March 21, 2004: Forgiveness Makes The Man!

Let us pray: Dear Savior, we humans find it hard to forgive because our pride gets in the way. But You have no such arrogance, and therefore a loving heart, a forgiving heart controls all Your actions. For that we thank You. And we ask that we may not only receive such heartfelt forgiveness from You, but once we possess it, we may live it and use it as the controlling influence in our lives. Amen

Text: Luke 15: 1-32 (excepts)

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Everyone should have an uncle Ed. He was one of those “larger than life” characters who are harder and harder to find in our generic world. Ed was a salesman for Armor Meats. He had a gift of gab that his customers loved. He also flew with General Chennault and the “Flying Tigers” in WWII. Ed got around. People loved Ed. Dogs loved Ed. For behind his bravado and endless stories lay a very kind heart and a very generous nature. Uncle Ed never, ever, put on airs. What you saw what was what he was. The first time my wife, then my fiancée met Ed, she was amazed and filled with wonderment. You see, the then-retired, Ed was wearing a shirt with a hole on the chest. His wife Jayne told him with a smile, “Well, Edwin, you’re wearing your good shirt today!” To which he replied, “I had to wear my best for our guests!”

Uncle Ed could dress to the nines. He could wow you with his wit. And yet, externals like clothes weren’t all-important to him. No, he had learned the hard way in life that clothes don’t make the man.—A kind, honest, hard-working heart was what he looked for when sizing up people. People like Ed made America a great country. And I miss him.

Our lesson today is perhaps my favorite parable, that is, an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. And as I look at it again, I’m struck with this thought:


In this text, Jesus is talking to a group of people—both the rabble of society and the Pharisees who viewed themselves as far superior to the rabble. And with that in mind Christ addresses both groups in the form of the two sons. Son # 1 was a spoiled rich boy who was arrogant, lazy, and morally bankrupt. As soon as he reaches age 21 he demands that his father give him half of the family estate—his inheritance. Then he leaves home with his money, goes off to a “distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.” This son thought the meaning to life was: booze, partying, and multiple sex partners. He thought he could buy both happiness and friends. Sadly, he found out the hard way that it was all a huge mistake. For as soon as his money was gone, so were his friends. He now had nothing. He was hungry. No one would take him in. So, finally, he agreed to both feed and live with pigs (a huge come-down for a Jew who viewed pigs as the lowest of the low in the animal kingdom). Apparently the farmer who owned the pigs wouldn’t even let him eat the pig food! He got weaker and weaker. His arrogance was turned to despair.

“But when he came to his senses, (when he swallowed his pride) he got up and went to his father.” We’re told that: “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.” You know the rest of the story. The father took him back—not as a slave, but as a son. He gave him new clothes. A ring for his finger. And he even had the special fattened calf killed for a special celebration. To the father, clothes didn’t make the man. If they had, he would have taken one look and one whiff of his son and walked away. No, a sorrowful heart marked by those words: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”—A sorrowful heart in need of forgiveness—that is what was all-important!


Meanwhile, the “good” son, the hard-working, stay-at-home son hears of this. He is incensed. He is so angry over this turn of events that he refuses to go into the feast. So, the father has go out to him and plead with him. “Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

The point hit the self-righteous Pharisees hard. They focused their lives on working hard, trying to be moral, and obedient to their heavenly Father. Unlike the rabble, they never let the appearance of sin get the better of them. And they thought that by such actions they were deserving of a heavenly inheritance. However, they had a huge problem. Their hearts were cold as ice. They possessed zero compassion. They found it impossible to forgive. And in that, they knew nothing of God.


Who is the only one in this parable who comes out in a totally positive light? It’s the father, isn’t it? The father hasn’t given up on his lost son, even after all these years. He hasn’t written him off his prayer list. No, the father patiently waits each day for his return. He scans the horizon, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. And then, one day, the lost son is there! The father wastes no time. He runs to his lost son, he embraces him, he welcomes him home. No doubt, the father was well-dressed in sharp contrast to this lost son. But, he looks past the externals and forgives. He sees this wayward son only through the eyes of love. The bible says: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” Indeed, the father here is God, full of compassion and forgiveness toward his lost children, toward us.

Christ came to “seek and save the lost.” He came to show the world just how filled with love and compassion God’s heart really is. So, which son do you identify with? Do you view yourself as a lost child of God in dire need of compassion, or do you view yourself as the haughty son who takes such forgiveness for granted? Do you look down your nose when someone at church comes who has fallen into great sin? Do you think they are not worthy of your forgiveness? Or, do you welcome them with open arms and try to help them?

Supposedly Dr. Luther once heard the confession of a town official in which the pompous man recounted a host of silly little “sins.” Finally, in exasperation, Luther turned to him and said: “go out and sin boldly—then come and confess because only then will you realize real remorse!” Christ died for little sins and big sins on the cross. He paid for our souls then and there with His blood. And only if you are serious about how you, at times, act like both sons can you ever appreciate His kindness and grasp it through faith.

Jesus Christ was the Man of sorrows. For He carried our sorrows to the cross. But, He was also the Man of forgiveness! The One Who keeps no record of wrongs. On the cross, Christ literally wore nothing but a strip of dirty, bloody cloth. And yet, in His case, Forgiveness made the Man! By your attendance here today you’re confessing that you want to follow in His footsteps. So, do just that! Embrace the forgiveness which he has already wrapped around your shoulders! Celebrate and be glad! For you who were lost have now been found! Amen.