Hope Personified

hanging-on[1]

I want to start by asking you to guess who you believe is on the Top 10 list for best TV Dads of all time and give a brief explanation why you chose that person.

Al Bundy – Married with Children

Danny Tanner – Full House

Philip Banks – Fresh Prince of Bel Air

Archie Bunker – All in the Family

Howard Cunningham – Happy Days

Sheriff Andy Taylor – Andy Griffith Show

Ben Cartwright – Bonanza

Charles Ingalls – Little House on the Prairie

John Walton – The Walton’s

Dr. Heathcliff – The Cosby Show

As great as some of these personality dads were, their still imperfect, just like our own biological Dads. Fortunately, I grew up with a very supportive Dad. He went to every sporting event and special occasion I can remember as a child. He was my Baseball coach in middle school and helped pay for my education in college. However, even though he had a lot of great traits, he still had his own struggles.

Some of you in this room might have been fortunate like me to have a loving Dad. Others in this room, and I want to be sensitive, may absolutely hate their Dads. He might have been or still is bitter, angry, abusive, or completely absent from your life. I want to say I am truly sorry if that has happened to you.

My wife’s best friend’s Dad is currently in jail for life because he murdered her Mom.  Consequently, she lived her childhood absent from her biological father and grew up in an orphanage in Ukraine. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the orphanages in Eastern Europe, they are horrendous. When a family was traveling through Ukraine to consider adoption, they commented on the eeriness of not hearing babies or children cry. It’s normal for a child to cry, right?

What the family came to find out was that these children began to cry when they first showed up to the orphanage, but after a couple months, they got used to not being picked up and taken care of. So instead of crying for attention and to be held and pacified, they just laid there without hope. For those in this room who feel like that was how you were treated growing up, let me just say that there are people who can understand your struggles, your pain, and your hurt. You are not alone.

Did you know that throughout the Bible, God is referred to as our heavenly Father? Psalm 89:26, David cries out: You are my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation. In the New Testament, 1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” To hear that God is our Father might even upset you, depending on how you were raised, but believe me, our Heavenly Father is deeply and lavishly in love with everyone here in this room. Let me repeat that again: Our heavenly Father is deeply and lavishly in love with everyone in this room.

Today we are going to talk about the love of our heavenly father. 1 John 4:8 says that whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. Hear that phrase again. God is love. So what does it mean that God is love? Love is an attribute of God. Love is a core aspect of God’s character, His person. God’s love is in no sense in conflict with his holiness, righteousness, justice, or even his wrath. All of God’s attributes are in perfect harmony. Everything God does is loving, just as everything He does is just and right. God is the perfect example of true love.

This brings us to the gospel of Luke 15:11-32. In this passage, Jesus is using an illustration of a father to help us grasp the depth of God the Father’s love for us. He is interacting with the religious leaders, who were criticizing him, not because sinners were coming to Him, but because He was welcoming them. Jesus told three parables to illustrate lostness and the importance God places on recovering those who are lost. His parable about the prodigal son illustrates how a loving Father welcomes any sinner who comes to Him.

 Read Luke 15:11-32

Let’s read the first two verses: He also said: A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me. So he distributed the assets to them.” Basically, the younger son asked his father to give him the share of the estate without waiting until his death to hear his will.

Can you imagine having your child say to you: Mom, I know you haven’t written your will yet, but could you go ahead and give me whatever you planned before you die? That wouldn’t be very kind. This kind of demand communicated that his father no longer fit into his plans. By demanding his inheritance, the son brought shame upon the family. He harmed the father’s reputation, jeopardized the family’s financial security, and fractured the family.

The younger son was so self-focused, he didn’t care how this affected his relationship with others. He was more concerned with indulging in his own passions and living for the things of this world and was willing to break ties with his own family to indulge in his addiction or sinful lifestyle. Living this way never ends well for anyone.

I heard a story about a couple arguing over their marriage. The woman said to her husband. You need to decide today who you are going to love. Me or your cocaine because it’s destroying our relationship. The man paused for a moment. He looked at the drug and then turned back to his wife and said to her: No one gets in between me and my cocaine. The man’s mind was so warped by his addiction that he was willing to give up his marriage with a flesh and blood living being to a white lifeless substance that can’t even talk back. The same is happening to this younger son. He is giving up this great relationship to travel to a distant country and spend it all on drugs, sex, and rock and roll.

Furthermore, the younger son chose to walk away. The father was not indignant about it. He wasn’t upset. He didn’t argue or force the son to stay. The passage simply says: “So he distributed the assets.” The same is true with us and our heavenly Father. He doesn’t force us to love him or even to follow him. He gives us the freedom of choice to choose our ways or his ways. I want to pose a question: Since God is good, why do we often choose our own course instead of His? What are some actions that move us away from God and actions that walk back to God?

There is good news to this story. When the son realized he needed help, he chose the one good option he had left. To get up and go home. What we will find out in the remaining verses is that God, unlike many people, lovingly embraces us when we return to Him, even after we’ve chosen our own sinful course.

Let’s re-read Luke 15:13-21

In the ancient Middle East, no father in that time would have greeted a rebellious son in this kind of manner. Because he had broken the law, he was to be shunned. Remember, Jesus is telling this parable to the Pharisees, who are religious hypocrites. They were probably thinking the father should have forced him to sit outside the family gate so the whole town could browbeat him with shame.

I actually heard of a mom who publicly shamed her son by making him wear a sign in public that said, “I cheated on a test.” It’s weird how many people agreed that the mother did the right thing to discipline her son? I think I heard it on a Christian radio station.

In this parable, the Pharisees might have expected Jesus to conclude that the father should wait out a certain period before accepting the son back. Only then would the father restore what money had been wasted.

But the story blindsides everyone. It says while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him, was filled with compassion, and ran towards the son. This is just relentless love. The father was so happy to see his son, he didn’t care what he did, where he went, or who he had become. The important thing was: His son was home. What a powerful illustration of God’s love. How he pursues us even when we are unfaithful. How he seeks to have a relationship with Him even when we are lazy, indifferent, or even bitter towards Him. This must have been shocking to the Pharisees that Jesus is illustrating this about how God acts towards us as humans.

That being said, what do you think these verses teach us about God as our Father? He is willing to forgive us. He is compassionate. God is patient and longsuffering with us. Okay, for a moment I want you to put yourself in the son’s place. What counsel would you offer to a prodigal son in response to one of these statements he might make?

My friends or family won’t take me back. What advice would you give them?

I don’t think the damage can be undone.

I’ve kept up the charade so long that I don’t know how to stop.

How do I even begin to approach God after what I’ve done?

Notice that at the end of verse 21, the son is telling the father he has sinned, he is sorry, he is not worthy to be called son, and yet it’s surprising that God does not agree with him. He immediately forgives him and embraces him as a son, so much so that even his older brother, the goody too shoe, gets upset about it.

Let’s Read 15:22-24

This is just incredible. He is extravagantly forgiven here. I remember one time when my son Evan was just a couple years old, he was refusing to eat his food. I became impatient with him and started yelling. I realized that I had been too harsh with him. A few minutes later, I asked him to forgive me. He just looked at me, smiled, and gave me a hug. That changes your life. When have you been extravagantly loved or forgiven? Want to share your story?

What’s the big idea? God welcomes us because of his deep love for us. This is the greatest news the world could ever know!

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