When I was about 11 years old, I went on a trip with my family to the Guadalupe River. If you’re ever in the San Antonio area, floating the river is definitely something you’ll want to do.
On this trip, we went to an area that had a tube shoot. Before we got in the water my uncle told me that this area was a lot of fun, but you had to be careful because the current was powerful. I remember not thinking too much of it because I considered myself a very strong swimmer and was very comfortable in the water. But he reiterated his point by making me promise that I would not go near the tube shoot without a tube because the rushing water was dangerous. I agreed.
But later on, something happened. I lost my tube. And I didn’t want to miss out on the fun so I remember rationalizing to myself that I would still be following the rules as long as I didn’t intentionally go through the narrow canal where the water was concentrated to for a current so that the tube would “shoot out” the other side. But as you can imagine, I got too close to the current and before I knew it, I was being swept along, totally out of control. It all happened so fast, and even as a strong swimmer I didn’t stand any chance against the pull of the water. But then something happened. Some guy grabbed me by the arm and pulled my head above water and shoved me in the direction of the bank. When I cleared the water from my eyes I looked up and I saw three lifeguards standing on the edge, whistle in mouth, about to jump in for a rescue. To this day I don’t know who it was that pulled me out. All I know is that I needed to be rescued.
Today I want to go to the scriptures and let the Word of God illustrate for us two things: rescue and repentance.
From Luke 15 we’re going to focus on three main characters: the Renegade, the Resister and the Redeemer.
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.Luke 15:11-16
This story is the third in a series of stories used by Jesus, all found in chapter 15. These include three of Jesus’ most well-known parables, The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Lost Son. All three parables teach the same message—that God is vitally concerned with the rescue and repentance of sinners. Our story goes beyond the others in the way it illustrates for us God’s heart for rescue and repentance.
One of the things that the original audience would have picked up on immediately was the unusual and offensive request of the young son. An inheritance was not given until the father had passed away or was unable to manage the estate. But there is more. They would have had a very different understanding of the inheritance that tied it to the land and the family. Not only did he ask for his share, which is insulting, but he also does the unthinkable, he sells his share. He liquidates the assets and in doing so removes himself completely from the family. The point here is clear: the actions of the son are a major offense to the family and the father in particular.
In just a few verses we see the young man going on quite the roller coaster. He goes from high to low very quickly, and verse 13 tells us he “squandered his wealth in wild living.” As you read these verses, I want you to see this reality: Sin takes us farther than we ever wanted to go, keeps us longer than we wanted to stay, and costs more than we ever thought we’d have to pay.
He's at the point where he’s envious of the food the pigs were eating, and the text says no one gave him anything. Write this down: If you live your life only for yourself, eventually that’s all you will have.
Let’s pick the story back up, starting in verse 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! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’Luke 15:17-19
Here we see the Renegade’s return. OK, so what did he return to? Well, verse 17 says “he came to his senses.” Think about that. He returned to his senses. Because of sin, he was so deep in rebellion that he wasn’t even thinking clearly. Have you ever been there? In that place where you look back and say, “What was I thinking!?”
He thought he was living the dream, but that dream quickly became a nightmare.
So as a result of coming to his senses, what we see in him is an abundance of humility, I’m not worthy to be called your son, and an abundance of right thinking about his situation and his father.
That is what repentance does for us. It helps us to see and think clearly. When he finally owned up to his rebellion, he began to see the father accurately. He says, my father is good, even his servants are taken care of. And even though I don’t deserve to be a part of the family, if I can just get back to my father’s house, being a servant is far better than this mess I’m in currently. And so, he returns.
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.Luke 15:20
Now, these verses show the Renegade being restored.
Verse 24 is the point at which the parable ties into the two previous stories about God’s joy in saving the lost. The father’s celebration shows us how God the Father rejoices in repentance. Verse 24 says, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”
I love these words and this story. I can’t read them without feeling the depth of emotion as you visualize the father longing for his son to return and how the father saw him from a distance, meaning he had been looking and waiting for him to come back! And the father doesn’t even let the son finish his apology. When the son returns the father pours out compassion on him!
Today is Easter Sunday. And the thing we are celebrating is the reality that God fully poured out his wrath toward sin upon Jesus. That’s what Jesus did on the cross. He stepped in and took our place, receiving the just punishment for my sin and yours. And the Bible tells us that in that moment God poured out his wrath upon Jesus. That was something that we could not have withstood and it’s something no one of us would ever want to experience, even though We deserve it.
The reason we sing and the reason we gather on Easter to celebrate is this: Because God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus, now God’s compassion can be poured out on you! And some of you have been walking around without any clue or any understanding of this: if you are in Christ then you are not headed for wrath! Our sin is costly, but Jesus paid the price, and now if you are in Christ, then I’ve got incredible news for you: All that’s left is compassion! And that news ought to change our every waking moment.
These verses here reveal to us that the heart of the father is rescue and the way we experience that is repentance. Aren’t you thankful for the cross of Jesus today?!
It’s only because of the cross that we have hope, and now, because of the cross, we have hope in abundance!
This is only true for those who have returned to the Father. This is true for those who have left their life of sin and returned to the Father. If that’s you, and you need to return today, I want you to know this, what you’ll find waiting for you is compassion! Your sin has been dealt with. And know this, it has not been swept under the rug, it has not been forgotten, ignored, or minimized, it’s been forgiven. Christ paid the price. And that’s why we must, always, make much of Jesus, because He’s the one who made forgiveness possible!
That’s the renegade. But the story is not over. The next part is just as crucial.
"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.’
“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!’
This story is incomplete without the story of the elder son. The older brother represents the insiders, the Jewish elders, the ones who knew God, had received the law, and by all accounts appeared to be in. And yet this story is a story of rescue and the need for repentance for the older, just as much as for the younger.
Look at verse 28. After hearing of the younger brother’s return, what’s it say? Hearing of his brother’s return he leaped to his feet, shouted for joy, ran inside, found the brother, wrapped him in his arms, and cried big ugly tears because he was so happy! No. It says he became angry.
That’s the wrong response. And it’s not just the wrong response, it reveals a wrong attitude, a wrong heart condition.
Unlike the father, the older brother:
Jesus tells this story to illustrate what it looks like when we wrap ourselves in self-righteousness. You see, one can be lost even at home. The Resister shows us that proximity to the things of God does not equal intimacy with God!
And despite his resistance, the text tells us that the father went out to him and pleaded with him. That’s amazing! That even when we are resisting God, He still moves toward us. He cares so much that he comes out to us and seeks us out!
The invitation to be restored and to repent is extended to the older brother in the same way that it was to the younger brother. The younger brother remembered how good his father was so he came home. The older couldn’t see that because of pride! It was pride that kept him from rejoicing at the return of the brother, but pride also kept him from enjoying the father! He was close but that doesn’t cut it. And so, the father went out to him!
There are more people in the church today who qualify as the older brother than the younger. Maybe you started as the younger, but you’ve drifted and lost sight of what it means to be with God.
I don’t know if you feel more like the younger or the older today, but this I know, the Father is inviting YOU to come home! Whether you have been far away or you’re just out in the field, you can come home.
In response to all this, after the Resister points to his own self-righteousness, the father, the Redeemer, says this:
“‘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.’”Luke 15:31-32
The father has already said this once in our story. But notice the intensity of his words. Your brother was dead. I know what he did. I know his offense was great. I know he cut himself off from the family. But guess what, he’s back. And now it’s time to have a party.
If you are a believer, a follower of Jesus, then this is your story. The details may be different but for every person in Christ, the story is fundamentally the same: I was dead! Now I’m alive!
The Bible doesn’t say that “he was distracted,” or “he had some growing to do.” It says that because of sin we are all on a path headed for death!
That’s my story! From the outside looking in, no one would think that at 9 years old I was the chief of sinners. At 9 years old I wasn’t “living it up” and “squandering wealth” but praise God because the truth is I was born into sin. Despite being young and being for the most part “a good boy,” my heart was black, and I desperately needed the saving that only Jesus could bring!
It doesn’t matter the details of your sin, if you are In Christ, then you’ve gone from death to life. And if you’ve not yet turned to Christ for salvation, then the details don’t matter, you can go from death to life! Today you can be rescued, and that rescue comes through repentance! Make no mistake, not just rescue from a river like the earlier story, I’m talking about rescue from the grave!
As we think about this story, the Renegade, the Resister, the Redeemer, there are some simple but very huge ideas that I want you to walk away with.
Think about the Renegade. I want everyone to hear this: God can rescue those who are far! He can! It doesn’t matter how lost you think you are, or how dead you think you are. Listen, dead is dead, is dead. It’s not like you can get more dead. Our God is in the business of raising the dead back to life. And so, if you know that’s you today, then I’ve got great news for you today: God can rescue the far! Won’t you come to him? Won’t you repent?
Think about the Resister, the older brother. I’m an older brother, and spiritually I’ve been an “older brother.” God can rescue the near! God can rescue you! Even when the world doesn’t think you need saving! Because I know many of you have been wearing a mask. You’ve been thinking, “I can’t come down, I can’t give my life to the Lord, I can’t get baptized. Everyone’s going to know that this whole time I’ve been faking it! I don’t actually have it all together. I’ve actually been trapped in sin and mastered by fear and if I come, everyone’s going to know!”
God can rescue the near, but you’ve got to drop that mask, lay down your pride, and quit acting like you don’t need him!
Some of you have been “close” to Trinity Baptist for a long time. You’ve even been out in the fields with us serving and working with us. Whether that’s been with the Ukraine efforts or feeding the thousands of people we fed after the hurricanes, partnering with us in our homeless ministry, school ministries, or any of the other many ways we minister to the community, even if that’s you today, if you know YOU need rescue then know this, the redeemer can rescue you! That’s what the redeemer does!
He's not talking about me. Yes, you!
I love the images we see in this story. For the younger brother, the father runs to him. For the older brother, the father goes out to him. God has made the first move! Jesus has come and in doing so, it’s the same as the father running down the road to meet you, it’s the same as the father going out to the field to plead with you! Jesus has paid the price for sin and made salvation possible. So, what I’m trying to say is this: It’s your move! He’s made the first move!
Romans 5:8 says, “but God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Christ died for YOU. Now it’s your move. What will you do now?
For every single person reading this, if you want to be rescued, it looks like repentance!
What is repentance?
It’s a change of mind that leads to a change of action. What are we changing our minds about?
When we change our minds about all that, it changes the course of our life and the way we live our life.
We begin to live a transformed life. One that is holy. And one that is for God and marked by love and service.
That’s what repentance is. But do you know what repentance does?
It brings joy! How do I know that? Because Luke 15:7 says, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
And Luke 15:10 says, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Heaven rejoices for sinners’ repentance!
Repentance also recognizes worth! Sin destroys. It destroys dignity and its value. Because each one of us has been created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), when we repent, we discover that value is restored! While I understand what “I don’t deserve this” feels like, hear this: God has made you in His image, and He thinks you are of immense value! He loves you. And His heart toward you is compassion!
What does repentance do? It puts us in the right posture to receive from God. Yes, it costs us something. It will cost you the initial pleasure that sin offers, but it also opens the door for you to find immensely greater pleasures (Psalm 16:11).
Do you need rescue?
Then repent. Turn from sin and turn to Jesus, trusting Him for salvation! And your life will become a stage for the richness of God to be displayed to the world.
I’m inviting you today, wherever you are, to run to the Father.
It’s your move.
If you are ready to surrender to God or want to know more, reach out to us by emailing email@example.com or calling 337-480-1555.
Adam serves as Teaching Pastor in the North Venue. His prayer for Trinity is that we would always be a place that God uses to rescue people and transform lives.
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