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Redefining Sin and Lostness
Scripture: Luke 15:22; Luke 15:28-29; Hebrews 11:6;...
Track 2 of 4 in the The Two Lost Sons series
Running time: 1 hour, 08 minutes
In this parable Jesus redefined everything we thought we knew about connecting to God. He is redefining sin, what it means to be lost and what it means to be saved.

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Mike Nobis Speaker: Mike Nobis
Sunday School Teacher, Former Elder at Madison Park Christian Church. Mike is President of JK Creative Printers & Mailing in Quincy, IL. He is married to Pam and has three children, Tom, Tyler and Jennifer. Mike has three grandchildren: Ryne, Ivy and Alicia.

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Redefining Sin and Lostness

The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of those presentations by Jesus that was meant to turn the concept of righteousness on its head. As we learned last week, the audience that this parable was directed at was not the “younger son” type but the “old brothers”. Too often the real message of this parable is lost when the focus is concentrated on the younger brother. Even thought the grace the father lavished on his younger son is founded on truth, the real message is based on the reaction of the older son.

The parable ends with a surprising ending. In fact, the parable doesn’t end. As we learned last week, it is because the real audience for this story is the Pharisees, the elder brothers. Jesus is pleading with his enemies to respond to his message. The verdict was still out on how they would react. In this parable Jesus redefined everything we thought we knew about connecting to God. He is redefining sin, what it means to be lost and what it means to be saved.

Can someone tell me what it means to be happy? How many of you have experienced that state? What is it like? How does a person find happiness?

Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it.
Groucho Marx

If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.
Andrew Carnegie

Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
Abraham Lincoln

In this parable, Jesus uses the younger and elder brothers to portray the two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment, the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery. Each acts as a lens that colors how you see life. Each is a way of finding personal significance and worth. Both also helps in determining right from wrong. In this parable, the elder brother illustrates the way of moral conformity. The younger brother illustrates the way of self discovery.

Consider the people hearing this parable from Jesus. There were the Pharisees who believed that, while they were the chosen people of God, they could maintain their place and final salvation through strict obedience to the Law. They practiced putting the will of God and the standards of the community ahead of individual fulfillment. Their focus was on the things they couldn’t do. They could only attain happiness by achieving moral righteousness.

Then there were the sinners who Jesus went to go visit. Their attitude about life was the individual must be free to pursue his or her own goals and self actualization regardless of custom or rules. They believed the world would be a better place if tradition, prejudice, authority and other barriers to personal freedom were weakened or removed. When these two views of happiness meet together, there usually is war.

True or False: If you criticize one approach or distance yourself from one, everyone assumes you have chosen the other.

Are we then to conclude that everyone falls into one or the other of these two categories?

Some people combine both approaches. There are some traditional looking elder brothers that maintain a secret life of younger-brother behavior. We see this more and more today. Internet sexual predators who seek out young teens have been found to include church going people including many clergy. Then there are many people who hold liberating views and live irreligious lifestyles who don’t tolerate liberating views or actions. We see more and more of these people today who call for tolerance in others to be the most intolerant. Despite these variations, there are still only two primary approaches to living.

The message in this parable by Jesus is that both of these approaches are wrong. It is in this parable that Jesus introduces the radical alternative.

In Act 1, Jesus focus is on the younger brother, he is completely out of control. Anyone would recognize the sin Jesus is talking about. That son is alienated from his father. Anyone who lives like that would be cut off from God. In Act 2, the focus is on the older brother. He is obedient to his father and is completely under control and is very self-disciplined. By conventional standards, the younger son is bad and the older son is good. BUT, the point Jesus is trying to make is that both sons are lost.

Luke 15: 22 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.

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

Both sons were alienated from their father. In both cases, the father had to go out and invite each of them to come into the feast of love.

Act 2 comes to the unthinkable conclusion. Jesus on purpose leaves the older son in his alienated state. The bad son enters the father’s feast but the good son will not. The lover of prostitutes is saved, but the man of moral righteousness is still lost. To the Pharisees listening to this parable, everything was in complete reversal. For many Christians today, this too would be a complete reversal.

Jesus gives a most shocking answer for why the moral son would not go into the feast . What is the reason? The reason is in his answer back to the father.

Luke 15:29 Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.

True or False: The elder brother is not losing the fathers love in spite of his goodness, but because of his goodness.

It is not his sins that create the barrier between him and his father, it is the pride he has in his moral record. It is not his wrongdoing but his righteousness that is keeping him from sharing in the feast of the father.

Think about this a minute. How could this be? What have we been taught all our lives about right and wrong living in relationship to God? How does this fact change what we consider normal living for the Christian?

The answer is that both brothers hearts, their two ways of life are much more alike than they first appear.

What did the younger son want? He wanted to make his own decisions and have total control of his portion of the wealth. How did he get it? He declared independence from his dad.

What did the older son want? He is very much like the younger son. He too wanted his father’s stuff without the father. However, while the younger son went far away, the older son stayed in close and never disobeyed. That was his way to get control. His unspoken demand was, “I never disobeyed you” now you have to do things the way I want.

The hearts of the two sons were the same. Both sons resented their father’s authority and sought ways of getting out from under it. Each wanted to be in a position so they could tell their father what to do. Each one in their own way rebelled. One did it by being extremely bad while the other did it by being extremely good. Both were alienated from the father’s heart; both were lost sons.

Here is the shocking message for you and I today: careful obedience to God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God.

So with what we just studied, give me your concept of sin?

True or False: You can avoid Jesus as Savior by keeping all the moral laws.

If you say false, then why?
If you say yes, then how?

For many of those who keep all the moral laws of God, they develop a mentality that believes they have “rights”. God owes them answered prayers. God owes them a good life. God owes them a ticket to heaven when they die. They don’t need a Savior who pardons them by free grace, by being moral and keeping the laws, they are their own Savior.

Why is the older son so angry with his father? He has the right to tell his father how he is to respond to the other son. Why, because he has been obedient to the father’s commands. He earned the right to expect that from his father. The father owes him.

True or False: I am serving as my own Savior!

At the end of the story, the elder brother has the opportunity to truly delight the father by going in to the feast. But the son refuses. What does that say about the son’s intentions? The father’s happiness had never been his goal. The elder son did everything he could to hurt and resist his father.

So you have to ask yourself this question, why do I really do the good that I do? If it is to gain something for yourself, then your good actions could be a barrier between you and God.

What do you think makes God happy? What pleases him?

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

What God desires is for us to desire Him and Him alone. Elder brothers obey God to get things. They don’t obey God to get God himself, in order to resemble him, love him, know him and delight him.

So here is the radical redefinition of what is wrong with us. Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus shows us through this parable that a man who obeys God and has done nothing wrong can be as every bit as spiritually lost as the most offending sinner. Why? Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Lord, Savior and Judge just like the older son tried to do to displace his father’s authority in his own life.

Both are Wrong: Both Are Loved

The Gospel approaches this problem of sin from a different direction and so the church must do the same. In Jesus view, his approach is this: everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, everyone is called to recognize this and to change.

By contrast, how does the elder brother see this? They divide the world into two groups, good people like them and bad people who are the real problem and they are cast out.

By contrast, how does the younger brother see this? Even though they don’t believe in God, they do the same thing. They too have their accepted list and those who are no good and are cast out.

But Jesus says: Luke 18:14 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

True or False: The prerequisite for receiving the grace of God is to know you need it.

Psalms 138:6 Though the LORD is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud.

Some will conclude that both approaches to happiness are equally dangerous. But this parable does not agree. The rebellion on the part of the younger son was crushingly obvious. He left the father literally. Though the older son stayed at home, he was actually more distant and alienated from the father. Had someone accused the older son of being alienated from his father, he would have been deeply offended. But he was rebelling, deeply rebelling.

The older brother was more blind to what was going on. That condition according to Jesus is a lot more dangerous. Today would be no different. If this was said to a religious person in the church, their first reaction would be to give a list of the things they do for the church. Jesus says in effect, “That doesn’t matter”.

No one had ever taught anything like this before.