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Message Notes: Lost Words of Jesus Week 2

Lost Words of Jesus

Week 2: Luke 15:11-32
Pastor Rick Henderson                May 18-19, 2024

I’m a big fan of Viola’s passion and her boldness. At the end of her story she said this,

That’s all you have to do. Just make one little effort to believe in him. –Viola

A little bit later I’m going to ask you to do that. I’m going to ask you to take a step to believe in Jesus. And some of you may be surprised to discover that that invitation isn’t just for other people. It’s for all of us. It’s for you too.

We’re in the middle of a series that’s all about a series of short stories told by Jesus. The stories are different, but they’re all the same. Something valuable was lost. The more valuable the lost thing is, isn’t this true, the more anxiety we feel and the more intensely we search for it? What’s more valuable than a lost person?

When I was a little kid and couldn’t find my mom in a public place, I was totally OK saying, “I’m lost!” The older we get the less comfortable we may be with describing ourselves as lost. I don’t like admitting it when I’m driving. And I certainly don’t like someone else describing my life as lost. If you resonate with that, there might be a more helpful, maybe a better frequency for us to tune into.

What Jesus wants us to hear is that he came to give us all a full and thriving life. Regardless of what you believe about Jesus and spiritual things—this is something that we all share in common. Every single one of us prefers a full and thriving life over an empty and stagnated life. We might disagree on what it looks like. We might disagree on how to get it. Some of us may even doubt that we deserve it or can have it. But we all want it.

If a full and thriving life is over here, and I’m missing from that, is there a better way to describe me than, “I’m lost.” And if I’m lost or if you’re lost, who’s going to come looking for us, or how can we find our way to a full and thriving life? That’s why Jesus told these stories.

LUKE 15:11-32

This is where you can find the story for today. Luke is in the second half of the Bible, called the New Testament. It’s the third book. Matthew. Mark. Then Luke. Before we read it, I want to remind us of the two categories of people that made up the audience the day that Jesus told these stories. There were the people described as tax collectors and sinners. And there were the religious leaders and teachers.

On one hand you have the crowd that does NOT have it all together and everybody knows it. On the other hand, you have the crowd who does have it all together and everybody knows it. And they don’t mind telling you that they have it all together. If you had been there that day, which crowd would have sat with? Which crowd are you sitting you with right now?

As we read this, I want you to process a couple of questions. Who is this story for? From Jesus’ perspective, who are the lost people?

LUKE 15:11-32 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “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. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “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.’ 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. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “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. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘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. 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. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 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.’ ”

When our kids were small and cuddly, we wanted to do a family movie night. Heather and I streamed a movie, from the 80s, that we both watched as kids. I want to emphasize that grown-ups let us watch this movie when we were kids! We popped the popcorn, and everyone was snugged up on the couch. Out of nowhere there was explicit, nonstop nudity. Why is it that the more desperate you are to work the remote the less able you are to make it work?! Needless to say, that disrupted movie night.

When Jesus told this story, it was no less disruptive. Story time with Jesus didn’t lead to awkward conversations with your kids. And yet, story time with Jesus did lead to awkward conversations yourself. This is a story that would have disrupted and deconstructed everyone’s story of who God is and what he’s like. This story would have disrupted and deconstructed everyone’s story that they were telling themselves about themselves.


  • Early inheritance

This was shocking and offensive material. This was a land-based and agriculturally-based economy. There were no stocks to sell or 401Ks to cash out. The father would have to give up his land. Today, it’s impossible to understand the tensions between Israel and Palestine without understanding that identity and life are tied to land. For the son to ask his father for an early inheritance was the same as saying, I wish you were dead. For the father to sell to his property was tantamount to giving up his life. This was originally written in Greek and where you read the word property in English, in Greek it’s a version of the word bios, meaning life. The Father divided his life between his sons.

  • Pigs

Whatever you think about the younger son, there are some things we can know about him. And believe it or not, he may not be that different from us. He valued autonomy. He was his own authority. In living for himself he lost himself. I’m curious is there anyone in here who knows what’s it like to make your way to end of the pathway of self-fulfillment, only to discover you were left more empty than when you started.

If you don’t know, pigs were considered taboo. You defiled yourself if you touched pigs or ate pigs. Now he finds himself in the pig pen, so desperate that he longed to eat what they ate. Offensive isn’t the right word. This part of the story would have been repugnant.

  • The father ran

So, he learned the hard way. He realized that the lowest person in his father’s house had it better than he did as his own boss. So the plan was to go back home and ask to become a servant. What he didn’t know was that his father was sitting by the window, every day. Just looking, just hoping, maybe today is the day. When his father saw him, he sprinted to his son.

I don’t know if you know this, but a respectable Jewish man didn’t run. Children ran. Women ran. A respectable Jewish man didn’t run. As a matter of fact, a respectable Jewish man would walk out if his house was on fire. But this father ran.

He shamed himself to embrace and love the son who earlier shamed him. This would have been an unrespectable spectacle, utterly undignified. The father so loved his son, he made a fool of himself. Did you know that Jesus loves you like that? For the joy of it all, he endured the cross, despising its shame. He made a fool of himself so he could give us a full and thriving life!

  • Gifts and a party

That father was filled with compassion. He hugged and kissed his son. I want you to let yourself imagine what this young man smelled like. And yet his dad is slobbering on his neck. He gave him the best robe. The father didn’t just accept him, he gave him his status. He gave him honor. And with explosive joy, he threw a blowout of a party.

When they all heard this story, they had no categories for it. This would have defied imagination. The only thing that made sense was the shock and anger of the older brother.

LUKE 15:28 The older brother became angry and refused to go in.

That’s not too shocking, right? Instead of talking about whether or not his response was valid, I want to zoom in on something else. Is the older brother experiencing joy and thriving or is he missing out? This isn’t a story about a lost son. This is a story about lost sons. I don’t think anyone has ever done a better job explaining this story than the late Tim Keller. He said this story isn’t primarily for those of us who identify with the wild and reckless younger brother.

The targets of this story are not “wayward sinners” but religious people who do everything the Bible requires. Jesus is pleading not so much with immoral outsiders as with moral insiders. He wants to show them their blindness, narrowness, and self-righteousness, and how these things are destroying both their own souls and the lives of the people around them. It is a mistake, then, to think that Jesus tells this story primarily to assure younger brothers of his unconditional love. –Tim Keller

Certainly, the love of God for sinners and moral mess ups is unconditional and extravagant. But the disruptive, get-in-your-face nature of this story is found in how it targets religious people. Like a heat seeking missile, it comes after church people who think of themselves as good people because they have the right beliefs and right behavior. One of the reasons that Jesus told this story is so that we would understand this.

Everyone needs to repent of their SINS. Some of us need to repent of our GOODNESS.

The lyrics of a song that was written 20 years ago have been playing over and over in mind all week. The song was written by a student ministry pastor from a prominent, conservative, evangelical church. It’s a song that says all the quiet parts out loud.

Is there anyone who fails?
Is there anyone who falls?
Am I the only one in church today
Feeling so small?
'Cause when I take a look around
Everybody seems so strong
I know they'll soon discover
That I don't belong
So I tuck it all away like everything's okay
If I make 'em all believe it
Maybe I'll believe it, too
So with a painted grin
I play the part again
So everyone will see me
The way that I see them
Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
The smiles to hide our pain?
But if the invitation's open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained-glass masquerade

This is the gospel. We are all far more sinful, guilty, and morally messed up than we could ever dare to admit. But in Christ we are far more loved, forgiven, accepted, and delighted in than we could ever dare hope. That’s good news! But the counterfeit message, the polluted propaganda of religious culture is that the right beliefs and right behavior are what make us good and acceptable. Can we be brave enough to admit that we carry with us a vulnerability of failing to delight in our savior and instead settle for the shallowness of looking like we have all together? The truth is that we all have our own messes. The closer you get to me the more clearly you’ll see mine. And yet, can we be brave enough to admit that we are vulnerable to hiding our messiness behind a stained-glass masquerade?

It's obvious why the younger brother was lost? What exactly was it that made the older brother lost?


  • Self-righteous

When the father came out to meet him and pleaded with him to come into the party, he said this.

LUKE 15:29 “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.”

The younger brother discovered that the father wanted a relationship based on love. The younger brother discovered delight from the father and delight in the father. The older brother has based everything on doing for the father instead of being with the father. Because he did the right things he thought he was better. He was superior and he felt this...

  • Entitled

That’s why he put his father on blast for not even giving him goat for a bar-b-que. In that culture and at that time, eating meat was a rare treat. As far as the older brother is concerned, the father wasted it. It didn’t feel fair. And thank God that grace isn’t fair.

When my kids were little, I banned the use of the word fair. I told them they didn’t want me to give them what’s fair. They really wanted what’s loving. God wants to give to us what’s loving. But we can only come to him and receive from him when we are humble. It’s impossible to be entitled and humble. It’s impossible to be entitled and grateful. His biggest problem is that he didn’t love his father. He loved the stuff that he wanted from his father.

What about us? Do we want him, or do we want what we can get from him? He was self-righteous and entitled. Of course, he was judgmental.

  • Judgmental

LUKE 15:30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

Religious people fixating on the sexual sins of other people is nothing new. Am I trying to imply that sexual sins aren’t really a big deal? Of course not! They are a big deal because they will bring havoc to your life. Let’s get real. We have all been shaped and formed by a culture that wants us to believe that chasing our sexual desires in our own way, on our terms is what leads to a full and thriving life. And yet, it never does.

The problem wasn’t that he recognized his brother’s sin. The problem was that he couldn’t recognize the devastating nastiness of his own sin.

Some of you may remember me quoting Crawford Loritts before. His son, Brian, is also a pastor who I admire. He cautions us to look at the older brother and dare to ask if that same spirit is in us.

How do I know if the older brother spirit is in me? You’re judgmental. You are really skilled at picking out the speck in other people’s lives, but you can’t see the log in yours...If there’s one thing the church has a monopoly on, it’s judgmental people…How do I know if the older brother spirit is in me? You have a critical, fault-finding spirit. –Bryan Loritts

What’s it like to live like that? It’s...

  • Joyless

It’s not my intent to make any assumptions about you today. My only goal is to better understand Jesus by better understanding what he had to say to us. When we better understand him and better understand what he said, it’s pretty normal that we better understand ourselves. If joy isn’t a word that can describe you, is it possible that you’ve tried to find it in something other than just being with the father?

Did you notice that the father didn’t just run to the younger brother. The father went out to find the older brother because he was missing too. And when he found him, this is what the father did.

LUKE 15:28 So his father went out and pleaded with him.

I’ve asked Pastor Ian to sing a song for us that just might help us connect with what Jesus wants us to understand. As you listen, will you see that he is moving towards you and pleading with you to believe and be with him?

Pastor Svea shared an insight with me into this series of stories that Jesus told. There’s only one character who never experiences joy. It’s the older brother. What do you think happened? Did he accept the father’s invitation and enter the party? Jesus left it on a cliffhanger. We don’t know. Maybe it’s better that way.

The deeper question isn’t about what he did with the invitation but what you will do with it? Have you, will you, accept the invitation to be with the father?