Charles Stanley - The Forgiving Father
Jesus was a master story teller, and the parable of the prodigal son is one of those masterful stories. And this is the setting for this passage of Scripture that I want to read and it is a setting for the message I want to bring. And if you'll turn to the fifteenth chapter of Luke, and I want us to read beginning in the twenty-first verse. And you remember that the prodigal son's left home, made a mess of his life. And then something happens to him and the Scripture says in verse twenty of the fifteenth chapter, "So he got up and came to his father". But while he was still a way off, the father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' "But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet, and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate, for this my son was dead and has come to life again, he was lost, he's been found.' And they began to celebrate".
What was Jesus saying? Jesus was saying simply this, "The door is wide open for sinners to come home". And he wanted to make a point to these Pharisees and Sadducees who were criticizing Jesus's audience. The Bible says, "The large crowd were going out along with Him and He turned and said to them - And then of course, it talks about the Pharisees and Sadducees being critical of what Jesus was doing. And this is the message that Jesus had for His audience, that no matter what goes on in a person's life and how far down they get, how empty, how wicked, how vile, how sinful, and how futile their life may be, there is an open door to salvation, to forgiveness and a new beginning.
If that were not true, you and I would not be sitting here. All of us have sinned against God. All of us have had to confess and repent of sin, not once but many times. But our names got written in the Lamb's Book of Life one time. It only gets there one time. There were, are, no erasures in the Lamb's Book of Life. And all of us who have trusted Christ as our Savior have our names there. And so it's not a matter of looking up anything when you die and to see if your name is in the Lamb's Book of Life. It's there alright, and God knows when we're coming to claim our inheritance. Amen?
So I want us to look at this particular parable in this light. First of all, to look at the simple steps that this young man took to get where he was, because people are still taking those steps. And so, Jesus describes the life of the prodigal son. And so, the first word is dissatisfaction. He was at home. He had everything in the world he could imagine. His father took good care of him. He had a great future, but he was dissatisfied, probably because his brother had passed on some news that he'd received from people traveling about the far country, wherever that was, and how exciting it was, and how beautiful the women were, and how great the situation was. And on and on they went. And so, he became dissatisfied. He looked around and he became dissatisfied, not because he didn't have what he needed, but because of what he heard. Watch this. Be careful what you listen to.
And secondly, that dissatisfaction created a desire within him. And that desire was to be able to enjoy some things other people had mentioned to him. And so, he's sort of tired of living out there. Had everything he wanted, but something deep down inside of him had a stronger desire. I can tell you what that is. The old sin nature is there to expose its cravings. Then came the deception in his thinking, because he thought, "Well, this is not the way I want to live. I don't have to live this way. I'm missing something in life. And so I think I just need to make some decisions here and change things a little bit". So he made a decision. Step by step, he made a decision. He made a decision to leave, made a decision to leave his parents, his brother, his home, his family. And he had made a decision to enjoy life, that was his decision. "I'm going to leave all of this old stuff. I'm sick and tired of all this. I'm going to enjoy life for a change". That's what every poor sinner says at some point in their life. "I want to enjoy life, which means I want to leave what I have and I'm going to involve myself in some things that probably wouldn't be acceptable to some, but, but I've got to enjoy life".
That's always a decision that's dangerous. And so, what follows that decision? Departure. He left. He packed up his goods, what goods he wanted. He didn't pack up many of them because he intended to buy new clothes. He intended to look like somebody new. He's leaving the old behind him. And so, he was leaving. And so, he left against his father's will, of course, but he left. And then comes the delight, and that is, everything was new. He had plenty of money. He dressed well. He had any kind of transportation that they would have had in those days, but he had everything he wanted. His dreams were coming true. He was sick and tired of living out yonder, up yonder in some distant place when all of these folks down here are having such a big time. I want to go to a big city. I want to live life and I want to experience life. I'm tired of living in this little old town. This is not a place I want to live". And so, instead of asking, "Is this wise or unwise I want what it has to offer"? So, naturally he began to enjoy it. But like every person who tastes sin, and every person who chooses to walk away from God, after the money began to run out, after his friends began to run out, after his clothes got a little worn, when all of that ran out, the Scripture says he became very disillusioned.
Watch this carefully. Sin will always leave you very disillusioned. You may think it's going to satisfy you, but it cannot. And because sin cannot satisfy, or, you say, "Well, I'm satisfied for a season, only for a season". But even then, when you get by yourself and you close your eyes at night and you think about reality, you're not happy. You're living out of the will of God, you're not happy. He became disillusioned. So, what happens? The further down you go in wrong thinking, wrong use of your money, wrong use of relationships, taking advantage of people and all the rest that goes on in a sinful lifestyle, what happens? He began to feel hopeless because he knew when he left home, it was going to be an awesome, wonderful life for him. Because that's what the devil always says, "Well, if you had a taste of this, if you had him or if you had her, you could drive this and live there and wear this, then you know, life would change for you". Listen. I would never question the fact that sin doesn't have some pleasure in it. But beneath the pleasure is the penalty. The penalty for sin is always the same.
The wages of sin is death. That doesn't mean it's always physical death. The wages of sin is death. Death to happiness, death to peace, death to security. Sin always has a final chapter, and that final chapter is physical death and eternal separation from God. It's not a matter of doing this sin or that sin. It's a matter of rejecting Jesus Christ as the Savior and Lord of your life. That's the sin that takes a person down the road away from God and to miss heaven. To be eternally separated from God because you knowingly, willfully reject Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. And so, that's the way he found himself. And finally, he had to give up. He was in total despair. In other words, he ends up in a hog pen.
And the truth is that people today, it's the same story. You start out with everything and everything looks like it's going to be just right and you're going to make it. And what happens? You can't tell exactly when it's going to happen, how it's going to happen. But I'm telling you, one of these days you're going to trip up. One of these days you're going to discover that things are not like you were told that they would be, and look around you the mistakes you've made. It looks like you've gotten by with it, but you haven't. Because the soul that sinneth, it shall die. The wages of sin is death. Be sure your sin will find you out. You don't get away with it. And so he finds himself now, everything's gone.
How he thought about his father and at the household and now how he thinks about them. He lost it all and he's trying to feed hogs just to exist. And then by the grace of God, he comes to himself and he begins to think about what he used to have, and he heads home. And the real story of this parable is the father's attitude about him. And so, what happens is, God is portrayed here as the prodigal's father. And so, here's the difference. Here's what happens. It's what happens to the father. We know what happens to the son. He's messed up badly. He's lost, totally disappointed, disillusioned and total despair. But what about the father? So look at the steps of the father, what he's been going through while his son's been absolutely living in sins, disobedience to God.
Remember first of all there was a wounded heart. When he told his father what he was about to do, he wounded his father's heart. You've got to be a dad to know that. "I want my part of it, my share of the inheritance. I want to live a little bit and I thank you father for being good to me but I've got to live some. I'm sick and tired of being around here and being told what to do and have limitations on my life. And I hear these stories of people who are coming up and down the road, telling me where they've been, what they've done and so forth". And so it wounded his father's heart. So God has a wounded heart. And so, the father's thinking, "Why do you want to leave everything for what's going to prove to be a disappointment"? But you see, people who are living in sin and who want to sin against God, they don't see that.
And so, the next thing you notice about his father, is he wondered about him continuously, just like you would as a parent. Your son or your daughter's left and living in another country maybe, some other state. They don't hear from you anymore much. And so you wonder what's happening to them. You wonder how they're doing financially. You wonder about their friends, what kind of friends they have. What do they do on Sunday? Do they go to church or not go to church? What kind of places do they inhabit and do they ever think about their father and mother? And so, all the questions that would naturally go on in the father's mind. And then, of course, in the midst of all that, he's waiting for him patiently.
And how many fathers and mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers have waited patiently for their renegade sons and daughters and grandchildren who've deliberately, willfully walked away from their home because they wanted to live life on their basis. They wanted to live life on their time schedule. They want to enjoy some things in life that were forbidden in their home because their parents were spiritually minded. And oh, you know, they talk about the Bible, and we've had all of that, so here they are, and here he is. And the father's thinking about all the things he must be into, but he's patiently waiting for him. Watch this. Watch this carefully. Jesus is describing our Heavenly Father's attitude toward you and me.
Not only is he waiting patiently for him, but the next level of his relationship, he was watching for him. And he oftentimes probably would stand on his porch and look down the road. He could see a pretty good ways and he saw all these travelers coming and going and would hope that one day he would, but he'd been watching for years and he hadn't come. But he didn't give up. What's God saying? I'm not giving up on you either. And so, he watched and he waited and he watched many travelers. And sometimes was thinking, "Maybe he's not coming back. But maybe he will come back". And he watched and watched and watched and hoped and prayed and yet nothing ever happened.
But then there came another level. He wanted him to return soon. He couldn't come soon enough. He wanted his son no matter what kind of shape he was in, whatever he did, whatever had happened to him, he wanted him back. And so the Scripture says, "Couldn't be soon enough naturally". I'm sure his brother probably had some words to say about all that. But he wanted him back. Watch this carefully. I don't know who you are, where you're living in life and what's going on. You've walked away from God way back yonder. God still waits for you. He still wants you to come home to Him. He wants you to be wise enough to recognize that sin ultimately is going to destroy you. Sin ultimately is going to deprive you of everything in life you want. It may be late in life, it could be soon in life. But God patiently waits as the father is pictured here. And he wanted him to return no matter what.
And then that last stage is the one he's looking for, he welcomed him home. And if you could imagine what was looking at all that road, all that empty time he was looking and waiting and then one day he was looking, standing out there looking and watching, waiting. And there's something about that guy walking up the road, he looked a little familiar, not too much... the way he carried himself. And he looked and he certainly didn't look like the guy that left all dressed up. And he kept looking and finally he realized, yes, that's him and so he took off running after him. He didn't stop to say, "Well, look what kind of shape he's in," anything else. He just took off running.
And when he got to him, what did he do? He didn't stand off and say, "You look like a tramp. What happened to you? Think how you wasted everything. You've lost years". What did he do? When he saw him, he grabbed him and hugged him. And the Scripture uses a term in the Greek verb tense there. He kissed him and kissed him and kissed him and kissed him, hugged him and hugged him and kissed him and kissed him and he said, "We're going to have a party". He's trying to confess sin and what a mess he's made of his life. He wasn't listening to any of that. They were going to celebrate that night, get ready no matter what. Now. What was God saying? God was picturing for us, humanly speaking, how God feels when you get right with Him. And you may be one of those persons who's messed up your life badly. In fact, you're ashamed to tell anybody where you came from. And you wouldn't dare tell anybody where you're going. You've just blown it badly.
I want to tell you, the same father who waited for his son is the same loving Jehovah Yahweh Elohim God of the heavens who's waiting for you. And who will forgive you just as his father forgave him. This is all about a Heavenly Father who loves us and who forgives us. The Bible says, The wages of sin is death". But you don't have to die in sin. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. Yes, but you don't have to. And there's a world of people living in sin because they have chosen to disobey God. And probably some of you sitting here, or many of you who are watching or listening, that's what you've done. You came from a home where your mother and dad read the Bible. Where they went to church and you decided you outgrew that. That's old fashioned. You don't do that today. And now where are you? If you face yourself, you know deep in your heart you're far away from God.
What you thought was going to make you happy has not made you happy. And so, you try this and you try that and you try the other. And when you've tried everything the world has tried, do you realize what you've done to yourself? Realize what you've done to your own character, to your own sense of self-esteem, and yet God will forgive you. He will take all of your sin away. He will forgive all of your sin. He will change your life, He will restore you. He will do for you what you cannot do for yourself. And so, for this father, he was so grateful to have his son back. He didn't have to hear a bunch of confession. He just wanted to celebrate. And what it says is this. The heart of God is so tender, He rejoices when a sinner comes home. So what happens? He forgives his son, restores him to his household.
And so, when we think about that and think about how God is restoring today, there are four other words I want to give you. Four other words that describe what God has for us. And the first one is forgiveness. It doesn't make any difference what you've done. Watch this carefully. You may have said, "But I've just been so mean and rotten and ungodly and disrespectful and I've been on drugs, I've been a prostitute, on and on and on you go. Let me tell you something. You can't name anything God won't forgive you for. That doesn't mean there's not a penalty for sin. But listen. God's forgiveness, if we confess our sins, that is we agree with God that we've lived in sin and disobeyed Him. If we confess our sins, He's faithful and just, always trustworthy, faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
That's the promise of God. That's the first step. Secondly, acceptance. He not only forgives us of our sin, He accepts us, that's the way we are. Accepts you as one of His children. Watch this carefully. You don't have to get all straightened out to get God's acceptance. You come to Him pleading as a sinner, asking for forgiveness and His acceptance is on the basis of what He did at the cross. When Jesus died on the cross, He paid your sin debt in full no matter what you've done or how long you've done it. Forgiveness of our sins, acceptance by Him and restoration. That is, He restores us. What does He restore? He restores our sense of self-worth. He restores our sense of dignity. He restores our attitude about other people. He restores everything about us. Restoration. It's not enough just to forgive us of our sins, but He has to straighten out some other things in our life that got twisted by sin and wrong thinking.
And then following all of that of course is rejoicing. When a person comes to Christ, all of these simple words describe what happens in their life. Forgiveness, acceptance, restoration and rejoicing. And in the parable, they had a big party, a big celebration. This is a simple but awesome story, because it's God's message that no matter how wicked and sinful and vile you've been, God is willing to forgive you. Not because you deserve it, not because you've done this or will do that, but because when Jesus went to the cross, He took the sin debt of the world upon Him. And anyone who comes to Him asking for forgiveness, surrendering their life to Him will be forgiven, their name written in the Lamb's Book of Life and you will forever be a child of God.
Doesn't mean you're not going to sin anymore. And you may be saying, "Well, I know that I'll sin again, then what"? It doesn't mean that you'll never sin again, but it means this. You have a relationship to God that's not separated. You have a relationship to Him that is like this. He will forgive you of your sin when you confess and repent of it. If you sin against God as a believer, is there a penalty? Yes, there is. But you're a child of God. And so, the grace of God wraps around us. We're always a child of God.
And there are peoples who say that once you're saved, you sin against God, you've got to be saved again. That's not salvation. There's no assurance in that because sometimes we sin against God, little things, we call them little. We don't maybe intend to do or we hurt people, all kind of things we do in life, and we ask God to forgive us because we don't want anything in life that doesn't suit who He is and who we are. Does God forgive us? Yes, He does. Watch this. This is the awesome power of the death of Jesus. Every person, from Adam to the last person who will ever live, their salvation, their acceptance before God, all goes back to one thing, and that's the cross of Jesus Christ. That's the payment for our sin. And that payment is sufficient for all eternity. God wants us to listen to Him, to hear Him, to surrender to Him, surrender our life to Him. God wants to bless us with the best. And that blessing is available to all of us who are willing to follow Him.
So I'd ask you this. Are you saved? That is, are you a child of God? Has there ever been a time in your life when you can say, "At that time in my life, here's what I did. I asked the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive me of my sins and I surrendered my life to Him, knowing that it wasn't because of any good thing I've done, knowing that I'll probably sin again, but I want Him to have my life. I yielded my life to Him. In fact, I got baptized, and I want to live a godly life. And one of these days when He calls me home, I want to be sitting on ready. Amen? Not having to fix up anything, sitting on ready. There's only one way to be ready and that is a personal relationship to Jesus Christ whereby you have confessed your sins.
So, I'm going to pray a simple prayer. If you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you need to do it right now, because you see, you don't have any assurance of tomorrow. You may live tomorrow and you may not live tomorrow. You can live eternity with the Lord Jesus Christ if you're willing to ask Him to save you. And if you'll pray this prayer, honestly, sincerely with all your heart, God will change your eternal destiny in a matter of moments. So let's pray right now. Father, we thank You for this simple story, an awesome story of Your forgiveness, of Your grace and love and mercy. Lord, I pray that every person here who is unsaved would pray this prayer sincerely with all their heart.
Heavenly Father, I am a sinner. I have sinned against You, broken the Commandments, had it my way. I'm asking You to forgive me of my sin and give me that new beginning. I believe that You will accept me, not on the basis of how good I will be, but on the basis of what You said, the shed blood of Jesus Christ at Calvary. He paid my sin debt in full. I pray, Father, that each person who's prayed that simple prayer would accept Your forgiveness right now and praise You for it. And I thank You for it in Jesus' name, amen.