Home Media Sermons by Pastor Nicki Coertze Non-series Sermons by Year 2021 Sermons . No Greater Love . No greater love (Part 5)

. No greater love (Part 5)




We have spent four parts of this series so far looking at this great story where Christ will reveal to Pharisees and Scribes the Father Heart of a loving Father, who rejoices when one sinner comes home. This truth is seen in the story of the lost sheep, and it is seen in the story of the lost coin and it is now seen in the story of the lost son. This will explain to them just why Jesus Christ will eat with sinners.


So far, we have looked at the shameless demand where the son claimed his part of his father’s living, which was only due to him when his father died. But for him, his father was already dead in his heart. This was followed up with an immediate shameless revolt as he left his father’s home to gentile land, where he squandered his inheritance. He went so low that he became like a pig in gentile land, except that the pigs had more privileges than he had. This ultimately led him to a shameful repentance that started in his heart. He realised that even the day servants in his father’s house had more than enough bread while he was competing for pig food. Now, he is willing to return, and he is willing to return not as a son, but as a day servant, desperately in need of the grace of his father. He is willing to work as long as needed to just get back somewhere in his father’s favour. The Pharisees and Scribes would be happy with such a solution to the problem. He must work for grace. And now we get to our fourth point where we will see that the shameful repentance will lead to a shameful reception.


1.4 Shameful reception.

Now, this title might sound strange to you, but it is paradoxical. We saw a shameless demand, a shameless revolt, a shameful repentance, so how can we call it a shameful reception. Let us turn to verse 20. 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”

Now, if you thought that the Pharisees and scribes were shocked with the Father’s behaviour so far, none of his behaviour surpasses this. At this point they are ready to cry. It was utterly shameful that the father would divide his livelihood without the slap, and the chasing away of his son with stones, or a funeral, but this behaviour takes the cake.


Look how the story unfolds. It starts out simply by saying “he arose and came to his father”. The son, the sinner is ready to face the shame he deserves, he wants restoration, he wants a new start, he needs his father, he needs his father's resources, his father can give him life instead of death, he has hope in the goodness and kindness and forgiveness of his father, he is truly penitent, he doesn't even want to be a son or a slave, he'll work as a day labourer to earn his way back, he doesn't want anything he doesn't deserve and he will work to earn it.

That is pretty much how people feel. That is how the Jews felt. And the Pharisees and scribes listening to Jesus, along with anybody else at that time who heard this story would say, "Good, that's right, that’s exactly how it should be." And you know what? When he does come to his father who knows what the father would do to him, who knows the extent of humiliation the son would have to go through. Who knows how many months of cold shoulder he will experience before his father would even speak to him? Sadly, what man does is to put his own expected behaviour on the father.

In their minds, the dishonoured father would not be available. His respect had been tarnished in the community. He had been shamed by such an outrageous and rebellious son, and the father had brought shame upon himself in some ways by even allowing him to do that. And here comes the son with another outrageous request after he has already cost a great portion of the family its fortune and the father his honour. So, the Jews would expect this, and this would be what would be done in the Middle East then and perhaps even today in some places, the father would simply refuse to meet him, because to him his son is dead.


The father would make him sit outside the gate of the home somewhere in that village for days in public view. Nobody would take him in so that the whole town could heap scorn on him, so that the whole town could bring the retribution upon his head that he deserved for the way he dishonoured his father. Scorn and abuse and slander against him and people mocking him and perhaps even spitting on him. And the son would expect it and he would have to take it. The Pharisees and scribes would expect that he had to be justifiably shamed before everybody as part of the retribution for the shame he had brought upon his father.


And when the father would eventually let him in after a certain period of time, it would be a very icy reception and he would be required to bow low and kiss the father's feet. Then the father would tell him with a measure of indifference what works he would have to do, and for how long he would have to work to demonstrate that his repentance was real. And if he did work for a period as long as he needed to and did all the reparations and all the restitution and paid back in full what he owed, then he could be reconciled and only then. All the rabbis taught that. All the rabbis taught that “repentance was seen in the work a man does to earn God's favour when he feels sorry for his sin”. That's what repentance was, you feel sorry for your sin, you want to be restored to God, so you do work and by that work you gain favour with God by making restitution. Everybody knew that was the way it was done.


This same approach and mindset towards sinners coming back to the father is sadly still demonstrated in our own cultures, but more sadly it is demonstrated in the church. Somebody would confess, desire a measure of reconciliation with the local body of Christ, and they will be given a list of man-made expectations, requirements for this sinner who has come home to accomplish before he or she is restored. Or they would question the level of repentance and whether God excepts it or not, they do not care, as they are a higher throne and they do not accept it. For God there is grace, unmerited favour, and forgiveness, for them there is something legalistic attached. They would find a way to analyse the repentance on their terms.


I remember in humility years ago repenting before 5 groups of people for sin I was accused of and my brothers judged my repentance as the repentance of King Saul, which is not real repentance, but purely repentance to save my name, instead of the repentance of David which according to them was real repentance. Sadly, with many of our churches, the sinner needs to grovel, beg, toe the line, and God’s view on the matter, and His response is of little consequence, because up there in glory, God is in charge, but down here He is sadly at times only in charge to the extent man is willing to obey Him, otherwise man is in charge. On this topic of a sinner comes home, the criteria towards forgiveness supersedes the Father Heart of God.


But that is not what happened. Here is the paradox.  In fact, what happened could only be described as shameful, therefore the title of this point.  This father went against all expectations. You know what this reminds me of. Ephesians 2:4-5 (ESV) 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—“. If we had time to study Ephesians 2:1-3 this morning you will realize that like the prodigal, we were deserved of wrath, but God our Father is just like this father. He goes against expectations.


What happened while he was still a long way off? This is crucial. Look at the text, feel the drama. “While he was a long way off”, down some dusty road, probably still outside the village, “his father saw him.” What does this mean? It means the father was looking out for his son. We can assume that he had been looking a lot very often, that he knew the kind of life that his son was headed toward would end up the way it ended and that he hoped that he would survive it so that he could come back. The father was bearing a private pain and a suffering love all alone in his own heart looking, and looking and looking and looking. Remember we spoke about the father being willing to endure the agony of rejected love.

Its daylight, otherwise the father could not see him a long way off, which means the town is full of people, the town is crowded, and the town is busy. It's bustling people, it is a village community and everybody knows who he is and what he has done. And the father is looking and looking.

Why? Very simple, he wants to reach his son before his son reaches the village. He not only wants to initiate the reconciliation as the shepherd did when he found the sheep and the woman did when she found the coin, he wants to do more than initiate the reconciliation, he wants to get to his son before his son gets to the village. Why? He wants to protect him from the shame. He wants to protect him from the scorn and the abuse and the slander. He wants to bear the shame, take the abuse. He's willing to have the people say, "What's this father doing? This man who has been so greatly dishonoured now dishonours himself by embracing this wretched boy. He wants to protect the son from the scorn, the slander, the taunting which was expected, which was just part of the culture. What a father?


How does he do it? How does he protect the boy? He sees him, it says, when he's still a long way off from the village, it says “he felt compassion”. Not just compassion for his past sin, not just compassion for his present filth, as he was in rags and smelled like a pig, but compassion for what he was about to experience. And the word compassion is  (splagchnizomai) which means to be moved in the inward parts. It comes from a root that means your intestines, or your bowel, your abdomen or innermost being. He felt a sick feeling in his stomach when he saw the boy and knew he was headed toward this unleashing of scorn.


Not only did he feel compassion. The Bible says that “he ran”. Now something you must realise is that Middle Eastern noblemen don't run. That's just basic. The word running here is the Greek word tre,cw trecho {trekh'-o} which is literally used for a person who runs a race. Our word ‘track’ as used in athletics track events, comes from it. He literally sprinted, and this is beneath the dignity of a noble father.


We can go into the detail of their culture. But let me say this. The reason a noble man would not run is because they wore long robes. To run, means that he would have to hike up his robe exposing his full legs. And for a noble man that will be considered shameful and humiliating. There was honour in their robes. The outer robe was called a mekebeduth, which literally means ‘to bring honour’. Honour was connected to the robe. Priests making the sacrifices were not allowed to lift their long robes to keep them out of the blood on the pavement, for fear their legs would be exposed and they will be dishonoured.


This was such a big issue that in some older translations of the Bible and specifically the Arabic versions they could just not get themselves to translate tre,cw trecho as ‘to run’. Think about it, we know this father is a picture of God, that is clear, and surely God is not going to humiliate Himself in such a way that He will run to embrace a sinner. The one who should be doing the running is the sinner. So they just translated  trecho with ‘he went’. The first Arabic Bible that finally included the word ‘run’ was the Van Dyck Arabic Bible in 1860. Even then, they wanted to translate it as ‘he hurried’. So, up till then you could not comprehend in the Middle Eastern culture a noble father running.


So, what is the father running for? Why does He bring shame and scorn on Himself for exposing Himself? It's just shocking. The reason, the Father runs taking the shame is to protect the son from taking the shame. He takes the scorn and the mockery and the slander so that his son doesn't have to bear it. And then when he finally gets there, even more shockingly, “he embraced him”, literally fell on his neck, just collapsed in a massive hug, buried his head on the neck of his son, stinking and dirty and ragged as he was. And now we know that the father has been suffering silently for the whole time he's been gone. He's been suffering quietly, loving that boy while he was gone and now that quiet silent suffering love has become publicly displayed as he runs through the street bringing shame on himself to embrace his son and spare him from shame. Everybody now knows how much that father loves that son. So much that he takes his shame, that he empties himself of any pride, of any rights, of any honour and in a self-emptying display of love brings shame on himself in order to throw his arms around that returning sinner and protect him from being shamed by anyone else. By the time the boy walked into the village, he was a fully reconciled son.

Now, if the father running was not enough of a shock to the system of the Pharisees and Scribes, look what happens next. The Bible says that ‘he kissed him.’ But, look with me at the Greek, because it says more than what our English translations say. The Greek says he “atafile,w kataphileo {kat-af-ee-leh'-o}} his son. In plain English that means to kiss much, kiss again and again or to kiss tenderly, lips, cheeks, forehead, all over.


Church family, are we starting to grasp the Father heart of God? You want to know how eager God is to receive a sinner? He will run through the dirt and bear the shame, He will embrace the sinner with all His strength and plant kisses all over the sinner's head. Some people think that God is a reluctant Saviour. No, He's not. This is the kiss of affection repeated and repeated. The sinner is willing to kiss his Father's feet, but His Father is kissing his head. This is a gesture in the culture of acceptance, friendship, love, forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation, all of the above. And all of that before the son can say one word. What does he have to say? He's there, that's enough to indicate his faith in the father and his repentance. He came knowing he had to cast himself on the father's mercy and he came knowing he had to be ready to bear the shame. But, what an experience he had in these few moments.


This is radical stuff. This is totally unorthodox and a paradox. To the mind of the Pharisees and scribes this is all unexpected. But, no matter their view of things, this is why Christ was willing to eat with sinners, because this is what the Father does. But not in their books. They have a different version of God, and as a shock to their system, Jesus clearly is showing them that this is not what God is like.


The biggest shock is that all this happened without any works. It was all grace as the next verse makes it clear. The son understood the gesture. Luke 15:21 (ESV) 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” So, he memorised his story, and now he utters it. He acknowledges that he has sinned into heaven, he acknowledges that he is unworthy, but here is a strange turn in events. He leaves something out. What did he leave out? Go back to verse 19.  “Treat me as one of your hired servants.”

Why did he leave it out? Because there was no need for works. Why? Because, he had just received grace. At this point I can imagine the Pharisees and scribes crying out of frustration. The father is so eager, he receives and embraces and reconciles with the son before the son can say anything. But when the son does speak, he leaves out the works part because there is full repentance, full faith and no works. Why? Because he's already been received as a son. He's already been forgiven. He's already received mercy. He's already been reconciled. His repentance is real. His faith is true. And his father responds with complete forgiveness and reconciliation. Now the son knows he does not have to work his way back, because he ran, he embraced me, he kissed me and he took my shame.


Concluding thoughts.

Church family, that's all the sinner ever has to do is come penitently, trusting in God. And the Saviour runs to the sinner asking nothing, throwing His arms of love, mercy and grace around the sinner, kissing him repeatedly because that is the joy of God.

The son starts out and so do the listeners with a Jewish understanding of repentance and faith and works. And the son ends up and so do we with a divine understanding of repentance and faith and grace. He is ready to suffer for his sins, but it is not necessary, because the father showed grace. The son has just seen grace in its fullness, and so have we. He knows he's accepted with full love, he's accepted as a son, no conversation about a hired day labourer. He will gladly become a son to this loving, forgiving father and leave his future in his father's hands.


Isn’t this what happened to us as Christians? There was a day when you realised that you were a sinner, and you returned to the Father, repentant, ready to take whatever he threw at you. You were ready just to become a servant, but He ran to you through the cross of Calvary, He embraced you through the blood of His Son. He kissed you by undergoing the humiliation that should have been yours. Sure, we might not have been as bad as this son in this story, or we might have been worse, but grace is grace whether it is poured out at 06:00 or at 09:00 or at 12:00 or at 15:00 because at that very point, at whatever time, no matter how big the sinner, stood a Father who was willing to endure the agony of rejected love, and who was willing to humble Himself to become man and to die for us on the cross to pour out upon us the most amazing grace and mercy and forgiveness at no cost to ourselves.


He protected us from shame, and gave us son-ship. May we never trample that grace, or treat it as cheap grace but may we hug our Father right back, through lives that are sold out to him.


So today, I present to you an exuberant God, a God who is lavish in His love and lavish in His embrace and His kisses. Next time we are going to see the Father so filled with joy that He throws a party for one penitent sinner.




Soli Dei Gloria

Logos Community Church:- 18-20 January 2021