@robertkwendt || lead pastor
Have you ever done something that caused you to apologize?
I have done a lot of unwise things in my life, but there is a moment growing up that really stands out. I was in high school and had just recently gotten my driver's license. Like many teenage boys, I was always up for something fun, but not necessarily brilliant. This time it involved my mom's new car and a lot of food off of McDonald's value menu.
My friends and I had this brilliant idea. We went to the grocery store to buy eggs and other cheap food items. We then went to McDonald's and ordered a bunch of items off of the value menu. Cheeseburgers, fries, drinks, you name it. From there we got into three separate cars and began what we thought at the time was the most epic food fight ever. Driving up and down the road, we tossed items at one another. Some went out of the sunroof, while other items came right inside.
Then it hit me. We were out of food. The "fun" was over. Somehow I had to return my mom's car back to her. I won't even begin to explain my parents reaction when they saw their beautiful car (this was after a car wash). It was trashed. Ketchup stains were on the seats and the car was an utter mess.
What seemed like fun at the time quickly spiraled into a headache for the weeks ahead.
This teenage illustration is an image of many of our lives. We grab onto a moment. We chase after a certain high until we come crashing back to reality. Our lives have become an utter mess. We've hurt someone. We've ruined something. We've broken trust.
While I definitely had my consequences, my parents would forgive me for my actions that evening. They showed me love in a time when they could have very easily wanted to disown me.
We have a God who has done the very same thing for us. A God who has sought to forgive us, despite the fact that we have run from him. Here is the thing: FORGIVENESS IS UNDERSTOOD WHEN WE'VE BEEN FORGIVEN.
the prodigal son. chasing.
Luke, an early follower of Jesus, recorded down for us a story that Jesus himself told. It was the story of a father and two sons. We refer to it as "The Prodigal Son." (READ HERE: Luke 15:11-32)
In this story the younger son asks the dad for his inheritance early. This simple request is insane, as it was basically as if the son was saying to his father, "hey dad can you just die right now, so I can have your money." I've had the blessing of meeting with people from all over the world and can attest that from India to Central America, this request in and of itself is as bad of an insult as they come. However, the father, doesn't shun the son, but rather he gives both of the brothers their equal portions. The one brother stays home while the younger one goes as far away from home as he could.
He then went on to squander all his money on meaningless thrills, only to find himself broke, hungry, and alone.
At first we may not see ourselves in this story, but in some shape or form we have all gotten to this place.
We've chased after a career, dream, popularity, or high to the point of finding ourselves empty and alone.
Maybe we have cut other people down in order to build ourselves up. This has left us without friends.
Maybe we have dreamed of reaching the top of the corporate ladder only to realize that the higher we climbed, the lonelier we felt.
Maybe we have chased after a certain lifestyle or image only to discover ourselves wrapped up in loans and credit card debt.
Maybe we have experienced a high that we couldn't resist, and in the end we lost everything we had because of it.
To many of us these are really real examples. To others, they are a little extreme. Maybe you have seemed to have done everything right. You've been in church every week of your life. You've watched your mouth, stayed pure until marriage, and even done you're very best to honor your father and mother. You've always been known as a "good person." While we definitely strive to live more and more like Jesus, the reality is we have all lied, cheated, or slandered in some capacity. We have all looked for value and esteem in someone or something other than God.
I would argue that you've lived as the young brother (or prodigal son) anytime you have searched for unconditional love where it cannot be found.
What we see happen with the younger brother is what can happen to us. When you live for you, you're left with just you.
the prodigal son. lost.
Lost people don't want to stay lost. I have not seen a movie, read a story, or seen a news article where someone who was lost did not desire to be found. After a certain period of time, we all recognize that we have become lost. We've lost perspective and don't know where to turn next.
The younger son comes to the point where he says, "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! (verse 17)"
When we have wondered or strayed we eventually come to the place where we realize how much we have lost. Whatever we chased down did not fulfill our desires and we reflect back on all that we gave up to get to where we are.
Maybe that relationship didn't work out. Our career left us married to it. We haven't picked up the phone in so long that we've forgotten we even have siblings or parents. We've run, but we are lost and exhausted.
Here is the good news, we don't have to stay lost.
The son decides he will head back home. He will ask for his dad's forgiveness.
the prodigal son. found.
This is the most amazing part of the story to me.
Before the son even arrives home, or utters a word, his father finds him, has compassion for him, embraces him, and even kisses him.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." Luke 15:20 ESV
This is the picture of God the Heavenly Father, and us the running, rebellious son. God has chased us down. He has sought us out. He has compassion on us even when we don't seem to deserve it.
I love how Paul explains God's love for us in writing to the Jesus followers in Rome. He writes, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 ESV)"
On December 25 we will celebrate Christmas. This is a time to reflect on the birth of Jesus, his coming into the world. It is a moment to reflect on the fact that God came to us to seek us out. He came to forgive. The birth of Jesus points to the cross which leads us to the hope of the resurrection. All of this is because of the love of God. His desire to forgive us, even when we don't deserve his forgiveness.
the prodigal son. valuable.
The son said to his father, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. (Luke 15:21 ESV)"
The father could have responded, "Yeah you are pretty worthless. You defamed our family name and squandered my money. You hurt me, betrayed me, and even greatly offended me. Good to see you, but you got what you deserved."
I have worked closely with a lot of people battling drug addiction and can say that sadly I've found the world's response to their struggle very similar to the statement above. It was their choice, so they must suffer the consequence. My heart breaks when I realize that's how people think. Often these thoughts are misinformed by the fact that they have never once talked with an addict.
No addict wants to be an addict.
At the end of a battle is a feeling of worthlessness. A sense of disappointment and shame. No one seeks to feel that way, but they end up there. So what is the response?
How do we respond to the people around us who have hurt us, stolen from us, or even disappointed us?
The same way that the father responded to the son.
Not with condemnation, but with celebration! The father gives his son his very best. He has a giant feast. He celebrates that his son is now back home.
God gives us worth when we have deemed ourselves worthless.
the prodigal son. forgiven.
Jesus shares this story so we may understand God's love for us. He wants us to know that he lived, died, and rose from the dead so we may be forgiven. He wants us to be at home with him forever. So, he did what he had to in order to make that possible.
He came to us.
He sacrificed for us.
He forgives us.
The best part...he wants us to be with him forever!
We do not deserve the actions of Jesus at all.
Paul writes it this way in a letter to the church in Ephesus: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)"
As the father unconditionally forgave and showed love to his runaway son, our Heavenly Father has done the same for us. Now it is our time to share that love with others. Because after all, we don't understand the unconditional love of the father until we have lived as the son.
Once such love is experienced, it has to be shared.
So here's our challenge.
Forgive even when it isn't deserved. After all, that's what God did for you.