Support us on Paypal
Contact Us
Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » James Merritt » James Merritt - The One That Matters

James Merritt - The One That Matters

  • Watch
  • Audio
  • Donate
  • Shop
    James Merritt - The One That Matters

If you brought a copy of God's word, we're in the gospel of Luke. There are four gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. We're in Luke chapter 15. I'm a voracious reader. I love to read. And one of my favorite authors is Philip Yancey. Some of you may know who he is, but he tells a story about a girl. She had a ring in her nose, a chip on her shoulder. She couldn't stand her parents. They were good parents. They loved her deeply, but she just couldn't connect. So she ran away from home and she becomes this drug-addicted prostitute on the streets of Detroit.

Well, months go by and she walked into a store and there on the side of a milk carton was her face. It was a missing person's ad, but she never even bothers to tell her family that she's still alive. They don't know whether she's alive or dead. And that goes on for two years. She gets sick, she gets sexual diseases, she gets used up, she gets burned up, she's desperate, and her pimp throws her out on the street. She has no other place to turn. So she calls her dad. He didn't answer. She gets his voicemail and she leaves a message, gets on the bus, and thinking maybe she could get a ride to her home when she arrives in her home city. As she steps off the bus, to her amazement, she was greeted by 40 relatives.

Brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, and parents. And they're all wearing party hats. They got this huge band of stretch out from end to end saying welcome home. She rushes to her father and she opens her mouth. She's about to say I'm sorry, but before she could say anything, her father puts his hand to her mouth and says, "We'll talk later". We gotta get you home to the party 'cause there's a big banquet waiting for you about three times the crowd that we have right here. Now, that story sounds familiar to a lot of you. It may be because Jesus told a similar story about 2,000 years ago. Probably the most famous and beloved story ever told. It's actually a part of the longest story, the longest parable have He ever told. It has more dialogue than any other parable Jesus ever gave and people still think about it, talk about it. It's one of those stories. You never get tired of hearing it, you never get tired of reading it or telling it.

And one of the things about the story is anybody can relate to the story and everybody can find themselves somewhere in the story. Shakespeare wrote a play based on the story. The famous painter, Rembrandt, he painted a picture of this. This is the picture. And by the way, notice this is the father. There's a reason why he puts it there. I'll tell you about that in just a moment. Charles Dickens, probably the greatest novelist in the English language said, "This is the greatest short story of all time". Yet it's one of the most mistold stories ever told because most of the time, when the story is recounted, you kinda stop when this prodigal sun comes back home. But what people miss is, it's about more than just one son. And we know that because of what Jesus said. "There was a man who had two sons". So it's not just about one son, it's actually about two, two brothers. And they both represent people in this world that is far from God.

If you're a guest of about us today, you're just joining us for the first time, we're in the series that we're calling "Who's Your One"? Because there is one that should always matter to us, and it's the one that matters to God. You say, "Who is that"? It's that one lost sheep. It's that one lost silver. It is that one lost son. It's that one person that needs to come home far away from God and we all need to have our one. Now remember what I told you last week. If you don't, let me refresh, remember it. Jesus is talking to two groups of people in this story. There are sinners. These are people who are banned from going to church. And there are Pharisees, these are people who never miss Church. And here is the difference. One group was so bad, so terrible, they thought God would never accept them. The other group thought they were so good that God had already accepted them, but they were both wrong. They were both far from God and that's why Jesus tells this parable.

Now, here's another truth you need to understand. This story's called the parable of the prodigal what? Son. That's really a misnomer because the story is really not about the son. The main character of the story is not the son, the main character of the story is not the older brother, the main character of the story is the father. It's why Rembrandt put the father right in the center of the canvas. The father's mentioned 12 times in 20 verses. He is the real hero of the story. So what most preacher, a lot of preachers miss, and most people miss is this story is not about ascending son. It's not even about a bitter brother. It's all about a forgiving father. And the whole point of the parable is very, very simple. So you don't know what the story is in a nutshell, here's what the story is about. "The Father's door is always open and the Father's message is always welcome".

Now, what I love about this parable, I love to do outlines as you know. This parable really divides up into three neat parts, three neat sections. And every one of them tells us about the heart of this wonderful God that many of us know as Father. Here's what we're gonna learn today. First of all, the Father loves us even when we rebel against Him. The Father loves us even when we rebel against Him. Now, you know how the story begins. If you don't, let me refresh your memory. There's this son and he is in a good home. He's got a wonderful father. He's got everything in life you could ever want. But somehow, he becomes convinced like a lot of our kids do, the grass is greener on the other side. He's tired of sowing corn in the field. He wants to sow wild oats in the city. So the story begins. "The younger one said to his father," out of the blue. "'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them".

Now, if you'd been in that audience listening that morning or that day, you would've been shocked to your core listening to what Jesus said because Jewish law was very clear. It was very simple. There were two brothers and according to the Jewish law, when the father died, the older brother got 2/3 of the estate and the younger brother got 1/3 of the estate, but there was only one catch. You didn't get the inheritance until the father was dead. So in effect, this is what that boy said to his dad. "I wish you were dead. I don't care about you. I care about what you've got. I don't care about your soul, I care about your stuff". I mean, can you imagine if you're a parent hearing anything more devastating than that from one of your children? And with one sentence, one sentence, that boy dishonored, disgraced, and disowned his own father.

Now, what the audience thought they were gonna hear from Jesus was this father would either kick the boy out or give him a good beating or at least a tongue lashing. But he does the unthinkable thing. He does something. They can't believe it. He grants the son's request. He says, "Okay. You want it? You've got it". And what he was saying to that son was, "You may love me, you may love my stuff more than you love me, but I love you more than I love my stuff". So he gives the boy what he asked for. Well, things start off pretty well, right? "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country, and there squandered his wealth in wild living". I mean, for a while, this kid is flying with a jet set, traveling in the fast lane. The good times are rolling. Life is just one big party. If he felt good, he did it 'cause think about it. He had the wealth, he had the women, he had the wine. He's a rich kid, like a rich kid in a cheap candy store. But there was only one problem. The money always runs out.

Here's what happened. "After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country and he began to be in need". By the way, that word squandered back in verse 13, that word literally means to blow. What Jesus is saying was, "Hey, let me tell you what happened to this kid. He literally blew it". He blew everything. He didn't just blow the money, he blew his character. He blew his reputation. He blew his integrity. He blew his influence. He blew his happiness. And most of all, he blew a relationship with a wonderful, wonderful father. He had gone from hero to zero. The credit cards are being rejected. The checks are bouncing. And for you country music fans out there, Teddy Swims is getting used to being broke. He is broke, but he hasn't hit rock bottom yet. "So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating".

Now, if you know anything about Jews and you know anything about pork, I don't need to say anything else because even to this day, pigs are considered the most unclean animals of all and no self-respecting Jew would ever go to work tending pigs in a pig pen. He wanted to live high on the hog and he winds up living with the hogs because he learned a lesson that too many people learned the hard way. I hate to tell you this. Some of you parents have kids, they're gonna learn this lesson the hard way. Some of you grandparents have grandchildren, I hate to tell you, they're gonna learn this lesson the hard way. "The world will take everything you have and give you nothing that you need".

The world will take everything you have and give you nothing that you need. Absolutely nothing. This boy have lost everything, everything except the most important thing. He had not lost the love of his dad. See, no matter where you are, no matter who you are, I don't even care how you got to where you are. Let me tell you something. There is a Father in heaven who loves you. There is a Father in heaven who wants you and there's no limit to how far He will let you go, no limit to how long He'll wait for you to return. You know, I heard a preacher say this about 40 years ago and I've never gotten over it. It's one of the best things I've ever heard. He said this. "A sinner may go to hell unsaved, he will never go to hell unloved".

You may go to hell unsaved, you'll never go to hell unloved. The Father loves us even when we turn our back on Him, even when you give Him the finger, even when you do everything to break His heart, doesn't matter. The Father loves us. And here's a second lesson we learn. Not only does the Father love us even when we rebel against Him, the Father looks for us until we return to Him. He looks for us until we return to Him. So where is this boy now? He's gone from the pit house to the outhouse. He's gone from the big house to the pig house. He is in absolute bottom. And no one, the verse 16 ends with these words. Listen to this, "But no one gave him anything". That boy needed to change his last name to bankrupt. Because in every way you could imagine, that's exactly what this kid is. He's financially bankrupt. He's morally bankrupt. He is spiritually bankrupt. He is emotionally bankrupt. He is relationally bankrupt. And the only thing you could really say to this kid was, "Hey kid, cheer up. Things can't get worse". They just can't. I mean, you can't get any lower than rock bottom, right? He's eating with the pigs.

And then you come to part two of the story. "When he came to his senses," I love that. "When he came to his sense, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death.'" I love the way that puts it. The boy came to his senses. You know why the Bible says that? 'Cause if you think about it, when you go off, when you cross over into the far country, when you decide you're gonna reject a father that loves you, when you decide it doesn't matter how blessed you are to be who you are, where you are, it still isn't good enough, it doesn't just affect your heart. It affects your mind. See, when you're in the far country, it's not that you just don't live right, you can't even think straight. So this boy has finally awakened, smelled the coffee, learned his lesson, read the tea leaves, realizes there's only one place I can go. There's only one path left. So he makes a great decision for the first time in the story.

"I will set out and go back to my father and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.'" The famous poet, Robert Frost, gave the greatest definition of home I've ever heard. Here's what he said. "Home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in". I love that. Home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in. So just like a pigeon, the homing instinct that kicked in on this kid, he said, "You know what? I wanna go home". And after all, why would you? 'Cause where else can you go? Who else can you go to? There was only one place left he had to turn. I read the other day a story about a little boy who's in the first grade. And school was coming to an end, he was really, really upset. The teacher could tell it. He went up to the teacher and he said, "Ms. Smith, I need you to call my mother". And she said, "Well, is something wrong? Can I help"? He said, "Well, I said yesterday I forgot my sweater and I left it here at school. And this morning, my mother told me not to come home without it". And the teacher said, "So what"? He said, "Well, I can't find my sweater anywhere. So would you call her and to ask her where does she want me to go"?

Now, you never have to ask our heavenly Father that question. You know why? His porch light's always on. His door is always open. And God is always wanting us to come home. Now, the next verse, I love this next one. It could bring tears to a glass eye. I want you to watch this. "So he got up," you got that, didn't you? "So he got up, he went to his father, but while he was still a long way off," now get this. Long way off. "His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him. He ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him". The son had turned his back on his father, but the father never turned his back on his son. The son had rebelled against the father, but the father had never rejected the son. I mean, this son, remember the last time the dad saw him? He's treading out the front door smelling like a rose. Remember that? Now, he's slinking out the road, stinking like a pig. And long before he saw his father, his father saw him.

And again, the scene would've been shocking to the crowd. Let me tell you why. It says the father ran to him. Let me just stop right there. In ancient Hebrew culture, it was considered undignified for an older man to run. You know why? You know what you had to do to run? You had to take all of your outer garments. You had to strip down to your undergarments. So you could basically run without following me. It was totally humiliating for a man to do this. But what that dad was saying was, "I don't care what anybody thinks. I don't care what anybody says. It does not matter to me. I want everybody to know I love my son. I love my son unconditionally. If my boy's ready to come home, I want him to come home 'cause there are two arms that won't always be open to him". He knew that, that is the arms of his dad.

And that's what makes this story even more amazing because at first, the boy is broke, now he's broken. And in the Greek language, you don't get this in the English. When it says the dad kissed himm you know what it literally says in the Greek language? He smothered him with kisses. Smothered him with kisses. That boy was filthy, but that dad couldn't taste the dirt. That boy stunk like a pig, but that dad could not smell the stink. He's kissing this kid so much, the boy can't even talk. You know why? Because when a sinning son meets a forgiving father, love flows like a river and joy explodes like a firecracker. You get this picture down because you're looking at, this is a picture of how God the father treats everybody who decides to come home. Doesn't matter how far away you've gotten from God, doesn't matter how deep you've gotten into the pig pen, there's a Father who's always looking at you like this, always ready for you to come home.

And so let me just say this to some of you listening to me right now. Maybe you're, you may be in South Africa, you may be in Russia, you may be in China, you may be in India listening to me right now. I don't care how far you are in your life. I don't care how far you've gotten away. You can always come home. You can always come home. 'Cause you know why? The father looks at you with eyes of forgiveness. He speaks to you with a mouth of forgiveness. He embraces you with the arms of forgiveness. He runs to you with the feet of forgiveness. He kisses you with the lips of forgiveness. Now, notice this son thinks he's got it all worked out. How he's gonna kind of get back into the good graces of his dad. He's got this rehearsed speech. But notice what happens. "So the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.'"

Remember, he' got this rehearsed. "I've sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son". But the father said to his servants, doesn't even say to the son, he's not even listening. "Hey, quick, bring the best robe, put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet". Now, all the son's asking for, just make me a minimum wage servant. I'll feed your pigs. I'll dig your ditches. I'll milk your cows. I'll clean your home. Just make me a minimum wage server, but he never got to finish the sentence. And Jesus goes into great detail. He gives his son the best robe. Got a quick question. Pop quiz. Who do you think the best robe belonged to in that house? Yeah, the father. He gives his son his robe. The father, the son looked at the father and said, "Father, I've sinned". But the father puts the robe on his son and says, "Son, your sins are forgiven". And then the father puts a ring on his hand.

Now, this was really shocking. A ring in that day was a way of transacting business. So in essence, you know what that dad did? He gave that boy access to his bank accounts, his credit cards, and all of his money. So when the son said, "I am no longer worthy to be called your son," the dad said, "but I'm worthy to call you my son". Yeah, you can give the Lord hand. And then he gave him sandals. What's this? Back in the day, slaves went barefoot and one family member got to wear shoes. So he wants to say, "Look, just make me one of your hired servants". But the shoes said, "No, no. You're not a servant, you're what you've always been. You are my son". The father, the boy gave the father nothing. He took everything he had. The father took nothing and gave the boy everything that he needed. And then finally, there's this coup de grace. Here's what the father does. "Bring the fattend calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate for this son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate".

Now, most meals in that day did not include meat because it was too expensive. And meat was basically reserved for special occasions and religious feast. And by the way, no meat was more expensive than the meat of a fattened calf. And with a feast like this, everybody in the village would be invited. You say, "Why would he do that? Why would he kill the best meat that he had, and then invite everybody to come when everybody knew the story"? Because the dad wanted everybody in the village to know my lost son has come home and it's time for a party. Now, normally, this is where everybody ends the story, right? And you think everybody lives happily ever after, but they don't. Not everybody in the story is happy.

Now, I mean, tell you one thing. I can tell you somebody wasn't happy in the story. That fattened calf, he wasn't real happy about it, but not everybody's real happy in the story. There is a second son. All right, now who does the first son represent? He represents the sinners, the prostitutes, the tax collectors. And in the first part of the story, the Pharisees are going, "Yeah, Jesus, give it to him. Tell him how it is. You tell him what. That's what these men, they're just pig pen people is all they are". And then he brings up the second son and he represents the Pharisees. The younger son is about people outside the church. Listen up. The older son is about people inside the church. So now, we talk to us.

So this Father, he loves us even when we rebel against Him. He looks for us until we return to Him. But then we learned this last lesson. The Father longs for us even when we reject Him. He longs for us even when we reject Him. Now, you would think everybody would've been happy in the story, but somebody wasn't happy. In fact, one person was really royally ticked off. You know who it was. "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servers and asked him, 'What going on?' 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattend calf because he has him back safe and sound.' The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him".

This older son, he is so ticked. He is so hot. He is so angry. He takes this radical step of breaking his relationship with his father. You say, "How did he do that"? When your father gave a banquet and you refused to go in, that was an unspeakable public insult. It was a cultural slap in the face. That boy was saying to his father, "You are no longer worthy to be my father and I no longer have any desire to be your son". So why was the son so angry? But he answered his father, "Look, all these years, I've been slaving for you, never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends". One son was ashamed of his sinfulness. The other son was proud of his goodness. Both sons were far from God, but only the first son realized it.

What's the lesson? A lesson I learned a long time ago in my ministry. I witnessed to a lot of people. I've shared Christ with a ton of people, but let me tell you what I have learned. I've seen it time and time again. The hardest person to win to Jesus Christ is not the person who believes they're so sinful, they don't deserve the grace of God. That's the easy ones. It's the person who thinks they're so good, they don't need the grace of God. Those are the hard ones. "Oh, I'm good to go. You don't understand, man. I grew up in church. I got christened when I was a baby. I pay my taxes. I've never been drunk. I don't do drugs. I've been faithful to my wife. I raised my kids right. I pay my taxes. I'm a member of the civic club. I do this and I do that". And you know what? Both are equally far from God.

There's only one difference. One rebels against the goodness of God and the other rejects the grace of God. And you know what? Can I be honest? We're just getting honest here, right? When you look at the older brother, you begun to understand why the younger brother wanted to hit the trail. You understand why he wanted to get out of the house 'cause there's so many younger brothers today, they're still out there in the pig pen and they don't wanna come home. They don't wanna walk in here. You know why? 'Cause they've got this idea. The church is full of older brothers. They don't want them to come. They see when they look at us, unfortunately, good, bad, or indifferent, right or wrong. They see a bunch of judgemental, self-righteous people who'd rather use their finger to point out their faults than to use and to show them God's love.

And let's be honest. Do you really want people coming in this church that don't look like us and don't dress like us? Do you really want the modern-day prostitute and tax collector walking into this church? We're just getting gut-level honest. There are some of us and I don't know who you are, and I don't wanna be in that, sometime I've been in that group. We say, "Oh yeah, we want our church opened to everybody as long as they're straight, as long as they dress the way we think they ought to dress when they walk in the door, as long as they don't have alcohol on their breath, as long as they've had a bath, as long as they at least know what the four gospels are, we're good to go".

That's an older brother mentality. And that's why the story concludes with these words. "My son," the father said, "you're always with me. Everything I have is yours, but we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found". So you understand what God's trying to tell us even in this building? He's saying to those of us who come to church, we've devoted our lives to God, we're trying to live for God, we obey God, we honor God, we financially spoke the work of God. What he's trying to say to us is the one that matters is the one outside the church. The one that has little desire for God, little use for God, little or no one for God. That's the one that matters. That's the one we ought to be looking out for. That's the one we ought to be concerned about.

As far as we know, the older brother never did go inside. And I'm gonna say it again. It reminds me of something I've seen in ministry. It's a lot easier to reach unrighteous people than it is to reach self-righteous people. And if you think about it, it makes sense, right? Because let me ask you a question. Who has a better chance of going to the doctor? Who has a better chance of going to the doctor? It's not the person who's sick, but think they're well, it's the person who realizes they're sick regardless of how they feel.

So I want you to think about one last thing, and then we're gonna say amen. There's actually a third son in this story. I bet you've never heard this before. There's actually a third son in this story. You said, "Really"? Yep, there's the father, yep. Well, there's the younger son, right? There's the older brother, yep. But there's one other son. It's the son who tells the story. It's because of that son who died on the cross and came back from the dead that the door to forgiveness is always open, but porch lights of heaven are always on.

So here's the wonderful news. If you're living in a far country, you say, "You just don't even know how far I am. You don't know how deep I've gone. You don't know how dark it is". It doesn't matter. If you are in a far country, there's a Father right now in heaven. He's watching, He's waiting, He's willing, He's wanting to welcome you home. And once He welcomes you home and once you walk in that door and once He cleans you up and once He puts on the robe and the sandals and He kills the fattened calf, He then looks for you and says, "Okay, glad you're back now". You go be loving. You go be looking. You go be looking for the one that matters because the question will always be, "who's your one"?

Would you pray with me right now? I wanna say a word to those of you are watching online right now. You're either one or you need one. If I'm talking to someone right now and you're that one, you say, "You know what? I don't have a relationship with the Father. I've never come to Christ. I've never been saved. I've never given my life to Jesus. I've heard all my life about Jesus died on the cross, came back from the grave, and He wants to forgive me and my sins. And I've got all that in my head, but I have never done business with Jesus. I have never trusted Him with my life". And you would say right now, "I want to come home. I want to come home".
Are you Human?:*