The Father's House

Original Date: 
Sunday, February 14, 2016

Luke 15:11-12 AHA: The Father’s House

In 1666, the University of Cambridge in England was closed due to a plague. 23 year old physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton retreated to his family’s estate in Lincolnshire. While there, he saw an apple fall to the ground and was inspired to develop the theory of universal gravitation. He did not invent gravity, nor did he discover it, but he was the first to describe it mathematically. That apple falling from a tree was his AHA moment.

In 1907, Albert Einstein was a 28 year-old clerk in the patent office in Bern, Switzerland when, by his own account, a “breakthrough came suddenly one day.” Instead of keeping his mind on his work, his thoughts wandered to, “If a man falls freely he would not feel his weight.” Einstein’s response to his thought was immediate: “I was taken aback. This simple thought experiment made a deep impression on me.” It took him 8 more years to develop his masterwork, the general theory of relativity (E=MC2), but the concept was born that day as his mind wandered at work. That was his AHA moment.

At the age of 22, Nick Woodman gave himself until the age of 30 to make it as an entrepreneur. Four years and one failed business later, he decided to take his savings and go on a five-month surfing trip around Australia and Indonesia for inspiration. While he was preparing for the trip, he thought it would be neat if he could take pictures of himself and his friends while they were surfing. He created a sturdy camera that he could wear on his wrist. AHA! The GoPro was born, and today Nick Woodman is a millionaire several times over.

AHA. It is defined as a moment of sudden insight or discovery. It’s the moment that things become clear. It is, as we say, when the lightbulb comes on.

We are starting a new series today, that will take us through Easter, called AHA. It’s based on the book and video study of the same name by Kyle Idleman. And the idea is that there are AHA experiences in the Christian life. There are times of supernatural change where it becomes clear that the path we are walking down needs to change. A big thank you to Jerod Arrowood for sharing his AHA story with us this morning

So Idleman defines Christian AHA like this: “a sudden recognition that leads to an honest moment that brings lasting change.” And he notes that there are three critical components to AHA, which—conveniently—form the acronym AHA. The three critical components are: 1. A Sudden Awakening, 2. Brutal Honesty, and 3. Immediate Action. Awakening, Honesty, Action. AHA.

And to get at this idea of AHA over the next 7 weeks, we are going to focus in on one story in the Bible. It’s probably the most well-known of all of Jesus’ parables. It’s a story that Charles Dickens called “the greatest short story ever told.” It’s found in Luke 15, and we know it as the Story of the Prodigal Son. Let me read it:

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “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. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a 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.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 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.’”

The Beginning of the Story
This is a great story, and we’ll look at it from a lot of angles over the next few weeks. But today, we start at the beginning. Every story has a beginning. There has to be a “Once upon a time…”

Let’s see if you can name the story by its beginning…
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” (Star Wars)
“The Marleys were dead to begin with…” (A Christmas Carol)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” (A Tale of Two Cities)

Here’s the beginning of Jesus’ story:

“There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

This story begins at home. The father’s house. There is a man and two sons. We don’t know if there is a mom, or if she has passed away. But the action revolves around the father and his two sons. Clearly, in the parable the father represents God, and we are supposed to see ourselves in one or the other (or both) of the sons.

We don’t get a lot of details, but we can make some deductions about what life must have been like at the father’s house. The father is obviously not poor. He has enough wealth for the younger son to want it. We know from the end of the story that there are servants and fields to be worked and robes and sandals. There is a fatted calf, which was a luxury a peasant would be unable to afford.

It would appear that the father loved both of his boys very much. That is very clear throughout the story. At the same time, you get the impression that the boys were not spoiled. At the end of the story, the elder brother comes in from the fields. He talks about obeying his father’s orders. It’s safe to assume that the father expected them to do their part.

All in all, it would seem that the father’s house was a good place to be.

And yet, there’s something in the younger son that makes him want to leave. No matter how good it is, no matter how well he is provided for, no matter how much his family loves him, he wants to go.

When the son asks his father for his share of the inheritance, he is effectively saying, “Dad, I wish you dead.” He’s saying that the money is more important to him that his father is. That wouldn’t go over too well today, but imagine how it would have played in a culture where a father could legally beat a son for that kind of insult. The father would have been fully within his rights to throw this insolent young man out on his ear.

But that’s not what he does. At this point, the father must have felt like he’d lost his son already. And so, in a desperate attempt to maintain some type of relationship, he does what the boy asks. In his love for his son, he lets his son go.

Of course, this is more than just a fictional story, right? This represents our Heavenly Father. And in the younger son, Jesus is painting a portrait of us all. Because we have tendency to want to leave home. We wander away from our Father. We tell Him, far too often, that we’d rather have His stuff than Him.

So, we’re going to focus on these two verses today. We’re gonna talk first about the son’s decision to leave. And I’ll suggest three reasons we may be tempted to leave the Father’s house. And then, second, we’ll talk about the Father’s decision to comply.

In the Garden
So, first, the son’s decision to leave. I’ll put it like this: Sometimes, We want to Get Away from God. There is something in us that would rather be away from the Father. We rebel. We sin. We’d rather be on our own than be accountable to God.

So why? That’s the question, right? If it was good at the Father’s House, why would the younger son want to leave? If we know that God loves us and cares for us and provides for us, why would we want to get away from Him?

It’s one of the great questions in life. There’s something within us that wants to leave—like a moth toward a bright light, sometimes we can’t resist the urge to ask for our inheritance, take it, and go. Why?

I’m going to take us to another passage of the Bible—one that also involves leaving the Father’s House. It’s Genesis 3, and it tells the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit.

There are a lot of parallels. Adam and Eve had it good in the garden. It was perfect. They were able to eat fruit from any tree save one. They had no guilt, and no shame. They walked with God in the cool of the day. They were living in the Father’s House.

And yet, they left. They asked for their inheritance and left. Why?

I think as we look at their story, we’ll be able to see some of the things we tell ourselves when we walk away from God. So, for example, I believe Adam and Even told themselves:

“God is holding out on me.”

This is the beginning of the temptation. Genesis 3:1:

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

The Bible tells us that the serpent was crafty and we see that in his first question. He says to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" On its surface, it seems like an innocent enough question, until we compare it to what God actually said. God's precise words, from Genesis 2:16-17 were: "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."

Do you see what the Tempter has done? He's completely twisted God's words around. God had given Adam and Eve free access to every single tree in the garden, save one. But now the serpent comes along and suggests that God doesn't want them to eat from any tree! He is implying that God is a despot, that He is a rule-crazy ogre who doesn't want Adam and Eve to enjoy anything good.

And my guess is, that’s how the younger son felt. He had access to everything his father had, but his father also had rules for him. And those rules felt restrictive. It made him feel like he was missing out.

For her part, Eve catches the serpent's mistake and corrects him. Verse 2:

"We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden."

But notice that she leaves out that crucial word "any". The seeds of doubt have been planted: though an entire garden has been set before her, her focus is increasingly centered on the one tree which has been denied her.

This is how temptation works. Instead of focusing on and celebrating the many opportunities and privileges God has opened to us, we center in on some thing which God has told us we cannot do.

Then the voice of temptation begins to whisper: "God is such a killjoy. He never wants you to have any fun." "Why is it that every time you want to do something, God says it is wrong?" "If God really loved you, He'd let you do what you want to do." And so on.

Soon, all we can think about are those things we know God does not approve of. We begin to think of God as an arbitrary dictator and we begin to resent Him. Nothing seems quite so desirable as that which we know we should not have. We long for it, we dwell on it, we think of nothing else.

Or, again, we ask ourselves “What is it going to hurt?”

That’s what happens next in the garden. Verses 3 and 4:
3But God did say, "You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die." 4"You will not surely die" The serpent said to the woman.
If the serpent is going to get Eve to disobey God, then he needs to convince her that the consequences aren't that bad. Likewise, the road that leads us into sin requires us to believe that nothing truly bad is going to result.

I’m sure the younger son thought nothing bad would come of what he did. He told himself that it was for the best that he got out and spread his wings. He told himself that you only live once, and so you better get the most out of life that you can. He told himself: “You will not surely die.”

There are so many ways that we tell ourselves this today. “Nobody can tell me what to do.” “Everybody needs to choose their own path.” “The only sin is not being true to yourself.” We think that there is no authority, that there is no right or wrong, and we should be able to define for ourselves what is good.

We say things like: “If it feels right, then how can it be wrong?” We dismiss the idea that there will be any consequences for the decisions that we make.

And yet, just because we think there should be no consequences for the choices we make, that doesn’t mean there won’t be. You might not like gravity, but jump off your roof and you are going to be in for a rough landing.

Or, again, we say “It will be fun.”

The last thing the serpent says to Eve, verse 5:
"For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Once again the serpent approaches the tree from the standpoint that God is holding out on Adam and Eve. He convinces her that there is something really desirable in that forbidden fruit. He convinces her that if she only ate this fruit she could be much wiser. He convinces her that she can be like God.

That thing we want to do? It looks so good. So desirable. It seems like if we had it, we would be on the top of the world. Verse 6:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.
Once she was convinced that the fruit was desirable, it was over. She truly believed that God was holding out on her, and she and her husband walked willfully into sin.

Still today, the tempter's whole agenda is to get you to drool after the imagined excitement which God is keeping from you. Really, he is like a good fisherman. He carefully cuts his bait to make it attractive and appetizing. He puts it in the water and he makes it flutter and dance. He presents it so that it appears there are no strings attached, and so that the hook is cleverly hidden.

He whispers:

"You'll feel so much better if you just snap at your wife instead of talking reasonably with her." "It's so much more fun to sleep with whomever you want instead of restricting yourself to one person." "You'll be so much more popular if you just relax your standards and go along with the crowd." "You'll be the envy of all your friends if you buy that car or house or boat or whatever." And so on.

And time after time, we take the bait and the hook is set before we ever know what hit us. Temptation becomes sin and like Adam and Eve we are reeled into the devil's boat.

And we walk away from the Father’s House.

God Won’t Stand in the Way
In retrospect, it never makes sense. We have it good in the Father’s House, and yet, sometimes we want to get away. We listen to the voice of temptation, we convince ourselves we would be better on our own, and we tell God we want out.

But here’s the second thing we need to see from the beginning of Jesus’ story: Sometimes, God Allows us to Go.

Luke 15:12:

So he divided his property between them.

The father honors the younger son’s request, and splits the inheritance between his two sons. Here’s one of the most fascinating things about God: just like the father in the story, He’ll let us walk away.

It’s not that He likes it when we do, and it’s not that He couldn’t do anything to stop it.

But God is a God who loves us, and wants us to love Him in return. A world in which love is truly possible must also be a world in which non-love is possible. In other words, God has given us a choice. He hasn’t just designed us and programmed us so that we have no choice but to love Him. If that were the case, it wouldn’t really be love. We’d just be following our program. We’d be puppets on a string.

No, He’s created a world in which we are free to love Him, or not. In His sovereignty, and mysteriously, in a way that we can never surprise Him, He allows us to choose for or against Him.

And when we decide that we would rather walk away from the Father’s House, He lets us go.

So, if you’ve ever looked back on your life and asked: “Why did God let me do that?” “Why didn’t He stop me?” “Why didn’t He do something to keep me from making that terrible decision?” This is why. He loves us. And so, if we want to go, He lets us.

God is a God who allows us to choose Him…or to choose to leave Him. And a lot of us, at one time or another—or maybe right now—have said one of those statements--“God is holding out on me” “What is it going to hurt?” “It’ll be fun”--and walked away.

It starts off as a little request, a little control, a little harmless pleasure. You’re not trying to tell God He has no place in your life, but you just want to try it this one time.

You’re not trying to tell God He’s not number one in your life, but can’t there be a close second?

You’re not trying to tell God that He was wrong about marriage, but don’t you deserve to be a little happier?

You’re not trying to tell God you want nothing to do with Him, but it’s just silly to give money to the church when your friends are driving brand new luxury cars.

We may not intend to tell God we wish He was dead, but that’s exactly what we end up saying.

Prodigal God
We call this story of Jesus the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I’m guessing that most of us associate the word “prodigal” with rebellion. We assume it means something like “wayward” or “lost.”

But, actually, the word “prodigal” means “recklessly extravagant.” It means “to spend until you have nothing left.” The story has that name, because that’s what the younger son does: he takes his share of the inheritance and then he spends it until it is all gone. He is reckless with his money.

The word is also an apt description of the father. He is also recklessly extravagant in this story. Both in his decision to grant the younger son’s request, and even more so in his decision to welcome the son back home. He is a prodigal father.

Timothy Keller has a book about this parable that he has entitled “The Prodigal God.” Because, really, the whole point is to show us how recklessly extravagant God is with His love. Keller writes: “Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, his children. God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience.” (xv)

God shows His prodigal love toward us in this: if we want to walk away, He will let us. But, more than that, when we come back, He’s there to welcome us home with open arms.