Jack Graham - The Grinch That Stole Christmas
You know, not everybody enjoys Christmas. Certainly many in the world don't enjoy Christmas and would prefer holidays to Christmas and secular celebrations to the real meaning of Christmas. We know not everyone loves Christmas. There's some people, maybe, I'm even speaking to some people, you don't love Christmas. I mean, it's just not, you know, it's stress-filled and it's financially disabling sometimes, and maybe there's sadness in your home, or maybe, you know, cousin Eddy's coming for Christmas you just can't handle it another year! So maybe you don't love Christmas and you're kind of, you know, sitting here with your arms folded-bah humbug!
Let's get Christmas over so we can go on with life! Well, maybe you're going to find yourself in the story that Jesus gave us today. It's the story of the lost sibling. The elder brother and Jesus tells us about him beginning in verse 25. Many of you have stopped reading at verse 24 and in same ways it would have been nice just to have ended the story with a celebration and the excitement of the son who had come home! But Jesus had an additional, powerful, compelling point to make. Verse 25: "And his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. (What's going on here? Why are we having a party?) And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. And the father came out to entreat him".
Now let's just stop right there. There are two kinds of people away from God in this story. Two sinners... and sin is what separates us from God, disconnects us from God. There is the reckless, rebellious sinner. You know him as the prodigal son. He threw away his life. He wasted everything. He's irreligious, he's immoral and he's far away from the father's house and the love of the father, the love of God. That's one kind of person. But there's another person in this story that is a religious sinner, a respectable sinner, a moral sinner. The fact is that the elder brother who stayed home, his heart was far away from the father. He never went anywhere and yet in his heart he was separated from the love and the joy and the fellowship of his father. And this is the elder brother.
Now by now you probably realize that Jesus was talking specifically here to a group of people known as the Pharisees. Remember the Pharisees at the outset of this series we talked about the fact that Jesus loved lost people, that He ate with sinners, that He partied with people that were outside the religious system of His day, the outsiders of the faith. People not particularly good. Sinners of all kinds. And this drew criticism from the religious types, from the Pharisees, from the religious establishment. This drew heavy criticism. This Man cavorts with sinners; this Man hangs out with people He shouldn't be hanging out with, the outsiders.
Look, everything that Jesus did in coming to earth was to include more and more people. A Savior was born for all people; a Savior of the world! He didn't come just for the religious types, or just for Jews; He came for Gentiles and He came for the Romans as well as the religious. When He was born, He was not born in Jerusalem, the son of a priest, but rather He was born in humility in Bethlehem. Everything about the coming of Jesus into the world, everything about His kingdom is to say that everyone is included; that there is no person that God does not love; that there is no nation, no creed, no color, no kind that is not loved by God unconditionally. The Pharisees couldn't handle that!
Now you know that, of course, if you've been around church for a while that the Pharisees are the bad guys of the Bible. Nobody wants to be a Pharisee. I never had someone come into my office and confess to being a Pharisee. We think other people are Pharisees. You know, the rule-keepers, the straight-edged, the hard-edged, hard-shelled religious types who never have any fun. And we can look around in churches, even theologically sound and fundamentally committed churches and see Pharisees in the church. Religious types whose hearts are far from God. But the problem is so often we don't see ourselves in that picture, do we? But if we look in the mirror carefully, if you look in the mirror, you might see a Pharisee.
We always have to ask ourselves, "Is there some Pharisee in me? Do I love the Father for the right reasons? Do I serve Him with motives that honor Him"? Religion without God put Jesus on the cross. Moral people cried for the blood of Jesus. And so Jesus is speaking through the story of the elder brother to Pharisees of all kinds. Religious sinners. People who don't see their need for salvation. People who say, "You know, the Gospel's for someone else, but I don't need Jesus. I'm not a murderer, I'm not a killer, I'm not an adulterer, I don't steal too much. If I'm a sinner, I'm a good sinner! And I keep the rules; I go to church, I do what I'm supposed to do. I keep my nose down at work, I'm a good person! Why do you tell me I need to be saved? Why do you say I need Jesus"?
Religious, respectable people are without Jesus are just as far away as the young man who went to the Far Country. What was wrong with this guy? This Grinch? You know, first of all, he was joyless. And boy, there is nothing more joyless, more empty than religion without Jesus. Really. And this fellow, this older brother, he just had no joy in his life! He was unhappy. He was jealous of his brother; he was envious of his brother; maybe even of his brother's sin. You know, often there's a thing called projection in psychology where people get all bent out of shape about somebody else's behavior or misbehavior or sin: it's because they're projecting their own behavior. He was no doubt filled with lust. As a matter of fact, he said in speaking to his father, "This son of yours has been cavorting with prostitutes"!
Now I wonder who told him that? I mean, did he make it up or was he just projecting his own desires and his own lust and his own sin? Maybe he just didn't have the guts to get after like his ol' younger brother. But he was joyless and it was the party that was driving him crazy. You see, his problem was, like the Grinch that stole Christmas, was he had a small heart, didn't he? He had a shriveled soul. And he didn't care about his brother. He even said, "This son of yours", speaking to his father. He didn't call his brother his brother. He was a hater, including his own flesh and blood. He refused to forgive and so he was filled with rage and anger, and he isolated himself and he stayed away and he wouldn't come in and celebrate. He was loveless. I wonder if he was joyless. I wonder if he ever prayed for his brother? I wonder at what point he quit caring whether his brother ever came back or not?
It's a good thing that the elder brother didn't meet his younger brother on the road or the younger brother would have never gotten home. It's a good thing the father met him first and ran to him and embraced him and welcomed him. He was joyless like so many people who just go through the motions. He was loveless. He didn't care. He cared about one thing and that was himself. Go back to the text. Chapter 15, he said, verse 29: "He answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you and I've never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.'" You see his problem? I, me, my! He's in love with self. He's self-indulgent. He cares only about himself. He cannot celebrate with the joy of his father in the son who came home. He's working hard.
You know, he knew his brother did not deserve the love of his father. He knew that his younger brother who had sinned so violently, didn't deserve a fatted calf and a party and a welcome. He just didn't get it. Now who could ever understand the grace of God other than to celebrate it? He's out there working hard; he gets nothing. He said, "You didn't even give me a goat"! Boo-hoo. He's feeling sorry for himself. He's joyless; he's loveless, filled with anger and rage. His family talk about dysfunctional. Separated by sin, religious sin and rebellious sin, but sin. He was also lifeless. He just was empty of a relationship with his father. He was just as dead in his sin as his younger brother in his. Without Christ regardless of our religious expression or experience, we're dead in trespasses and sin.
And religion can't save you. Do you hear me? Religion can't save. You're not saved because you're a Baptist or a Catholic or a Buddhist or a Jew or something else! Religion cannot save! Rule keeping will never get you into the kingdom of God. You can't climb high enough or hard enough to get to heaven! This guy thought he should gain the approval of his father because he was a dutiful son, obedient son and he worked hard, but all for the wrong reason, for himself, and what he wanted. Not what the heavenly Father wanted. So as a result he was joyless, he was loveless, he was lifeless, and oh yeah, he was clueless. Right? He was just clueless as to the real meaning of life.
And so the father, it says, entreated him to come into the house. And that word entreat there is a very powerful word. It means to cajole, to beg, to plead. Interesting, isn't it, for both sinners, the reckless one, the rebellious one and the religious respectable one, for both types the father went out to meet them. The father ran to his reckless, rebellious son and embraced him and welcomed him home. And now the father goes, he leaves the party and he goes outside where this boy is, this older son, and he begins to plead with him, beg with him, "Come on, son! You're brother is back home. It's going to be tough. You know, he's probably going to need rehab. It's going to be a long way to fix this guy, but he's home, son, and we're celebrating that! He was dead; he's alive"!
He entreats him. But the religious restrictive son refused, in his rage, in his resentment, to budge. And he's left standing outside the party. Jesus really doesn't resolve this story. There's no proper ending. We want to know what happened. Jesus just kind of left us waiting to find out, and I believe there's a reason. Because remember the parables are about you and me. We see ourselves. And the entreating, the call of the Father, the call of God for us to come in, that's our decision, that's our choice as well. He wants you to see yourself in this story whether you are a reckless, rebellious, immoral type or whether you are a religious, moral type. He wants you to decide whether you're going to come in to the party or not.
This story is a tale of two sons. Oh, no, wait a minute. There's actually a third son here. The Son of God, the one who's telling the story. The Son who was sent by the Father on a mission of love, on an errand of mercy! Sent from heaven to the far country of this world, to be born in a manger, majesty in a manger! To be the Savior of the world, to seek and to save the lost! The elder brother, he shares our humanity! That's why he came. And not just to come to be born, but to die on the cross, to rise again, to fulfill the promise of God through the ages! We have been waiting and waiting and waiting. And maybe you're still waiting. Maybe you're standing out in the cold; you're in the dark; you're on the outside and you need to hear again the love of the Father and the sacrifice of the Son and what He has done for you. He lived, He died, He rose again, He's coming again!
The kingdom of heaven is a joyous celebration of life and love! It's all because of what Jesus has done. And it's for prodigals of all kinds: the good, the bad, the ugly! There's no one here, there's no one watching or listening to me right now who is not to bad that Jesus can't save you! And there is no one here that is too good but that you need to be saved! Everybody need Jesus! You know, here at Prestonwood we welcome prodigals home. I wouldn't want a church full of religious types only, the Pharisees. Can you imagine a church full of elder brothers? There are churches like that, you know, who careless about lost people, who care little about the mission of Jesus to the world! We're not here to thin people out; we're here to welcome people home!
I hope you had a big brother. I had a big brother. His name was Bob. He's in heaven. Thirteen years older than me. And he encouraged me in every way. My greatest encourager in life, outside of my wife, would be my brother. And he was also a pastor. But when I was a little guy, 3 years of age, I was always kind of, you know, Dennis the Menace-doing stuff. And one day we'd picked him up at school, my big brother who was 16, I was 3. I wanted to roll down the window and throw something away. It was littering-I shouldn't have been doing it. But I was going to roll down the window... Yes, we rolled windows down in 1953. And I somehow got a hold of the door handle and I went flying out. The car's moving about 40 miles an hour. I'm going 40-50 the other way! And when something like that happens, I mean it was traumatic, I really do remember it after all these years. Everything kind of slows down and I remember thinking, "This is taking so long for me to hit".
And then I remember landing but not that hard. I've always believed that an angel protected me and preserved me that day. I don't know if it was an angel unaware. But I do know there was another angel in that car: it was my brother. My mother was driving. My brother jumped out of the car after it, of course, came to stop and he came running to me. And I'm bleeding a lot. I landed on my head. My dad always said it's a good thing you landed on your head; you're so hard-headed! It's the only thing that kept you alive! And he picked me up, my brother, and I remember he had a beautiful new shirt on and I was crying and I was bleeding. And my brother picked me up, told me I was alright. I remember saying to him, "I'm bleeding on your shirt". He said, "That's okay. I can get another shirt".
And they took me to the hospital and I got patched up and I'm fine except for a few scars up here. But it was my older brother who picked me up, who took my blood, my pain, my hurt and he carried me to security and safety. The Bible says that Jesus is not ashamed to be called our Brother! He is our Brother in humanity! One hundred percent human, one hundred percent holy! And He's here today to say, "Let Me carry you to the Father. Let Me take you home this Christmas". What are you waiting for? You leave your bags behind. You don't need your bags, all that stuff in the past. Leave it behind. Just come home to Jesus. Be you religious type or sinner whose greatest need is to see your need, or rebellious, reckless man or woman far, far from God. Come to Jesus. This is what Christmas is all about.