Robert Jeffress - The Waiting Father
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Most people think of God in one of two ways. Either he's righteous, just, and full of wrath, or he's loving, merciful, and forgiving. These two polar opposites might offer a fractured glimpse of who God is, but neither one truly captures the full picture. So today, we're going to see God as a righteous yet merciful father who longs to see his children return to him. My message is titled, "The Waiting Father" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
One of my most vivid memories of adolescence is when Amy and I were juniors in high school and we decided one day to play hooky from school. We were, and understand, we were both honor roll students. I was president of the student council. We never gave our parents or teachers any trouble at all. But one spring day, we were headed to Richardson high school, and I looked over at Amy and I said, "Why don't we have some fun today? Why don't we skip school"? Amy looked at me like I had invited her to snort cocaine with me. I'll never forget that expression. And she came up with all of these reasons that we shouldn't skip school, not least of which would be the reaction of our moms, both of whom were high school teachers and had no patience with that kind of foolishness. But I continued to paint pictures of all the fun we could have that day, and finally, she relented and gave in, so we turned my VW bug around and we headed away from the school, going against the traffic of all of those poor souls going to a prison of higher education. We felt free, free at last.
As soon as we got outside of the Richardson city limits, I said, "Okay, Amy, what would you like to do"? She said, "I don't know. What would you like to do"? And so we started thinking up ideas of what we could do with our freedom, but every idea we came up with was met with an objection. It would cost too much. We might get caught. Our parents would disapprove. We finally settled on two destinations for our day of freedom. I'm almost embarrassed to tell you what we came up with. Our first destination, we went to my dad's office at lovefield, where he worked. We hung around with him for a while. He thought the whole idea was pretty funny.
And then the only other thing we could think of to do was we came down here to the church, came right here, walked around a little while, then went across the street there to the park where the beck offices are, and had lunch there. And finally, as the afternoon withered away and turned to evening, we knew it was time to go home, and we were paralyzed with fear. We kept making excuses why we didn't want to go home, but finally, we knew we had to go home. We were fearful. What kind of reaction would we have from our parents? Would they be standing there on the front steps, relieved to see us, glad to know we were safe, elated that we hadn't gone off and eloped? That was the preferred ending of the story. Or would they be vengeful, wrathful, mean? Well, we got home, and it wasn't as bad as we thought it would be. It was worse. They unloaded on us.
I tell you, if I had known they were going to be that mad at us, we would have stayed away a lot longer and had a lot more fun, I guarantee you. You know, as Tozer has written, "What comes into our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us". What comes into your mind when you think about God? Do you imagine him as an angry, vengeful parent wanting to inflict as much punishment as possible if we come back home to him? Or when you think about God, do you see him as a loving parent who welcomes us when we return home? Which is the most accurate portrayal of God? Well, Jesus answers that question for us. He answers what kind of father is waiting for us when we return home, in the parable we're going to look at tonight.
If you have your Bibles, turn to Luke 15, as we continue our series, "Coming home to the father who loves you". I want you to notice the ending of the story that Jesus told. It's found beginning in verse 20 of Luke chapter 15. "And the son got up and he came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and he felt compassion for him, and he 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 be merry: for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again: he was lost and has been found'".
I want you to notice, first of all, the reality of the father's forgiveness as demonstrated in three very specific attitudes the father demonstrated for his son. First of all, the father longed for his son's return. He longed for his son's return. Jesus said that even when that boy was an unrecognizable dot on the horizon, the father saw him and ran toward him. Now, you have to ask yourself the question, how is it that the father just happened to see the son when he appeared on the horizon? Was that a coincidence? I don't think so. The idea here is that the father spent his days on the front porch, looking, scanning the horizon for any sign of his son's return. Every sunrise of a new day brought the hope that perhaps this would be the day that his boy would come home, and every sunset was a prelude to a sleepless night of wondering what had happened to his boy. The reason the father saw the son when he appeared was because the father longed for his son's return.
Secondly, the father felt compassion, not anger toward his son. Jesus said that when the father saw his son for the first time, you know what his first reaction was? He felt compassion for his son. That word or phrase, felt compassion, the Greek word splagchnizomai, it literally means to be moved in the bowels. That doesn't very pleasant, does it? To be moved in the bowels. But you see, in Jesus' day, the bowels represented the seat of a person's emotion. In other words, he felt it in his gut. He was moved in his innermost being with love and compassion because that was the attitude he had for his prodigal son. In fact, he was so moved that when he saw his son on the horizon, the Bible says that he ran to meet his son. In those days, a wealthy landowner like this father, a wealthy man of dignity would never run anywhere. Dignified people just didn't run. But the father put dignity aside. He lifted up his robe and he started running toward his son. It was none of this, "Well, son, I'll meet you halfway".
How many parents make the mistake of saying that? "Well, I'll meet you halfway. If you'll do this, then you can come back home". No, none of this meeting halfway stuff. The Bible says the son walked toward the father, but the father ran toward the son. He felt compassion, he embraced him, and he kissed him. Not only that. Thirdly, the Bible says the father desired restoration, not retribution toward his son. He desired restoration, not retribution. The father met the son, embracing him, showering him with kisses. You can only imagine the surge of relief the son must have felt when he understood his father's true feeling toward him. Nevertheless, the son knew it was time to get down to business with his dad. After all, he had a speech that he needed to deliver. I just imagine the son had been working on the speech for a long time.
In fact, Jesus said that. Jesus said he began thinking in his mind what he would say to his father when he met him. I kind of imagined the son probably rehearsed the speech with the only audience he had, those pigs he was feeding out there. All the father needed to hear were the words, "I'm sorry". That's all he needed to hear, and as soon as he heard those words, he ordered the slaves to bring out the robe, the royal robe that was used for festival celebrations. Bring out the ring, the signet ring that was the highest sign of authority. And then he said, "This son of mine has come back to life again. Let's have a party. Let's celebrate".
You say, what does this have to do with you? Jesus said, if you want to know the attitude that God has toward you, listen to this story. Learn from this story. God doesn't hate you when you wander away from him. God loves you. He's watching, he's waiting, he's longing, he's working for your return to him. That's God's attitude toward those who wander away. But you say, "How is that possible? How is it possible that a holy God could forgive me of my sin? Pastor, you don't understand. You don't realize what I've done. A holy God could never forgive me". And that means we need to understand the basis for God's forgiveness. How is it that God is able to forgive us of our sin? Listen to what the Bible says.
First of all, the Bible acknowledges that God does hate sin. Now, score one for the pharisees. At least they got that part right. God does hate sin. Listen to what the scripture says in Psalms 7, verse 11. "God judges the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day". Now, that's angry. God is angry with sinners every day. Or Psalm 34, verse 16. "The face of the Lord is against evildoers, to cut off the memory of them from the earth". God hates sin.
Secondly, the Bible teaches God must punish sin. God can't simply overlook and excuse and turn his back on sin. He must punish sin. Nahum 1, verses two and three. The Bible says, "A jealous and an avenging God is the Lord. The Lord is avenging and wrathful. The Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserves wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished". It is impossible for a holy God not to punish sin. But here's the heart of the gospel.
Number three, Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sin. He took the punishment that you and I deserve for our sins. A few years ago, I wrote a book called "When forgiveness doesn't make sense," and in the first edition of that book, the hardback copy, the publishers put a picture of a painting called "The prodigal" on the cover of that book. The painting "The prodigal" is located in the Vatican, the original. It's one of the Vatican's most prized paintings. If you've ever seen the painting before, it's that scene where the son has come home and the father is embracing the son, but not only is he embracing the son, he is shielding the son from the rocks and the sticks that the townspeople are throwing at the son. You see, they're demanding that he be punished for what he has done in humiliating the father. And what catches your attention in that painting is as the father is embracing the son, you realize the father is really suffering twice.
First of all, he's already suffered the hurt of his son's rejection, and now he is suffering the punishment that his son deserves. That's a picture of what God has done for us. God has already suffered the pain of you and me rejecting him and rebelling against him. But God, for no other reason than the great love with which he loved us, he chose to bear the punishment for our sin by coming to earth in the person of Jesus Christ and bearing the penalty of our sin. Isaiah the prophet said it this way in Isaiah 53, verses four and six. "Surely our griefs he himself bore, and our sorrows he carried: yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities: the chasing of our wellbeing fell upon him, and by his scourging, we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us have turned our own way: but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him".
That's what Jesus did for us. He bore the punishment that you and I deserve. You probably have heard a truth like this, perhaps some of you, all of your life. You've heard the truth that Jesus Christ died for your sins. Perhaps some of you as a child or a teenager or as a young adult many years ago, you made that decision to trust in Christ. You received the forgiveness of your sins, but since that time, you've strayed away from God, maybe your straying away from God has been due to a sudden dramatic event in your life, a divorce, an affair, a bankruptcy. Perhaps an addiction has led you away from God, or maybe it's just been a slow eroding of your spiritual life. But these are things that happened after you became a Christian, and you're wondering, "What is God's attitude toward me, a Christian who has wandered away from him? How can I be forgiven"?
I want you to hold your place here and turn over to Colossians chapter two, and let's look at the extent of God's forgiveness of our sins. Colossians chapter two, verses 13 and 14. "And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive together with him, having forgiven us of all our transgressions". Which of my sins has God forgiven? I want you to underline that little three letter word, all. He has forgiven us of all our transgressions. You know what that word all refers to? First of all, it refers to the kind of sin God forgives. It's just not the little sins, what we think of as inconsequential sins. He has forgiven us of all of our sins. If you have a hard time believing this, I want to encourage you to do something. When you have a free moment, when you're by yourself, just make a list of those sins that you have difficulty believing God could ever forgive you of.
Just write 'em down, and then one by one, draw a line through them, and write the word forgiven, because that's what God says. He has forgiven you of all your transgressions, and the reason Christ came to die for you was not for your holiness, but for your unholiness, not just for the little sins, but the big sins. This passage answers the question, which of our sins did Christ forgive us? But he's not only referring to the kind of sins, but the timing of our sins. And this is the point I want you to understand. You know, in our minds, we see a timeline. We see the moment we trusted in Christ as our Savior, and then we wonder, well, what about all of those sins after I've become a Christian? Since I've trusted in Christ, what happens to those sins? May I remind you that when Jesus Christ died for your sins 2,000 years ago, all of your sins were still future at that moment. All of them, the past, the present, and the future for us, he has forgiven us of all of our sins. Isn't that great news? And what has he done with our sins? What has he done with those sins for which he has forgiven us?
Verse 14 answers that question. "Having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which were hostile to us". In Paul's day, a certificate of debt was like an iou. It was like a mortgage you might have with a mortgage company. In Paul's day, if you owed somebody money, you would write it out in your own hand and the one to whom you owed the money would hold that document. In Paul's day, writing occurred on expensive paper, on animal hide, and you would take ink, an acid-free ink that wouldn't bind into the document itself, and you would write, "I, Robert Jeffress owed the Colossians savings and loan 30 million denarii," and that would be the debt that the Colossians saving and loan would hold, and only when I had satisfied that requirement would they erase the debt.
Now, paper was very expensive. Animal hide was very expensive. And like I said, the the ink would not bind in, making a permanent document. Instead it was like one of those dry erase boards, and once the debt was satisfied, the one holding the debt would simply wipe it clean. He would wipe it clean. It would disappear. And that's what Paul says happens to our sin. When we accept Christ as our Savior, he forgives us of our sin. He takes our sin and he cancels it out, he erases it. And then Paul does something which his English teacher would have given him an f for, but it makes for a very vivid description. He mixes metaphors here. He uses another word picture, and he says, "And he's taken that certificate of debt, and he has nailed it to the cross," the cross of Jesus Christ.
That is, he took the debt that we owe, he took that bill, and he took it, and he nailed it to the cross of Jesus Christ. And what happened to that debt? Remember what Jesus said on that Good Friday? Tetelestai, paid in full. He paid the debt that we owe for our sins. Is there any possibility that debt is ever going to reappear again? Not on your life. Through Micah the prophet, God said, "And he cast their sins into the depths of the sea," and Jeremiah says, "And he remembers them no more". Your sins, Jesus says, have been forgiven, forgotten forever. That's what he's done with your sin.
You know, I'm reminded of the story about the couple who were going out to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary for dinner one night, and on the way to the restaurant, the wife started to complain. She said, "Herbert, remember when we were first dating and we were first married? We would just sit so close together, and we would cuddle with one another in the car, and now look at us? You're way over there behind the steering wheel, and I'm over here on the other side of the car". Herbert looked at his wife and said, "Mildred, I haven't moved". You know what? If you're a Christian tonight, no matter how far you've wandered away from God, he hasn't moved. He's right where he's always been, and most importantly, his attitude for you hasn't changed. He's still waiting, he's still working, he is still longing for your return home. Will you come?