Ninth Sunday after Trinity
GRANT to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right; that we, who cannot do any thing that is good without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Ninth Collect is that which expresses the “whole doctrine of grace.” The strength of the Collect was slightly reduced by the 1662 revisers in the phrase, “we cannot do any thing that is good without thee” from the original of Cranmer’s “which CANNOT BE without thee!” While it is true that we cannot do anything good without God, it is more importantly true that we cannot do anything at all without Him for, without Him, we could not exist. The Collect petitions for a grant of benefit. As is customary of all Godly prayers, nothing of personal and material benefit is sought, but only that which is pleasing to God. It is important to bear in mind that only those things which are pleasing to God are of any benefit to us as well, in the last resort, for He loves us and pines for only the good things of His Love to be manifested through our lives and testimonies. We can only live a life pleasing to God through the efficacy of His Will and Word both for us and acting through our members. Of course, His grace is not restricted to believers only, but is also manifested in a general application to the whole world. The world is full of lost and dying souls, but God is present even in the darkest corners of our world, and His saving Light only revealed to those whose souls and spirits respond to that bright beam of the Searchlight which tops the turbulent waves of the sea and draws us near by faith. Faith is our spiritual eyes without which we are blind beggars.
The grace expressed always in God’s Word is very like a great Magnet which draws the metal whose properties are of the same nature with His own by having the Law of God written in scarlet letters upon the tender tissues of the heart. The great comfort we may have in all of this promise of grace is that God knows WHERE we are and where we are GOING! He sees our small bark on the restless waves of the sea and He knows, as well as we, that we cannot brave the storms of the seas in our bark without a great Power of Help. His outstretched Arm sustains us on these seas of life, and we are without in Him danger though the sea billows roar. This is our Friend, our Father, our God, our Redeemer, and our Lord. Have you seen the Light?
11 And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. 13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. 22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry 25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. 29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. (Luke 15:11-32).
We take up today the third in a trilogy of lost things in Parables – the Prodigal Son! Due to the length and intrinsic beauty of this Parable, we shall study it in two parts, over two days. The first part involves the coming of age of a son, his rebellion to the Father, his departure and descent into debauchery, and finally his awakening and return to the Father. In the second part, we shall study the reaction of his brother to his homecoming.
11 And he said, A certain man had two sons – not just ‘any’ man, but a ‘certain’ man. The father in this Parable is illustrative of God our Father in Heaven who has two peoples (Jews and Gentiles) to whom have been offered the most beneficent of blessing – the salvation by grace through faith in His only Begotten Son. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. Please bear in mind that the younger son, though of tender years, has come to the age of accountability. He is like a Christian who is born of God, has lived as a son of God, but finally rebels against God his Father. In this respect, he differs from the Lost Sheep who was not mature, and not well learned in the means of grace or of pasturelands. He also starkly differs from the Lost Coin which was dead – just as dead as the lost sinner is dead in trespasses and sins. The Lost Sheep, because of its lack of vision and maturity, does not intentionally leave the Good Shepherd. It gets lost because it lacks the sense to follow closely on; but, once lost, it is incapable of finding itself because it lacks the deep root of faith which typifies a well-nurtured child of God. So the Good Shepherd must seek out the Lost Sheep. The Lost coin, being inanimate of spirit, is lost wherever it is and, if found, must be found only by its rightful owner who is God, and by His Sovereign Will and Grace.
The young son desires to be out from under the watchful, though loving, eye of his father. From the moment of his birth, he has lived according to the law of his father. He feels now that he is grown up and become the wisest of ten thousand – he believes can do better. He is a child of God by circumstance of a (new) birth and not by persistent faith. Bear in mind, too, that according to the laws of inheritance, the father is not obligated to ‘divide his living’ to the young man. In fact, the young man was impertinent to even make the request. But, even though the son desires to part company with his father, the father loves his son and realizes that the argument of logic and reason will not benefit at this early point of the young man’s maturity (or, rather, immaturity). Our Father God compels none to abide under His beneficent care. Even nations who opt to abandon God do so oblivious to the danger and peril to which they subject themselves. God does not intrude where He is not wanted for He is a perfect gentleman, and we are left to the wiles of the Devil without His over-watching care and protection. We see this being demonstrated across the landscape of America today.
13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. How eager are the youth of our day to remove themselves a far distance from the watchful eye of the parent! When freedom looms bold, the child will hurry to get away and enjoy what he believes will be nothing but joy and plenty. Anytime one departs from his Father God, he will be going into a ‘Far Country’ where the famine will certainly arise for him. Being separated from God in spirit, as well as distance, will lead to depravity of conduct and a waste of the wealth God has given. Without the benefit of the Holy Ghost as our heart’s compass, it is impossible to live a life pleasing to God.
The good father watched the darling of his heart depart on that long, dusty road. He watched every move his son made until, at last, his visage disappeared on the distant horizon. How often would the father sit for days, months, and perhaps years, through the warm summers, amber autumns, dreary winter months, and through the promises of spring, watching that same road for any sign of his son’s return. How often would he inquire and receive word back that his son was wasting all – not only his wealth, but his health and humanity as well. Yet, the father never sent for his son or begged him to return. Why not? Because any amount of reasoning with a rebellious son will yield no victory until that son has learned (often the hard way) for himself the cruelty of a world without his Father’s loving care. Have we learned that lesson, reader?
14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. A Christian who departs from the presence of God will lose all in the process of riotous living. His life, begun in pleasures of lust, will come to mighty famine of spirit, body, and soul. The Dark Angel will take all that you have, and then some more. The time will always, and with great certainty, arise when you will begin to be in want. With some, this is the moment of awakening for the need of your Father; but with others, more suffering and desperate want is necessary. So it is with our Prodigal – too proud to return to his father, and too desperate to even remember the abundance which he has left behind at the end of that dusty road, he lingers on in peril of his soul forestalling the inevitable.
15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. If we are not joined with God our Father, we shall surely be joined to a stranger who gives not a whit for the well being of our souls. If our companions are not citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, they shall be citizens of that Far Country. The stranger to whom we are joined when apart from God will only use us and destroy us. He will place us in unsavory circumstances and filthy habitations. If we labor not in our Father’s Fields, we shall labor for the Destroyer of Souls. Imagine the hurt in the soul of a young Hebrew lad who was raised in plenty in his father’s house now having to feed swine.
16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. When you are out of the company of God, no man will care for you. You end up eating food for the soul that is like unto the food of pigs. Of course, he remembered that his father still loved him regardless of how far away he drifted, but his tortured mind had lost the ability to see and understand clearly in this Far Country. He was lingering in a state of reprobation.
17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! It should be noted that any Christian who departs from the Presence of their Lord is not in his right mind, and this poor youth is no exception. He has travelled a great distance from the love of his father, but his father’s love knows no distance. His tortured brain had undergone a process of gradual deprivation and debauchery during this time of licentious living. It was necessary for him to suffer much, long and hard, in separation from the benefits of his father in order to penetrate his stubborn heart and spark his calloused spirit. But, he DID come to himself. He finally was forced to admit that all his dreams and fantasies were in ruins. He came to view, as we all must do apart from God, what a deplorable condition he had arrived at in his rebellion. Even the smallest little soul in our Father’s House has plenty of daily bread, and more; yet, we who believed we could do better in a Far Country, are perishing without that Bread of Heaven common in our Father’s House.
18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. Once we have come to the reality of our loss, we must resolve to return to our Father and confess our sinful disposition and living. We must face the reality that we are the most unworthy of all under God’s Heaven. We are certainly not worthy, nor have we ever been, of being a son or daughter of the Most High God. Sins against our earthly fathers are also reckoned as sins against heaven. We will then be happy to be accepted as only hired servants in the great house we deserted. But God has no “hired servants.”
20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. It is not enough to KNOW to do right – we must follow that realization with ACTION! We cannot make amends for our faithlessness in a Far Country – we must RETURN to the presence of our Father and confess our sins. The good father has felt the hurt of his son’s absence deep in his heart as he has watched, day after day, that same dusty road upon which his son departed. Once, perhaps as evening shadows begin to fall, he spots a lonely fellow coming on that road. Though his eyes have grown dim with age, he unmistakably recognizes that this fellow is his dear son! He knows his gait and carriage even though the fellow is not riding a charger or dressed in the silken blouse he wore when he departed. He is rather dressed in rags and is filthy in his person. Even from a great distance away, he recognizes his son. God always recognizes those of us who wander from Him when He sees us on the road of return. Is that not a blessing of great joy? God will always have compassion on us when we return no matter how long our delay. Even though we are filthy in our sins and exude the terrible stench of the pigpen, He will embrace us and greet us with a Holy Kiss. Only a Father could love such a child, and He has done so for you and me.
21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. Here, the prodigal satisfies the demands of love and conscience. He confesses, not only his sinfulness, but his complete unworthiness. None are worthy to be the son or daughter of God, but we shall certainly be if we have received that saving Grace of Jesus Christ. We see that there has taken place a four-fold undertaking in the prodigal’s return: 1) he came to himself and recognized his depravity; 2) He resolved to return to his father; 3) he arose and returned to his father in answer to his resolution; and 4) he confessed his dreadful behavior and worthlessness to his father. So must we do when we have separated ourselves from our loving Father!
22 But the father said to his servants(as if he did not hear his son’s comments), Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: That ‘best robe’ represents the White Robe of Righteousness offered by Christ to all who come to Him. He will cover our sins and nakedness with that Robe which He has purchased with His own precious Blood. That ‘ring’ which the father gives the son is the same as that Signet Ring of Authority that a Sovereign gives to a subject to act in His Name and on His own Behalf. The Christian has great authority granted in the power of the Holy Scriptures themselves. What of the shoes? In ancient times, the first thing taken from prisoners captured on the battlefield was their shoes. Their shoes were taken to prevent their escape. Shoes represent liberty and freedom. In Christ, we have perfect Liberty. “…..where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Cor 3:17) God our Father has covered our sins with that White Robe of Righteousness offered in Christ, given us Authority as believers to act on His behalf (having that same mind and will of the Father in our hearts), and given us perfect Liberty in Christ. The children of the Father have the complete free run of the home He offers. 23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry There will always be a feast of celebration in heaven at the return of a prodigal. There was joy in heaven at the recovery of the little Lost Sheep; there was joy in heaven over the recovery of the Lost Coin; and there was exceeding joy in heaven over the return of the Lost Son. How great worth we are as children of God. He will never forget us, nor will He give up watching and waiting when we depart from Him in rebellion.
24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry It is in the nature of a heart to lament the loss of a thing once owned far more than the failure to acquire something much desired. It is sorrowful for a woman to desire a child but remain barren of children; but it is of far greater anguish to have a child and lose it. In a Far Country, away from God, we are dead as much as before we were ever born in Christ. But God is joyful at our return. He cannot bring us home in our state of sin and rebellion – that is a decision that the heart of the wanderer must make – to come home to God, to confess our sinfulness, and be restored. He will not own us in a Far Country, but He will never disown us when we have come home to Him.
The question that this Parable raises is too apparent to deny: have you wandered from your Father’s home? Have you spent all of your resources in riotous living? Have you sunk to the level of the pigs in the sty? Have you come to the realization of your grievous apostasy? Have you resolved to return to you Father and confess your faults? Have you followed through with your resolution? Have you?
THE ELDER SON:
Today’s text covers the last half of the rich and memorable Parable of the Prodigal Son. There have been mixed and varied interpretations of its meaning and my own interpretation will not satisfy every facet of its meaning – for, like a well cut diamond, there are many facets to this portion of the Parable and each may be as true as the next. The hands and minds of men are vulgar and insensible when compared to the infallible and Holy Word of God, so we each will benefit in taking no man’s word for meaning or measure without resorting to the Crystal Stream that flows from the Fountain of Living Waters – the Holy Bible itself, and with the Holy Ghost as an interpreter thereof.
At the outset, we might agree that the principles that rule in the Kingdom of Heaven are not worldly. There is no seniority of time and labors in that Kingdom. God is more concerned about the DIRECTION we are going and the PRESENT condition of our hearts than in the tireless amounts of labors performed by men’s hands.
25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. Can you sympathize with this faithful son who has remained at his father’s side while his younger brother fritted away half the wealth of his father in consorting with harlots and false religion (for harlotry is compared in God’s Word to Idolatry)? He has not even heard that his younger brother has returned, so he is astonished at the sound of music and revelry coming from his father’s house. No one even showed him the courtesy of sending for him to partake in the celebration. Examine your own heart at this moment and answer: “Would you, too, not be offended?” He has labored throughout the heat of the day (and years). He has sacrificed much of his young years on his father’s behalf. He is tired and weary, but now he hears the sound of celebration and party! 26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. At the present, he is only curious, but soon he will be outraged. Would we not be as well?
27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. As we have stated often before, love is not divisible. It is whole cloth and cannot be divided between siblings. A mother loves the eldest just as dearly as the youngest and will never make a choice between the two. Her love is increased in exact amounts, and never diminished, to cover each child equally in showers of blessing. The same is true of fathers. The father has not killed the fatted calf in honor of his prodigal son, but in expression his own joy at the son’s recovery. Please recollect the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin and the joy in heaven over their recovery. But here is revealed the joy of a father at the recovery of a LOST SON as if restored from death. Can you even imagine the great joy in the heart of the old man? Can you even imagine the joy in Heaven at the recovery of a son or daughter of God, who has wandered afar, yet returns in sorrowful contrition and repentance?
28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. I am afraid that I would have responded PRECISELY as this elder son. We are constantly mindful of unfair treatment, especially from those we cherish the most. Our hearts can never be as large as that of our Maker and Redeemer who bore all for miserable sinners. The marvelous thing is that God understands, and makes allowances for our weak spirits and faltering love. I find one salient and inexcusable fault with the elder son: he should also have been able to subdue feelings of jealousy and unfairness for the moment of reunion with a lost brother whom he has not seen for many, many days. The event of greatest importance (more importance than personal jealousy if familial love is the concerned) is that a lost BROTHER has returned. When I was a lad, I certainly resented the partial treatment extended to my younger brother for his tender years but, if he had gotten lost for ANY reason, I would have had at least as much joy at his being found as my mother and father would have had. Just as my father often explained to me of the reason the younger son must be treated with a special affection because of his youth, so the father here comes to the elder son with that same love that prompted the celebration to explain to him his feelings and reasons for joy. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. 4 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. (Psalms 103:13-14) It is such a comfort that God understands even our weaknesses and cares for us nonetheless.
29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30 But as soon as this thy son (Note: the elder son would not refer to the younger as brother) was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. It is altogether reasonable that the elder son, in view of worldly principles, would be taken aback by this expression of attention given an unfaithful son. It is not so much the love showered on the prodigal that bothers the elder son, but the seeming slight of love shown to one who has been, beyond doubt, the more faithful of the two in times past. The feeling of slighted treatment was comparable to that which the early Jewish believers felt when the gates of mercy and grace were thrown open to the Gentile nations. The Hebrews had been first to take up the Word of God – not by virtue of their own goodness, but by the foreordination and will of God in establishing His people upon the earth. The Hebrew people had been privileged to maintain the oracles of God, to field prophets called by God, to build the Temple in Jerusalem. They could easily see their present blessing, but were blind to the greater plan of God in not limiting the promises of Israel to a single race of people. His plan was decided long before there was a Canaan, an Abraham, or even a Garden eastward in Eden.
The elder son is hurt to the core. His father has killed the fatted calf, the choice of his stock, for his prodigal son who has returned home. But the father has not so much as killed a kid goat for his elder son who has remained faithful. Please look beyond the limits of our selfish concerns and see the great generosity and grace of God in forgiving, always and fully, our past transgressions and rejoicing at the present contrition of a heart that returns to Him. We always look at the outward evidence, but God ALWAYS looks at the inward motive. “………the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart. (1 Sam 16:7) Is it not possible that the One who made the heart can also repair the heart that is broken? It is a strangely wonderful truth that God loves the broken heart more than the whole: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalms 51:17)
We all enter in this life with a heart full of imperfections. If we fail to confess those imperfections, we shall bear them to our graves, but only that which is broken needs fixing. This, the Pharisees failed miserably to grasp and placed themselves, for the most part, beyond the bonds of mercy. Have you known of your heart needing fixing? Have you taken it to the Master Heart Maker who only can restore that heart? My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. (Psalms 57:7) Please remember the depth of sin into which David, a man after God’s own heart, sank; yet see what David can say after a trip to the Master. A heart, sure of itself and unaware of hidden imperfections cannot be ‘FIXED.’ Only a heart that is BROKEN can be FIXED! Do you have a broken heart that has been FIXED by God, our Maker?
31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. The good father, who loves his elder son every bit as much as the younger, acknowledges the elder son’s faithfulness and devotion. I can imagine that he spoke with deep regard and affection as he placed his arm over the shoulder of the despondent one, just as God our Father comforts us when we believe we have been wronged. The elder son has lost NOTHING by remaining faithful to the father. In fact, all that the father has remaining belongs to the elder son. Not only has he retained his original inheritance from his father, but much has been added by years of labor and improvement. The younger, on the contrary, is destitute of any inheritance. He has squandered it away in a Far Country separated from his father. There is a stark lesson here for us. Even though we are pardoned by God and warmly received back into His loving care, our sins and disobedience have consequences of eternal impact. We are often unable to restore the loss and pain we have caused by our sins. Though forgiven, sin leaves scars. Look at the terrible scars of the whip, nails, and lance that our sins caused on the body of our dear Lord and Redeemer – and these were only the outward evidences of a terrible anguish He felt in His Spirit for us.
32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother (the father refers to the younger as the elder’s brother) was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. It is always right and meet that we should rejoice in the reunion of one separated from his loved ones of the One who loves more than heart can know. The elder son has done that which is expected and proper in serving his father these many years, yet, the son, who was lost, has come home and he has lost nothing in the return of the prodigal. THIS is a true cause of rejoicing! We do not make a fuss over a friend who is continually by our side through hard times and good, but we DO make a fuss over a friend who has returned after a separation during which we believed him to be dead. Do we realize that we are all in a state of death and dying when apart from our Father God? Do you?