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Jun 17, 2018

Parable of A Father's Heart

Parable of A Father's Heart

Passage: Luke 15:11-32

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Parables That Change the World

Keywords: dysfunctional, family, fatherhood, god's nature, parenting, prodigal


Parable of a Father’s Heart

Luke 15:11-32

June 17, 2018

Get acquainted question:  Find out how many siblings someone had, where they fit in the birth order, and which sibling they felt closest to growing up (and why, if you want to say).  Is that still true today? 

VIDEO:  http://www.christianvideotv.com/this-modern-day-version-of-the-prodigal-son-gripped-my-heart-at-243-the-tears-started-flowing/

Our world today seems like a different version of what is arguably most people’s favorite parable Jesus told:  the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s a parable that could go by a host of different titles actually—

  • The Parable of the Dysfunctional Family.
  • The Parable of 2 Sons
  • The Parable of Sibling Rivalry

But for today, Father’s Day, I’d like to call it “The Parable of a Father’s Heart.”

            We are all familiar with this parable.  But, as with all Scripture, looking at it through fresh eyes allows God to give us fresh life that He always wants to bring to us, even out of familiar stories.

            There are 3 central figures in this parable:  two sons and their father.  Luke lets us know in the beginning of this chapter, Luke 15, that the backdrop for all 3 of the parables in this chapter is a running criticism of Jesus by the religious types of His day, the Pharisees and teachers of the religious law.  What was the reason?  Jesus was hanging out with “the wrong crowd.” 

            Anyone here ever been criticized for hanging out with “the wrong people”?  Depending on whether you are more like the younger brother or the older brother in this story, you will (or won’t) know how it feels to be criticized for the crowd you hung out with as a kid.  I’m just curious:  how many of you were criticized by your parents or teachers or school counselors, youth pastor or somebody else for “hanging around the wrong people”???  O.K.  Then you know a.) how Jesus was feeling when he told this story, and b.) how the younger brother was feeling in this parable as he hit the road. 

            But there is a second group of us here today who resonate more with the older brother.  By that I mean, we were the “compliant kids,” who ran with the “good crowd” at school.  We kept our noses clean, maybe got good grades, probably never got sent to the principal’s office…unless it was for an award!  J 

            Then there is the dad.  Most of us can relate at some time to him. He’s just trying to do his best for both his sons.  But his best doesn’t seem to be good enough…for either of them…at some point in their lives together.  For the rebellious younger son, it’s in his younger years that dad seems to have failed him.  But for the compliant older son, it’s in his adult years that things get dicey. Parenting never seems to be without its challenges, no matter what the ages of children, right?  So we’re ALL going to find ourselves somewhere in this story today.  And if we’re honest, we’ll probably all find ourselves in all 3 of these people at various points in our lives. 

            One of the foundational questions this parable drives us to ask is, “Is Jesus talking about salvation here OR is he talking about His kids who may wander away from the faith for a while?”  My short answer to that is, “YES!”  J  Here’s why I believe this parable covers both sides of those questions. 

1.) All 3 of these parables in Luke 15 are about lost things:  the woman who lost a coin, the shepherd who lost a sheep and the father who lost a son…or 2.  In the first two parables, the lost things don’t do anything to be found.  It’s the woman and the shepherd who do all the work of searching out the lost thing of great value to them.  And in this 3rd parable of the lost sons, the father is doing plenty of work to recapture both his son’s hearts.  And if the elder son in this parable is being compared to the Pharisees and teachers of the law who despised the sinners and tax collectors who were coming to Jesus (the younger son), clearly they needed to repent and be saved as well.  In fact, Jesus leaves the older brother’s ultimate response open…undecided.  The younger brother’s repentance is clear; the older brother’s not at all.   So in that sense, all 3 parables speak of God’s work on our behalf in salvation. 

2.)  But in terms of what happens when we, as children of God, stray away from our Heavenly Father, I see no reason why this parable cannot refer to that as well.  Jesus purposefully chose the familial relationship of father-to-son here rather than the servant-to-master relationship in other parables.  I don’t think that is an accident.  I think he wanted to capture the truth that, while children may wander or even reject relationship with their father or mother at some time in life, they never cease being their children.  The way home is always open.  The Father is always looking, waiting patiently and hoping every child of His will return. 

APP:  So whether you find yourself this morning “outside the family” of God because you have never repented of your sin and put your faith in Jesus OR you find yourself distant from the Father’s heart due to being either the younger rebellious child or the older dutiful son/daughter, we’re ALL in this story.  And some of us are in all three main players in this story. 

            This is a tremendous parable we should be asking a couple of those foundational questions of ANY passage we read:

1.)  What does this passage teach me about God (Father, Son or Holy Spirit)?  What is his nature and character?  How does He act toward us?

2.)  What does this passage teach about people or human nature?  How do we think and behave? 

GROUPS: So here is HOW we’re going to discover that today.  I’m going to give you 5 minutes in groups of 3-4 to ask those 2 questions of just one-half of this parable: 

  • Everyone on THIS SIDE of the room (stage left) is going to ask those two questions of verses 11-24 (the father and the younger son).
  • Everyone on THIS SIDE of the room (stage right) is going to ask those 2 questions of verses 25-32 (the father and the older son).

Appoint a scribe/secretary so we can learn from what the Holy Spirit reveals to you about God and our own lives. 

[TIME 5 minutes.  Regroup and share observations.]

            As we talk about these 2 questions, be open to the Holy Spirit speaking to you about 1 or 2 things He wants to change in you from the lists we will generate. 

Vss. 11-24:

What we learn about God from the father’s dealing with the younger brother:

  • He loves ALL people, regardless of their behavior.
  • He’s not possessive.
  • He’s not controlling (of stuff, wealth, gifts, people).
  • He’ll let life have its own consequences.
  • He won’t always run after us but He will always wait for us to “come to our senses.”
  • He’s continually hopeful.
  • He’s continually watchful.
  • He is forgiving.
  • He does not keep a record of wrongs.
  • He is everything 1 Cor. 13 says love is: patient, no record of wrongs, hopes all things, believes all things, etc.
  • He loves people, not things.
  • He is merciful (not giving us what we deserve).
  • He is full of grace (giving us far more than we deserve).
  • He is generous.
  • He’s affectionate.
  • He is happy, joyful and loves to celebrate us.
  • He loves to restore us to relationship with Him.

What do we learn about people/our natures/our actions from the younger brother?

  • We’re selfish.
  • We’re foolish and stupid about sin.
  • We look to the wrong things for fulfillment and happiness.
  • We sin in many different ways.
  • We are often deceived.
  • We squander much of what God gives us.
  • We’re impatient.
  • We’re brash and rude.
  • We’re self-destructive.
  • We can “come to our senses.”
  • We can “hit bottom.”
  • We can return to God.
  • We can feel guilt, grief, failure, immorality and let life teach us.
  • We can love again.
  • We can humble ourselves.

Vss. 25-32:  What we learn about God from the father’s dealing with the older brother:

  • He is loving.
  • He is patient.
  • He is always there.
  • He is happy to throw us a party whenever we’re in right relationship with Him.
  • He loves being with us.
  • He doesn’t play favorites.
  • He doesn’t love based on our behavior.
  • He makes everything He has (His riches in glory in Christ?) available to us.
  • He wants His joy to be our joy.
  • He can handle our godless anger.
  • He will challenge our wrong thinking, behavior and attitudes.
  • He pursues us even when we are stubbornly sinful.
  • He calls us into healthy family relationships.

What do we learn about people/our natures/our actions from the older brother?

  • We are often jealous.
  • We are often duty rather than love-driven.
  • We hold grudges.
  • We don’t love others like our Heavenly Father does.
  • We are petty.
  • We thing God owes us blessings.
  • We constantly compare ourselves with others.
  • We like to think ourselves better than we are.
  • Circumstances have a way of revealing our sin.
  • Even the best of us dishonor our Father at times.
  • We falsely assume that our Father’s love is conditional and earned.
  • We have a warped view of our own goodness/righteousness /work for God.
  • We have a warped view of God.
  • Our service for God can sometimes be a cover for our lake of intimacy with God.

APP:  So what is 1 thing the Holy Spirit is speaking to you about changing in relationship to…

a.) …your understanding/concept of God?

b.) …your view of yourself or someone else?

So let’s wrap this up with some practical truths that can and should shape our lives from this parable.

1.)  Something evident and central from all three of these parables in Luke 15 is how much God rejoices over lost people being “found” in His kingdom AND saved people having His heart for the lost/wayward…and wants us to join in that rejoicing.

            God is ready to throw a party at the drop of a hat for anyone who “comes to their senses” and turns from their sins to come (back) to Him.  All heaven rejoices at the repentance of one sinner.  And God wants to share that joy with every one of us every time someone repents and comes to faith in Jesus.

            Equally, God is as happy about one repentant, wandering son/daughter of His as he is about a new Christ-follower.  Repentance at any level and any stage of life brings joy to God’s heart because it brings us closer to Him.  

            God wants JOY to be the frequent experience of ALL his kids in His family.  Jealousy can rob us of that.  Envy can rob us of that.  A lack of people coming to Jesus can rob us of that.  Failure to share the Gospel with lost people can do that. Wrong views of God and why we serve Him can rob us of that.  Whenever we are not rejoicing in the Lord’s work in other people’s lives, we really need to repent and ask God to change our hearts.

Q:  WHAT might we do around this place that would engage us more in that spirit of joyful celebration at other’s victories and intimacy with Christ?    

2.)  This world and the things in it will always lie to us about where happiness is found.  Happiness is not found in stuff OR even in slavish service of God but in rightly-related people and God.

3.)  God’s love for us is not conditioned on our performance.

4.)  Our experience of God’s love for us will be dependent upon our proximity to and intimacy with Him.  Both of these brothers were missing intimacy with their father.  One was just more obvious than the other’s.  But both got revealed through different experiences.  Both had deficient experiences of God’s love but neither actually lacked God’s love.  His love was the same for both but their experience of his love was not.  Both of them needed to get closer to the father’s heart.  One needed to leave his sinful lifestyle and open rebellion.  The other needed to leave his misguided service/work for his father a bit more in order to spend more time with his dad.

5.)  Be careful what you ask for from God; He may give you what you want which could, in turn, lead you farther away from Him. 

What “success” or “dreams” has God not granted you yet?  It is better to leave the distribution of those things to God’s wisdom than to demand that He supply them.  We must all learn patience in life when it comes to the things we think will make us whole, happy and satisfied in life.  God knows best so it is our job to entrust those longings to Him and then let Him develop them, delay them or destroy them as He sees fit. 

Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones:  “The worst thing to happen to a man is for him to succeed before he is ready.”  To which I would add that I think more people have been deeply ruined by success and abundance than by failure and want. 

6.)  God uses circumstances of life to show us our own sin. 

BOTH brothers had sin in their hearts that was going to destroy them if it went unchecked.  So God used a different set of circumstances to strip away the thin veneer of acceptability and “spirituality” that they both may have had. 

            In the younger brother’s life, God used the temporary nature of godless living to bring him to the end of himself.  He used a famine in the land to bring him to the end of himself.  He used the memories of the father’s goodness to bring that son to his senses. 

            And the father tried to use the return of the prodigal to show the older son his jealousy and his wrong attitude towards his daily work for his father (“slaving for you…”).  He used his own celebration for the prodigal to remind his older son that he should work a bit less and celebrate a bit more (interestingly the opposite of what the younger son needed to learn). 

7.)  If we’re going to experience the Father’s joy, we must engage in the Father’s full and preemptive forgiveness. 

Life will have no shortage of people whom we need to forgive.  Usually those people won’t even ask us for forgiveness.  Usually they won’t even know they need to ask us.  Usually they won’t approach us first asking for forgiveness.  If we are to love them and rejoice over them as Christ does, we will have to continually practice “preemptive and persistent forgiveness.” 

Q:  Anyone God is bringing to mind that you need to exercise that towards today? 

8.)  Living with a needy or rebellious sibling can damage or develop you and your relationship to God and others.

ILL: My own family experience with a rebellious sibling and hidden resentment that manifested years later.

ILL:  I read the story this week of young boy who began to tell his parents he felt like he wanted to be a girl.  So the parents decided to go to a wise counselor with their son to discuss and probe this feeling a bit.  The counselor was able to help them all see how some of the parent’s actions were contributing to this boy’s feelings.  You see, this boy had an older sister who was handicapped.  She required a lot of the attention of his parents, attention that he simply assumed was due to her gender—being a girl.  When the parents realized what they were doing in terms of neglecting their sons needs and when the son realized that their behavior was not associated with his sister’s gender but rather her disability, he became comfortable with his own maleness and masculinity. 

9.)  All of us will probably be disappointed with God our Father and each other at some points in life.  Neither need to be final…but both will probably require repentance to reestablish intimacy.   [See attached story of a father’s repentance.]

10.)  Both “scandalous sin” and “self-righteousness” grieve our Father’s heart.  We live in a world that is happy to tolerate any form of “scandalous sin”—whether sexual immorality of virtually every kind or greed that grows easily out of the soul of materialism and prosperity where others have greater wealth than we do.  And on the other side of the coin, the church seems content to tolerate various forms of “self-righteousness” like legalism or judgmentalism, jealousy about what another person or another church has received from God rather than genuine joy. 


  • Do you need to “come to your senses,” repent of your rebellion and go back to God your Father?
  • Do you need to repent of being the “older brother” with judgmental attitudes towards others in the Body of Christ?
  • Do you need to accept more of the Father’s heart towards you?
  • Do you need to adopt more of your Heavenly Father’s heart in order as you parent…or live with your natural or spiritual siblings?  

[Optional] STORY:  My Dad’s Stunning Response When I Told Him Off

[By Joshua Rogers--Published June 16, 2018 @ FoxNews.com]

A few weeks after my first child was born, I told my dad off. At the heart of my complaints was one central failure: Ever since I was a kid, he had failed to show up.

My dad was an affectionate father but he just couldn’t stay put. When things got ugly between him and mom (and they often did), he would suddenly pack up and disappear for a while. We might know where he was; we might not. 

Dad and Mom divorced when I was in eighth grade. Soon thereafter dad left again and I didn’t see or hear from him for three years. By that time, I had decided I hated him; but when he finally showed up again, I was lost in another one of his bear hugs in no time. 

Although dad lived in another state, he got much better at keeping in touch, thanks to the proliferation of cell phones. But technology couldn’t save him from his old habits. Just when I would think I could trust him, he would drop the ball again. 

At my college graduation, I searched the stadium, looking for him in the thousands of attendees – he forgot to come. He came to my wedding but skipped my low-key bachelor party the night before, opting to read a book instead. He was supposed to meet my wife and me one Thanksgiving but bailed at the last minute. 

That kind of stuff happened time after time; and all the while, the pressure of unforgiveness was building inside of me until I finally blew up one night.

Dad and I were on the phone, and for some reason, he brought up an awkward memory he had mentioned many times before. “Joshua, you know, I still can’t forgive myself for that time I spanked you so hard when you were a little boy. I still remember the way you cried, and it just kills me.”

I found it odd – if not annoying – that dad held onto one, memorable mistake, not the whole list. He needn't worry. I was keeping up with it and I decided to confront him with every item. I told him off, recounting every failure like I was a prosecutor in a closing argument.

Finally, I rested my case, took a deep breath and waited for dad to push back. He didn’t. Instead, he did something beautifully bizarre: In his soothing, tenor voice, he sang a line out of an old song about being sorry for hurting the one you love. Then he apologized. 

He meant that apology, and I knew he meant it because he changed his behavior. He bought a plane ticket to come see his new granddaughter, even though he didn’t have much money. He got Christmas presents for my kids. He started asking questions on the phone and really listening to the answers. Most importantly, he offered to apologize again if I ever needed to hear it. I didn’t. 

Dad’s genuine contrition took the fun out of holding offenses against him. In choosing weakness, his love became stronger than my hurt.

All of us dads have damaged our kids in some way, and those father wounds run deep. Our children were born believing it’s our job to protect them, and it’s one of the most hurtful, confusing things when we’ve done the opposite.

We can extract some of the poison of our failures by offering an apology to our kids, no matter what their age – and I’m not talking about, “I’m sorry if I ever did anything that hurt you.” 

You know what you did. Apologize for that and do it with a specific, unequivocal admission of guilt, expecting nothing in return – not even their forgiveness. You’ve got nothing to lose but your pride, and you’ve got everything to gain if there’s even a chance it will bring healing. 

Your kids ought to honor you – it’s even one of the Ten Commandments. But if you want to make it easier for them to do that, have enough honor to be like my dad, say you’re sorry and make things right. 

Joshua Rogers is a writer and attorney who lives in Washington, D.C. Found at http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2018/06/16/my-dads-stunning-response-when-told-him-off.print.html on 6.16.2018