The apostle Paul describes the whole purpose for Jesus Christ to come to this world. It is found in I Timothy 1:15: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” He came to save sinners.
The Bible says, in Romans 3:23, that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” It is a fact that we are all sinners and it was for sinners that Jesus came to this world to save. Sinners need a Saviour, but one of the anomalies about the human race is that even though we recognize that we need to be saved, sometimes we have trouble recognizing that others, whom we consider much worse sinners than we are, also need saving grace. I am thankful that God does not take exception. He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I Timothy 2:4. This includes the people that I think are worse sinners than I am. God is no respecter of persons.
Luke 15:1, 2 says, “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained [they found fault], saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’ ” In the Jewish society, people were catalogued—which people were the worst sinners? Tax collectors were considered the worst for they hired out to the Romans to collect taxes from fellow Jews. A woman who became a harlot or prostitute was considered as low as a woman could go. Shocked that Jesus would associate with what they considered the dredge of society they said, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” This was a smear tactic against Jesus’ character, implying that He condoned sin.
Let’s think this through. The only way a sinner can be saved is if somebody comes in contact with that person and shows them the way of salvation. This was the sole purpose of Jesus. “He pitched His tent by the side of the tents of men, that He might dwell among us, and make us familiar with His divine character and life.” The Desire of Ages, 23.
We cannot help sinners to be saved if we are not willing to come in contact with them. There are many Christians today that say they want the sinners to be saved, but if you are to bring one of these sinners to church, their attitude changes.
Several years ago, a relative of mine was working with a missionary outreach project in the San Francisco, California, area. It was the time of the hippy movement, and San Francisco was the hub where young people from all over the United States rejected the middle class of their parents and went to San Francisco and lived on the street in a communal type lifestyle. It was actually a very demoralizing development that happened in America during that time. My relative came in contact with many of these people, praying with them and giving them books like Steps to Christ. She found that some of the hippies were becoming disenchanted with the lifestyle and wanted something different, so she decided to invite them to church. Dressed in their blue jeans and so different than the rest of the congregation in their suits and ties, they were invited to sit in the back row. Recognizing that they were not accepted there, they soon became discouraged and left. People tend to segregate into groups and tend not to accept people of other social groups that are so different than their own. Jesus got into trouble with the Pharisees because He was different; He accepted people from the “wrong” social group.
He was not exclusive and accepted people from all races, all social groups, all backgrounds. It did not matter to Jesus what their sin problem was. The only question He asked was, “Do you want to be saved; would you like to be clean?” That attitude was so foreign to the leaders that they could not accept it. They found fault saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Jesus received them and ate with the people that were considered so sinful that they could not be saved, but Jesus saved them.
Unfortunately, not very many of the religious leaders were saved. Ironically, a study of the Bible shows that the people who human beings believed would be saved, end up not being saved, and those that we think it impossible to be saved are the ones that end up being saved. It was that way in Jesus’ day. Jesus said, “ ‘Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said to Him, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Assuredly I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.’ ” Matthew 21:31.
Jesus received sinners and ate with them. John the Baptist did. Are you willing to do the same and offer them the gift of salvation?
After He was criticized because He received sinners and ate with them, Jesus told them three of the most familiar stories in the gospels. We are going to look at the third one that begins in Luke 15:11, 12. “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.”
Notice, the younger of his two sons said to his father, “Father, I don’t want to wait until you die to get my inheritance. I want it now.” The first thing we see in this story is the impatience of sin. “And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together.” Verse 13. The father divided to his sons his livelihood and the younger son gathered his things together, anxious to get ready to go on a trip. In the selfishness of his sin he gathered it all together, not so he could help somebody but because he wanted to have a good time.
If your life consists in serving yourself, the devil is satisfied knowing that you belong to his kingdom and not to Jesus Christ. Nobody that serves himself belongs to Jesus Christ. “He [Jesus] died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” II Corinthians 5:15.
A born again Christian lives for the One that died for him or her, but this young man set out to do all that pleased himself without regard to his father or his family. We see in the story the selfishness of sin.
Luke 15:13 continues, He “journeyed to a far country.” He separated from his father’s house. Separation is the result of sin. First there is the impatience of sin, the selfishness of sin that results in the separation of sin. But not only did the son journey to a far country, but he “wasted his possessions with prodigal living.” This is sometimes translated as riotous living, or a very literal translation of the Greek word would be wasteful living. Now we see the wastefulness of sin. This young man was worth a lot of money, but because of riotous living he wasted his substance.
God understands when a young man or young woman goes into sin. They waste their manhood or womanhood. This young man wasted his money. He wasted his time and also he wasted his opportunities. Have you been wasting your life?
We usually think of waste in terms of money. He was wasting his money, but not just that, he was wasting his manhood, his self-respect, his time and his life. Notice what it says in Isaiah 52:3: “For thus says the Lord: ‘You have sold yourselves for nothing. And you shall be redeemed without money.’ ” You just wasted it all. Nothing is much more frustrating to a person who is a good manager, whether it be of time or money, than to have to deal with somebody else who is a waster. Much of the trouble in this world today is because of waste in some area.
“But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land and he began to be in want.” Luke 15:14. I call this the dissatisfaction of sin. The young man was now in want. No longer was he satisfied, and the thrilling life he lived had ended. This is what always happens to a person that is living in sin. There will always come a time when what they thought was exciting and pleasurable, what they thought was having a good time no longer satisfies.
The pleasures of sin are always temporary. Fortunately for some, they get this figured out ahead of time before they make bad choices. In Hebrews 11:25, talking about Moses, it says, He chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” for a season or, in other words, to enjoy the temporary pleasures of sin. Though he could have enjoyed the luxuries of the Egyptian palace, Moses esteemed “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.” Verse 26.
Well, the time had come that the younger son was no longer satisfied with his life, and he needed a solution to his problem. “Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.” Luke 15:15. He now experienced the degradation of sin. In the Jewish culture there was no lower place you could go than to feed swine. It was the worst job imaginable.
It was not sinful, but it was just considered the worst, most degrading job you could have. This illustrates the degradation of sin. “And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.” Verse 16. I call this the destitution of sin. A young man with such a future leaves the comfort of his father’s home and now is destitute; he is as low as he can go, and nobody gives him anything.
A destitute person has nothing. He has no food, no clothing, no shelter, no transportation—he has nothing! That person is destitute.
On that first step, when he first started experiencing the selfishness of sin, he thought that his life would be wonderful. He longed for the freedom he would have once he could separate from his father’s house with its perceived restrictions. With his inheritance of a considerable amount of money, he thought he was having a good time experiencing the wastefulness of sin. But then, when the money ran out and his partying friends left, he experienced the degradation of sin, and now the destitution that follows.
He reached the bottom of the pit and there was no place lower to go. This is a pathetic place to end up, but sadly it is not uncommon to find a person in this experience. Often God has to allow them go really low before He can get their attention. Some have landed in prison or in the hospital. Others went bankrupt before God was able to get their attention.
Finally, unlike some other people’s experiences, the story of the prodigal son has a happy ending. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’ ” Verses 17–19. He finally decided it was time to go home, back to his father’s house. Before he might have thought that the father’s house was full of hypocrites, something that I hear all the time. “I’m not going to go to church; the church is full of hypocrites!”
Just like hospitals are made for the sick people that want to be well, the church was made for the sinners that want to have salvation. The church is not a club just for the people that are already holy. The church is a hospital for sinners that need to be saved.
So this broken young man decided that it was time that he would go back home. The church is home. Don’t let anybody tell you that it is not important whether you belong to the church or not. When Jesus comes back to this world, He’s coming to get His church. Revelation 19 is very clear on that point. Jesus is coming to get His church; He is not coming for anybody else.
The delinquent son decided to go home. In order to arise and go to his father, he had to leave his harlots and his whiskey in the far country. Don’t get mixed up about that. He could not bring his harlots and his whiskey home with him. Friend, if you want to go home, you have to be willing to leave your sinful life in the far country. The Father is waiting for you to come home, but He’s not going to accept you with the harlots and the whiskey; it must be left behind. If you want to live in sin, you will have to stay outside the father’s house.
But this boy decided that he would leave all that in the far country, and he came home with the confession of his sins. “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” Verse 20. Do you realize that there is Somebody that wants you to come home? Your Father in heaven is watching, just like that father was watching the road every day. We know he was anxiously watching the road, because the Bible says he saw his son when he was a long ways away.
I once had a physiology teacher in graduate school who told us that if you love somebody, you can recognize the person you love from a greater distance than you can recognize anybody else. The father loved that prodigal son, so when he saw him a long way off, he recognized him, even though he was in rags and looked nothing at all like when he left. The father’s love recognized him, “That’s my boy!”
He did not wait for him to get home and get himself cleaned up, but he ran to meet him on the road. Friend, there’s Somebody that wants you back home. The father ran to him and embraced him. He let him know how glad he was to have his son back home. By the way, this is how sinners should be treated when they come into an Adventist church; they should recognize immediately from our conduct toward them that we are glad they are home.
And so, he poured out his confession: “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ ” Verse 21. He recognized and confessed that he had sinned. Those who want to be accepted at home need to have this spirit of confession, because “He who covers his sins [or attempts to cover them] will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” Proverbs 28:13.
He confessed, “I have sinned, I am no more worthy to be called your son.” This is a wonderful story because it says in verse 22 of Luke 15, “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.’ ” The rings worn in those days were the things they used to sign documents. By this act the father was giving to his son permission once more to have access to the family checking account.
Verses 23 and 24 continue, “ ‘And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.” O, friend, if you are in the far country and have not come home yet, it says your condition is lost. If you are living in sin, you are lost. If you are living a prodigal life, you are lost. If you don’t belong to God’s children, you are lost. But do not despair; you do not need to stay lost, you can come home. And when you come home, the Father is going to put His arm around you and welcome you and give you full fellowship with the family.
But there is a sadder part to this story. It says in verses 25–27, “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ ”
The older brother in this story represents the first-born. This is very interesting. When you study sociology, you learn that the first-born child is always the more conservative. The first-born is the one that tends to emulate and imitate his parents and is often the one that becomes more successful in this society and in this world. What happened in this family follows the exact same pattern that happens still today. You can read it for yourself in The Birth Order Book by Kevin Leman, (Revell, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2009). There is decided difference between the first-born, and the second-born, and youngest.
The first-born had never left the father’s house. This man was lost in church. The far country is not the only place you could be lost. You could be lost in church. However, nobody knows you are lost, because you do all the right things. He was so confident. Look at the conversation he and his father had together: “He was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.’ ” Verses 28, 29.
I have never done anything wrong. I always pay my tithe. I always do what’s right. I never steal. And yet you don’t treat me as nice as you treat my younger brother who went out and wasted your living. Notice what it says in verse 30: “But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.”
I am sorry to tell you, friends, the spirit of the older brother is rife in the church today when somebody in the church wants to help one of the prodigal sons that is coming home. One of the reasons there are so many prodigal sons that never get back home is because there are too many older brothers in the church. The prodigal does not feel comfortable; they are not accepted, and everybody is thinking about their past whereas the father was going to give this younger boy a chance for the future.
This is really a loaded story. Where do I fit in? Where do you fit in? Are you unhappy if persons in the church decide to really put themselves out to help somebody that is living in sin to win them back? Are you unhappy if somebody that has made some terrible mistakes in his/her life receives something that you don’t receive? Do you get unhappy because the prodigal son is treated too well? I am talking here about a common problem in the church today. We need to ask the Lord to help us to be converted, so that the Father can bring His prodigal children back home.
There are many prodigal sons that God cannot bring home into our churches because they would get discouraged and go right back out because of the coldness of the older brothers in the church. Look at verses 31 and 32: “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ ”
Here we see, at the end of the story, one brother is saved and there is still one brother that is lost. But for the brother that is lost, for the Pharisee in the church, the Father wants to save him too. The Father wants to save the Pharisees as well as the prodigals.
But friend, can I be saved if I’m not happy when somebody else is saved? Can I be saved if I’m not happy when somebody else gets something that I don’t think they deserve, when everything I have is something that I don’t deserve? The last verses give heaven’s most touching appeal to the Pharisees of all ages. Phariseeism is human nature applied to religion. It is common throughout the religious world today. It is common in the Adventist church.
There are prodigal sons that need to be saved. And if they are going to be saved, we need to pray that we will be converted and that we will have the attitude of the father toward them so the Lord can bring them to His home. Ask the Lord that we be converted. As you read this story, think it through and ask the Lord to help you understand where you fit in.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.