Luke 15

I do not understand love. I never have. I am extremely grateful for love. My life is powerfully blessed by love. Love is the single most rewarding blessing in my life. I literally cannot image life without it. But I still do not understand it.

Do you understand love? If you are confident that you understand love, explain some things to me. How can a wonderful, gentle, kind, caring, unselfish woman fall in love with a godless, rough, rude, selfish, abusive man? How can a sensitive, generous, caring man full of kindness fall in love with a woman who does not respect him and treats him like dirt? How can a mother continue to love a daughter who fails her and hurts her in every possible way? How can a father continue to love a son who resents him and rebels against him in any way that he can? How can children deeply love parents who give them nothing but neglect and rejection? How can anyone genuinely, sincerely love when his or her love is neither appreciated nor returned?

This is the greatest love mystery of all. How can a holy, sinless, caring, unselfish God love any human being? Our love for each other is mystifying. God's love for us is beyond comprehension.

  1. When I want to deepen my understanding of God's love, I consider two things.
    1. First, I reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus.
      1. Jesus loved all of us collectively and individually enough to endure that horrible execution.
      2. God loved all of us collectively and individually enough to let Jesus be killed.
      3. The more I understand the crucifixion, the more I realize that I do not and cannot understand God's love.
      4. Yet, the more I understand the crucifixion, the more clearly I see God's love.
    2. Second, I reflect on a parable Jesus taught, the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).
      1. This son was a failure, a disappointment, and a heartache to his father.
        1. He demanded his part of the inheritance, left home, and went far away to live what a godless society considers "the good life."
        2. After he wasted all his money on pleasure and extravagance, the country fell into severe economic depression.
        3. When he found himself starving in impossible circumstances, he finally realized how stupid he had been.
        4. In a spirit and attitude of total unworthiness, he returned home to confess his unworthiness and to ask his father to let him be a servant.
        5. His father welcomed him with incredible love, and reinstated him as a son.

  2. I want you to consider a different scenario: what if the older brother had been the first one to meet this prodigal son when he returned home?
    1. You do remember the older brother, don't you?
      1. This was the father's older son, the son who stayed home and worked as the dependable, responsible one.
      2. This was the son who was infuriated by the good reception that the father gave his wayward brother.
      3. This was the son who refused to greet his brother or come to the welcome party.
      4. This was the son who vented his anger on his father by declaring, "I have always been faithful to you, and you never did anything like this for me!"
    2. What if this was the first person that the wayward son met when he returned?
      1. "You sorry good-for-nothing!"
        1. "How dare you show your face around here!"
        2. "I cannot believe that you had the gall to come back here!"
        3. "Do you think that just because you show up in your rags and your pathetic body that you will find some sympathy? Think again!"
        4. "Do you have any idea of how many tears Mom cried for you? I was always here, but she cried for you!"
        5. "Do you realize that you broke Dad's heart? You did not care about Dad when you selfishly left home to do your own thing! You never thought about anybody but you!"
        6. "Dad grieves every day for you. Every day he looks down the road to see if you are coming back. No matter what I do or how hard I work, Dad grieves for you!"
      2. "You grew up in a godly home."
        1. "You had an incredible Mom."
        2. "You could not ask for a better Dad."
        3. "You had all the opportunities a person could hope for."
        4. "And just look at what you did to the family name!"
        5. "Do you have an idea of what you did to the respect people had for Dad?"
        6. "I listened to people talk--they think if Dad had been a decent father you would not be such a wicked son."
      3. "You traveled to a heathen country to hide among people who do not even know God."
        1. "I'll bet you never looked for a synagogue. But I'll bet you knew all the prostitutes and bar tenders!"
        2. "By choice you lived like a heathen--a genuine, godless party animal!"
      4. "Well, godless party animal, don't think that just because you are hungry and skinny as a snake that you can just slip back like nothing happened!"
        1. "Don't you realize how wasteful that you have been?"
        2. "Don't you understand just how good-for-nothing you are?"
      5. "And don't tell me that you are sorry for what you did and repent! What a laugh!"
        1. "Sure, you repent as soon as you were broke!"
        2. "Sure, you repent when your party friends deserted you!"
        3. "Sure, you repent when you found yourself slopping hogs in the pig pen!"
        4. "Sure, you repent when you were starving to death!"
        5. "How convenient! Now with nothing left, you come back to dear old Dad so that he can bail you out!"
        6. "I see through you like a clean window pane!"
        7. "Repent! How does that change all the money you wasted?"
          1. "How does that change all the prostitutes you slept with?"
          2. "How does that change what you did in the bars?"
          3. "How does that change all the pain and grief you caused?"
      6. "So now you want to be a servant!"
        1. "I will never let you be a servant around here, and don't for one minute forget that all of this belongs to me! You had your inheritance and blew it!"
        2. "I almost wish I could make you a servant. I would teach you how to work!"
        3. "Get out of here and don't come back!"
        4. "I won't let you hurt Dad any more! He has suffered enough because of you!"
      7. "Because of your life I am miserable."
        1. "I am sick of hearing Dad worry about you."
        2. "I have to keep this place together and take care of Dad's business."
        3. "And I never get the respect and thanks I deserve because Dad never stops thinking about you."
    3. If the prodigal son had talked to his older brother before he had a opportunity to see his father, what do you think would have happened?

  3. Our society already passed a crucial crossroads.
    1. Most of us in the church do not understand that crossroads is behind us.
      1. Many of us still think that this is a Christian nation.
      2. Many of us still think that the majority honor Christian values.
      3. Many of us still think that Christian morality is the basic morality of American.
    2. Do you understand that the crossroads is behind us?
      1. When was the last time that you watched TV and said, "This really is a Christian nation!"
      2. When was the last time that you read a newspaper, listened to a news broadcast, or watched a documentary on some aspect of American society and said, "This nation really lives by Christian values!"
      3. When was the last time that you looked at our community and our state and said, "Christian morality really motivates Americans to be kind and honest!"
    3. You do not have to look a thousand miles to see what has already happened.
      1. American homes and American families are crumbling.
        1. Did you notice in the recent report on the divorce rate in America that the states known in the past as the Bible belt are among those with the highest divorce rates?
        2. There is no time to be a husband and wife.
          1. Too many do not understand how to build a successful marriage.
          2. Because we are hurting and scared, we have become a sexually active, irresponsible, uncommitted people.
        3. There is no time to be parents, and many don't know how to be parents.
        4. We don't know how to nurture relationships.
        5. People are hurting; people are lonely; people are scared; and people have nowhere to turn.
    4. Such realities bring the church to a critical crossroads.
      1. Some congregations already have passed that crossroads; they chose their direction, some chose a wonderful direction, and some a sad direction.
      2. Some congregations are waking up to the fact that they are at the crossroads and must make a choice.
      3. Will the congregation be a spiritual hospital that brings people to the healing of a loving God who will receive them with grace and forgiveness?
      4. Will the congregation be a fortress that excludes some and punishes others for their mistakes?
      5. Will we bring people to meet the father of the prodigal son?
      6. Or will we be the older brother?

  4. I genuinely enjoyed both Will Ed Warren and Larry Henderson's lessons last Sunday morning.
    1. Will Ed discussed a common mission tool used in several third world countries--drilling a well in a village to give them a pure water supply.
      1. Many places have existed for generations with inadequate and impure water.
      2. For generations people drank polluted water not knowing that their water was a source of disease that threatened life.
      3. Caring for this life and death physical need creates the opportunity to teach them about Jesus.
    2. Our society is killing itself by drinking dirty, polluted water.
      1. Jesus is the pure water of life.
      2. God dug the well when Jesus died for our sins.
      3. Our job is to help those in despair and pain find that well and drink its pure, healing water.
    3. It is much easier to show people in Ghana God and His love by drilling a water well than it is to show people in America God and His love by ministering to those who are in despair.
      1. I have a very close friend who was baptized when he was 15.
        1. The preaching and teaching he heard made it so hard to be saved, so hard to belong to God that by 16 he decided that he was going to hell.
        2. Since he was going to hell, he decided that he would "split hell wide open."
        3. You would have to work hard to live a more ungodly life than he lived as a young adult.
        4. With his life shot, his home shot, and his future shot, he finally learned enough about God's grace to believe that even he could be forgiven.
        5. But he learned about God's grace too late to save his home.
        6. Still, he turned his life around, learned to trust God, and became a changed person.
        7. A few years later his wife agreed to remarry him.
        8. For several years he has been an active, serving deacon.
        9. He drinks from the water of life.
      2. "Why don't people come to us and drink from the water of life?"
        1. Could it be that when they see and hear us, they commonly see and hear the older brother, and rarely see and hear the Father?
        2. Could it be that they never see us drinking from the water of life?

[Prayer: God, help us realize that we are the wayward who need to come to you. Help us bring those in despair to you. Give us the wisdom not to be the older brother.]

I grieve when I realize that we "don't get it." We often despair over the choices our children make. Yet, we never realize that many of our children do not want what we have. They don't want our lives. They don't want our God. They don't want our church. They don't want a life that is too busy for relationship, too hectic for love, too fragmented for loyalty, and too judgmental for forgiveness.

Often they are not rebelling against God. They are rebelling against our shallowness. The water of life does not flow from a shallow well. It does not produce shallow lives.

[Song: There's a Fountain Free]

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 21 November 1999
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This sermon is also available in French.

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