Tonight I am preaching through the story of what we commonly know as “The Prodigal Son.” It is about a family with 2 sons. The younger son packs up and moves to Vegas to live the “good life”: Sex, drugs, good food, and a lot of alcohol. The older son stays home with his family: Hard work, long days, and a good reputation with his family and community.
(No, the younger son didn’t move to Vegas and the story doesn’t explain his lifestyle beyond being “reckless.” I just assume it involved gnarly stuff, the equivalent for us being sex, drugs, and a lot of alcohol. So, there you go. But that is besides the point.)
The younger son hits rock bottom and comes to his senses, realizing that he might find some grace with his father. He packs up (if he had anything left to pack) and returns home. No doubt, he probably came home with some fear. What will his father do? Will he reject him? Will he accept him? Will he make him pay back all his debt?
The younger son simply hopes to be hired out to be able to make a living for himself, and probably pay back his debt. His father doesn’t accept that though. He doesn’t accept the notion that his son will work as a hired hand, paying back his debt over time. Instead, when his son comes home, he runs to him, kisses him, embraces him, and doesn’t even let the son express his repentance verbally. His father immediately restores him to his family as a son. No strings attached.
This is scandalous. This is more than scandalous. Do you realize what his father did? He was humiliated by his son, wished dead by his son, and gave away a lot of his wealth to his son, who then used his wealth to probably buy prostitutes, drugs, and alcohol, for himself and his buddies. He had absolutely nothing to show for himself but unworthiness.
Yet the father treats him like the greatest son to ever walk the face of the earth. Why?
There is only one answer.
Grace. Radical, scandalous grace. Grace so amazing it infuriates his older brother.
Rather than rejoicing that his younger brother is home, safe and alive, he is outraged. He boils with anger. How could his father celebrate that his unworthy, nasty son has come home? How could he restore him back to the family without asking for any kind of restitution to be made? How could he be so…gracious?
The grace of God has a way of offending the religious. It makes those of us who wish to earn our way to God angry that God would accept and love and favor such dirty, unworthy people. Religious people depend on their good works to earn their way to God. So when those who have nothing but bad works to show for themselves find their way into God’s presence, they are outraged.
The issue is that in our religiosity we don’t see a need for grace. We don’t think we need Jesus. We don’t think we need the cross. With our actions we proclaim, “Why would Jesus have to die for me? I’m worthy of God!”
Not only does the runaway son need to repent of his sin, so does his religious older brother. The older brother needs to repent of his sin of trusting his own merit to earn God’s blessing. He needs to repent of trying to put God in his debt, manipulating him to give him blessings. Both are separated from God by the way they live. Both can be restored to God immediately through the scandalous grace of Christ crucified.