David Jeremiah - God Loves You Even When You Don’t Love Him
It is the father who loves the prodigal son even when his son is not loving him. It is the father who waits patiently for his son to return home. It is the father who initiates the process of forgiveness. It is the father who rolls out the red carpet for his sinful boy. No, no, this story is not so much about the sons. This story is about a human father and his prodigal sons but it tells an even greater story about our heavenly Father and all prodigal sons and daughters wherever they are found.
Let me tell you first of all that God loves you when you're wounding his heart. God loves you when you're wounding his heart. In Luke 15, verse 11, we are told, "A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.' And he divided to them his livelihood". As Jesus' story of the lost son begins, the younger boy decides he doesn't wanna be under authority anymore. He comes to his father and he requests that he be given his inheritance. He requests that his father give him the inheritance that will be to him, after his father dies. And his request was impudent, disrespectful, and extremely hurtful to his dad. In essence, what he was saying was, "Dad, I wish you were dead".
Now, that kind of behavior is egregious in our culture today but I wanna tell you it was far more hurtful in the culture of the day in which Jesus was telling this story. But interestingly enough, the story does not record any attempt on the part of the father to keep his son from doing what he wanted to do. He let him go. How many of you know that the Father in heaven often lets us go? How many of you know that sometimes you think you have sinned away your hope, that you can never come back again, that you've wounded God so much, when here's a story about a father whose heart was totally wounded. And yet he never stopped loving his son. The story's all about the unbelievable love of this father. He didn't stop him from going. He let him go.
How many of you know that God loves you even when you're wounding him? Secondly, God loves you when you're walking away from Him. The Bible says, verse 13, "And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country..".. It was just a few days after he had made his speech to his father. The Scripture says somehow his father was able to liquidate enough of the estate so that he could give it to him in cash and the young boy filled up the money bags and he walked out of the house with a third of the wealth of his father. And the father knew that one day he would regret what he had done. The father knew he was headed for trouble.
How many of you know fathers and mothers have an instinct like that? I mean, here's a young man. You know that he's not gonna be prospered by this decision that he has made. But in spite of his own personal agony, in spite of the rejected love, just as the father in the parable was willing to endure pain rather than disown his son, our God in heaven often does that with us. Isn't it true that sometimes there is nothing more powerful than experiencing the full-on consequences of our own sinful choices? The father could have tried to describe to his son the pain he was about to experience. But how many of you know when you have a son who's in a state like that, you might as well be talking to the wall? His son had made up his mind. Nobody was gonna change his mind. He was leaving.
Let me ask you this question. Could God not stop us from the painful journeys we take away from him sometimes? Couldn't he interject himself in the process? Have you ever thought about that? Lord God, if you knew I was gonna get in such a mess, why didn't you jump in and stop me from doing it? But you see, if we're gonna stay at home, Almighty God wants us to be there because we choose to be there, not because we're forced to be there. If we're going to be faithful to our Father, he allows us the experience of the far country so that when we finally return, we are fully prepared to receive his love. So the prodigal's father let him go just like our heavenly Father has let some of us go and some of you tonight in this room, you think I've been reading your mail 'cause this has been your story. This is what's happened in your life.
Thirdly, God loves you when you're wasting your life. That's hard to put together. That's almost like a disconnect, but it's true. Luke tells us that the prodigal gathered his things together. He cashed in his inheritance. He took off for the far country. How many of you know that in this story, the far country is more than a geographical reference? The far country refers to being away from God, being rebellious against God, leaving the place where you ought to be. Here is this young boy with bags full of money, determined to live it up in a far away city. Within hours, surrounded by friends who are committed to help him spend his wealth. He's buying drinks and women for everyone and for days he pursues this lifestyle of immorality and drunkenness, throwing his money to the wind with no accountability to anybody. He doesn't have to ask anybody if he can do something. He can do whatever he wants.
It's hard to imagine a more graphic picture of unrestrained sinfulness. And then the Bible says, "And the money ran out". He spent it all. The text says, "He spent it all. He had come to town with pockets full of money and now they were empty. His fortune was spent, his friends were nowhere to be found. He had sown to the flesh and he had reaped corruption. This is a split-screen story I'm telling you. Here's this boy doing all of this. But back home is his father and his father has never stopped loving him. He's praying, obviously. He's pining. He's certainly worried. But he has not given up on his son. And that's the same way it is with us. We may think when we're not walking with God and we turn our back on his directives in our life that God just shuts off the screen into our life. But he does not. God loves us even when we don't love him. Because you see, God loves you. He always has and he always will.
God loves you when you are wounding his heart, when you're walking away, when you're wasting your life and here is the bottom end of the story. God loves you when you're wallowing in sin. God loves you when you're wallowing in sin. Luke 15 says: "And there arose a severe famine in that land, and the young man began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed the swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything". As far as the prodigal is concerned, he is the son of a wealthy Jewish landowner living among what the Jews considered to be the most ceremonially unclean and despised animals on the face of God's green earth. What we're gonna learn now is very interesting. So watch carefully. This story's not being told like you normally have heard it so listen carefully. God loves you also when you working to come back.
Notice verse 17: "But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I'm no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants'". When it dawned on the prodigal that he was living beneath the lifestyle of the lowest man on his father's payroll, he came to himself. He came to his senses. It says in the text, "here he is, eating with the pigs, and the guy who's the lowest on my father's payroll is living a whole lot better than I am. I know what I'll do. I'll go home and ask for my father's forgiveness".
Isn't it the way we are? Even when we are in a terrible mess, have you ever noticed how hard we fight to keep from having to say, "I'm wrong"? You know, we do that in everyday life. I remember one time I was traveling with Donna on the New Jersey Turnpike and we were back there and we were going back to New Jersey and Donna said, "I think you missed the turn". And I said, "Honey, I didn't miss the turn". She said, "Well, you know, I think I saw the sign back there", I said, "Baby, we didn't miss the turn. Just trust me". So she kind of went back to sleep and we kept on going down the highway and pretty soon I saw a sign, "New York City, 55 miles". I went four exits trying to find a way to gently turn the car around so she wouldn't know that we were on our way back home.
Isn't that the way we are? C'mon, look at me. You know what I'm talking about. We'll do anything to keep from admitting that we're wrong. And what this young man is doing is what we often do. Instead of getting on our knees and saying, "Lord God, I've strayed from you. I've messed up my life," Satan will give you all kinds of excuses to keep you from doing what you ought to do. That's what this young man's up to. He's decided, "I can make this on my own. I'll go back and I'll make it right with my dad". And then number six, God loves you when you're wrapped up in his arms of forgiveness. And here the story is wonderful. Luke 15:20 says, "And he arose and he came to his father. And when he was still a long way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.'"
Sometimes, people think the father's waiting in the living room for his son to come home. Not so. The Bible says he was watching for him. Perhaps he went out to one of the towers that protected his land and waited in that tower every day, scanning the horizon for any sign of his son. The Greek text puts the emphasis on "a great way off". The Bible says that when his father sees him, he had compassion. And then he did something that no Jewish father of distinction would ever do. The Bible says he ran to where his son was. He literally raced to meet his son and began to shower him with kisses. In the Middle East, a man of age and position always walked in a slow dignified fashion. But now the father races down to the road. To do so, he had to take the front edge of his robes and pull them up, so that his legs show in what is a very humiliating condition. And all of this is painfully shameful for him. As he moves through the village, he's the laughing stock of his friends and his peers. His father knew that if he got back to the village without him, he had no chance whatsoever.
So here's what the father did. He took the shame that his son deserved upon himself and he raced out in an embarrassing moment of the loss of dignity and there, at the edge of the village, the Bible says he fell on his son's neck and the Bible's very clear. He didn't just kiss him. He kissed him. He showered him with kisses. By the way, is that not what our God has done for us? He's taken the shame that we deserve upon himself, has he not? He sent his Son into this world to hang on a cross between two thieves so that the shame we deserve would be cared for by his own Son. God loves you when you're wounding his heart, when you're walking away, when you're wasting your life, when you're wallowing in sin, when you're working to come back, when you're wrapped in his arms of forgiveness and he loves you when you're welcomed back home.
This has gotta be, along with the story of Joseph and his family, one of the great moments in Bible stories. "But the father said to his servants, '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 fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' And they began to be merry". Now here's what happened. As the old man ran out to the edge of the village, holding his robes up as he ran, he obviously didn't go out there by himself. His entourage of servants went with him. As soon as he's done loving on his son, he turns to one of his servants and he says, "Go get the robe. Go get the best robe". This would have been the embroidered robe that no doubt belonged to the patriarch in the family. "Go get the robe and bring it. And go get the ring and bring the ring here. Put it on his finger. And go get the sandals and put the sandals on his feet".
Watch carefully. In the three things the father did, he answered every issue in the son's confession. "Father, I have sinned". "Go get the robe". You don't put a beautiful robe on a dirty son. You cleanse him up first. You clean him up and when you've sinned, what do you need? You need cleansing, don't you? So the robe is the answer to the first statement. Go get the robe. "Father, I have sinned and I'm no longer worthy to be called your son". "Go get the ring and put the ring on his finger". The ring was the symbol of family authority that allowed the son to do business on behalf of his father. "Father, I'm no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your servants". "Go get some sandals and put 'em on his feet".
In that culture, servants didn't wear shoes. So this father, not only verbally but symbolically welcomed his son back by meeting every single issue that separated him from the family, which is exactly what Almighty God has done for us, praise his name. He has welcomed us back. He's taken every issue out of the way. He's met us at the point of our need. And now, the son is not headed for the servant quarters, he's headed for the banquet hall. The father says, "Go, kill the fatted calf, we're gonna have a party tonight". And do you know, earlier in the text, it says that whenever someone is lost and they are saved, there's rejoicing in heaven. That's in this text.
Here's what I discovered when I read this story. When this young man got saved, there was a party in heaven and there was a party on earth. There were two parties going on; one in the father's house down here and one in the Father's house up there. They were celebrating the return of the lost son. It's true today that every time someone receives the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, there is rejoicing in heaven. Now we need to remind ourselves as we come to the end of this story that this story is really about the lavish grace and love of Almighty God who loves us even when we don't love him. Throughout this whole story, all this young man has done is go the wrong way, away from God. If he were like us, there would be a point of no return. As fathers, we would say, "That's it. You've hurt us enough. You've hurt this family enough. Don't come back". I've worked through that with parents. Jesus described this moment in a comment he made and here's what he said: "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents".
Now, the story's almost over, but not quite. There's one part of this story that often gets lopped off the end. Because as you remember, I told you this is not the story of one son, this is a story of two sons. The story begins, "A father had two sons". While the young son has been rebellious and gone off to the far country, the older boy is out in the field doing his father's work, managing his father's estate. He has stayed at home and please don't think he has been treated prejudicially. I used to think when I read the story years ago that he was upset because his younger brother got all his money up front and he hadn't gotten his money yet. But if you go back and read it, there's one little word that won't let you believe that. It says: "And he divided unto them, his livelihood".
So they both got their money. The younger boy spent all his and wasted it but the older boy had all, he probably had it in gold. And he was managing the farm and he was coming home that night after the younger boy had returned. And as he neared back to the homestead, he heard music and celebration. And he called one of the young servants to him and he said, "What in the world is going on"? And the servant said, "Oh, they're having a party. Your brother has come home. He was gone. He was dead and he's alive and your dad is so excited, he's throwing a party. C'mon, come to the party". And the Bible says, "He was angry and would not go in. And his father came out and pleaded with him. And he said to his dad, 'I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a goat, you never gave me a party to make merry with my friends. And as soon as this son of yours came home".
Notice, he doesn't even call him, "As soon as my brother came home". He said, "As soon as this son of yours came home". Can't even call him by the right name. Doesn't like this boy. "'He's devoured your livelihood with harlots, and you kill the fatted calf for him.' And he said to him, 'Son.'" The father said, "Son, you are always with me, all that I have is yours". That was literally true. He had given him the rest of the estate. He managed it all. "It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again. He was lost and he is found".
I read somewhere that one of the reasons the younger brother left home was because the older brother wasn't very nice. Said the more you get to know the older brother, the more you realize why the younger brother left home. The thing that you need to understand is that the older brother was just as lost as the younger brother. The younger brother went to a far country but his heart brought him home. The older brother stayed home and his heart was far away. Out of his dark spirit exploded this terrible spirit of jealousy and hatred. But watch carefully. Just as the father went out to the edge of the village to entreat his younger son and bring him home, the Bible says and it literally is this terminology, he went out to where the older son was and he begged him to come to the feast. And he would not.
Let me tell you what I have observed over years of being a pastor. It's a lot easier to bring people to Christ who have walked away and gone to the far country. It is much harder to bring people to Christ who think they're already good without him. I wanna tell you once more tonight, God loves you. He always has and he always will. And he loves you right now as you're debating in your heart, "What do I do with this"? Well, what you do with it is you take the first step toward the Lord and you won't be three steps in his way before he'll be rushing out to put his arms around you and welcome you home.