Summary: In Luke Chapter 15 Jesus paints us a vivid picture of the Love of God through the story of the Prodigal Son. How can we celebrate God’s party of love in such a way as to welcome not only the younger brothers who have come back from the dead, but also the
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
“Looking Up at Hell”
By: Ken Sauer, Pastor of East Ridge United Methodist Church, Chattanooga, TN
“There was a man who had two sons.”
One—the youngest—comes to his father and demands his share of the inheritance.
That may sound odd to our ears, but it’s not completely unheard of.
Sometimes, in our culture, parents will give part of their estate to their children, years before they die.
They do this so that they can avoid inheritance taxes, so health care expenses won’t eat into their assets.
But to the ears of a Middle Easterner of the first century, those would have been fighting words!!!
This ungrateful son is dealing his father the ultimate insult.
It’s as if he were basically saying, “Drop dead!”
Amazingly, though, the father goes along with it.
He divides his estate between his two sons.
And notice that the older son doesn’t object to this…
…so, he’s not much better when it comes to the parental respect thing.
Anyhow, the younger son takes his money and runs!
He heads off to a “distant country,” which, to Jewish ears would have meant that he goes off to live with the “sinful” Gentiles who are non-Jews.
He’s grinding his father’s faith into the dirt.
And what does he do with all that cash?
Well, he starts partying one day, and doesn’t stop until he’s sitting on the sidewalk, surrounded by his furniture.
Even more wacked—this youngest son takes a job feeding pigs.
Why so wacked?
To Jews, pigs are ritually unclean.
Leviticus 11:8 says, “Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch; they are unclean for you.”
For a Jew during the time of Jesus, to have a job feeding pigs is to no longer be a Jew!
And to top it off, when he gets hungry, he longs to eat what the pigs are eating.
To Jesus’ first listeners, this means that this faithless young guy is not only feeding pigs, but he even wishes he was a pig!
There is—quite simply—no further a first-century Jew can wander, no lower he can sink.
He’s burned every bridge behind him.
He has hit rock bottom and then some!
He’s not looking down at hell; he’s looking up from hell!!!
How many of us have found ourselves in this horrible and tragic situation at some point in our lives?
How many of us have ever felt as if we have fallen so far, that there is no way we can ever be redeemed, forgiven, restored, made clean, be happy again, whatever--ever?!!!
There was a time I hit “rock bottom,” and you know what I found?
I found Jesus right there with me.
It was only then that I was able to say, amazingly enough, “rock bottom isn’t so bad after-all…because Jesus is there!”
And this is often where people do meet Christ!
Why do you think there were so many “tax collectors” and “sinners” all “gathering around to hear him”?
Anyhow, this, once haughty young man, swallows his pride and heads home with his tail between his legs…as a matter of fact, I doubt he even had a tail any longer.
He who once had full citizenship, but cast it away, will now be happy to become an illegal alien!
“Make me one of your hired hands,” he plans to beg his father.
Yes, his transformation is now complete.
The self-absorbed and selfish guy who once demanded of his father, “Give me—give me my share of the inheritance,” is now begging him, “make me—make me one of your day laborers.”
And this is the transformation that any follower of Jesus Christ must go through, at the moment of conversion, at the moment of deciding to become a disciple.
“Give me,” our natural sinful selves demand of the world and of God.
And finally, when every earthly well of meaning has run dry, we come to the conclusion that “Give me” gets us nowhere.
“Give me all the happiness that is my due!”
But there’s a strange thing about that kind of happiness: it never satisfies.
It’s like drinking seawater to quench our thirst.
The only true and lasting joy is to say, not “Give me,” but “Make me.”
“Make me, O God, make me what You would have me to be.”
So, the younger son is walking the long and dusty road to his father’s farm; he’s fully prepared for the worst.
And he’s totally unprepared for the sight that greets him, as he starts getting close to home.
There, racing down the road in his direction as fast as he can run, is his father!!!
And this, would have been completely unusual for a first-century landowner, because these guys were never seen running!!!
They were the village elders, they were the head honchos, they were the men of dignity!