Summary: God’s love for the wayward and lost and his desire for all of his children to return to him and live as children of God.
Have you ever lost anything valuable to you before? Perhaps you have lost your keys, wallet or purse, or something even more valuable? [Prompt the congregation for items they have lost]. If you have lost something of value you know the feeling of panic. You know how desperately you search for it.
In all three parables in Luke chapter 15, Jesus talks about losing something. In the first parable a shepherd had one hundred sheep and one wandered off sheep. One lost sheep. The shepherd left the ninety-nine to pursue the one lost sheep, searching until he found it. In the next parable a woman lost one of her ten coins worth a day’s wage, and she searched her house until she found the coin. The last parable which we are focusing on today is the about the lost son, or sons as I am calling it.
The worst thing to lose is ones own child. I have told you stories before of my tendency as a child to wander off when my parents would take me to a store. One time when I was a youngster my parents took me to J.C. Penny around Christmas time and I decided to go out on my own. I became their lost son. Of course I wasn’t lost, but because I wasn’t near my parents they thought I was lost. You can imagine they were terrified because not only was I lost in a large department store, but when I came up missing they were near the entrance to the mall and they were afraid I could have wandered off into the mall. They frantically searched for me until they found me. Why did they search so diligently for me? Because my parents love me.
It is certainly scary when a child is suddenly missing, but what if a child or youth leaves by choice? It’s not a sudden missing person, but they intentionally choose to leave, perhaps out of anger. Maybe some of you have had teenagers who have rebelled and literally walked away, or perhaps you were that teenager who ran away from home. Whether it is by accident or intentional when someone or something valuable is gone I think the loss is just as great.
Jesus told these parables because all of us can identify with losing something important to us at one time or another, and we all know the feeling of anxiety and desperation when something or someone we care about is missing. These parables show us in a tangible way how much God cares deeply about every single person, whether they are already in the household of God, or if they have wandered away and chosen their own path. God cares about his lost children just like a parent who has lost their child. Unfortunately the religious leaders in Jesus’ day apparently didn’t appreciate God’s passion for the lost because they were too busy following his commandments and their own religious traditions to pay attention to what God found important, people. These religious folks got so caught up in the rules and regulations that they failed to appreciate what God was doing around them. In fact they ridiculed Jesus for hanging out with “sinners and tax collectors and sick people” because they were sinful, unclean. Jesus really irked them because he regularly hung out with these people. What they failed to realize was how much God loved these people Jesus hung out, and that he sent his Son Jesus to bring these wayward children home.
Earlier in Jesus’ ministry when he was asked why he hung out with these people he said: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick (Luke 5:31, NIV).
Later in his ministry Jesus said of himself:
NIV Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
Younger Brother – the first prodigal
Let’s look at this parable of God’s love for his children. In Jesus’ parable the younger son asked his father for his share of the inheritance. Forget that his father wasn’t even dead yet. He wanted his inheritance right then. In essence he was wishing that his father was already dead. He wanted money more than his father. Some of you parents have probably been in that position before. It’s painful to be rejected by your own child. It would have been extremely disrespectful in their culture for a son to ask this of his father. In fact the father could have had his son punished or even stoned to death for even suggesting something like this disrespectful request. However his father did something equally as incredible, he actually honored his sons request and gave him his share of the inheritance. This would have required selling off perhaps a third of the family estate just to get the funds. The father gave his son the money, no questions asked, no strings attached. Then the son took the money and did what? He left town, and headed for a distant country and squandered his wealth on wild living. We don’t know what kind of wild living this was (although the older brother later made some suggestions), but in any case he lost all the whole inheritance. If that weren’t bad enough a famine hit the land, and the younger son had to become a slave probably working for an unbelieving Gentile slopping the pigs, which was about as demeaning as it could get for a Jew, working for an unclean person feeding unclean animals (pigs). He was so poor and hungry that he even longed to eat the pig’s food.