Our second sermon in our Prodigal Son series at Grace Life zooms in on the nature of sin and the character of God the Father who loves to see sinners come home.
Repentant Sinners and a Joyful Father
We began the prodigal son parable by looking at the context and seeing that the Pharisees and scribes are offended that Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus responds to their grip-ing by giving them three parables. All three have the same basic outline: something is lost, then found, followed by a celebration.
The prodigal son is the more detailed and intimate of the three parables. The prodigal’s sin is evident as he demands his inheri-tance, leaves home, and pursues a lifestyle of wastefulness resulting in devastation and destruction. This is what it looks like to be lost.
Luke 15:13-24—Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
The prodigal has hit bottom. He’s penniless and abandoned. But it’s at the bottom that he realizes there’s something far worse than pigs and poverty—the prodigal has abandoned his father. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’ ” (v.17).
“ ‘But when he came to himself’ ” (v.17a). That’s a colorful way of describing repentance. Repentance is one of the missing links for most people that think they’re a Christian but really aren’t. So, it’s important that we know what it is.
1. Repentance is returning to “yourself” (v.17). Sin is senseless, and sin mars the image of God in which we’ve been created. Repentance is a return to your senses, to yourself (not to selfishness).
2. Repentance is confessing the foolishness of your sin (v.17). “ ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’ ” (v.17b). The pro-digal was once elevated above his father’s servants, but he renounced his privileged position as son to pursue “independence”. The repentant person recognizes the stupidity of exchanging God as their greatest treasure for cheap reproductions.
3. Repentance is turning from sin to God (v.18). “ ‘I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” ’ ” (v.18). It’s pivotal to your salvation that you understand that true repentance isn’t merely saying, “Dear Jesus, I am sinner. Come into my heart and save me.” The prodigal demonstrates that words of true repentance will be followed by actions of true repentance.
True repentance is turning away from living life your way and toward living life God’s way. True repentance includes a hatred for your sin and a love for the Father and a love for obeying Him. True repentance is a lifestyle. Martin Luther writes, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt.4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
4. Repentance is a sovereign gift of God’s mercy and grace (vv.19-23). “ ‘ “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” ’ ” (v.19). This is the consistent testimony of the true convert. Christians know they’re “unworthy to be called” sons and daughters of God. Therefore, they’re con-tent with serving in the humblest positions in the Church with or without recognition as long as they can be in good relations with God the Father.
Jesus says the prodigal “arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (v.20). Typically, father’s in that culture didn’t run like this. It was undignified. And fathers didn’t forgive such sins of a son in that culture. It was disgraceful. But this father is different. He runs to the son and slobbers him with kisses.
This is an illustration of what our Father God is really like. He isn’t the angry deity that unbelievers imagine. God is angry with sinners every day and there is an eternal judgment for persistent rebels, but God doesn’t need anger management classes. He’s slow to anger and quick to show mercy, otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here right now.
This is why I can’t overstress the weight of the phrase “while he was still a long way off” (v.20a) because it highlights the supernatural reality of repentance. Jesus is making the point that the father already had a predetermined plan to extend mercy and grace to the son prior to his actual repentance. Mercy is receiving undeserved forgiveness from God. Grace is receiving undeserved life and righteousness from God through Jesus Christ. The idea that God the Father plans to forgive and save specific sinners even before they repent corresponds with what we read in Isaiah.
Isaiah 65:24—“Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”
Therefore, repentance is not self-induced regret but a miracle performed by God according to His sovereign mercy and grace. Two passages make this especially clear.
Acts 11:15-18—As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
2 Timothy 2:24-25—And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
Because repentance ultimately depends on God, repentance is always relational in nature—meaning we relationally turn to God through faith in Jesus, and we live out our faith relationally with a local church family.
Repentance is seeing traces of God’s mercy and grace in everything, even the hard things. For example, who brought the famine to the far country? God. What would have happened had God not ordained that famine? The prodigal might have found a way to be prosperous again and die in his prosperity—or else he would have died of malnutrition. As John Calvin said, God’s ordained miseries are His “invitation” to repent and find life.
5. Repentance produces full restoration to God (vv.21-24). “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’ ” (v.21). Only people with this humble attitude can be fully restored because the idea of God’s grace either makes you mad or makes you glad because His grace gives undeserving sinners eternal blessing in place of eternal damnation.
Notice what full restoration looks like for the prodigal. “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate’ ” (vv.22-23). The robe, ring, and shoes are all precious pictures of how God’s salvation restores our status as sons and daughters. At the cross, Jesus exchanged our filthy rags, ring-less finger, and bare feet with His royal robe, ring, and shoes of sonship that sets us apart from the world.
If these images weren’t powerful enough, we get the strongest of all. “ ‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found’ ” (v.24a). Sin is so devastating and destructive that it leaves us spiritually dead. But God’s mercy and grace are so powerful that He raises us up to spiritual life. We were lost in our sin and couldn’t find our way out—worse yet, we didn’t want out. We loved our lives of sin every bit as much as the prodigal loved his. But God intervened, breathed eternal life into our souls, and gave us the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:4-5—But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.
6. Repentance is a cause of celebration (v.24). “And they began to celebrate” (v.24b). This is both our last point and basically the introduction for the next sermon. When lost sinners confess Christ as Lord, follow Him in baptism, and become a faithful member of His Church, we ought to be happy. Serving up the fattened calf back in verse 23 shows us just how overjoyed the father is.
Celebration over sinners come home will be different for each of us. For some it means clapping or shouting. For others it may be quiet tears or simple smiles. But nothing should excite or motivate us more than seeing a lost sinner found! Have you lost your joy over sinners coming home? Perhaps you’re the one still lost in your prodigal sinning? Won’t you repent and come home to God?