Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)
In response to this grumbling, Jesus tells three parables about things that are lost.
First is the lost sheep (1/100) that the Shepherd seeks until He finds it and then carries it on His shoulders until they’re home and throws a party for joy that He has found His lost sheep.
Second is the lost coin (1/10) that the woman lights a lamp and sweeps the house and seeks diligently for it until she finds it and then throws a celebration party inviting everyone to rejoice with her because she found the lost coin.
Finally is the lost son, also known as the prodigal son (meaning squandering or wasteful) that we’ll especially meditate on today.
All these in response to those who were grumbling, and this is good news today for you and me and our sinful grumbling.
“I deserve a better job and boss than this. I at least deserve twice the salary for all the work I do and all the stuff I put up with.”
“My parents told me I can’t do that, but everyone else is doing and I want to do that, too. They’re always preventing me from doing stuff for no reason. It’d be better if I’d just run away from home. I can’t wait to be away from them.”
“I did all that for them and not even a thank you. What do they ever do for me? Maybe they did say thank you, but they didn’t mean it and they didn’t say it enough. I carry this marriage. I carry this friendship. I carry this church. I carry this business. I carry this house. I carry this….”
We seem to have so many reasons for grumbling.
Our text lists, at least as far I can find, three reasons behind our sinful grumbling.
The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.” [And the father] divided his property between them. (Luke 15:12)
“Give me,” the son says. “It’s mine, so give it to me. I deserve it.”
A sinful, entitled spirit infects us all and seems to be one of the marks of our culture.
Money and entertainment belong to me. My body and sex belong to me. My family and friends belong to me and I have the freedom to do and say what I want because it all belongs to me.
We see what the result is when we have God’s gifts without God – having the Father’s inheritance without the joy of being with and received by the gracious Father.
13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. (Luke 15)
The gifts become wasted. We end up in our sin and filth and uncleanness and shame. We end up quite lonely. The son probably had “friends” who helped spend his money, but now he’s in need, alone, hired by a cruel master. He’s not welcomed by anyone now that he can’t give them anything. He’s not loved. He’s hungry. When the gifts belonged to the father, the gifts must have seemed endless, but once they belonged to him, they quickly had an end.
Even after this, after the son realizes he should go back to the father, there still remains a root of grumbling underneath him.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ (Luke 15)
The son still thinks he deserves something, and has something he can bargain with to the father. Very briefly, dear saints, the Christian does not bargain with God. We pray, “Lord, have mercy.” I have nothing to give and everything to receive.
A third root of grumbling is especially aimed at the Pharisees and scribes. It’s aimed at Christians who live pretty good lives. It’s aimed at the Christian that is too often tempted to sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know, because I’m awesome.”
This is found in the brother who doesn’t join the party after the son has returned and been received by the father.
“I deserve your love Father. I deserve your welcome Father. I deserve your gifts, father.” ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, (Luke 15:29).
This will also lead to grumbling against a seeking, forgiving, strong-for-them God by refusing to acknowledge this is the God we need.
The Pharisees refuse a God who seeks them by refusing to acknowledge there were ever lost in the first place.
Our sinful nature refuses a God who forgives it by refusing to admit it’s sinner and in need of having God’s wrath against them be stilled by Christ and His cross.
We too often refuse a strong-for-us God by refusing to admit that we are too weak against our stronger-than-us enemies.
To these grumbling sinners, to we too-often-grumbling sinners, too often feeling entitled, thinking we have something to bargain to God with, or thinking ourselves quite holy, at least holier than them, our Lord tells these three parables, that in reality, does not focus as much on the lost things, but on the seeking ones.
Why? To take them out of their grumbling selves and into His receiving and merciful embrace.
Jesus tells of a seeking shepherd who bears the weight of the sheep as the One who will carry our sins on the cross He bore to Calvary. Lost to the devil and our sin, Jesus seeks us and carries us to the Father.
Jesus tells of a sweeping and searching woman who lights a lamp to seek until she finds the coin as the One who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.
Jesus tells of a Father who receives His grumbling and entitled son back and is willing and inviting to receive his other grumbling and entitled son into the feast as the one who welcomes you today and rejoices that you confess your grumbling and desire to live content in the way the Father would have you live.
As the once lost son received the kiss of the father, so you receive the kiss of God’s peace as your lips receive the Son’s body and blood.
As once the lost son is clothed quickly with the best robe, so you are clothed again with the baptismal waters that cover your shame.
As once the lost son was welcomed into a feast with music and dancing, so now you are fed with the Words of eternal life in preaching and in song. It’s ok if you want to dance sometimes. The Father’s welcome is time and again worth celebrating.
The Father welcomes us and receives us as His children and this, once again, helps us begin to stop our grumbling and begin again to live content and joyful with the Father and His gifts until we have His full embrace face to face. Amen.