Good evening everyone, it's great to be here again tonight - and thank you for joining us, we do appreciate the pressure it is during the week at any given time, but especially this week, and I am a parent myself so I understand all that is going on at the moment in families. I do believe that if you can get along, and even the nights you won't be here if you can get the recordings, you will be blessed - and it is consecutive ministry, therefore, if you do miss a night, you're going to miss something. Now, I'm not scolding you for not being here, but if you can try and get the ministry it will be helpful to fill in the gaps. I'm going to be dealing with something different every night in relation to 'The Father Heart of God', and I think every single truth, and every aspect to this very intrinsic truth in Christianity, is vital for you to catch. As you have already been exhorted, encourage people to come along, please - as you will see tonight, this is a truth for our times, more than many other truths that we are so familiar with.
So it's good to be here, if you will turn with me in your Bibles - now, we will be in Luke chapter 15, where we were last night, and we will be there several evenings at the prodigal son - but I want you also to turn to Malachi chapter 4, that's the last book in the Old Testament, Malachi chapter 4. Now, last night we began studying 'The Father Heart of God', transforming truths from Abba's heart to yours - and we looked at how the Father's heart 'Beats With The Rhythm Of Grace' - and tonight we're going to look at 'The Answer For Our Aching Hearts'. This truth, the Father heart of God, is the answer for our aching hearts, and indeed our aching generation. Now, just as a heads up for what is coming, tomorrow night - we've been hinting at father problems that we can have as human beings - tomorrow night I'm going to spend all night on that, and we're going to look at 'Father Flaws'. Wednesday night, the women aren't getting off the hook, we're looking at 'Mother Wounds'; and on Thursday night we're looking at 'The Disease of the Elder Brother'. On Friday night we're going to look at what it means to 'Abide In Abba's Love' - it's all right having a great revelation of it at a series like this, or maybe in some kind of crisis experience in your personal life, but we've got to live in this from day to day. It's got to be something that keeps us going as Christians on a daily basis. So don't pick and choose, now, the ones that sound good; and the ones that are a bit scary, 'I'll not go to that' - come to as many as you possibly can. There might be folk who you know, and feel led to invite, because you know they've had father issues, or problems with their mother, or whatever - the difficulty comes when the whole family comes to this church, eh?! Just all come together, and the Lord will speak to those who need to hear.
Let's pray before we read the Scripture. I don't know how many of you were able to pray Ephesians 1, which I was talking about. We sang it really, 'Open the eyes of our hearts', let's ask the Lord to do that now - and you might even want (you don't have to do it, of course), you could put your hand on your heart just as we pray, and say: 'Lord, just as my eyes are open to physical things and those things that are seen, open the eyes of my heart to the things that are unseen'. You might want to put your hand on your heart, and just say it now as we come to the Lord: Father, we come to you in Jesus' mighty name, and we ask that You will give to us the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, that the eyes of our understanding would be enlightened, that we may know what is the hope of Your calling upon our lives, and what are the riches of the glory of the inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of Your power that is toward us who believe - according to that power which You worked in Christ when you raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at Your right hand in heavenly places, above all principalities, powers, might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come. Father, open the eyes of our hearts, we want to see You. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Amen. So let's read first of all from Malachi and then from Luke. So Malachi chapter 4, and we're just reading verses 5 and 6: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD". Now let me just say, and I'm not going to go into this in any detail, but we know that John the Baptist came in the spirit and anointing of Elijah - but he was not actually Elijah. We know that he was the forerunner, in that prophetic mantle, for the Messiah coming - and that ministry has been fulfilled. But the indications of Old Testament Scripture are that before Jesus returns again - there will be many similarities to His first coming, of course many differences, but one of the similarities is that there is going to be a prophetic Elijah that will come. Whether it's the literal Elijah, who of course never died, maybe the Lord will send him back again, I don't know - but certainly there is going to come a character or a ministry of some kind, with the same anointing of Elijah, as the forerunner to Jesus coming again and the dreadful Day of the Lord. But here's a characteristic of this Elijah's ministry that maybe you've never thought about, verse 6: "He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers" - this is an end time ministry, a prophetic ministry that is going to be particularly pertinent in the last days, which I think we are in; a prophetic ministry that turns the hearts of fathers to children, and the hearts of children to fathers - and this is the parting shot in the Old Testament: "Lest I come", the Lord says, "and strike the earth with a curse".
Now turn to Luke chapter 15, we're not going to read any of it just at the moment. We're looking at how this truth of the Father heart of God is the answer for our aching hearts. Thousands, yes probably millions, would not agree with what I'm about to say, but during the 1960s there was what we now know as a sexual revolution. You know what that was. We could talk about it from a political or social capacity, but the fact of the matter is, as Bible believing Christians - and I have to say that this is what I believe, this is my commentary on it - that during that period of time, and for that matter since the sexual revolution, there has been a moral and spiritual meltdown in our society. Around about the same time there was the rise of feminism, some of it very militant feminism - now, I'm not a chauvinist, but nevertheless I'm certainly not a feminist. Fatherhood, during that period of time, and indeed masculinity, became increasingly unfashionable. I don't think that that has changed much. In fact that - even if feminism isn't as popular today, and even if some of the mistakes of the sexual revolution are acknowledged even in secular circles - fatherhood, manhood, masculinity, is not popular at all. Our age, I believe, is suffering, more than any, the fallout of the sexual revolution. I think we could accurately be described as 'the fatherless generation'.
Fatherlessness is, without doubt, the social crisis of our nation, and indeed probably of our world. You don't have to be a Christian to agree with this following statement: the family is in crisis, it is in trouble. Only last week I was reading in the press that Britain has the highest divorce rate in the European Union. A survey was taken and it has only been released, the results of it, last week - and we are up there with the highest divorce rates. The United States statistics on divorce seem to indicate that there is little difference between those who are professing Christians and those who aren't in the matter of the divorce rate. A survey from last week's findings in the UK tell us that the rate of births outside marriage has risen sharply, more than one child in four from around 1990 - that's about 39% of births.
Now, if you study revival history, you will find out that during every move of God, every awakening, every renewal in the church, there was a particular social crisis. You can go right back to John Wesley and George Whitefield, and you'll see during those times Gin Palaces and all sorts of immorality and illegitimacy, and all sorts of things going on there. Before every revival there seems to be a particularly marked social and moral crisis that characterises that era of history. Just after that, God pours out His Spirit, but He also remedies, in grace, that particular moral issue. I believe that in our present-day crisis of the fatherless generation, and as we approach and are in the end times, approaching the return of Jesus, that this truth of the Father Heart of God is one that He's going to use in order to revive the church, and indeed restore humanity in His grace. As we saw it tonight from Malachi chapter 4, God has promised in the end times that He will turn the father's hearts back to the children, and the hearts of their children to the fathers. The antithesis of that, really, is that when father's hearts are turned toward anything other than their children, there is a curse on the family, and even - it says here - upon the land. I believe that doesn't just apply to the land of Israel, I believe that applies to any land, and our land in this 21st-century. Because we, generally speaking, have turned our back as a people on marriage, on the family, on biblical fatherhood, we are seeing a curse right across our society. This truth of the Father Heart of God is the answer for our aching hearts, and indeed our aching age and society.
The prodigal son here in Luke chapter 15 is a wonderful picture of the brokenness of our nation, and indeed individuals within it, many hearts that are estranged from Father God. So I want us to look at it tonight, and I want you to see from verse 11, as we look at this parable: 'Then Jesus said: 'A certain man had two sons'. Now I said last evening that often this parable is called the parable of the prodigal son, I would rather call it 'The Parable of Abba's Heart' - but even if you go with the prodigal son title, you will see that it's about two sons. We're going to spend all of Thursday night looking at the elder brother, but we can't ignore the fact that this father had two sons - and they were very different, they were like chalk and cheese. The oldest one seems to be the more sensible, and the youngest the more wild. I don't mean to say that that has to be the case in every home, but often it is - certainly in our house!
One of these sons chose the world, that's obvious - we have come to know him as 'the prodigal' - but the other chose religion. Neither of them, neither of them saw into father's heart. If anything, it was the prodigal when he returned who understood what was in his father's heart, when the elder brother remained blinded. We're going to look tonight at the wayward son. In verse 12, he requests: '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'. This is very interesting, this was a request that should not have been made. This was the inheritance that the sons would receive, both of them, at the death of their father - but he's coming and he is requesting it before he is deceased, which is tantamount to saying: 'Dad, I wish you were dead, I wish you were six foot under so that I could get my hands on your money'. How would father have felt at that? How would you have felt? Yet, you notice that this father isn't in anyway aggressive, he is not some kind of despotic dictator in the home, and he didn't pummel him into submission. It's interesting.
Remember that this father is a picture of God, your Father, Abba Father. Whatever your view is of predestination and the sovereignty of God - and I'll let you have it, and I have mine and my questions about it all, I've more questions probably than answers it has to be said - but whatever your view is on that: God is big on freewill. There is no such a thing as absolute freewill, nobody can just do whatever they want, but God has created a measure of openness in the decisions that we make as human beings. He has made us in His image, and one of the aspects is the ability to make choice, volition. So God gives us principles, He gives us laws, and we have to live within those - but there is a great measure of choice that we have in it. Sometimes we ask the question: 'Well, why did God not stop so and so going down that road, and why did He not stop this happening in my circumstances, why did He not intervene? Why did this father not do more to prevent his son going to the far country and wrecking himself?' - because we live in a universe of free choice, and we are responsible for the decisions we make. Parents, I know you have to have boundaries and you have to have rules in the home, it cannot be anarchy or chaos - but sometimes when your children do want to walk away, sometimes you've got to let them go if you want to get them back. It doesn't always work standing in their way. I think - although I'm going to be talking mainly to the children of parents tonight, what your relation has been to your parents - if you are a parent tonight with wayward or rebellious children, you can take on yourself a lot of false guilt and shame. You ask yourself: 'What have I done wrong? What did I not do for them?'.
Quickly, and this is not what I'm dwelling on but I feel I need to do this, turn with me to Isaiah chapter 1. Keep your finger in Luke there, turn to Isaiah chapter 1. If there is anyone here with false guilt and shame over how you have parented your children, and how they have turned out, you need to hear this. Now I'm not saying that we aren't responsible for wrong decisions, and we do make mistakes, every single one of us, and we're going to see that throughout the week - the damage that parents and authority figures can do - but nevertheless there can be false guilt and shame. Look at Isaiah 1 and verse 2 please, this is God Almighty speaking, He says: 'Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the LORD has spoken' - look at this - ''I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me''. This is God the Father speaking! He's got kids, and they have gone wayward. Of course, it was Israel and Judah in the Old Testament, but that's what the prodigal son is about in Luke chapter 15 - it's about the Jewish race. These are His children, and if God can have children that rebel against Him - and that's the story of the Bible - how can we be exempt? It doesn't necessarily mean that we've done things wrong. God hasn't done anything wrong toward His children, and yet they can still rebel.
Look at verse 13, back to Luke chapter 15, it says that he received this inheritance, and verse 13: 'Not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country'. Now I'm speaking, I believe, to people here tonight, and they may not necessarily be young, but you're on a journey - all of us are on a journey - but you're on a journey into the far country. Every journey starts with small steps. Now I'm not a big traveller, it has to be said, I could tell you a few stories that would make your hair stand on end! I don't really like travelling, only when it's necessary - but a number of years ago I needed to go to Australia for a series of ministry. You know what it's like, it's the other side of the world - just in case you didn't know that! It's way down at the bottom, down under! I live in Portadown, and my journey to the other ends of the earth, 22 hours on one of those big A380s, it started by my alarm going beside my bed, and me putting one foot in front of the other, and getting out and going to the bathroom, freshening myself up, putting my clothes on, getting in the car, going to the airport. That was my journey, it started with little steps, and I ended up within 22 hours at the ends of the earth. The longest journeys into the farthest recesses of morality and spirituality always start with small steps, and I wonder how far you are on that journey? Our society is on a journey, and it's big-time into the spiritual wilderness right now.
Agatha Christie wrote a book entitled 'The Labours of Hercules', and in it there is a nightclub that is visited by Hercules Poirot the detective, and it's called 'Hell' - that's the name of the nightclub, it should be the name of every nightclub really. The steps of the nightclub, it's subterranean, under the ground, the steps have slogans on them. Step one: I meant well. Step two: I will wipe the slate clean and start afresh. Step three: I can give it up at any time I like. As Hercules Poirot is walking down these steps, he is heard to murmur under his breath: 'These are the good intentions that pave the way to hell'. Maybe that's how your journey into the far country started: 'I'm not doing anybody any harm. I can quit this whenever it suits me, and start all over again. I can give this up any time I like'. But you know tonight that you are on a journey, and you have had good intentions - and, let's face it, very few of us make conscious decisions to harm ourselves or to harm others. Now we might get to the point where we don't care any more how we are hurt, and how many other people we hurt in the process, but generally speaking all of us are looking for love, we're looking for life and happiness - but very few of us ever achieve that. That's what this wayward son thought he was going to get: 'Get my pots of dough from my Dad, and go and have a wild time - and that's what it's all about!'.
But this wayward son ended up wasteful. He was searching for meaning and for love in all the wrong places. It says 'he wasted his substance', that's what it says in verse 13, he wasted his possessions with prodigal or riotous living. Looking for love and meaning in all the wrong places, what's going to happen is, you're going to waste yourself. Maybe you're far tonight in the far country, and you could be far from your family, you could be far from your Mum or your Dad, you could be far from a spouse, a husband or wife, you're certainly far from God - you're estranged from God. Maybe you're dabbling in things that previously would have been unthinkable for you, you never ever thought you would have got to the low levels to which you have delved and you find yourself tonight, and you could be described as 'wasted'. That's the way young people talk about getting high, or getting drunk, being 'wasted' - and that's really what happens. When we try to find meaning in all the wrong places, we get wasted. Our bodies get wasted, we are affected physically by lifestyles of sin and ungodliness. Our souls get wasted, and if you understand the soul as the mind, the emotions, and the will, the actions - they get wasted. Your spirit gets wasted, that's the part is meant to relate to God - it gets further estranged from God, and starts to worship other things. You were not created to be wasted, God created you in His image to be invested, for your life to count. We can talk about Hell and the Judgement Day and all the rest - and that's coming, the Bible teaches that - but there is not only a judgement for sin that's on the way, but there is a judgement in sin now, the wages of sin is death, it produces death in us.
So this lad wasted away with, verse 13 says, riotous, prodigal living. What's that? It's what you get up to when authority figures aren't around. Verse 14 says 'he spent all', and there arose a severe famine in the land and he began to be in want. 'He spent all', it's so graphic, you hardly need to explain this parable - do you feel spent? The reason why you feel spent is that you've paid the price, but you've not received the goods. Did you know, by the way, that the devil always shortchanges? Jesus said that in John 10, he is a thief, he comes to steal, kill, and destroy; Jesus came to give us life in abundance, real life, life to the full. Do you remember that Ronseal advert that used to be on the television years ago? 'It does exactly what it says on the tin' - well, sin doesn't do what it says on the tin. The enemy will lie to you, he will make claims - and, yes, there is pleasure in sin, the Bible clearly says that. That's why temptation is such a problem, that's why this young fellow got lured into the far country, because it was attractive, it was tantalising. I'm not going to tell you a lie, sin is pleasurable - but the Bible says it's only for a season, and then the serpent's venom comes after he bites his teeth into you. There is a payment, there is a debt that you've got to pay for sin, and it's death, it's bondage and waste. He spent all and the devil shortchanged him, he robbed him.
During the 60s the Rolling Stones sang: 'I can't get no satisfaction', some of you can remember that, eh? Well, if you saw them today, you would realise they still haven't got any satisfaction! During the 80s U2, they sang: 'I still haven't found what I'm looking for'. These songs, you know, they are expressing - out of the mouth the heart speaks - and when these pop stars and rock stars are honest with their emotions in their artistic gifts, they reflect the deep aching void that is in their hearts. No matter where they have turned, no matter how much money they have, no matter what sensual pleasures they indulge to excess, they still can't get that sense of meaning, that sense of being and purpose.
So we find this young fellow in the environment of famine. What is a famine? Well, it's whenever there is no food, no water - and if you haven't got food and water, what have you not got? Life. There is a famine in our society today whereby we are satisfying every pleasure available, we are satiating our natural appetites, but our souls are starving. Many are engaging in illusions of intimacy - take Internet pornography - illusions of intimacy, but we ourselves are disconnected from other human beings. Just like the prodigal, many of us as individuals and, I believe, as a society, we're going to have to hit rock bottom - and just in case you think we're there, we aren't there yet, we're a long way off. God sometimes has to let us hit the floor, before we realise that these are broken cisterns that we are hewing out that can hold no water, and we have forsaken the Fountain of Living Waters that is our God.
This wayward, wasted son, started engaging in wishful thinking. Look at verse 15, he joined himself to a citizen of that country, and that citizen sent him into his fields to feed swine - you know swine, pigs, are unclean animals to the Jews. This was unthinkable. But you see that it says that he 'joined himself' - you see this is what happens, this is what happens, OK: we are made in the image of God, and the only way we can be satisfied as human beings is in relation to the true and living God as our Abba Father. You've got to understand that. But if you don't want to look there, but you're still looking for this satisfaction, finding what you're looking for all your life in humanity to boot, you will join yourself to cheap imitations thinking that that will satisfy you. Of course, life holds a variety of alternatives for those who lack a secure connectedness with God's love. We look to pleasures to compensate for the lack of meaning in our lives, this is what this young man was doing.
I want to urge you tonight: you need to look in the right place for the right thing. What are you joining yourself to tonight, to try and find satisfaction and meaning? It doesn't have to be anything particularly sinful - often it is, but it could be your education, it could be career, it could be trying to find meaning in your family, it could be in religion - but there is no intimacy with God that actually satisfies the heart. In verse 16 it says 'he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, but no one gave him anything'. I mean it was unclean, unthinkable for him to satisfy himself with the pig food, but he couldn't even fill his belly with that! It didn't work, he accepted a cheap imitation. Often that's what we do, we take second-best because we don't want to say: 'I was wrong', we don't want to have to turn on our heels and go back to Father God. So we receive a sticking plaster, a quick fix, rather than the real thing.
Eventually his wishful thinking turned to a wise decision, verse 17: '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!''. He came to himself, we would say from the East of Belfast - a very refined place where I come from - he wised up, he caught himself on, he came to his senses. He realised there is no place like home, 'Father's house is filled with bread - and here I am sitting with the pigs, and I can't even eat their food. There is no place like home, there is no one loves me like father' - I want to ask you tonight: have you realised that yet? He said: 'How many of his hired servants have bread enough and to spare?', and you're maybe a son of God, a daughter of God, a child of God - and look at what you could be, but look at where you are right now. Look at how you are living at this moment: are you living as a son or a daughter, or are you living as a slave? Do you realise who your Father is? Do you realise that your Father is there for you? We're going to spend all week just unravelling this, and there is so much that I'm just bursting to say - but I'm having to go slow because I don't want to give you too much too quickly. Do you know who your Father is, do you realise that He is there? In this parable we see this wayward, wasted boy who had momentary wishful thinking - he makes this wise decision, and when he does it, when he comes to his senses, what does he find? Does he find what is often preached, this God up there ready to knock your block off because you're a sinner, going to just zap you, dangle you over hell until you feel sorry for your sins? We believe in a holy God, we believe in a just God, we believe that there is a hell, we believe that there is a Judgement Day coming, but the New Testament message is that Christ did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. The message today is grace, it is the compassion of the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus.
When he wised up and stopped looking to second-best and substitutes of intimacy with his father, when he decided to get up and go home, what did he find? He found a welcoming father. I want to tell you here, on the authority of God's word, whatever you have done tonight: if you come home you will find a welcoming Father - I guarantee it. When he repented - what's that? He said: 'I will arise and go' - there was a change of direction here. Now maybe you don't have the power to give up your sin, and we're not suggesting you should - only God can give that power - but you've got to have a willingness in your mind and in your heart to say: 'My sin is actually wasting me, it's destroying me, and it's keeping me from God'. You've got to be willing to have that changed, and to turn from that and turn to God for help. That's what he did, he repented - an about turn - and said: 'I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him'. What's that? That's confession: 'I'm going to agree with God, I'm going to agree with my father, I got it wrong. I'm guilty as charged'. But he went a little bit too far, and we will see that in a moment or two.
He found a welcoming father. I think, I've a hunch that he knew something of what was in his father's heart, and that's why he contemplated returning to him. I think that figures: he must have known there was a chance that his father would take him in. He was hardly going to make all this journey of humiliation home if he thought he was going to be thrown out. It's interesting, isn't it? I have to not run away with myself, but I'm looking forward to Thursday night, to this elder brother - could it be that this prodigal son, in all of his sin and shame, knew more that was in the heart of Father God than the boy who was all religious did? Interesting thought, isn't it?
Here is the welcoming father. What do you expect when you come to God? What have you been taught to see in Father? As we go back a little bit to last night, and also forward a bit to tomorrow night, what did you see in your own father? I mean, if you had done something like this and you had wasted a fortune of your Dad's - I mean, imagine, what would your own father have been like? What would you be like as a father or a parent? What would you expect if you had sullied the family name, if you had sinned and caused yourself to be cut off from the congregation of God's people in this day and age? What would you expect from your father? Well, here is the Father who meets you tonight in grace, look at verse 20: the father saw him a great way off. Now I want you to ask the question of the Scriptures: how did the father see him a great way off? How is this possible? Let me tease it out for you: how did he know when the young fellow was coming home? Did he? No. Did he know what time of day it was? Did he know what season of the year it was? So what does this infer? He was watching for him. Was he watching for him on Fridays? On the Sabbath? It appears he was watching for him every single day from the moment that he walked out of the house. Now, that's profound. In all likelihood he was on a rooftop. I want you to picture this old man, broken because of his son's sin, and yet filled with a heart of love and grace. He's looking out there, squinting toward the horizon, and what is he looking for? The small silhouette of that familiar form of his boy coming home.
I want to tell you: that is the heart of God toward you. This parable, as we saw last night, is revealing - look at verses 1 to 3 - the tax collectors and the sinners are eating with Jesus, and the religious Pharisees are saying, 'How can this be? This is a scandal! This is against the law!'. But, you see, Jesus came to reveal the heart of God, that it is for sinners, it's for the lost, it's for the broken. Here's a picture of a God, not getting His kicks by throwing people into hell, but a picture of a God whose eyes are focused, waiting for sinners to repent.
Every day he's looking from that house top. How many miles had the young fellow travelled? How many have you travelled? I don't know what direction you're going tonight, whether you're going out or you're coming back, but I want to tell you this: He sees you. Wherever you are, He sees exactly where you are. You know, this is something we're all looking for, even if we don't realise it - we're all looking for intimacy. That's why we've been made, we're looking for intimacy, and God made us in order to get intimacy from one another - but ultimately we need to get our chief, primary intimacy from God. 'Intimacy', that word can be broken up into several words, 'in', 'to', 'me', 'see' - isn't that good? We want to be known, we want to be known, we want to know who we are, and we want to be known, and we want to know another.
It says that the father, if you look at verse 20, he ran - he ran! Now we miss this, but in this day and age - well, elderly men tend not to run! - but men in general, out of dignity, in this civilisation, in this society, they didn't run. It was seen to be undignified, unbecoming, especially for an elderly man, to run. So this father, what happens? It says that he saw him a great way off. He didn't wait until he was at the front door and wait until he grovelled a little bit, and came up and got on his knees and said sorry, and then he threw his arms around him. Once he saw the direction in which he was coming, he didn't even wait for him to come home. I want you to see this in your mind's eye: he gathered up his skirts - men wore the skirts in those days - he gathered up the skirts, because he would have had to run down from the house top, down the stairs at the side of the little house. He gathers up his skirts so that he doesn't trip, and he runs down these stairs - and the old man runs out! Everybody is watching him, thinking: 'What is happening here? Has the man lost his reason'. He is running into the desert - this is God! It's not the way a lot of us would portray God - oh, our stuffiness that we have in our religious spirit - but this is God. He is losing His dignity. Do you know that God lost His dignity? Do you know that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself? Jesus, as He hangs naked on that cross between heaven and earth, He is bearing our guilt and our shame. He is God's Son, God was in Him doing this so that we might be redeemed. He condescended, He came down - what love!
That's the glory of God, the cross - and yet it is utter foolishness. This is foolishness for an old man, a father, to be running after a wicked, wayward son. But you see, the Bible says the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. When we sin, what do we often think as Christians? What do you think when you sin? What way do you think God is with you? Well, we often think He must be angry with us, and then what we do? Like Adam and Eve we hide in the Garden, we think God is angry and so we run from God - and this is often what we do: we then ran to false comforts; or, if we are of the religious ilk, we try to appease God out of religious fear, and earn His favour again, and give that awful thing up and try to do a few good things to redress the balance. But not only does Jesus say here that we can run to the Father because there is forgiveness, it's even greater than that: the Father runs to us! Eh? We've got this religious thing, a lot of false guilt and shame - now don't get me wrong, I believe in the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and I believe we ought to feel a bit wick when we sin - but we are to confess our sins, and He is faithful and just to forgive us. When He does forgive us, when we truly repent and confess, if we're still feeling miserable it's not the conviction of the Holy Spirit, it's the condemnation of the devil. Did you get that? When we really do repent and confess our sin, if we still feel miserable it's not the conviction of the Holy Spirit, it's the condemnation of the accuser, the enemy.
What a picture of Father God running, in verse 20, He has compassion. Now listen: your sin hurts God, and it's because of your sin and mine that Jesus died on the cross - we're not belittling it at all - but you've got understand that He wants you, He loves you, and He doesn't condemn you. Verse 21, he comes and - as we saw last night, I imagine this type of mirror exercise that he performs in the pigpen, obviously no mirror there - but he is rehearsing, 'What am I going to say to my Dad? Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no more worthy to be called your son' - that's what he practices in verse 19. 'Make me like one of your hired servants. I've broken my trust with you, and I burned my bridges, and I don't even expect - I'm not expecting anything - just make me like a hired servant'. But look at verse 21, the son said to him 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight', he's rehearsing this spiel, 'and am no longer worthy to be called your son', and God stops him - He interrupts him - the father does, a picture of God. He won't let him say: 'Make me one of your hired servants'. How does father, the picture of God here, interrupt in verse 22? '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. 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'. He doesn't let him finish his speech, he's not even going to hear the words 'Make me like a slave or a hired servant' - no! You're a son, and you will be a son!
This is beautiful: he got a robe, the best robe, and put it on him. Now I don't want you all to get all theological on me, but this is what it says, all right? He put the robe on before he was washed - true? Before he was even clean, he covered over his shame. Now you work that out whatever way you like, but it's there, and it's beautiful. A lot of us have a lot of shame still covered, it still hasn't been sorted out - but, praise God, if it's under the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, it's covered! You can be covered, your shame can be covered if you come home. He puts a ring on his finger, that speaks of the family authority. You can belong, you can belong! You see, what has happened from that sexual revolution that I talked about, and through illegitimacy and fatherless families, there's a lot of sense of insecurity and lack of acceptance and belonging. There's a lot of guys and all they're looking for is their father. We could go into the whole area of sexual orientation and everything, and I'll touch on some of those things on further nights, but there are issues here, there is a fallout of gender orientation, sexual issues, that's coming from the breakup of the family. It's not the cause of it all, but it's a major cause of why we're seeing things today that we've never seen the like of before.
But you can have authority, you can have identity, and authority speaks of power. You can have power to overcome the mess and the waste and the prodigality that you've experienced in your life - there is power to be free if you come home to Father! That's what He wants to do for you. In verse 23 the fatted calf was killed, and that's food, isn't it? You can be filled and you could be satisfied with life, because this son was dead and is alive, was lost and is found. I want to ask you as I bring this to a close tonight: have you been found by Father's love? Have you been found by Father's love yet? Now we have a lot still to do this week, OK? We're only dipping our toe into the edge of this great ocean of the Father's love, but I want to ask you: is this how you have seen the Father God? There is such a crisis of identity in our society: 'Who am I? I don't know who I am! I don't know what I'm meant to be!'. Do you know what a law of nature is? Wherever there is a void, something will try to fill it. If you have a void of identity, you have a void of being, you have a void of meaning, you can be sure all sorts of things will come in and confuse the matter even more. But when the prodigal got a revelation of who his father was - wait for it - he discovered who he was. That's what you need! Then he could really celebrate, he could celebrate when he knew who his father was, and who he was as a son, and what was his.
Listen: if you've never been converted, you've never become a Christian, why not tonight? If you've gone on a long journey away from God - once you knew Him, but now you're in the far country - why don't you come home? You've seen into His heart tonight. Or maybe you're a Christian, and you're maybe not in the far country, you're maybe like the elder brother - you've been in the Father's house for a long time, but you've never seen into His heart, you've never understood the love. Maybe you've been trying to earn His pleasure and His favour by doing things, and when you sin you run away from God. Maybe you fall into secret sin that nobody would know about, or your religious friends - you wouldn't like them to hear about that - but that's how you deal with it, and you know it's wrong, but you can't break the cycle because you're frightened to go to God with your sin. That's where we're meant to go, we are meant to bring our sin into relationship with God and ask Him for help and healing for it.
Years ago there was a girl called Maria, and she had a teenage daughter called Christina. Christina was a bit wild. They lived in Brazil, and she wanted to go to Rio de Janeiro and enjoy herself. Her mother was continually trying to convince her not to do this. One day her mother's worst nightmare was realised when she went up to the bedroom to waken Christina for school, and there was no response. She went into the room, and she was gone - her bed was made, her bag was packed, and she had opened the window and left. So, instinctively, Maria knew what to do. She went down to the local pharmacy, she took a load of little photographs, passport photographs of herself, put them in her bag, bought a bus ticket to Rio de Janeiro. She went there and went everywhere she possibly could, she went into bars, into nightclubs, into hostels, into public toilets, phone booths - and she would stick these little photographs of herself on mirrors and noticeboards and signs. When she exhausted all of her resources, the photographs, she bought another ticket home and left Rio de Janeiro.
One morning, after a night where Christina had given more than she ever wanted to, she had been wasted in sin, she was walking down the stairs and in the bathroom in the corner of her eye she glimpsed something that was vaguely familiar - then realised, 'No, it couldn't be!', and she squinted and saw a photograph of her Mum. She reached down quickly and flicked that photograph off the mirror, and turned it round, and on the back was written a message: 'Christina, whatever you have done, wherever you have been, whatever you have become, just come home'. That's the heart of Father God to you tonight: whatever you've done, wherever you have been, whatever you have become, just come home. He loves you, and He wants you, and He wants to heal you, to cleanse you, to fix you.
What a Father - but your Heavenly Father is beyond what you could ever imagine of any earthly father. He says 'You can', if you come to Him, He says 'Yes', if you'll come and confess your sin and turn from it. He has given everything for you, will He not do everything now for you? Let's just pray for a moment before we sing our closing hymn, and I want to first of all invite a response from Christians. Please, every head bowed and every eye closed, this is between people and God but it's good to have outward confession. Is there anyone here and you have lost touch with God - maybe you've never had it, but you're a professing Christian - but you want to return to the Lord? Maybe you're in a far country, or maybe you have immersed yourself in religious activity to buy God's favour, but you have never seen into the heart of Father God. You don't have that intimacy, and you want it tonight, you want to come out of the far country and you want to know relationship rather than religion. Would you raise your hand just where you're sitting to acknowledge need tonight, as an indication - God bless you - that you're coming to the Father? Just raise your hand high enough so that I can see it, and you can put it down again. God bless you. God bless you, I see your hand, you can put it down. God bless you. Is there anyone else? God bless you.
Is there anyone who has never become a Christian, and you want to come to the Father tonight. You've always felt estranged, you've always felt something is missing, the guilt and weight of your sin weighs you down - and you want to come to the Father who gave His Son for you at the cross, and shed His blood, and you want to come tonight. Is there anyone, young or old, that wants to trust Christ tonight for the very first time? Would you just raise your hand where you are, just so that I can see it and we will pray with you and lead you in prayer? Are there any here tonight who are not Christians? I know these are meetings for Christians, but there might be someone and you never met the Father before. Is there anyone?
Let me lead those folk who indicated in prayer, would you come now and just pray with me - and you've got to mean it yourself from your heart - just pray with me: Father, I come to You in Jesus' name, and I confess my own sin and waywardness - maybe you have to confess tonight that you haven't had a good example of a father, or been a good example of a father. Tomorrow night we're going to pray a prayer of forgiveness towards our fathers, but maybe you might want to do that now, and just say: Lord, I do choose to forgive my father for x-y-and-z. Maybe you have to renounce some false view of God, just say it: Lord, I'm sorry but I thought You were always angry with me, that You didn't want me, that You would push me away when really You're running toward me tonight. Just ask the Lord to cleanse you, and release you, and heal you deep down. Say: 'Lord, I believe now that You are receiving me, You're cleansing me. I ask You to give me a further deep revelation of Your Father heart toward me. Give me the witness of Your Spirit that I am a child of God. Fill me now with Your Spirit. I surrender to You as Lord. Shed Your love abroad in my heart by the Holy Spirit. In Jesus' name, Amen'.
If any of those folk want to talk with me, there were quite a number of folk put their hands up, you can. You might not need to, I would encourage you to come the rest of the week - but if there are any who are in need tonight and they want to talk, that's OK, you might have to wait a little while if there's a number of folk.
Father, thank You that You have revealed Yourself in Your Son, the Lord Jesus. At that cross we see Your heart for humanity - Lord, such love! Dying love! Bleeding love that beats for us tonight! We pray, Lord, that every single heart in this place will feel the heartbeat of grace for them, and that their aching hearts, which are broken, will be healed by Your love. Father, give them a revelation, give us all a revelation, of Your love. Bless those who acknowledged their need tonight, and meet them. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Union Road Presbyterian Church in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the second recording in his 'The Father Heart Of God' series, entitled "The Answer For Our Aching Hearts" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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