The Real Jesus: Prodigals, Older Brothers, and the Kingdom

Good morning and Welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here and today it’s a great privilege of mine to talk about – what Mark Twain once called the greatest short story ever told.  It’s the story commonly called the Story of the Prodigal Son – the story just recalled for us nicely in that video from the Bible Project.org.

We are now in week 11 of our series we are calling the Real Jesus.  We’ve concluded the core of Jesus’ teachings – where we learned that true “#blessed life” comes not through power, or success, or comfort or popularity – but the truly blessed life is the life lived “with God” on a daily basis.  Jesus died for us, in order that he might live with us.

When we begin to get a glimpse of the real Jesus – we begin to think highly enough of him to believe him – we see that he is the smartest guy in the room – and the most loving, and the most humble – and so as we begin to build our life on his teaching and in his power – we begin to change. And as he lives with us, he transforms us along the way.

We begin to become the kinds of people who are able to let go of anger and contempt for other human beings.

We put down the gavel of condemnation

Instead we Love!  We become the kind of people who can love even our enemies. 

From there Jesus warns us to be on guard against two common issues that derail our spiritual journey – greed and worry.

Last week Josiah spoke and did a great job explaining the cost- it will cost us everything.  And it’s totally worth it.  Because we will be giving up everything to a God who gave up everything for us.

He laid down his life in order to bring us the With God life, and so it’s not too much to hear Jesus ask us to pick up our cross and follow Him.

BY the way – all of these teachings are on our website – and we have the videos on youtube if you search for Journey Church Gretna or go our facebook – and on our website you can download the transcript if you’d rather read it.  But if you are just jumping into our series and are curious about these teachings of Jesus you can go back and check them out.

Now today and for the four Sundays, we will begin to take a closer look at the way Jesus interacts with people – how his teachings play out as Jesus interacts with people on his way to Jerusalem to lay down his life.

And today we start with Jesus interacting with people in a biker bar.  Well, maybe it wasn’t – but in my head it is – here’s how Luke describes the scene…

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

You know – I was challenged this week in my study time to rethink the way I’ve always thought about this passage.  In the past – I’ve just stereotyped this scene – and in my head I see two groups of people. Like a sitcom.

On one side of the room I see all these party people – people who drink too much and party too much – and on the other side of the room I envision this group of uptight pastors and church ladies who are all murmuring to themselves – “Well, now will you look at Jesus – eating with those people who party too hardy!”

By doing this it got me out of the room – I am neither a guy who parties too hard nor am I an uptight church guy.

But this week God put me back in the room by challenging me to rethink the scene – what if the crowd of notorious sinners Jesus hung out with included people that I found to be too sinful for Jesus to hang out with.  What if Jesus had in this crowd of people who hung around him – what if he truly had the 20th century version of notorious sinners – the serial murderers, perverts, pimps, abusers.

Can we be honest enough with one another here to admit that all of us probably have groups of people in mind that if we could have it our way we would issue fast pass tickets to hell.

You’re probably familiar with the story of Jonah and the whale – do you know why Jonah was running away from what God asked him to do?  Because the Assyrians were notorious sinners – and Jonah was afraid that the Assyrians would repent and change their hearts and that God would show them mercy.

In Jonah’s eyes – the notorious sinners were the Assyrians.  Who are the notorious sinners in your eyes?

Would it change our perspective on this story if we see Jesus in a room hanging out with your kind of notorious sinners?  Wouldn’t we have to feel a little compassion for the Pharisees?

The religious people in the room were struggling to make sense of what they were seeing – why would a man of God like Jesus befriend people who are so sinful – so lost?

Jesus tells three stories – it’s actually one story in three parts – all three stories have the same bottom line.  And the bottom line is – that God loves finding lost people.

Jesus starts his lesson by talking about a shepherd.  Who has 100 sheep.  And one night he counts the sheep – only 99!  One’s missing!  He pens the 99 – and off he goes into the wilderness to find that lost sheep. (Please put verse 4 up on screen- I will not read it)

Now me – I would have said – 99 out of 100 ain’t bad.  But Jesus is a good shepherd – and so off he goes!  Into the wilderness.  And when he finds the sheep – Jesus says this…

5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. I might have grabbed it by the scruff of it’s neck – but Jesus is more tender.

6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ That seems a little overboard – but Jesus is saying – I know right?  That’s God for you.  That’s how he rolls.  He is genuinely thrilled when what was once lost is now found.

7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

Now – let me ask you – does it bother you to hear Jesus put people into such basic buckets – as lost and found.  I’m not a follower of Jesus but that doesn’t mean I’m lost – but – you and Jesus will have to differ.  Because Jesus constantly asserts that there are really only two options in his thinking.  You are either living in the light or living in darkness.  You are either a sheep or a goat – you are a good tree or a bad tree – you are lost or you are found.

As much as it might make you squirm it’s an important and reoccurring theme in Jesus’ teaching.  He will not let us off the hook with a third option.  But again – the point of this story isn’t to say look at all the lost people – no the point of the teaching is to convey to us how God feels when lost people are found.

And – according to Jesus – God is thrilled when people who were lost are found.  It thrills God.  He is overjoyed!

Same theme in the second story – about a woman who has ten coins – loses one.  Now I know how frustrating it can be when I misplace my wallet – this lady misplaces ten percent of her net worth – and so what does she do – she sweeps the house clean – turns over the cushions in the couch and – lo and behold she finds the lost coin!  But then she does something that just seems overboard – she alerts her neighbors and throws a party!  I found the lost coin!  Party time!

I just think people would have been like – okay – that seems weird – and I can imagine Jesus just saying – I know right?  But that’s my Dad for you.

God loves lost people and is bursting with joy when a lost person is found.  He is beyond excited when one person changes the way they think about God and begins to turn their life in his direction.

But now Jesus takes the lesson even further.  He tells the story of a man who has two sons.  The younger son – tells his dad – I wish you were dead so I’d get half of the estate – can we pretend you died and you just sell half and let me get on with my life?

The dad obliges.  The son runs off and wastes his money and his days chasing after drink and fun and is soon – completely broke.  Finds himself eating pigs slop – eventually thinks – I’ll head home.  His father – sees him coming and lavishes his son with hugs and restores him to his place in the family – and you think wow.

If you were in the bar filled with notorious sinners and you heard this story, you and everyone in the room would be thinking – that side of the room – those people are obviously the prodigal sons.  And we over here – the good people – are the older brother.

But Jesus is about to put a little plot twist in at the end – like the sixth sense – wait what!  It’s an ending for the ages – that kind of throws the entire story on it’s head.

Because at the end of the story of a man with two sons – the father is partying with one son and the other son in sitting outside gnashing his teeth in anger – and it’s not the son you thought.

It’s absolutely brilliant of Jesus to leave the ending up in the air.  He doesn’t ever tell us if the older brother went into the party.  Jesus just ends it.  And he does so because it was up to the religious older brother to have to decide for himself if he would humble himself and repent of his sin and join the party.

Make no mistake – the father in this story is as gracious to both brothers.  All he has belongs to the son.  He treats both the same.  Even though both sons have humiliated the father.  The Father is willing to forgive both.  One repents.  One sits outside and stews.

Which of the sons is the prodigal son?  Which son was the lost one?

So what do we take away from this story?  I think that there’s a personal takeaway for all of us here and I also think there’s a takeaway for us as a church community.

Personally – this story is both an encouragement and a warning.  For some who are listening today – you should be thrilled.  You have acted the prodigal’s part. You are the notorious sinner.  And this story should thrill you to understand that you are loved by God.  That God himself is thrilled to welcome you back into his arms.

There are some, I’m sure, who might doubt that Jesus would love a notorious sinner like yourself.  And all I can ask you is – are you calling Jesus a liar?  He told this story – no these three stories back to back to back – to make a very loud and clear point. You are loved by God.  God loves and rejoice when post people are found.

God wants you to know that your past does not need to define you.  You have a future with God.  The “With God” life is wildly available to you through faith in Jesus.

Maybe today is the day you let go of the lie that God is angry with you.  He loves you and is waiting for you to turn towards him.

Here’s a ten second prayer for you prodigal children – Lord, give my prodigal friends courage to come home to you.  Impress upon their hearts your tremendous love for them.

This story is an encouragement for you.  But for others – this story is a warning.  What’s the warning?

We must be careful we don’t fall into the trap of becoming the older brother.

My wife Jody and I started reading a book by author Jan Johnson – called Enjoying the Presence of God – and Jan shares her own story of grappling with the realization that she spent so much of her life wrapped up in being a spiritual whiz-kid – with perfect quiet times.  She spent so much of her energy demanding perfection from herself and those around her.

She was so bound and determined to dazzle God with her piety that she lost the ability to just be with God without trying to impress him.  But God in his mercy began to let her life unravel – in spite of her “goodness” – and after a season of being angry with God for letting her down – she writes this beautiful paragraph.

“At the time I couldn’t see it, but God was showing me that he did not want me to be a can-do go-getter…  I began a journey that looks like it might take my entire life:  to relish being God’s much-loved child instead of trying to be wonderful.”  Jan Johnson, Enjoying the Presence of God.

I believe Jan has learned to heed the warning part of the prodigal son and turn it into good news for her too.  She turned it into an encouragement for the older siblings out there.

Your heavenly father isn’t looking to be dazzled by your goodness.  You can stop trying so hard to be wonderful.   It’s okay to just be yourself.  Yourself is good enough for your father.  Just enjoy being his beloved son, or his cherished daughter.

Here’s a ten second prayer for you older brothers and sisters out there.  Father – help us to understand your tremendous love for us is not dependent upon us being wonderful.  Help us to humble ourselves and fall into your loving arms and join the party already in progress.  Amen.

Now – finally – can we talk about how these series of stories affect us as a church?

The last time I spoke about the prodigal son was in March of 2019- well it ill be two yours ago next month.  And at the time we were in the beginning of a generosity campaign – and we said that if everything lined up – it was our goal to begin building a permanent home for Journey church by the end of April 2021.

Two years goes by quickly, doesn’t it?  We are not two months away from the start of a building for Journey.  And so – the question I ask is – why?  Why are we building a church home for Journey?

And I want to simply remind you – it’s important we keep this in front of us – we are building that church because God loves lost people.  He loves it when lost people are found.  And He has given us a rather unique niche in the Kingdom of Heaven –

We exist to help cynics, skeptics, and prodigals discover the real Jesus.  We exist to help lost people find Jesus.  Every decision we have made along the way has been with those people in mind.   Journey Church will be a place where, for generations to come – it will be easy for lost people in this town to discover the real Jesus.

God loves lost people!  And so do we.

You know what – let me throw this out there for those who weren’t here two years ago – who are listening who wouldn’t have dreamed you would be tuning into a church service on facebook?  Two years ago it wasn’t even on your mind.  But you had no idea that God was coming after ya!  Because he loves you!  But now you know.

And there are people right now who are home and the last thing on their mind is church or their relationship with God.  And two years from now they will be sitting next to you!  Worshipping the God who chased them down.

And this community is filled with lost people.  And we’re going to be there for them and we too – like God and the angels – will celebrate when lost people are found.

And so – allow me to close with a ten second prayer for our church…

Lord, may we remember our unique calling – our unique niche in the kingdom of Heaven – to be a place where lost people are found.  Keep this vision alive in our hearts and minds as we get ready to begin building this church building in April.  And thank you for your generosity and love towards us.  Amen!