Robert Jeffress - The Journey Home
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Chances are you can point to a time in your life when you felt closer to God than you do now. Maybe you've had trouble finding time to study your Bible, or you haven't been praying as much as you once did. Well, just because your relationship isn't what it used to be doesn't mean it can't be restored. Today, I'm going to share with you the biblical steps for reviving your relationship with God. My message is titled "The Journey Home," on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
I once read an advertisement for a book. I loved the advertisement. It said, "This book is for people who are sick and tired of feeling sick and tired". Perhaps I'm speaking to some of you tonight who are sick and tired of feeling like all is not right between you and God. You're sick and tired of wondering what God's disaster is gonna be in your life that sends you back to himself. You're sick and tired of wondering what is going to happen, what really is going to happen to you after you die. You wanna come back to God. You wanna enjoy that relationship with him you once enjoyed, but you wonder if it's really possible. "How can God possibly forgive me for what I've done? Even if he does forgive me, how can I make up for that time I have spent apart from him? And even if I do come home to a right relationship with God, how do I know that I'll remain home"?
I think the prodigal son probably had those same questions. "If I come back to my father, will he forgive me? And even if he does forgive me, will I live in his house as a slave or as a son? And what about that inheritance? Is it lost forever? And am I a hypocrite for coming back to my father when I really feel nothing for him? And what if, when I come back, I find that life in that home is just as unbearable as it was when I left that home"?
I want us to turn tonight to Luke chapter 15, the story of the prodigal son, as we look at the journey home from the far country. Luke chapter 15, beginning with verse 16. Jesus said, "And the son was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he had come to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I'm dying here with hunger. I will get up, and I will go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired men".' And he got up, and he came to his father".
The story of the prodigal son reminds us that there are four steps that are necessary to journey from the far country back to the Father, who loves us, and we're going to look at those four steps, essential steps, necessary to coming home to the Father, who loves you. What are those four steps? You can write 'em down on the side of your outline. First of all, there has to be a crisis; secondly, repentance; third, forgiveness; and, finally, perseverance. Let me say it again: crisis, repentance, forgiveness, and finally, perseverance. First of all, let's look at a crisis. I have never known any Christian who has lived in the far country who has ever come back to God without a severe crisis coming into his or her life.
C.S. Lewis said it this way: "Pain is God's megaphone. God whispers to us in our pleasure, but he yells at us, he speaks to us, he screams to us in our pain". Pain is God's megaphone. It was the great Christian statesmen Malcolm Muggeridge, who paid tribute to the value of pain in his own Christian life. He said, "Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that, at the time, seemed especially desolated and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence has been through affliction from our earthly existence". Isn't that an amazing thing to say? "Anything I've learned worthwhile, I've learned not through the easy times but through the painful times". And he said, as he looks back, after 75 years of living, he could look back on those painful events with particular satisfaction.
How can that be? How is it that we can ever look back on painful experiences with particular satisfaction? You see, the fact is, once we've come back to a right relationship with God, those painful things that God used to bring us back to himself, we view those things in a different way. Think, for example, about our ultimate homecoming experience, one day, when we get to heaven. Remember what John said about that time in Revelation 21:4? He said, "For on that day, God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. There shall no longer be any death or mourning or crying or pain, for the first things will have passed away". I had not been at my pastorate in Wichita Falls very long when I went to see a young mother who was dying with cancer. She lived in a very small apartment. She was divorced. She had two small children.
Now, I'll never forget the sight of walking into her apartment. She had a large tumor that had eaten away most of her face. It had caused her to go blind, and I remember praying with her, and several weeks later, she died. If I lived to be 100, I'll never forget that funeral service and what happened afterwards. After the service was over, I was standing by the hearse, watching as they loaded her casket into the back of the hearse, and her five-year-old daughter was there, looking at that scene, crying out, "Mommy, no, Mommy, no, mommy, no". It was a terrible experience. "Are you saying, Robert, that that girl will ever be able to look back on that experience in a helpful way? Will she ever be able to look back with satisfaction about what her mother went through"?
John is not saying, listen to this, when we get to heaven that somehow God wipes our memory clean, and we don't remember those things anymore. That's not what happens, but when we get to heaven, heaven will put a new perspective on the suffering that we went through in this life. We will no longer see pain and suffering and death as the victor. Instead, we will see them as a prelude to an even greater existence. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, at that time, "Death will finally be swallowed up in victory".
See, that's what happens. It's not that pain and the memory of pain is erased, but we have a new perspective when we experience victory. It's in the same way when we come back into a right relationship with God. It's not that we will ever be able to look at a divorce or an illness or even the death of a loved one and say, "Oh, that was a really happy experience," but if God uses those things to bring us back to himself, one day, we'll be able, like Malcolm Muggeridge said, to look on those things with a curious case of satisfaction. By the way, I think that's what David had in mind in Psalm 119, verse 67, when he said, "Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I keep Thy word". David was never going to be able to look on the things, the crises in his life, and be happy about them.
Think of what God did to get David's attention after his sin with Bathsheba. It took a divided nation, a disloyal son, a disgraced reputation, a dead baby. God used all of those things to gain David's attention, and, yet when David finally came back to God, he looked back on those things, and he said, "You know what? Before God afflicted me with these things, I wandered away from him, but now I obey his Word". The first step God uses to bring us back into a right relationship with himself, many times, is a crisis. Now hear me: Nobody ever comes home without a crisis, but many people go through a crisis without ever coming back home to God. To paraphrase a popular phrase, "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste". I mean, don't go through all this pain and suffering and not allow it to work its positive benefit in your life, and that leads to the second step that leads to a homecoming, and that is repentance. Repentance.
Now, you know, the word "repentance" kind of conjures up all kind of false images in our mind. We might think of the scraggly street preacher with the sandwich board, yelling, "Repent, for the end of the world is at hand". Or we might think of some emotion-charged worship service where people flood the aisles with many tears and much weeping and sorrow, but that's really not the essence of what the word "repent" means. Remember, this morning, we said that the Greek word for "repent" is the word "metanoeo". It means "to have a change of mind that leads to a change of direction". In fact, write down to this definition of "repent". It is "A deliberate decision that leads to a definitive action". "To repent" means "to make a deliberate decision that leads to a definitive action".
True repentance will always have a measure of sorrow, of brokenness attached to it, but that is not really the essence of what repentance is. It is a deliberate decision that leads to a definitive action, and you see that in the prodigal son. You see his repentance. First of all, he came to a place where he was tired of his present circumstances. The Bible says that "he was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating". He had lost everything, he had spent everything, and he came to the place where he was willing to eat the pig slop. So he was tired of his present circumstances. Secondly, he experienced a moment of realization. The Bible says, "He came to his senses". He came to his senses. He realized that his father's servants had more to eat than he did. He said, "This is crazy for the son of a wealthy man to be feeding and eating with the pigs".
Number three, he decided on a course of action. He said, "This is what I will do, I will get up, and I will go to my father". And then, finally, he acted on his decision. Jesus said, "And he got up, and he came to his senses". Now, let me say again, there is a difference between genuine repentance, a deliberate decision that leads to a definitive action, there's a difference between repentance and grief. There is a real difference. In 2 Corinthians 7, verse 10... in fact, turn there. We alluded to it this morning, and I want you to look at this verse. Hold your place here, and turn to 2 Corinthians 7, verse 10. Paul was writing to the Corinthian church.
Now, this may mix you up, but 2 Corinthians is really 3 Corinthians. Did you know that? Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians, talking about all the problems in the church, and when the Corinthians got the letter, they didn't respond well to Paul's criticism of what was wrong in the church, and so Paul had to make a quick journey to Corinth to try to straighten things out, and then he sent them what he called his "sorrowful letter," which he really let them have it. Finally, they changed their mind. They repented, and they took the steps that Paul said that needed to be taken to correct the problems in the church. And so, in 2 Corinthians 7, verse 10, he's congratulating them on the right kind of repentance. He said, "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death".
Now, building on what we said this morning about Joseph's brothers, I wanna give you four more characteristics of genuine, biblical repentance that comes straight from the text. First of all, true repentance should not be confused with grief. Man sat in my office one time, completely broken over his divorce. He told me the situation. He had been in an extramarital affair for five years, and one night, he was talking to his mistress on the phone, and his wife overheard the conversation. Not too bright, would you admit? And she overheard him. She immediately filed for divorce. He was in my office. He was a broken man. He was filled with grief. He was grieved over the breakup of his marriage. He was grieved over what he had done to his wife. He was grieved over the financial ruin he was experiencing because of the divorce. He was remorseful. He was repentant, to an extent, but not enough to change his actions.
You see, true repentance does not just lead to sorrow and grief. It leads to a deliberate action, to a U-turn. We should never confuse grief with genuine repentance. You can be sorry for your sin. You can be sorry for the effects of your sin but never turn away from your sin. And, by the way, consider David's example. He was certainly sorry for his sin with Bathsheba. He was sorry for what he was experiencing. In Psalm 32, he said, "For my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of the summer". But notice the beginning of that verse. It says, "When I kept silent about my sin". He said, "When I tried to cover over my sin, my vitality was drained. I groaned". That is the ungodly kind of sorrow that Paul is describing. It's a sorrow that doesn't lead anywhere except to death.
True repentance should never be confused with grief. Secondly, true repentance never leaves a residue of regret. It does not leave a residue of regret. You know, one reason you may be hesitant to come back home from the far country is the regrets you feel like you may experience once you do. When we have been in the far country for a long time, one reason we're hesitant to take that first step back home is we really don't wanna feel regretful. We know, the moment we start walking toward God, we're likely to think, "God, why did I ever allow myself to fall victim to this temptation? Why did I spend months, years not reading your Word or praying? Why, why, why did I allow myself to go in this direction"? But you know what Paul was saying in this verse, 2 Corinthians 7:10? He says, "The godly kind of sorrow produces a repentance without regret". Whenever you truly turn around and head back toward God, you're not gonna be filled with that regret that you're fearful of. When you truly turn around and start moving back toward God, there won't be any regret in your life.
Number three, true repentance is a gift from God. True repentance is a gift from God. In 2 Timothy 2, verses 24 and 25, Paul says, "For the Lord's bond servants should not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth". Your ability to turn around, to come back to the Father, who loves you in and of itself, is a gift from God.
Think about the prodigal son. The Bible says, in Luke 15, verse 17, after months, years in the far country, it says, "The son finally came to his senses". He came to his senses. You know what that intimates? It intimates that, during those months and years he was away from his father, he was out of his mind, literally. And when you think about it, it's crazy that the son of a wealthy landowner would be out in the far country, feeding the pigs. It doesn't make sense. And, finally, he awakened. He came to his senses and said, "This is crazy. I could do better, living as a slave in my father's house, than being here in the far country".
By the way, do you know it makes no sense for you and for me to be living separated from God? It makes no sense for us to be estranged from the one who created us, who loved us the most, who wants nothing but good for us. It is absolutely ludicrous that we would run from the person who loves us the most. It makes no sense, but the only way we will ever come to our senses is from a divine act from God's hand. Nobody ever comes to his senses on his own. It is an act of grace that allows us to see things as they really are, and that's what Paul is saying. He is saying, "Repentance is a gift from God".
You know what the practical takeaway of this is? If, in your heart, you sense all is not right between you and God, if there's something in your life that tells you that there's sin in your life that needs to be changed, if you have an urge to start walking in a new direction, that didn't come from you. That sense of sin and a need for a new direction in life, that comes from God. It is the gift of God, the grace of God that leads us to repentance, but just because you had that desire to come home tonight doesn't mean you'll have that same desire in the morning.
True repentance, the ability to turn around, the desire to turn around, is a gift from God. And then, finally, true repentance always results in definitive action. It always results in definitive action. Again, go back to 2 Corinthians 7, verse 10: "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation". Ungodly sorrow leads nowhere but to death, but true repentance leads to salvation. That word "salvation" means "completeness, maturity". It will always lead you somewhere. By the way, you see that at work in the prodigal son's life. It says, "After he came to his senses, he realized how bankrupt he was financially and spiritually". He came up with a plan. He said, "This is what I will do: I will get up and go to my father and do thus and such".
I want you to think what that plan entailed. It meant that the prodigal son, first of all, had to go to his employer and say, in the far country, "I don't want this job any longer. As menial as it is, I don't want it any longer". It means he had to have a plan to go back home. It means he had to have a speech ready and prepared for his father. It means he had to be prepared to be accepted by somebody, a father, and perhaps an older brother, who was anything but friendly toward him, but he was willing to do all of those things to make a plan and to get up and go to his father because he was tired, sick and tired of living in the far country.
What about you? Do you have that sense tonight that all is not right between you and God? Can you look back and see how God has been using certain crises in your life to get your attention? Are you ready to come back home again? You know the old saying, "A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step". For you, that single step might be a breaking off that immortal relationship. It might mean giving up that job that you know is destroying your relationship with God. It might mean saying, "No," to that addiction that is destroying you. It may mean tonight beginning to spend five minutes reading the Bible even though you have no desire to do so whatsoever. The journey of a thousand miles begins with that single step. But you know what? If you're willing to learn from those reproofs that God has sent in your life instead of resist them, if you're willing to make that U-turn and take that first step in a new direction toward God, when you do that, like the prodigal son, you're going to find a surprise awaiting you at the end of the journey.