Australian Bible Church April 15, 2012 


A Presbyterian Church presenting Christ without Compromise,
from the Bible without Qualification

A Message not only for  Presbyterians, but  for the World



Often has this parable in Luke 15 been  told. It touches the heart, to  learn of abused affection,  paternal kindness exploited, wild dreams of self-indulgent youth, descent into despair as the lively flames of hell wrap themselves about the misplaced carcass of the deluded; less often do we publicly hear of the delight of the father at the return of the displaced and misused, repentant and restored son. Perhaps less often  still,  do  we  gather that the staid and solid,  serviceable and secure brother of the wastrel has entertained a grim opinion of his own labour, without much in the way of joy,  so that he is ready to pounce like an expectant leopard  on the  returning vagrant, protesting the fuss made of him, who has merely dumped duty and lived in a  soporific and sybaritic dream. 


First, let us re-tell the  exact story of the parable. A young man, on  a farm, wants his share of the patrimony NOW. He'll get it and goes into the fiasco of  so-called 'wild' living.  In this,  many helped him spend in buckets, what his fathers had prepared  with labours innumerable, till with no money, and the good-timers as fast gone as the money, no heart at any time having been involved in these ruthless and revolting sprees, he is reduced  to caring for pigs and sharing their food. Realising the degradation and hopeless seeming nature of his new plight, he resolves that even  a SERVANT of his father fared better than this, came to himself, saw his folly,  and returned with a view to taking a servant's post at his father's farm, having aborted the kindness for his continuing life, and now willing just to live.

The father,  whose heart HAD been in the life of his son, was not without hope and seeing him coming a long way off, came out to meet him, rejoiced, gave him signs of acceptance and renewal in his household, slew the prime calf for a feast, and met with the older son's dour displeasure.  WHY this for that ... you could almost hear 'piece of muck.' Have I not served and  laboured, continued and been stalwart and reliable, adding to the total takings over the farm over the years.  I, even  I have not received such  signs of acceptance and rejoicing as this wastrel. How come! we seem to hear in modern jargon.

Son, says the father, you have been with me  all through, our habitual comradeship, a virtual partnership, means  that  all that I have is yours. Why worry about that ? Don't you even realise that your brother was a dead loss, as one  dead. Forget for a moment, the finance, and consider the human side, the relationship aspect and the fact that he, dead like a burnt out wire, now lives, once without communication,  now speaks freely,  once a ghastly memory, has become possessor of a happy face and enmembered once more in our midst.



Blood is thicker than water ? Is that all that it is ? It IS part of it, that what you have begotten is special, contains even aspects of your physical being, that it has been nurtured,  watched, superintended as it grew, its hopes treasured, its needs met, its life aided; and for the Christian, its place in the kingdom of heaven has been sought strenuously, if  perhaps it find God, and so live for ever, and be in the w ay which would make this eminently desirable at the same time, that is, be washed, redeemed and restored to the Father of spirits.

Thus, the procreation, though important,  is but a small part of it;  for the social, the shepherding, the envisagements, the inner work and prayer,  all are there, all make a bond. More than even  all of these, there is the responsibility: a child has been given to you, and  the parents have occasion to  prize this being, wrought in body on a pattern, individualised in a format, inter-related in a personality, vulnerable to sin and shame, hopeful for wisdom  and peace, object of love, sought for as one to be loved of God. Then, that life is not only cherished, in prospect of wonderful good to  come, but blessed with the filling of emptiness, with the Spirit of the Lord, adopted and nurtured by God Himself.

Hope is stronger than mere goodwill,  for God  lives,  and so do we  who know Him, and life without Him is as pebbles,  which might have been  a mountain,  the sunshine of divine presence glowing on its  top. How deeply therefore must the responsible parent seek at cost, to surround the child with godly influences, preserve it from hateful propaganda from  the government, such as now routinely occurs in schools and colleges which it seeks to  contain with its 'curriculum', filled  with dead-beat virtual atheism (accounts which do not diverge in essence from the same, in  their truncated or aborted  reductionist accounts, whether in geology, biology, astronomy or history). It registers empty of wisdom concerning life's  most important goals and values, intimations  and manifestations.

To bring up  children in the fear and  admonition of the Lord is not a hope; it  should become practice, as the case may demand. If they play truant, foul the care, rupture the realism, follow their penchants, indulge their fancies or simply want, through ambition  'to get  somewhere' and hence pretend  to follow the governmental  traps and deviousness, then that is one thing. To dump them in whatever comes, that is another.

Even, however, with the best of  every provision, a child may play the fool, experience  the tsunamis of rebellion, the volcanic thrust of self-will,  the  tedium of  self-importance. What  then? With  all of these preliminaries done, what if there is STILL a failure, a recidivist, a ruin ?
Love hopes, piety prays, and the expectation  of  good at last does not die. Thus as in the parable, the father is able  to see the return afar off. Ready for  it, his heart there  already, practical action from the father follows  at once, with balm  for the wound, pardon to the penitent, and restoration  to the redeemed.

Where is this redemption in the  parable ?  As in the art-work of parables, there are things for intimations which occur in unexpected ways, as in a visual puzzle, and you have  to  seek it out, and in  doing so,  find an impact  not so readily seen if you had simply been TOLD. The fatted calf is slain  for a feast thus long  made possible, perhaps in hope. A valuable  item is lost  and a more valuable one is gained. The animal is gone; the son is returned. It is like a sacrifice: the one needs it,  and the other gives it. The beast is the cost of the fulfilment of the occasion's rejoicing. Thus the  cross of Christ is the cost of the adoption of sinners,  through grace and faith, on repentance, to belong to  their new and  celestial  family.

The profile of the elder brother implies that some value their own work, do not do it out of  love and with joy, for the kingdom of heaven, but  count it out, like money at the merchant's, in order  to buy or gain results and  rewards. One can  think of not much more horrible. Love is measured by gain  ? You get out of it more than you put into it,  and hence do it ? If it were more, you might do it even  more readily ? You are bought, in will, by rewards ? The actual job is a mere means of increasing your moral, spiritual or similar  CAPITAL, prize, eternal  uppity-ness ? You are paying for what you want,  as in the corner shop ?

IF you love someone, then to be nearer may indeed be  a reward,  and  to please that party may be a treasure, and if this is the concept, then well: love seeks growth of love, joy in fellowship  seeks its maturity in  reality. It is  pure. It is in its own  domain. If however you put on  a love and maintain a demeanour BECAUSE  of the standing or uplift or personal profit or exultation, like a merchant, and use spiritual things and  categories for personal uplift, how do you differ  from  the Pharisees,  whose ways  did not appeal to Christ  at  all (cf. Matthew 23). They too  would manipulate the spiritual for their gain,  and adopt  godly posturing without even entering into the deeper matters of the law, such as  justice and mercy (Matthew 23:23). It was  all pretence, marshmallow, shallow, sallow, with no heart!

Thus the FIRST thing  is to love God with ALL your heart.  There is nothing left over for yourself. That is His care, while it does not mean disregard of your best way to live in the Lord by any means, it DOES mean that all your care is first  for  Him. For the rest, all is parity, your neighbour as yourself. Responsibilities and opportunities multiply in the family; but a due regard for  all is  in  view,  even if some by their dissidence from deity, make themselves  either scarce, or mopishly or modishly unreachable, unteachable, and more sinks for uselessly given funds. The elder brother in the parable, therefore, is a warning blast on the trumpet of truth. 



In reality, what met the wastrel, and moved his heart from mere woe, to  realisation of his position  ? What enabled him to swallow shame, eat  pride,  feast  on  disgrace and  return like a skunk recently disregarded because of its smell danger, and return!

MANY are the other possible responses to his new  situation. There is the room in the parable  for the work of the Holy Spirit. Moving his heart to realism, encouraging him  past mere  defeatism,  hastening in his heart, an  awareness that there  is reality in his father's  love, making him willing to abase himself, he being  convicted as he is humbled within. He begins to realise the nearness of the Lord, with a care and a grace  which like a blue sky on a fair day, is THERE above and operative all the time. This is the SPIRITUAL blue sky, and in the clearing of his mind, the stormy grey clouds make way.

The father,  standing of course for God, sees him a great way off.  Thus God has forever known who will be His,  and hoping with a longing not diminished by the presence of our centuries, He is ready to act in  all solemnity and authority. That is set in terms of the needed sacrifice: for us, Christ crucified, yes who moreover is risen (Romans 8:34). Soon the sacrifice would enter into the returned,  just as the bread of life, symbolising life, goes within. Then, as He says, the one who loves Him keeps His words, and He and the Father will indwell that one (John 14:21-23). You are thus returned to the family in  all the intimacy of great rejoicing,  fully accepted (Ephesians 1:6, literally, engraced, surrounded or imbued with grace in Christ).

Strong are the possible strainers, to remove you like an impurity when you come. If you have faith in the Lord, these will not deter you (cf. Luke 11:53). Some will want you to have what amounts  to a   repetitive sacrifice, as if entry were not once and for all secured by a  once for  all  sacrifice,  providing eternal redemption (Hebrews 9-10, 9:12,25-28, 10:10-14), and even have you worship symbols. It is not symbols but reality, however, which is gained, and remains in the new-bound family, and not imagination but God who is to be worshipped, and that in  terms of the cross with all its meaning, and not a symbol of its advent.

Some  will want  you to add your pittance of imperfection to the cost,  as if in part-payment, so  insulting the father,  and  pretend you had not exhausted your merit bank by having only debt,  for the wages of sin is debt, and with what will you repay ? increased debt as with Australia and China, only adds from your continued imperfection, each day as it comes and goes!

No, only Christ is the ransom,  and the rest is to be in this spirit, but without human payment from  sinners (Ephesians 2, Romans 3, Galatians 1,  3). Contribute at this level ? Nothing  doing!  You are ENTIRELY  to  wait upon the love of the Father,  and the once only sacrifice,  indeed that of the Son Himself,  and add NOTHING to that lustre of perfection,  as if  to invent a meretricious heaven, more savouring of hell, and self-regard, self-effort as means of securing a place. Come in without hope or offering, but Christ,  or stay out;  for if you offer anything at  all with Him, an  addition, you will never enter through the needle-gate. Unless you forsake ALL you have, including self-praise and  payment of part cost, you CANNOT even be one of His disciples (Luke 14:27ff.).

So devious and undesirable is the state of the human heart without Christ, that simple as the core of the Gospel is, people  have great imagination with which to  defile it, and  like the elder brother, want personal worth to weigh  as a ground of acceptance,  and thus of exclusion of those  without it. You may have to do penance, or make masses, or confess to a priest or cult  leader, but  not  so is the simple Gospel acceptance. So  far  from being in need of some index, prize, portent,  contribution,  the Father not only freely but delightedly accepts the returned wastrel  and shows that one at once every kind of respect and embrace!

Finally, what meaning attaches to the elder brother's protest that in  all the years of his working on the farm,  so conscientiously, the father had never even given him a young goat for celebration with his friends.

In view of the spiritual meaning which as in biblical parables, underlies the discourse, the meaning  must move to sacrifice in parallel with the basic meaning of the  fatted calf, the emblem of  acceptance,  the cost aspect,  in  reality betokening Christ. There simply IS no other sacrifice; there  IS  no other substitutionary sacrifice. The ONLY sacrifice in the New  Covenant is the central theme in the Old Covenant, the coming Messiah and His dealings. There is neither any other foundation to this faith,  thus fulfilled in that sacrificial unity from the second member of the Trinity, nor any other sacrifice, for this one sums up, contains and fulfils all the symbolism of all the other ones. The blood of animals, says Hebrews 9:12-14, can never take away sin; it betokens, symbolises it. Christ is the one who HAS what can pay it away, and this is even referred to, in terms of the incarnation as the redemption  God has made by His own blood (Hebrews 9:6-12,22, Acts 20:28).

Hence, in the parable, ALL needed  was  already present in one sacrifice, and nothing  else was needed, either young goats or  other!  When the occasion came  for the display of the necessities, then that one fatted calf was used; and nothing else would ever suffice. Hence it was not given in this New Testament expression in its sublime simplicity, severance  of  symbols in favour or one reality,  providing eternal  redemption (Hebrews 9:12). The human side ? the sacrifices of a broken spirit,  a broken  and a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). Then is man receptive to  God.

Thus do parables have their own intimations and beauty, their own artistry and ways of pinioning understanding, holding it down till it realises what is there, and then letting it arise with a smile of intense satisfaction, knowing the loving care with which the whole has been constructed, not in dogmatic deliverances, but astute and telling imprint that lingers in the mind and challenges the soul. Praise God for the parables of Jesus, and praise Him yet more, with the life of Christ, obtainable so simply, from Him who did so much to keep it simple; that then, and only then, you might start moving from  milk food to meat, and savour to the full the entirety of depths in the love and wisdom of God (I Corinthians 3), in Him who does not confuse begetting a child, with its education, or founding a saint with the later labours of the same!