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Christ Seeking To Save
The story of the prodigal son is one part of a threefold parable.
1. We have the shepherd suffering as he seeks his sheep. The parable describes the ninety and nine safely corralled at home, while the one was wandering far from the fold. Out into the wilderness the faithful shepherd went, seeking the sheep that was lost.
He sought until he found that which was lost, and then, laying it upon his shoulders he brought it home with rejoicing.
2. We have the woman, lightened by the candle as she seeks the lost coin. The coin describes the sinner lost, and emphasizes the fact that the sinner is of great value.
The woman who is in the search, is the Church of Christ which bears the commission to "go into all the world," out into the "highways and hedges," on unto "the uttermost part of the earth" and to "constrain them to come in" (A. S. V.).
The "lighted candle" is the Holy Spirit, who is the One who guides the Church and aids her in her quest for the lost.
3. We have the father singing as he welcomes home the lost son. The lost son had wandered far away, and had wasted his substance with riotous living. Having spent all, and remembering the plenty at home, and the love in his father's heart, he said: "I will arise and go to my father."
The father who watches for the return of the wanderer, and who runs to welcome him, falling on his neck and kissing him, is the Lord God who is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
In the parable, as a whole, we have placed before us the attitude of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, toward that which is lost. In connection with the Holy Spirit is the Church, a co-laborer together with Him, in the quest for that which is lost.
The Father is not disinterested in the return of the prodigal, for He awaits with eagerness the homecoming, and with joy welcomes back His son.
The parable in its deeper meaning has special and primary application to the outcasts of Israel. The elder son types the rulers of the people, the proud and self-righteous Pharisees; the younger son, commonly spoken of as the prodigal, types the publicans and the sinners.
I. CHRIST SAVES ZACCHAEUS (Luke 19:1-10 )
Let us notice four happenings in connection with this passage.
1. Zacchaeus was a chief of the publicans. This man was like the Apostle Paul in this respect: he could say, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief."
If Zacchaeus was saved, surely any poor publican may find mercy.
2. Zacchaeus was a seeking sinner. He sought to see Jesus. He was energetic, he ran before and climbed into a sycamore tree; there he waited the coming of the Lord who was to pass by that way. The Lord saw him, and bade him to come down saying, "To day I must abide at thy house."
Our Lord never fails to see any sinner who is seeking the Saviour; there is never a sob of anguish or a sigh for help that escapes His ears; there is never the lifting of a hand that escapes His eyes.
When Christ sees one who really desires to know Him, and who is seeking His face, He always responds graciously. It does not take a seeking sinner and a seeking Saviour long to meet.
3. Zacchaeus became a saved sinner. We cannot say just when he was saved; we know, however, that he immediately responded to the Master's invitation and came down, receiving Him joyfully. We know, moreover, that Zacchaeus said unto the Lord: "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold." We know that Jesus said unto him: "This day is salvation come to this house."
Bless God, the chief of sinners was saved!
4. The carping critics. In Luke 15:1-32 , we read how the scribes and the Pharisees murmured, saying, "This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them." In Luke 19:7 , the Pharisees show the same spirit, for they all murmured, saying "That He was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner."
How many there are who feel nothing of the compassion of Christ!
Zacchaeus was a publican and a sinner, yet Jesus Christ ate with him, having but one purpose, the redemption of a son of Abraham,
5. Our gracious conclusion. In Luke 19:10 we read: "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." The inference is that He who saved the chief among publicans, a man that was a sinner, is quite as willing to save any poor lost sinner. Therefore let the lost turn to Him for mercy.
II. CHRIST SEEKS THE LAMBS (John 21:15 )
The second opening statement is, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? Feed My lambs."
If we are going forth in the service of Christ, we must not only be fed ourselves, but we must be filled with love. Those of us who do not love the Lord, will never care to feed His lambs or His sheep. It is only when the heart is bursting with love, that the spirit is ready to serve the Beloved, and to seek out and to feed the sheep of His pastures.
Christ seemed to be saying to Peter, "I love My lambs, and I love My sheep. If thou lovest Me, feed them." First of all:
"O Heavenly love, my heart subdue,
I would be led by Jesus, too.
Allured to live for Christ alone,
And dwell for ever near His throne."
Let us examine for a few moments the distinctions between the little lambs, and the stalwart sheep, which alike must be fed. The sheep are mentioned twice, but the lambs are mentioned first. We may have more to do in the feeding of the sheep, but the preference must be given to the lambs. The lambs He carries in His bosom. A lamb is the sheep in embryo. It is the sheep before it is full grown. Our boys and girls must not be neglected. Jesus loved the little children and He took them in His arms and blessed them. He said that in Heaven their angels do always behold the face of His Father. Let us feed the lambs.
But what about the sheep? Can they not feed themselves? No, they need the shepherd, and the shepherd's care. Sheep are, too, quick to wander astray, they know not whither they go.
Our Lord is the Good Shepherd who died for His sheep; He is the Great Shepherd, who, day by day, directs His sheep; He is the Chief Shepherd who shall one day come back to dwell with His sheep.
Let the sheep remember the endearing words of their great Shepherd, "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom."
III. CHRIST SEEKING THE SHEEP THAT WAS LOST (Luke 15:4 with John 10:11 )
What a beautiful picture, the Shepherd seeking the sheep that was lost!
Surely our Lord Jesus was not an idle shepherd, He was not a shepherd who forgot His sheep.
"There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.
But one was out on the hills away
Far off from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare,
Away from the tender Shepherd's care.
"Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine,
Are they not enough for Thee?
But the Shepherd made answer, This of Mine
Has wandered away from Me.
And although the path be rough and steep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep.
"Lord, whence are the blood marks all the way,
That mark out the mountain track?
They were shed for one who had gone astray,
E'er the Shepherd could bring him back;
Lord, whence is Thy brow so rent and torn?
It is pierced tonight with many a thorn."
We not only have a shepherd who seeks the sheep, but we also have a shepherd with strong shoulders, who bears the sheep back to shelter, and to home.
The Lord does not save us and leave us stranded in the world, He takes us to the Church (of Christ), where we can find refuge.
We have also in this verse a shepherd who can sing as well as seek. He shouts with joy over the returning of the sheep which was lost.
Bless God, that He who suffers as He seeks the sheep, will sing over the finding of the sheep. He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.
These words bring joy to the heart. After the wandering sheep has been returned to the sheepfold, the shepherd calleth his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, "Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost."
How the heavens must reverberate with glory and with joy when one lost sinner repents and returns to God.
"Nor Heaven can its joy contain,
But kindle with new fire,
A soul on earth is born, they sing,
And touch their golden lyre."
We cannot refrain from adding the glory verse of "The Ninety and Nine":
"But all through the mountains, thunder riven,
And up through the rocky steep;
There arose the glad cry to the gates of Heaven,
'Rejoice, I have found My sheep.'
And the angels echoed around the throne,
'Rejoice for the Lord brings back His own.'"
IV. WHAT CHRIST IS TO THE SINNER (Isaiah 32:2 ; 1 John 2:1-2 )
1. He is a covert from the storms. Isaiah 32:2 .
"A man shall be * * a covert from the tempest; * * as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."
The sinner is outside the shelter; the winds and the rain of temptation and of travail are falling fast upon him. How blessed it is that such a man can find a covert where he can hide!
"Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee,
Let the water and the Blood
From Thy riven side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its guilt and power."
2. He is a mercy-seat to approach. 1 John 2:1 , 1 John 2:2 .
The word "propitiation" has to do with our word "mercy-seat." It was from the cherubim, where God dwelt, that He looked down on the broken Law that lay within the Ark; but He looked through the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat. This mercy-seat is the only place where God and the sinner can meet.
"There is a spot where spirits blend,
Where friend shows fellowship with friend,
No spot in Heaven or earth more sweet;
It is the Blood-bought mercy-seat."
This mercy-seat is open to every poor lost sinner. We can come to God through the sacrifice of the Crucified.
V. CHRIST THE FRIEND OF FRIENDS (Proverbs 17:17 )
"A friend loveth at all times."
Christ is not only a friend at all times, but under all circumstances. No matter what may happen, He is faithful, the same yesterday, today and for ever. There are friends who love us as long as fortune smiles upon us; there are friends who favor us as long as we live in the limelight; but they forsake us in the time of our calamity. The Lord Jesus Christ will never forsake; will never forget us. Yea, they may cast out our name as evil, but He will hold us for ever in His heart. He "loveth at all times."
"A man that hath friends, must shew himself friendly; and there is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother."
Thank God, for such a Friend. He will never leave us nor forsake us. His faithfulness is renewed every morning; it is fresh every evening. The mother may forget her sucking child, but He will never forget us. The wife or husband may prove false to their vows, but He will never be false to us. The citizen may commit treason against his country, but He will never leave nor forsake us. He is a friend that shows Himself friendly, a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
VI. WILLING TO LOVE AND HELP HIS ENEMIES (Romans 5:8 )
Our Lord was not only kind and generous to His friends, but He was tender and forgiving to His enemies. We know very well that the Word of God describes the Lord as sitting at the Father's right hand until His enemies are made His footstool. We know how the Lord will judge His enemies who would not have Him to reign over them. He says: "Bring hither, and slay them before Me." All such passages, however, show the final judgment which a just God must bring against those who reject His mercy.
The Lord Jesus Christ admonishes us as to how we should treat our enemies. We are to pray for them, to do good unto them, to forgive them, and to heap coals of fire upon their heads through our kindness in their behalf. He, who taught us to love our enemies, loved His enemies.
One of the tenderest passages in the Bible is where David said, "Is there not yet any of the house of Saul, that I may shew the kindness of God unto him"? The house of Saul were the sworn enemies of the shepherd king; yet David sought to do them good. In all of this David was a type of the Lord Jesus, who is seeking to bring His enemies back from the far country that they may be sheltered in the folds of His loving care.
On Calvary's Cross the Lord Jesus Christ prayed for His enemies, saying, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Those who sought to torture Him the most; those who wagged their heads and cried out against Him, were the objects of His tender pleas and prayer.
We could not close this application until we demonstrate the fact that Christ's true friendliness reached its highest altitude in His attitude toward a false friend. A false friend is far worse than an enemy. Judas was his own familiar friend. He was a man to whom Christ revealed His secrets and in whom He placed His trust. This Judas sold Christ for thirty pieces of silver; he betrayed Him with a kiss. When the Lord met him in the garden, however, He said, "Betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?" Even in such an hour the genuineness of the Lord's love never flickered. He proved Himself a friend to the most despicable of deserters.
In the book entitled "The Dry-Dock of a Thousand Wrecks," which gives an account of the "Jerry McAuley Mission" in New York City, a man gives his experience. "When I was a student in college," he says, "I was prevailed upon to take a drink of whisky. I disliked it; it was nauseous to me; but the other fellows said I was a weakling, and I could not have a good time in the college socially unless I drank to some extent; and in order not to appear a baby, I drank with them. I learned by and by to enjoy the effect of it, and would go on a spree with the boys. But when I left college, knowing that business men would not employ those addicted to drink, just on that account I decided to quit my drinking habits and become a sober man. I took the pledge. I married. But the pledge did not amount to much. Under the stress of social life I took another drink, and then another. My wife pleaded with me, for she saw where I was drifting. My dear old father came and said, 'My boy, you had better be careful. You are going in the wrong direction!' But I did not believe either. I thought I could drink, and be a 'hail-fellow-well-met' in business circles cultured, educated, college graduate as I was and not go to the dogs. One day my employer told me that he would not need me after a certain time. I could hardly take it in. But the time came, and I was out of employment. I went to New York City, where my old friends and college chums that drank with me in business were, but I found that they did not like me lounging about their offices, and one of them almost ordered me out. My wife went home to her father. Things went from bad to worse, until I pawned my watch and my overcoat, for drink. I found myself a vagabond on the streets. It was in the town of Trenton, New Jersey. I was without money enough to put up at a cheap lodging-house, and I spent two nights sleeping on the benches in front of the courthouse. A man came along one morning and paid my expenses to New York City. There I fell in with a man who told me to go to the McAuley Mission. Hardly knowing what it meant, I went to 316 Water Street, and I heard men get up and say, 'Jesus Christ can save a poor drunkard; He saved me!' and that was the first time anybody ever told me that Jesus could save me. Wife did not tell me; father did not tell me. They gave me good advice and good philosophy, and a great many good things, but they did not give me Jesus. And there, kneeling in the old McAuley Mission, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Saviour." That man is now at the head of a movement among the students of colleges in America.
The Prodigal Son
The fifteenth chapter of Luke presents one parable with four outstanding messages, embracing one supreme thought.
The supreme thought is Christ's answer to the charge of the Pharisees and the Scribes. He had come to eat with the publicans and sinners. The Scribes murmured saying, "This Man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them." The Lord Jesus in order to vindicate Himself, in His preaching to, and eating with the outcasts of Israel, gave this fourfold message.
The fourfold message is in parable form, and describes first of all a man and his lost sheep; secondly, a woman and her lost coin; thirdly, a father and his lost son. Then, fourthly, the parable sets forth the elder son who is brother to the prodigal.
In the first division of the parable the Man is the Good Shepherd, who giveth His life for the sheep. He is going out seeking the one that was lost, and He seeks until He finds it. When He finds it, He puts it on His shoulders, rejoicing, and coming home He calls upon His friends and neighbors to rejoice with Him.
In the second part of the parable the woman represents to us the saints of God, who, with the lighted candle of the Holy Ghost, are seeking the lost. When the coin is found, she too rejoices. In the third parable the father, who divides unto his two sons his living, stands, primarily, for God the Father. It is He who longingly waits for the return of His prodigal boy. It is He who runs out to meet the wanderer, and feats the hour of his return.
In this threefold vision we have the Church under the symbol of the woman in the midst of Deity. The Son, and the sheep; the Father, and the son; and between there is the Church and the coin. The Church, however, is not operating alone, but she, with the lighted candle, the Holy Spirit, is seeking the lost.
The parable, as a whole, develops to a finality the longing of the truine God for wayward and disobedient Israel, and His joy over the return of His people. Of course, the application of the parable brings before us any wandering child or people, and God's love for them, and His willingness to save. Both Jew and Gentile will be welcomed home again. The story of the elder son is descriptive of the Scribes and Pharisees. He had no love for his wayward brother, even as the rulers of the Jews have no love or sympathy for the wandering publicans and sinners.
I. PARENTAL DISREGARD (Luke 15:11-12 )
We have here the story of the younger son. He is making a demand upon his father, saying, "Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me."
We wonder if there is not in the hearts of many young men and women this same spirit of rebellion. The prodigal boy, at home, felt himself harnessed in by the authority of a righteous father. His evil heart yearned for liberty. He wanted to take his "fling." He wanted to press his way out into the big world about him. He wanted to see the sights, and give vent to those baser lustings and desires of his flesh.
As long as he was at home, he had known, only by the hearing of the ear, about the great, wicked world that lay beyond him. Reports had come to him, painting with high colors, the wonders and marvels of the life in the far country.
Thus it was that the younger son became restless and demanded from his father his portion of the goods. What an utter disregard he had for the one who loved him most, and who had always sought his good!
Is it not true that young people are in danger of feeling harassed by the righteous Laws of a holy God? We know that the Heavenly Father is true, and righteous altogether. The heart of man is prone to evil; therefore, man breaks away from God. He disregards Him. The Bible says, "We have turned every one to his own way."
We can almost see David as he taught his son Solomon to shun the paths of vice. Solomon was tender and well-beloved of his father. He taught him to trust in the Lord. He said unto him, "Let not mercy and truth forsake thee," He told him that he should honor the Lord with his substance. David taught his son saying, "Go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away."
Solomon, however, left the ways of righteousness; and, as a result, we know the story of sorrow and grief which blighted his life. He himself said, "Therefore, I hated life." Let the young man think twice, and let the young woman consider the end of her way, before either break loose from parental, and particularly, from Divine guidance.
II. JOURNEYING AWAY FROM HOME AND HEAVEN (Luke 15:13 )
"And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country." We know very well what this far country represents. The great big, wicked world is the far country. That world is lost in sin. Its prince is the devil. Its people are the children of the wicked one. Into this world sinners have pressed their way; they are daily going farther and farther away from a loving God. How strange it is that men love darkness rather than light! How startling it is, that the sweets of sin taste better to the depraved palate, than all of the fruits of righteousness!
We imagine that, as this boy went away, his heart was heavy. It is not always easy to drift. However, day by day, he journeyed on, and the farther he went, the less the ties of home seemed to draw him back. When once the first step has been taken and the life has left the threshold of God and of home, how easy it is to take the next step!
We wonder if there is any young man who has the desire to leave God; to break loose from the ties that bind, and to press out into the far country? Are you gathering your goods together? Are you going on day by day, farther and farther from the life which you know affords the only peace and joy and rest to the soul?
III. ENTERING IN TO THE WAYS OF THE FAR COUNTRY (Luke 15:13 , l.c.)
The young man began, little by little, to delve into the depths of sin. It is not all at once that the youth becomes profligate. There must be the first whiff. There is the first godless revelry, the first dance, and the first drink. The world, however, is ready to receive the wanderer into its arms. It is never asleep. The evil one is always at every corner. The glare of sin glitters and glows all around the young man who is going away from home. Sin is painted in rosy hues; its darkness is illuminated with light. The play houses of the world are most brilliant and their music and dancing most enticing. Money is lavished upon the places of sin, and they are decked and draped to entice the downfall of the young.
Thus it was, that before he realized the extent to which he was going, the young man, the prodigal, was divested of everything of worth and of value, both in the way of substance and of character. He wasted his substance, and his money was gone; he entered into riotous living, and his character was gone.
He was what we commonly call a down and outer. He had left home full. Now he was empty. His life had once been the honor of his community. His every act now was a stench in the nostrils of society.
IV. THE END OF INIQUITY (Luke 15:14-16 )
In the verses before us, we find the prodigal boy in want. He had spent all, and when he had spent all, we read that "there arose a mighty famine in that land." Is it not always true that whenever we are poor, everybody seems poor? Whenever we are down, there is no one to help us up. Sin does no more than to rob us of everything that is worth while. What had the young man spent? He had spent all he had; all of his money, and all of his character. He had spent everything that was worth while. And then what? He was friendless, homeless, and hopeless.
What wreckage do we see on the shores of time? Young men and young women who should be in the very prime of their power; in the very beauty and glow of their youth, are discouraged, heartbroken, and crushed. They have thrown everything to the winds and they are helpless.
V. REMEMBERING HIS FATHER'S HOUSE (Luke 15:17 )
Our verse says, "When he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!" This suggests that the prodigal boy was not himself when he was wandering in sin. He was not in the place where he belonged. He was not himself, because he had been taken captive of the devil, according to his will. He was not himself because, like the man of Gadara, he was being driven, crazed by sin, amid the tombs of unrighteousness. No man is himself, and no woman is herself, who follows in the ways of wickedness.
As Sam Hadley lay in the mud and mirk of the curb, a beautifully dressed woman stopped and said to him, "There are better things than this for you. The Lord Jesus can make your blackened heart white." Hadley said, "I looked up and thought she was an angel." He tried to rise from his drunken filth, and he staggered along the street seeking to follow the angel's call. Ah, yes, ye who have fallen by the way, ye are not yourselves. Will you do what the prodigal boy did? Will you think of the times at Home in your Father's House, where even the servants have "bread enough and to spare"? Why should you perish by the way? Why should you lie broken, bruised, ruined, and robbed? There is bread at Home. There is room and there is welcome. Are you now longing for the Father and the Father's House? Are you yearning for better things? Thank God, you are coming to yourself.
VI. A SACRED CONCLUSION (Luke 15:18-21 )
When the young man came to himself he said, "I will arise and go to my father." Oh, that this determination might come to every wandering youth. Oh, that you might purpose in your heart, and say, "I will return."
Not only did the young man say, "I will arise," but he said also, "I * * will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee." The prodigal boy was not going home proud and stubborn; he was going home bruised and broken. He was saying not only, "I will arise and go." He was also saying, I will go and say, "I have sinned."
Is it not true that "he that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy"?
It is one thing to go back to the father's house. It is another thing to go with a broken and contrite heart. What else did the prodigal say? He said, "I will * * say unto him, Father, I * * am no more worthy to be called thy son." No matter what the father might think of him, he thought nothing of himself. He did not consider himself worthy to be called a son. He felt that his place was out in the back yard; out round the barn as a servant. Beloved, we believe that the proud heart has but little hope of an acceptable return, but he who beats upon his breast and cries, "God have mercy upon me," will find mercy.
VII. RECEPTION AND RECOGNITION (Luke 15:20-24 )
How wonderful it all was! "When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." What an accumulation of blessing! He saw, he had compassion, he ran, he fell on his neck, he kissed him. Surely the boy did not expect all of this. Thus far we have spent our time looking at the prodigal boy in the far country.
During the days of his wandering, and sinning, where was the father? You say he was at home. Yes, in body he was at home, but his heart had gone along with the profligate boy. We all know that the father, day by day, was praying for, and crying over the lost son. There was not a moment of the day, nor of the night, when the father did not think upon him.
Now, as the boy was returning, it was not necessary to notify the father, for the father had long been watching down the road. He saw him a great way off. The boy was not coming home with the same blithe step with which he went away. No doubt as he neared the father's house, the shame of his sin, and the fear of possible chastisement, or even of rejection, fell upon him. His father saw him, however. Saw that he was crestfallen, broken and undone.
Thus it was that the father seeing, had compassion; and having compassion, he ran; and, arriving where the boy had stopped in the road, he fell on his neck and kissed him. The son quickly sobbed out his grief and his sin, but the father said to the servants, "Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry." How great, how glad, how full of grace, was this reception of the son! Have we not read that, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins"? There is none who, coming to Christ with a broken spirit and a Godward confession of sin, will not find mercy.
How different it all was! Instead of the rags, there was now the best robe. Instead of the rings under the eyes rings of grief and of shame, there was the ring upon the hand; instead of the feet wounded and bruised with the thorns and roughness of the way, there were the feet "shod with the * * Gospel of peace." In addition there was the killing of the fatted calf; the feast was set, and the hearts were merry. "For," said the father, "this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry."
Do we refuse the call of the Father to come Home?
One morning I wanted to feed the birds. It was gray and cold, and the ground was covered with snow. I stepped out on the porch and flung them handfuls of crumbs, and called to them. No, there they sat, cold, hungry, and afraid. They did not trust me. As I sat and watched and waited, it seemed to me I could get God's viewpoint more clearly than ever before. He offers, plans, watches, waits, hopes, longs for all things for our good. But He has to watch and wait, as I did for my timid friends. S. S. Times.
The Elder Son
We come now to the study of the elder son. In doing this we think it will be wise to give the dispensational picture a little stronger setting than we gave in our last study as we studied the prodigal son.
It was suggested last week that the prodigal son stood for the publicans and the sinners among the Children of Israel, and that the elder son stood for the Scribes and Pharisees, and the rulers of the people. We suggest now that the younger son stands for the down and outs, and the elder son stands for the up and outs. These two classes predominated in Israel.
1. The publicans and the sinners. This class among the people of God were the impoverished class. They were the class who, to a more or less extent, put God and religion out of their lives. They were oppressed and afflicted. The religion they did possess was forced upon them. The Scribes and the Pharisees put heavy burdens upon them, grievous to be borne. The publicans and the sinners were the class to whom Jesus chiefly came. They were the common people who heard Him gladly. They were the ones who, for the most part, were healed of body and healed of soul by Him. Somehow their penury and their shame made them long the more for the Saviour.
2. The Scribes and the Pharisees. The Scribes and the Pharisees stood for that class in Israel who were self-righteous. They sat in Moses' seat. They made broad their phylacteries, and enlarged the borders of their garments. They loved the uppermost rooms at the feasts, and the best seats in the synagogues. They delighted in greeting's in the market places. It was a small matter with them to devour widows' houses, while, for pretence, they made a long prayer, seeking to cover up their villainy. They even encompassed sea and land to make a proselyte. They paid their tithes of mint and annis and cummin, but omitted law and judgment and mercy.
As we study the elder son, let us study him in the light of the younger son. With the twofold vision of this parable before us, we cannot but think of a few statements of Christ. He said that the publicans and the harlots went into the Kingdom of God before the Scribes and the Pharisees. Christ described these religionists (the elder son type of Israel), as saying, "I go," but they went not; while the prodigal boy type, He described as the ones who said, "I go not," but afterward he repented and went. The elder son was like the Pharisee who prayed within himself, boasting his righteous deeds; the younger son was like the publican, who beat upon his breast confessing his sin.
As we close these opening remarks, we wish to ask, To which class do we belong? Are we sinners, saved by grace, or are we self-righteous, proud, and haughty, parading our own goodness? May God make this a real blessing to all.
I. THE CRITICAL SPIRIT (Luke 15:25-26 )
How different was the attitude of the elder son toward the prodigal, from that of his father's! The elder son was neither looking, nor longing, nor yearning for the return of his brother. When he heard the music and the dancing, as he drew nigh to the house, he quickly called one of the servants, and asked what it all meant. He had no heart to welcome, and no hand to extend to the wanderer who had come home.
To our minds the very basis of Pharisaism is the lack of sympathy for the lost. We may have a right conception of the Person of Christ; we may even know much of His power, and yet be lacking in His compassion.
When the Lord Jesus saw the multitudes, as sheep without a shepherd, His heart was moved toward them. He stood in their midst and said, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink." The Lord Jesus always had a heart of sympathy, and of love and compassion toward anyone who was in distress, impoverished, or oppressed.
Let us examine our own hearts, and let us be true to ourselves. Do we weep with those who weep?
"Have we sought for the sheep that wandered
Far away on the mountain cold?
Have we come like the tender Shepherd
To bring him again to the fold?"
If we have not had this spirit of longing, we had better sit down by the side of the elder son and confess that we are possessed with his spirit. It is not alone giving money to foreign missions that counts with God; it is a heart that yearns for the lost of heathendom. It is not alone paying the preacher's salary that satisfies God; it is our going out "into the highways and hedges" and seeking the lost. Jonah carried the spirit of the elder son when he fled from Nineveh. He had no pity for the Ninevites. He wanted them destroyed. We know this because when God spared them Jonah complained and was angry, even unto death. God, give us the compassionate heart of the Son of God!
II. OVERCOME WITH ANGER (Luke 15:28 )
It seems almost impossible that the elder son was not only foreign to compassion, but he was even angry because his father welcomed home the wanderer. Thus it was in the beginning of our chapter. We remember how the Scribes and Pharisees went so far as to criticise Jesus Christ for receiving sinners and eating with them.
They not only left the publicans and the sinners to their bitter state, but they had no sympathy toward anyone who sought to help them. They were even critical toward the Son of God, because He reached His hand down into the mud and the mire that He might lift men up into light, and life, and love. Jesus Christ is still seeking to save.
We remember very well how a poor sinner, intoxicated and undone, came to the altar one night. We remember how some of the "nice women," well robed and decked, were bitter against him. They did not think it proper for such a sinner to be welcomed by their pastor. They thought he should have been given the toe of a boot, instead of the lift of a hand. Beloved, we have neglected the lost long enough. Jesus Christ came to seek and to save them, while we have given them the cold shoulder, the sneer, and the slight.
We wonder sometimes if the spirit of the Pharisees which dragged the woman before Christ and demanded that she be stoned, is not the spirit of many reformers. Should we not rather go out into these dens of darkness, and preach Christ in these places of impurity? Does the darkness not need the light? Do the sick not need a physician? The attitude of the elder son, can receive from the true believer nothing but condemnation.
III. A BOASTFUL HEART (Luke 15:29 , f.c.)
Our verse tells us that when the father entreated the elder son concerning his brother, that the elder son immediately began to flaunt his own goodness, in contrast with the profligacy of his brother. The elder son said, "Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment." Alas, alas, how we seek to make up for the tyranny of our temper, and the failure of our sympathy, by parading some cold, formal and lifeless service which we have rendered.
Of course the Pharisee could easily boast his adherence to the legalities or religion, that was his chief thought. He was very proper. He was very concise. He even added countless rites to the Law of God. He had included burdens heavy to be borne, and service hard to be rendered in the requirements of the Law. So far as an outward show of piety was concerned, he was a model. So far as religious service was concerned, he was a leader. All the time, however, his heart was wrong. Beloved, thinkest thou that God is more interested in a formal religion, properly conducted and ethically stated, than He is in the manifestations of love? Do you notice that the elder son never once said, "Father, all these years have I loved thee"? He merely said, "Do I serve thee." He did not ask, "At any time have I ever forgotten thy grace?" He did say he had never transgressed his commandment. Do you remember the Church at Ephesus? It was full of works, and of labor, and even of patience. It could not bear those who were evil. It tried them and found them at fault, and yet in it all the Lord detected a great lack. "Thou hast left thy first love."
IV. A COMPLAINING SPIRIT (Luke 15:29 , l.c.)
How do these words strike you? "Thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends." There is a complaint against the father's bounty.
1. That "Thou never gavest me a kid." This could not have been true, for the father said, "Son, * * all that I have is thine." Do we ever imagine that God has never given us a kid? If we do, let us lift up our eyes; let us stop and count our blessings. God has filled the earth with everything for our temporal and physical needs. Every good and perfect gift has come from Him. Not only that, but He "hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Heavenly places." He has gone to prepare a city for us, a city, whose Builder and Maker is God. Do we dare to look into His face and say, "Thou never gavest me a kid"?
2. "That I might make merry with my friends." Ah, here is the heart of it all. The elder son was with the father, but he had no fellowship with the father. He sat at the table with the father; he walked constantly under the eyes of the father, but he knew nothing of a genuine love for the father. He said his father had never given him a kid to make merry with his friends . We feel that there are many sons who are not living in filial fellowship. Paul wrote to Timothy, "My son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." In Jude we read, "Keep yourselves in the love of God." Is there no joy with the Father? Is there no consolation of love in Him, that we should seek to make merry with our friends? Must we warm at the enemy's fire? The Father had not killed the fatted calf, that the prodigal might make merry with bis friends the feast was one welcoming the wanderer back to the father's heart.
The friendship of this world still remains enmity with God. Whosoever therefore is a friend to the world is an enemy to God.
V. CONDEMNING THE FATHER'S HEART (Luke 15:30 )
The elder son, at home, not only had no longing and no love for his brother, but he was angry that his father should love him. He said, "As soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf."
Oh, beloved, have we failed to see the heart of God? Not only that, Have we criticised Him because He has received back the prodigal, who had wandered away?
We wish for a moment to carry your minds to another scene. One of these days the Lord Jesus Christ will come. back to earth. The twelve tribes will, once more, be reunited in the land. There is a group, today, of Pharisaical self-satisfied Jews, who during all the centuries have kept up the rites of religion. The Lord Jesus Christ will restore unto them their land, and give back unto them their place among the nations. Shall that part of Israel, represented by the elder son, be angry with God if He restore back to their land the tribes who have been lost in the nations?
If that part of Israel, which has wasted the substance of the Father, returns, will the Israel, which has stayed at home, be angry?
Somehow, to us, there is a wonderful picture of a coming feast, in the killing of "the fatted calf." In the music and the dancing we can almost anticipate what will happen when Jesus Christ shall come and restore the disbursed of Israel. He will rejoice over His wandering children, as they come back to His side. Oh, how happy, how glad will He be! We tremble lest there should be any of the "stayers-at-home" who will criticise a loving God.
In the mean time let us seek to enter into God's love and care for every backsliding, but returning saint.
If God is "like as a father," let us be like as the Father.
VI. THE FATHER'S SELF-VINDICATION (Luke 15:32 )
In the verse before us the father says, "It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad," He then proceeds to give his reason for the joy that filled his heart.
1. "Thy brother was dead, and is alive." We have here a vision of the past and of the present. Our mind at once goes to that expression in Ephesians two which says, "When we were dead in sins, [He] hath quickened us."
God's name for the prodigal as he wandered in the far country is the name "dead." Death carries with it invariably the thought of separation. The son was separated from the father. Anyone who lives in pleasure is dead while he lives.
Life carries with it the thought of fellowship. The younger son was alive again, because he was home again. He was back in the father's presence. He was restored to the father's embrace. He was walking in the father's love.
2. "Thy brother * * was lost, and is found." The word "lost" is descriptive of the estate of the one who is dead. He was lost because he was impoverished. He was lost because he was undone.
The Lord Jesus came from Heaven to seek and to save that which was lost. In the first part of the fifteenth of Luke there is a lost sheep; then, there is a lost coin; and finally, there is the lost son.
The word "found" carries with it all of the marvels of the grace of God. In that word lies hidden the long search of the Shepherd who sought the sheep; of the woman who sought the coin. In that word lies hidden all of the manifestation of grace which greeted the prodigal boy.
Whenever a soul which was dead is quickened; whenever a life which was lost is found, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God.
"Nor angels can their joy contain,
But kindle with new fire,
A soul on earth is born they claim,
And touch their golden lyre."
The elder son did not show the spirit of forgiveness as it is seen below:
One evening in Belgium, during the World War, some little children were playing outside a village that had been ruined by German artillery, when the Angelus sounded, calling them to prayer. They drew near to a wayside shrine, and, led by an older girl, began to repeat the Lord's Prayer. When they came to, "Forgive us our trespasses," she stopped, and so did the others. It was not long since the enemy had laid waste their homes and killed many of their loved ones. How could they go on and say, "As we forgive those who trespass against us"? There was silence for several moments, and then a man's voice behind them took up the prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us," and steadily the clear strong voice led them through to the solemn "Amen." When the astonished children turned to look, there stood a tall, uniformed man with a group of officers. It was their beloved king! He had proved himself their king indeed, by leading them, through that great prayer, to the spirit of forgiveness. Christian Herald.
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Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Luke 15". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25