How many of you have ever played the game “would you rather?” Well if you haven’t ever played you are about too, it’s pretty simple, I’ll put two things on the screen and you just have to tell me which you would rather have. First off is Would you rather drink coca-cola or Pepsi? Clap if you would rather have coke? Clap if you’d rather have pepsi. Okay, next one is would you rather vacation at the beach or in the mountains? Clap for beach, clap for mountains. Next one: Would you rather have chocolate or vanilla? Clap for chocolate, clap for vanilla. Now for the sports lovers, would you rather watch football or baseball? clap for football, clap for baseball. When I was growing up something my mom said to me a number of times was, “life is full of choices.” Now she usually said this when I was in need of an attitude adjustment and my choices were either get over it and straighten up or get in trouble. But, as painful as this if for me to say, she was right. Life is full of choices, and the choices we make determine what kind of people we are and the legacy we leave behind. This is an idea the youth and I heard a lot about when we were at IMPACT a few weeks ago. Our legacy is made up of the small choices we make everyday. As we read through today’s passage of Scripture, pay close attention to the choices the characters make and think about what kind of impact those choices have.
After reading through the passage there are a few things I want to point out as we walk through the narrative together. The first thing we need to keep in mind is that this passage is not just about one lost son, but two. Each son is lost in his own way. First we will be exploring the younger son’s story, which is the one you are probably more familiar with.
The passage begins with the younger son making a choice that was unheard of in his culture. He asked his father for his inheritance. To us, this doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but when his son said, “father can I have my inheritance?” His father would have heard, “I wish you were dead.” Bold words from a young son, bold words in general. But his father’s response is even more unheard of in their culture; he gives it to him. Now we don’t know what the relationship was like between the father and his sons, but clearly the younger son is unhappy and wants to go off and find himself. So his next choice is to take his share and leave. Not only does this break his relationship with his father, but it also breaks his relationship with his older brother, who we will talk more about later. The brothers are supposed to take care of their father’s land together. It’s the proper thing to do. But he chooses to go against that. Have you ever made a choice that you knew went against what was expected of you? When our desires take a strong hold on us we can make some choices that aren’t good for us or the people around us. Just like this son decided to take his money and run. It wasn’t good for his family, and as we walk through the story we will see how it turns out for him.
So the younger son leaves and travels to another country, and while he is there he squanders his wealth on wild living. So basically he wasted his money on drinking, gambling, etc. And when his money runs out, which was inevitable, there is a severe famine in the land. So he began to be in need, with a money shortage and a no food he was in need of some serious help. In order to try and provide for himself he finds a job working for a citizen of the country he was in, but back then, working for someone in another country meant you probably didn’t have a very good job. Residents of other lands thought it was a burden to take in someone from another country who was in need. So the employer sends the prodigal son off to feed the pigs. Which doesn’t sound like much fun, but for this young Jewish boy, it wasn’t just unpleasant, it went against the rules of his religion. Jews were not supposed to touch or be around pigs because they are considered unclean by Old Testament Law. However, he is so desperate he willingly feeds the pigs and in fact he longs to eat what they are eating. When I read this I got curious about what exactly he wanted to be eating. Carob Pods I don’t know about you, but these do not look very appealing to me. I bet the prodigal son felt the same way, the text says he was in need and no one gave him anything. So even if he did eat the pig food it did not sustain him. Just when he is about to give up hope he remembers his father. He remembers how even his father’s servants eat better than he currently is. So he chooses to go back to his father, but first he plans a speech to give in order to convince his father to take him back. Not only was it unusual for him to ask for his inheritance but it is unusual for the father to grant that wish. Even more unheard of would it be for the son to be accepted back. So the prodigal son probably rehearsed his speech the whole way home. Just like when you have to have a hard conversation with someone we plan out what we want to say so that it can go as smoothly as possible. I know when I have to do this I try and think of any possible outcomes so I can have a response ready. The prodigal son does this too. He plans his speech to start off by saying, “I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called you son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” Through this speech he is acknowledging his poor choice and recognizes what he deserves and offers another solution. Once his speech is set, he heads home with a knot in his stomach as he practices the speech over and over again.
As he gets closer to home I’m sure the knot in his stomach is getting tighter and tighter. As he approaches his home, he sees his father running at him full speed. This must have been nerve wracking because men did not run because it was bad for their reputation, and also because the son didn’t know if his father was coming to kill him or what. But when his father reaches him he throws his arms around his son, kisses him and hugs him. After the awkwardly long hug the son begins his speech. “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no long worthy to be called your son….” But before he can continue his father cuts him off. He yells to his servants telling them to bring a robe for his son, and a ring for his hand and sandals for his feet. And to kill the fattened calf because they were going to celebrate the prodigals return. The prodigal returned home hungry, dirty, and broken, but his father ran to meet him, embraced him, and disregarded any talk of his son being unworthy of that title. Have you ever had a moment where you were given much more than you deserved? Whether it was an encounter with God or a gracious gift or forgiveness from a friend, co-worker or spouse? Have you ever had the urge to fight that forgiveness or gift by saying you were unworthy and undeserving? I’m sure that is how the prodigal son was feeling as his father called the servants to provide for his needs. However, he does not fight his fathers graciousness. Instead he just gives in. he surrenders to the grace and love his father is giving him, and they go off to celebrate, their relationship has been reconciled.
Meanwhile…..the text says meanwhile the elder son was in the fields. I love how this is written, like a movie where all the happily ever after is happening, meanwhile a villain is planning an attack. This “meanwhile” isn’t that sinister, but it is a part of the story that is often times over looked. So as the eldest brother is returning from a long day working in the fields he hears music and dancing, which I’m sure was unusual because it seems to catch him off guard. He asks one of the servants what is going on. The servant replies that his father is having a celebration and has killed the fattened calf because his younger brother has returned home. This angers the eldest brother because killing the fattened calf was a big deal and would only be done for very special occasions. He is jealous because he doesn’t believe his brother who left and broke all of his responsibly is deserving of such a gift. As he is thinking this his father runs out of the party and greets him. He invites him to come in and celebrate but the eldest son is too angry, even though it is his cultural responsibility to be a host at his father’s parties. He is greatly disrespecting his father by not going in. He tells his father that he has slaved for him for many years and has never disobeyed him, even though in that moment he is; yet, his father never even gave him a goat to share with his friends. His father replies, Son all that I have is yours. So the eldest son has totally missed the point. In being jealous of his younger brother he misses his fathers invitation to join the celebration and love of the family. Instead he is too focused on what he believes he did not receive, even though it was his all along. We never find out if he chooses to accepts his father’s love or if he chooses to continue being self centered to see just what his father is offering him.
Life is full of choices, every choice we make impacts us and the other people in our lives. So after hearing the story again, who do you find yourself identifying with? I think we have all felt like these two sons at some point in our lives. Whether you are at a place in your journey where like the younger son you are searching for something that will fill a void in your life, so you are off trying to find your own way. Maybe searching for that fulfillment through a romantic relationship, sports, your career, whatever it is it isn’t working, so you keep searching. Maybe you’re at a place where you are the prodigal on his way home. You’re tired of trying to figure it out on your own so you’re on your way back to God. Or maybe you’re the prodigal at the party celebrating a recent return to your father. If that’s you, enjoy it and welcome home! But maybe you are the eldest brother, maybe you are struggling with jealousy or anger and you can’t understand why someone else has what you wanted, or maybe you are just unhappy with where your life is right now. You’re being held down by self-centered focus instead of choosing to live for something bigger than yourself. No matter where you are, you can choose the Father, God. He is always running to meet you.
This story is full of choices, the young son chooses to ask for his inheritance early, chooses to leave home, chooses to squander his wealth, chooses to go home, chooses to apologize. The eldest son chooses to stay outside, chooses to be angry, chooses to disrespect his father. But the incredible thing about this story is that even though our choices have consequences and they impact our lives, the Father responds in the same way to all of us. Whether we are the prodigal returning home or the stubborn older son, our father is running to us with his arms open wide wanting to welcome us home. We just have to choose to run to him, to accept his grace, his love, and be in relationship with him. Once we make that first chose it begins a life long journey of choices that will impact the way we follow Him.
When we choose Christ we have to live life with our eyes fixed on Him. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” When we keep our eyes on Christ we will be empowered to make better choices as we follow him. Some I encourage you to think about are.
First, Choose Grace. God is offering us grace Ephesians 2:8 says For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” God offers us grace no matter what; however, if we do not choose to accept his grace we are unable to be in full relationship with him. Without accepting God’s grace it is like offering someone a precious gift and they do not accept it. God is always waiting for us, we just have to choose to turn to him.
Secondly choose love, when we allow God’s grace into our lives we are transformed. I love the phrase “saved by grace, changed by love.” Not only are we changed by God’ s love but we are able to help other people change when we love them. Love has three important parts I want us to remember. Remember to love God first. Scripture says to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. As an outflow of encountering God’s love we must also love others like Christ loves us. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is not an easy concept, especially when neighbor isn’t just someone who is physically near you, but everyone you encounter. The final aspect of love that we often times forget is that we are to love ourselves. I love 1 Corinthians 13, also known as the love chapter. This chapter acknowledges how important love is and also sets a standard for what love is, love is patient love is kind, etc. This verse is powerful and is often used in how we love others, but we can also use this standard of love when we consider how we show love to ourselves. Am I patient with myself, do I hold records of wrong with myself… I know sometimes I am much better at loving others than I am at loving myself, because I see all my failures and mistakes much more clearly than others. So we have to remember to choose to love God first, love our neighbor, and love ourselves.
The third choice we must make comes out of the strength and courage that choosing grace and choosing love gives us. We must choose faith. We must choose to step out of the boat. In Matthew 14:22-33 Jesus walks on water and Peter tells Jesus to call him out upon the waves, so he does. I’m sure that step peter took form the safety of the boat out onto the waves was the largest step he’s ever taken. In that moment Peter surrendered everything he had and trusted in God. We must step out in our faith like this as well. A good friend of mine recently moved to a new place where she didn’t tknow anyone. She moved there to be a fifth grade teacher in an inner city school. Her first few days of school were pretty rough and she was feeling really inadequate, but she knew God had led her there and she trusted in that. One morning she opened her devotional and found that it was about trusting God even when your teachers are gone and you must now stand alone with God. In that moment she knew God was with her even when it was hard and that gave her renewed strength to continue to choose faith.
These three choices grace, love and faith are challenging, but they will help us make choices that help us live a life that is honoring to Christ. So, life is full of choices, what will you choose?