There stood the man everyone had come to hear.
Each person that was in the audience had made up their mind what this man was about. Some awaited his words as if waiting for a cool drink of water. Others, well, they had already decided that this snake oil salesman was not helping the populace and should be silenced.
In the crowd was made up of diverse groups of people but there were some notables standing, waiting, wondering what this self-proclaimed prophet would actually say. Most of them, if not all of them, would have difficulty understanding his strange story lessons, and eventually, all of them would wonder about his motives.
There stood lawyers, tattoo artists, IRS agents and professors. Each with their own agenda, hoping this mentor of the masses would lend some credence to their way of doing life.
And yet, as he began to speak, his words were more than they could have imagined...
This wizard of words warms up the crowd with three teasers that would get them thinking before he came to his closing point. Each of the three stories would challenge them and the fourth would cause them to, well, let's begin with the teasers...
"A man had a sheep that ran away," he begins. "That man left all of the rest of his flock behind to find that one lost sheep." He closed that first morsel of information with this statement... "When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.' "
The man quickly moves to the second teaser... "...a woman had ten coins, and unfortunately one of them came up missing." You can see the crowd lean in as he unfolds the dilemma of this unlucky lady. As it would happen, she started tearing the house up from top to bottom to find where that one coin could have ended up. Then...She...Found...It... The
Not satisfied to leave his audience there, he then starts the third teaser... "A certain man had two sons. The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them. Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living." At this point, everyone is frustrated with this insolent young man. How dare he do this to his father.
The professors thought, "this wayward boy has no idea of what tradition says."
The lawyers were ready to pass a verdict of "guilty" on this lad.
The tattoo artists, with all their body markings and piercings, knew this was no way to treat your dad.
The IRS agents were frustrated because they saw the waste of good money as almost unforgivable.
But the story continues...
“When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ So he got up and went to his father."
At this point the whole crowd was waiting for the punchline... that boy will have to pay. There is no other way to make this right. It's gotta be a "tough love" lesson for this wayward, disrespectful, disgraceful, less-than-human son whose wasted all he had on stupidity.
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him..." The crowd becomes silent. They await the next line, confident they are sure of the boy's fate... The options in their mind were varied but all of them could be summed up in this one phrase... "...his father saw him and was angry." Doesn't that sound fair? If you were the father, wouldn't you be? Let's be honest, we've been angry for less than this young man's transgressions.
To everyone's surprise, the father didn't react in anger... "...his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him."
How is it the father saw him coming? How would he be aware of his son's return and therefore could run to meet him?
Each day, this loving father would step out on the back porch and look up the road just in case his son was coming home.
God does the same. "The Lord...is patient...not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
Why it was so easy to see the father as angry? Because even the best of us don't really understand the way God views sinners. That's right. We're always looking for opportunities to judge others, and as such, we're not on the back porch of the house waiting for the lost one to come home.
Now, tell me, isn't that true of you more often than not. The lawyer may have to represent the IRS agent, or the tattoo artist, or the professor. But depending on what they have done, he may not like it. As a matter of fact, it may be a fight within to hold back his own anger.
The IRS agent may have to take the questions of the others, but he doesn't have to like them. He certainly doesn't see himself running up to them, hugging them and kissing them. NO WAY! Let them pay their fair share or let them go to jail!
But it is sure that any one of the 4 men would be quick to convict, sentence and rid their lives of the offenses of their counterparts in the crowd. Releasing their own judgmental anger.
That's where the audience was. That's where we can find ourselves.
As a matter of fact, there is a little twist to this third teaser that we don't see in the first two. There is an older brother. And boy does he want to lay into his brother for his behavior.
That's the way we often act. Listen to this "right with dad" son speak to this father... "Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. The servant replied, ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’ Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him. He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ "
Do you know why? We've forgotten that we were once lost as well. You see, no believer, no follower of Jesus has his or her way "paid" by their own merit. You can't be good enough. Sorry. It's the reality of the situation.
One sinner who decided to follow Jesus said it best, "both Jews and Greeks are all under the power of sin. As it is written, There is no righteous person, not even one. There is no one who understands. There is no one who looks for God. They all turned away..."
Jesus gave them three teasers. Along with each he gave a "punch line."
Lost sheep... "‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives."
Lost coin... "Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life.”
Lost Son... now wait... really there are two lost sons, one of them went the high road and the other went the low road, and both ended up at dad's house without him.
You see, both of them needed the father. Both of them tried to turn away the father's invitation. Each of them had their "defense" before they even considered the offer of love their gracious dad was offering.
How about you?
Are you angry because of all the "sinners"? You may be just down the hall from the father, staying in his house, and all the while, you're a million miles away. Why? You believe you have earned the father's love. You haven't. It was there when you were born, it will be there when you die. The question is, are you going to allow others to get in your way? Or... will you come to the party?
The father says... "Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’”
Or, like the wayward son, you maybe you're wondering... Can God love me with all I have done?
Well, the father in the story tells you that answer...
And he's waiting for you to come home.
He's gonna throw a party when you do!