Jack Graham - Deck the Halls
One of the great tales of Christmas, of course, is a Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens. Great story! But it was Charles Dickens, the author who said, "The greatest short story ever given is the story of the Prodigal Son". Now we're going to see today that this story is really about the Prodigal love of God. You could call this the Parable of the Prodigal God. The word prodigal means extravagant. The word prodigal means reckless. And God our Father is reckless and extravagant in His love for each one of us. So I'm calling this message "Deck the Halls". Fa-la-la-la la-la-la-la, because we ought to have a party.
When the lost are found, when the son comes home, there is a party, a celebration. And this Christmas as in every Christmas we deck the halls around here. We put on a big party called The Gift of Christmas to tell the story of Jesus, and really, every worship service is our opportunity to celebrate what Christ has done for us. And we've got group parties and class parties, and we're all busy going to parties because it's a celebration. Family get-togethers. No doubt, you'll be invited to office parties and neighborhood get-togethers.
Now let me remind you at this point that when you party, party with the right Christmas spirit, not the wrong Christmas spirits. You know, alcohol, unfortunately is abused at Christmas time more than any other time in the year. And that's a tragedy. I just read some sobering statistics this week from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. These numbers are from the year 2010; sobering statistics regarding alcohol consumption in the United States. The report noted that 211 boys and girls were killed in drunk-driving crashes in that year. One hundred and thirty one of these boys and girls, 67 percent were riding with a drunken driver. Adults under the influence, adults who drank too much and got behind the wheel, that's an estimated 112 million people per year.
You know, I can't think of one good thing about alcohol. Not one! I could think of a lot of bad things about alcohol, a lot of bad things, the abuse, the drunkenness, the divorce, the brokenness, the hurt, the pain, the death! Lots of bad things about alcohol! I can't think of one single good thing about it! That's why a long time ago I chose to be a total abstainer! Because that's the wise decision. So if you party as a believer and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, honor God! Honor this season! Honor the one who came for you and live a life that is separate from the world! But party the right way. Party and celebrate what Christ has done in your life. That's what we have here in Luke chapter 15. It's the story of a lost son and a loving dad. It's really an exploration of the fatherhood of God. Let's begin reading in verse 11 of chapter 15:
"And he said, 'There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, "Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me". And he divided his property between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered all, and he took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs'".
Now when Jesus was sharing this story with a good Jewish audience, at this point there would have been a... So give me one of those right now.
"And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, and I perish here 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. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants,"' And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son". But the father said to the servants, "Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found".'"
And they began to celebrate. Have a party! Deck the halls! A son is saved. As I said, this is really a picture of the father, the heart of God for us. How do you view God? Many people view God in the abstract. He's a distant deity out there somewhere. Others view God as an angry judge. Others view God as a benevolent, kindly old grandfather. But when Jesus described the most beautiful description of all is to call Him Father. He taught us to pray, "Our Father who art in heaven, Your name be hallowed". And so when Jesus tells this story to show what God is like, He speaks of a father. First, the honor of a father, a father's honor. Jesus tells us in the first verse that he was a man, a certain man. He was a well to do man, no doubt, a wealthy man, he had a piece of property; he had worked hard on this piece of property through the years. Perhaps it had been passed along from his father. It was a generational kind of thing.
And there was this legacy that he lived before his family. And everything that we know about this man, this dad is good! He's an honorable dad, a good man. I'm grateful that I had a very good dad. I know that not everyone can say that. Unfortunately some grew up without a dad. some were even abused by their fathers. And when you talk about God being a Father, to some people, they're way back on that because they never saw anything about God in their father. But let me point you beyond any bad experience you had with an earthly father to a heavenly Father who will never leave or forsake you, who loves you, who loves you eternally. But this father was a good dad. My dad was a good man and he was a blue-collar dad. We never had much money, but he gave me something better than money and that is the inheritance of a faith that was passed on to our family, a genuine, authentic faith. You would have loved my dad. My dad passed away in 1970 and I think of him most every day.
I also am grateful for a great grandfather. And granddads and grandmoms, you have a tremendous part in the lives of your grandchildren. I spoke with a grandfather last night in our Saturday service whose influence upon his grandchildren is bringing them to faith in Christ. As a grandparent, and I had a great grandfather. A. J. Simms, he was my maternal grandfather and we actually lived with my grandfather. His wife, my grandmother had passed away before I knew her, and so we lived with my grandfather, and he was such an influence in my life and he read the Scriptures to me, told me the stories of the Bible, introduced me to a child-like faith so that as a young man I came to know Christ in a personal way. Both my father and my grandfather lived a legacy.
And I could point to my older brother who's thirteen years my senior, now in heaven, along with my grandfather and father, my brother Bob Graham was a tremendous spiritual father in my life. He was the pace-setter in our little family. It was his call to ministry and faithful service that always inspired me in my own call to follow Christ and to do the work of God. My brother was a great spiritual father. I think of my pastor, my spiritual mentor and father in the ministry, Fred Swank of Ft Worth, Texas and just the powerful influence he had on my life. So much of who I am and what I'm about as a pastor and as a leader I learned at the feet of Fred Swank. And so it is so good to have fathers in your life that live honorably.
Now the Bible tells us that we are to honor our parents always, end of story. But let me just challenge every dad and every mom here to be an honorable mom and an honorable dad. And so Jesus said, a certain father... You know, media's often a reflection of the culture in which we live. And today fathers are either viewed as absent in the media or stumbling, bumbling, rambling, fumbling buffoons. I mean just check out Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation, and you can get a few laughs but there's nothing funny about a father who can't get it done! God has called His men to be His men and to lead our families. And there's nothing greater than to see your children, the Scripture says, walking in truth! This man was an honorable father! But not only the father's honor, but note the father's humility.
In spite of his worth, in spite of his wealth, and he had some. He had an inheritance to give. And yet in spite of that he loses the most precious thing in his life, his boy, because this young rebellious son comes to his father and says, "I demand my inheritance now". And with that he is in effect saying, "I don't care if you live or die". Imagine this! Imagine the pain of this, how devastating this would be to any dad. "I disown you! I divorce you! I despise you! And I don't want to be here anymore"! The father let him go. I see an incredible humility in this man. He could have demanded that the boy be beaten, stoned, but rather, the Scripture says, he humbly divided up what he had and Jesus said he gave the portion to the boy. With tears and weeping he says goodbye to his son. The property meant very little to him. The money, though it was a lot, was not the issue.
It was this boy who turned his back on God, on his family and on his future. He dishonored and disgraced his father. He wanted nothing to do with him. He despised him. And yet, in humility and with hopefulness, no question in my mind that this father never stopped believing that his boy would be back. Can't you just see him everyday? His first thoughts in the morning, "Today could be the day he comes home". At sundown he goes to the end of the road and he peers out into the distance, hoping against hope that his son would return. He cried a lot; he prayed a lot. Maybe there were reports from the distant country, the far country and word came that his boy wasn't doing all that well. He prayed all the more, "God, watch over my son! God, keep my son! God, bring my boy back"! Everyday. He wouldn't give up. And let me just say, if you have a prodigal child in your home, in your family, mom, dad, don't you ever give up! You keep praying, you keep believing, you keep trusting in God!
This boy sins against God, he sins, according to his own confession, against his father. The loving father is rejected by this rebellious son. But one day, the boy comes to himself. And in our next message we're going to talk more about the son and his experience there in the far country, but leave it to say, as we noted, as Jesus told us, he came to himself and he said, "This is crazy! The servants of my father are better off than me"! And so he makes his way home, rehearsing a speech that he prepared to give to come back not as a son, but as a servant. and so he goes down the road, home, and he's broken and he's bankrupt and he is ruined! It is a picture of the consequences of sin and disobedience. He filthy! He's come right out of a pig sty. He's barefooted and in verse 20: "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him".
What a picture of the prodigal love of God the Father. He saw him, and when he saw him there at a distance, the familiar figure of his son minus the swag; now limping home, barely able to get home. And yet when the father sees him, he didn't sent his servant to go clean him up and then bring him in the house! He didn't call for the Pharisees to come and judge him. But he ran like crazy! So he runs to him and he embraced him. It says, "He fell on his neck" in one translation, and it says he kissed him. And not just that he kissed him, but in the Greek it means he kissed him again and again and again and again and again! He kissed him profusely. Dad, don't be afraid to kiss your children, even if they're grown up. I know that teenage guys don't like it. Maybe wait till you get home to kiss your sixteen-year-old. But don't you stop kissing your children. I kiss my boys to this day and I think they like it. And our daughter.
Sometimes dads are just too stiff, too stern, too standoffish. You ought to be velvet covered bricks, strong, but tender. Many of you grew up in homes where affection was never freely expressed. Don't pass that along to your kids. Learn to love and love openly and aggressively and affectionately. So he embraces him. He had compassion. That's a strong word, it literally means a feeling in the gut. It's emotional, it's visceral! Compassion! The Bible says in Psalm 103, verse 13: "As a father shows compassion for his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him".
God was in Christ reconciling the world. The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. And in Philippians chapter 2, one of the great passages in the Bible, is certainly a great Christmas passage, Philippians chapter 2, the Bible tells us that God humbled himself, He emptied Himself and laid aside His dignity, He never laid aside His deity. The Son who is given is fully God and fully man. God never laid aside His deity, but He did lay aside His dignity and He descended to become a man and humbled Himself beyond being a man. The Scripture says that He became a slave and that ultimately He died even the death of the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.
You see, this is the story of Christmas. It is the story of the condescension of God. It is the story of God coming to us and embracing us, first in the arms of a babe, and then in the arms of a cross, and then in the arms of salvation when we come to Him in repentant faith; this is the unconditional love of God. You don't see the father shaming the son, scorning the son, lecturing the son. You know, no words like "What were you thinking"? "You should have known better"! "I told you so"! Just outrageous love and delirious joy to welcome the son home. The Scripture says that he'd been in a pig sty so he smelled to high heaven. But that the father said, "Bring a robe, bring some shoes". He must have sold his shoes for money. Now he's barefoot. He's dirty, he's filthy! But the father says, "Bring a robe, get some shoes and then get the ring, the sign of family status, the signet ring. Put it on his hand"! All these were the undeserved, unmerited gifts of the father. You see that?
Now the boy thought that he would have to work his way back in, that he would have to appeal to the father to get in a little bit at a time, to come back as a servant, that he would have to prove himself to his father before he could ever get back into the house, get back into the favor of his father. He'd been gone too long. He had done too much. So he had this speech prepared and he said, "I'm not worthy to be your son; I'll come back as a slave". And as he's trying to get this speech out, the father just interrupts him, because, you see, when we come back to God there's nothing that we can bring, there's nothing that we have that we can bring to God, nothing. We can't earn or deserve God's favor. We can't achieve it by working harder. You see, this is the difference between religion and Jesus.
Religion says, "You clean up your act, you get your life together. First, stop doing what you're doing. Start behaving and living the right way, and then God will love you, then God will receive you, then you can be a follower". That's what all religion says. But what Jesus says is: "Come to Me as you are"! You're a sinner and you may even be a good one, a good sinner, like this prodigal. You may be the worst of sinners, but you come to Me! That's why we rejoice. And this is why we're praying for you today. If you don't know Christ, that you would come to Him. No matter what your condition or circumstances, no matter how far you've gone away, you can come to Him.