone rang in his room and it was move on calling from California to talk to Jason and he talked to him and he encouraged him and he he shared with him how he wanted him to be tough and he wanted him to face the cancer like a man and then at the very end he said of the conversation he said to him he said now hang in there now Jason he said tonight when I play ball he said I tell you what he said I'll try to hit a home run for you tonight how's that well that evening is God would have it guess what happened you will never guess guess who hit a home run move on did the little boy was actually sleep he never even saw it but the next day when he read about it he couldn't believe it and as soon as move on got back to Boston he made arrangements with the hospital for the little boy to be released for one day and come over to Fenway Park and the little boy came over and sat in the dugout with move on at Fenway Park during the ball game and now I'm quoting I'd like to finish the story by quoting from the Washington Times the doctors it says and I'm quoting now postponed a scheduled round of chemotherapy because they wanted Jason to be strong for that day his dad said Jason was still a little tired it seemed to him but he didn't seem tired when his pal Moe signed some baseballs for him and he didn't seem tired when Vaughn grabbed his little hand and took him for a walk Vaughn said to him we're going in the locker room to see the guys and Vaughn told the press they were not invited good for him and then there was a moment as they were walking away when someone handed Moe the baseball that he had hit for a home run in California and most signed it and said to Jason say strong my little friend move on and gave him the ball now when I read that article tears came to my eyes and I thought I don't know if this guy's a Christian but he sure acts like one I mean this is the heart of God for that little boy and isn't it exciting that in all the days of of high salaries and big promotion and big names that there's a man playing professional ball who's got a heart to do that for a little kid boy I wrote him a letter and I don't know if he ever got it and I said Moe you don't know me but I've got a little girl who's really been suffering and I know how much it has meant to us just that people cared about us and I don't know if you're Christian Moe but I want to tell you what you did is exactly what Jesus Christ would have done if he'd have been a Red Sox player and this boy would have been his fan and I'm proud of you and I may not be a Red Sox fan but I'm from now on a move on fan and I just want you to know that and I am I root for the guy I hope he has a great career because I know the heart of the man that's compassion remember the definition compassion compassion means the ability to identify with another person's needs and respond in a positive way now how do you get to be like that if God wants us to be that way how do you get to be that way I mean is there a course at Nova we can take is there a prescription you can get down at what used to be people's pharmacy does God sprinkle wiffle dust on certain people and so you get some over here and you're compassionate and you don't get any over here so you're not is that how this happens I don't think so you say well on if God wants us to be this way how do you get to be this way oh I'm glad you asked because there's an answer I want you to turn in the Bible as we close this morning to 2nd Corinthians chapter 1 and look what it says verse 3 2nd Corinthians chapter 1 verse 3 praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ verse 3 the Father of compassion the God of all comfort now look at verse 4 who comforts us who gives us compassion in all of our troubles so that we can show compassion so that we can show comfort to those in any trouble with the comfort that we ourselves have received from God you know what this is telling us this is telling us one of the reasons why God lets Christians suffer see one of the age-old questions in the history of mankind is why is there suffering in the world and for us as Christians we ask an even more pointed question well we're God's children by faith in Jesus Christ we're related to him why does he let us suffer of all the people in the world we shouldn't have to suffer friend that may seem logical to the human mind but it's not the ways of God listen to what God said God said he shows us comfort in all of our troubles which assumes we're gonna have some so that we can then go on and show comfort and compassion to other people in their troubles the same comfort and compassion God has shown us God is telling us that the reason he brings struggles and difficulties into our lives as Christians is to make us more able to identify with other people in their struggles and more able to respond in a positive encouraging way you want to know how God makes you into a compassionate person he doesn't do it with success God makes compassionate Christians with suffering with trouble with failure that's one of the reasons he sends it not because he hates us not because he's mad at us not because he doesn't love us but because it is the only way he can develop compassion in our spirits because compassion is when you feel what another person feels because you've been there you haven't been there you can't show it it means to be touched by somebody else's struggles in their pain in their hardship it means to ask how are you and really care what the answer is you know we pass people by we go how are you how you doing how are you how you doing how are you do we don't want the answer if we pass somebody by and go how you doing and they go I'm terrible most of us go oh well have a nice day you're not looking for that most of us asking we don't even want the answer Jesus is trying to build us into the kind of people who when we ask we do want the answer because we want to help suffering is what produces mercy and compassion for others and it produces it in a way that no sermon will ever produce it there's a great story about G Campbell Morgan he's a great preacher elderly man and G Campbell Morgan was at a conference one time and a fella came up to him and was all excited about his new pastor at his church he's a young buck and he was a great speaker and a great preacher and he was telling this old seasoned a man of God about what a great preacher and great speaker this young buck was and G Campbell Morgan didn't say much of anything was very quiet and finally when the man kept pressing him for a response G Campbell Morgan simply said he'll be better when he suffered that was his comment about this preacher he'll be better he may be good now but he'll be better when he suffered why because once he suffered he'll have a compassion that he didn't have right now and I knew a great man of God who's in heaven now who used to always say to me lawn never forget suffering burns out shallowness and makes you compassionate I didn't want to hear that I didn't like that I didn't even know what he meant when he first started saying that to me but I'm learning suffering burns out shallowness and teaches you how to have compassion for human beings you know the story the velveteen rabbit a lot of you have read it to your kids remember the velveteen rabbit wanted to become what real that the in the story they talked to him about how hard it is to become real that becoming real is not easy becoming real you got to go through some pain and some hardship and get tattered on the edges and your clothes get old with you become real I'd like to suggest to you God's in the business of trying to make Christians real and it may mean your clothes get a little tattered it may means you go through some hard stuff and it may mean you deal with some pain but it's the only way to get real where we can help other people I suspect there's not a Christian here today that's not facing some trial in their life some difficulty some something that produces pain and hardship and suffering and you know what I found folks is that if it seems to be no meaning to it then you're ready to go jump off the bridge but if there's meaning if there's purpose that I can grab a hold of and understand why this is happening it helps me to face it and I'm suggesting to you that one of the reasons only one that God lets suffering come into your life as a Christian is to help you learn compassion and make you real so he can use you in the lives of other people I met a fellow after the first service out before you who's been through some real tough times and he came up to me and he said Lon I want to tell you he said that really meant a lot to me you know there have been days where I've just said God why are you doing this to me I don't understand and now I think maybe understand a little bit better and he said you know having some meaning to it makes all the difference in the world and I said you know I really appreciate what you have to say because you understand chronic illness and now I do I never understood it before people would come up with chronic illnesses to me years ago and say oh I'm this and oh I'm that my attitude was just well suck it up just suck it up man I mean what's wrong with you don't stand around here whine and complain like that just suck it up and deal with it ooh bad that's not the way I am anymore because I've been there now folks and I understand that's not what you say to people don't you love them people walk up to you and go Romans 828 just trust God I've got you right in them isn't that how you feel you can be sure anybody who says that to you has never been where you've been or they'd never say that what you and I are looking for in those situations is somebody who throw his arms around us who's been there who by God's grace has made it and who can put their arm around us and pray for us and care for us and love us and encourage us and look us right in the eye and say I know what it's like but God's gonna get you through you can't do that unless you've been there that's why you may be where you are because there's somebody down the road God's going to use you what's the point this morning the point is that God never wastes an experience you got to believe that if God's doing something in your life it's not a wasted experience God doesn't waste experiences God's trying to develop you into a real compassionate human being that he can use in other people's lives and my advice to you is see it that way it'll change the way you see pain it'll change the way you see suffering it'll change the way you relate to life if you understand God's at work in your life as a Christian and that God wants to use you and I pray our passage this morning will help you because I can't think of a one of us who probably doesn't need it let's pray Heavenly Father thank you so much for speaking to us powerfully on this issue of compassion and and our own experiences of suffering and hardship teach us Lord Jesus that when you send an experience into our life it's not wasted it's not an accident but Lord Jesus you are sending it our way to develop compassion and mercy in our lives for other people in a way that we can show it and display it to others in a way that God can use us in their lives and I pray Heavenly Father that you would encourage us each one of us now as we face the troubles that we have knowing that you're gonna walk through it holding our hand and bring us out on the other side equipped to help other people we commit ourselves to you and pray you would change the way we see this world as a result of our contact with the Word of God this morning we pray this in Jesus name amen you
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