Happy Father’s Day!
June 19, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Best Dad Ever!
Luke 15:11-32

Introduction:

Happy Father’s Day! Last night at our house we celebrated all the papas in our family. As you can see, we’re all the Best Dads Ever! And can you guess what we’re talking about today?

How many of you think your dad was the Best Dad Ever?   My dad was a mixed bag. There were many terrific things about him; he loved us and taught us a lot. But he was also deeply flawed; his alcoholism raised havoc in our family. Sober, he was a good dad; drunk, he was a disaster. I’m happy to say that he came to Christ and dried out and softened the last two years of his life.

I was actually closer to Laina’s dad, Pastor Noel, than to my own dad. Noel lived with our family the last 24 years of his life; he just passed away in September. He was on our staff all that time, and taught discipleship classes that many of you attended. Noel’s wife Marty passed away at 40; Noel never remarried, and raised six kids by himself. Noel was the best dad I ever knew, and I aspire to be like him. I’ll tell some Noel stories today.

But the Best Dad Ever isn’t Noel, or me, or you, or any human being. All of us are flawed and broken, but we have a perfect heavenly Father. He is the Best Dad Ever. And we know about Him because of Jesus. It was Jesus who taught us that God is our Father, and showed us what kind of Father He is.

Today, we’re going to read a very familiar story that Jesus told: the story of the Prodigal Son. Really, it’s a story about an incredible father, the Best Dad Ever. If you brought a Bible, let’s open up to Luke 15, and leave it open there because we’ll be referring back to the text often. Here’s the setting: Jesus was hanging out with irreligious, sinful people. The religious leaders were offended and complained, “He hangs out and eats with sinners.” Jesus overheard them and responded with three stories about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. As we read the story of the lost son, remember that Jesus is telling this story to the religious leaders who had complained that He hung out with sinners. Here’s the story about the Best Dad Ever.

Luke 15:11–32

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“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.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 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.’ ”

That’s the story; here’s:

The Big Idea: You have a Heavenly Father who is the Best Dad Ever!

We’re going to consider 9 things that this story says about our Heavenly Father, the Best Dad Ever! The first one is a general observation that may surprise you.

  1. The Best Dad Ever has rebellious kids.

How many of you have ever had a rebellious kid? Lots of us. Does that make you a bad parent? Not necessarily. Obviously, we’re not perfect, and it’s possible that our imperfections fed our kids’ rebellion. But you can be a great parent and still have rebellious kids, and the best example of that is God Himself. He is the Best Dad Ever, and has lots of rebellious kids.

The father in our story is a great dad, but he had two sons who were both stinkers! Noel was the best dad I know, and he had a couple kids who went south for a while. Good parents sometimes have rebellious kids.

Here’s my point: if you have a rebellious kid, don’t beat yourself up. It may not be your fault at all. You can be a great parent and your child can still choose to rebel. Now if you know you contributed to the rebellion, then by all means own that before God and before your child, and with God’s help, change and become a better parent. But some of you are beating yourself up for your kids’ rebellion and it’s not your fault. You were a good mom, a good dad. I want to set you free today from self-condemnation. Stop blaming yourself. Remember that the Best Dad Ever has rebellious kids, and it’s not His fault.

On the flip side, some of you have angelic kids who have never rebelled. We’re all happy for you. Truly, you obviously did some things right and we salute you. But don’t give yourself too much credit, and become smug and look down your nose at parents with rebellious kids. “They obviously did something wrong!” Not necessarily. You also need to remember that the Best Dad Ever has rebellious kids.  

  1. The Best Dad Ever is not offended.

In verse 12, the younger son says to his father, “Give me my share of the estate.” In other words, he is saying, “I wish you were dead. All I care about is the money. I don’t want to be part of this family any more.” It was the most offensive and insulting thing that a son could say to his father. And yet this father didn’t seem to take offense, but gave him what he asked. Also, to give this son his share of the estate, the father would have to liquidate assets. This meant days or weeks of selling property in the community, a humiliating process for this father who had to explain what he was doing. Still, he didn’t take offense.

Later, the older son refuses to come to the party, but stays outside moping. In that culture, to refuse an invitation to a dinner party without reason was a great insult, a dishonor. Again, the father refuses to take offense, but goes looking for his son and pleads with him to come in.

The Best Dad Ever is not offended. You can be completely honest with God and you won’t offend Him. I love the Psalms, which contain honest expressions of every emotion you can imagine. The authors of the psalms express rage, doubt, fear, frustration, confusion, and love—all of the emotions. God can handle your honest feelings. You won’t offend him.

ILL: Author Madeline L’Engle wrote this prayer

Dear God,

I hate you.

Love, Madeline

Have you ever felt this way? Frustrated and upset with God, and yet you love Him deeply? What was God’s response to Madeline’s prayer? Did He strike her dead? Was God offended? No. It was an honest prayer of exasperated love.

Matthew’s gospel ends with Jesus commissioning His followers to go into the whole world and make disciples. Matthew tells us that when they saw the resurrected Jesus, they worshiped Him, “but some doubted.” Think about that: they had seen Jesus crucified, dead and buried, and now they are standing there staring at the resurrected Jesus—“but some doubted.” Really? What was Jesus’ response? He wasn’t offended; He commissioned them anyway. He included the doubters with the worshippers and sent them all.

Bring your honest doubts and fears and feelings to God. The Best Dad Ever is not offended.

  1. The Best Dad Ever is scandalously generous.

Look again at verse 12. The younger son asks for his share of his father’s estate, and it says, “So he divided his property between them.” By Jewish law, the older son was due a double share of the estate, so the younger son was asking for one-third of the father’s net worth. Imagine one of your kids asking for one-third of your estate now, while you’re alive. What would you say? I probably can’t repeat it in church! Is there anyone who would cash out 1/3 of all you life’s earnings, and give this rascal the money? I don’t think so.

In Jesus’ day, the request was scandalous; everyone would have been offended by the son! “How dare he!” I think most of us would still feel that way today! Scandalous! And yet the really scandalous thing in the story is that the father gives him what he asked for! When Jesus told this story, people would have gasped at this point. “He did what? Is he crazy?” Yes…he’s crazy generous. He’s the Best Dad Ever.

Matthew 5:44–45 (NLT)

44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

Our Father gives sunlight and rain to the good and the evil, the just and unjust. He is scandalously generous. Jesus says that when we love our enemies, when we do good to those who harm us, we are acting like our Father. We are showing scandalous generosity to those who don’t deserve it.

ILL: I remember a time when one of Noel’s daughters was off the rails. He supported her financially and emotionally even while she was doing stuff that was wrong. I remember being scandalized, thinking, “What is he doing? This is wrong! He should cut her off! She doesn’t deserve his help.” I think I (in my infinite wisdom) even advised Noel to cut her off! Fortunately, Noel was her dad, not me. Noel was scandalously generous, and that prodigal daughter returned home and has been doing great for years. In fact, she’s as scandalously generous as Noel!

Our Father is generous with us even when we don’t deserve it. The Best Dad Ever is scandalously generous.

  1. The Best Dad Ever is forgiving.

The younger son publicly insulted and shamed his father, took one third of the family’s net worth and blew it all in wild living. Then he comes limping home hoping dad will take him back and bail him out. If you were the dad, what would you have said?

  • “You made your bed, you lie in it.”
  • “You had your chance, you blew it.”
  • “You wasted the resources that I worked for all my life, and now you want me to give you a job? It sucks to be you.”

That’s what most of us would say. But it’s not what the Best Dad Ever did. Look at verse 20. This father saw his son coming a long way off, and ran to him, embraced him and kissed him—all signs that he was forgiven. He was forgiven before he ever said a word. He was forgiven before the father even knew if he was repentant and changed.

When the son began his confession, “I have sinned against God and you,” the father interrupted him. No further confession was necessary; he was already forgiven. The father went straight to restoration: “bring the best robe, and a ring and shoes for my son.” All of these indicated status and honor. The son hoped to be taken back as a slave not a son. The father would have none of that—he was taken back as an honored and loved son, a member of the family, as if he’d never been gone.

ILL: Abraham Lincoln was asked how he was going to treat the rebellious southerners when they had finally been defeated and had returned to the Union. The questioner expected that Lincoln would take a dire vengeance, but he answered, “I will treat them as if they had never been away.”[1]

That’s how the father treated his son: full forgiveness, as if he’d never left.

The father fully forgave his errant son, but his older brother sure didn’t! He was furious that dad had forgiven his younger brother, and self-righteously refused to join the “Welcome Home Celebration.” The father forgave this son too. Instead of chewing him out for his bad attitude, he appealed to him to join the party.

Don’t let your sin keep you from coming to God! He has seen you coming and you are already forgiven! The Best Dad Ever is forgiving.

  1. The Best Dad Ever is full of compassion.

Verse 20 says that when the father saw his son in the distance, he was filled with compassion for him. This is not the emotion you expect to feel when you see someone who has hurt you deeply. The older brother’s emotions are more common: anger, resentment, contempt. This is what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day felt about the sinners that Jesus hung out with. They were disgusted by them, and wanted nothing to do with them.

Jesus consistently modeled compassion. For example, when the crowds who followed Him grew hungry, he felt compassion for them. His followers felt irritation and resentment: “send them away.” Instead, Jesus fed them.

The older son wanted his father to send the younger son packing; instead his father felt compassion and welcomed him home. The father felt compassion; the older son felt contempt.

This made me ask, “Who am I more like: the father or the older son?” When someone has done something that upsets me, disgusts me, how do I behave? Do I send them away, dismiss them, write them off? Or do I show compassion?

Psalm 103:13–14

13 As a father has compassion on his children,

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

14 for he knows how we are formed,

he remembers that we are dust.

The Lord has compassion on us; he remembers that we are dust. He knows our weakness. Friends, we are dust. Look at your neighbor and say, “You’re looking dusty.” We are weak and flawed human beings. The Lord knows that and shows compassion. We forget that and write people off. A couple days ago we read this in our Bible reading plan.

Colossians 3:13 Make allowance for each other’s faults. (NLT)

I immediately thought, “I want people to make allowance for my faults. Cut me some slack. Give me credit for having a tough day.” How many of you want others to make allowance for your faults, cut you some slack? We all do. But I often don’t want to do that for others. I want to hold you accountable. That’s the difference between the father and the older son. One felt compassion, the other contempt. Who are you like?

The Best Dad ever is full of compassion.

  1. The Best Dad Ever is looking for you.

Verse 20 says that “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming.” This implies that the father was looking for him. I heard an interesting explanation of this recently. What the son had done to his father was so awful that the village elders would have condemned him when he took the money and left; he was persona non grata, no longer welcome in the village; dead to them. And if they had seen him when he returned, they would have sent him packing immediately. So the father was looking for his son because he needed to get to him before the elders could. There is a note of desperation here. If the elders get to his son first, he will lose his son forever. He’s got to get there first, so he keeps watch, and when he sees his son far off, he runs—something that older Jewish men didn’t do in public. So he was looking every day, scanning the horizon, wanting to get there first.

But it wasn’t just the younger son that he went looking for; it was the older one too. When the older son refused to join the party, verse 28 says that father “went out to him.” He went looking for this stubborn, self-righteous son and pleaded with him to change his mind.

The Best Dad Ever is looking for you. You might be lost in a distant country, far from God. Or you might be lost in church, stubborn and self-righteous but still far from God. Either way, your Father is looking for you.

ILL: I watched Noel go looking for his kids when they strayed.

When Greg was in high school, he stopped going to church and wandered from God. Noel was working a full time job and raising six kids as a single dad. He prayed, “God show me how I can reach my son.” At the time, Greg was doing an early morning paper route. It was the only time Noel thought he could connect with Greg, so he got up every morning at 3:30 AM and walked the route with Greg. He did this for several months before Greg returned to the Lord.

When Regg was in junior high, Noel felt him disconnecting. Regg would come home after school, go to his room and stay there alone until dinner and go back after dinner. Noel prayed, “God show me how I can reach my son.” Each day when Noel got home from work, he would go straight to Regg’s room and sit with him for an hour. Regg rarely spoke or even acknowledged Noel’s presence; he just did homework or read a book. I asked Noel if he took something to read. He said no, because he wanted Regg to know that he was there for one reason only: to be with Regg. After months of sitting there in unacknowledged silence, Noel came home one day and immediately Regg called, “Hey dad, come up here.” And Noel knew he had won his son back.

Noel inspired me. I learned to move toward my kids when they struggled, not away from them.

God is moving towards you; the Best Dad Ever is looking for you.

  1. The Best Dad Ever is crazy about you.

Verse 20 says that he ran to his son. I already mentioned that older Jewish men didn’t run in public. It was a breach of propriety or dignity; a man would have to pull up robe and expose his legs to run. But the father was so overjoyed to see his son, so eager to get to him before anyone else could, that he cast dignity and propriety to the wind and he ran! He was crazy about his son, and didn’t care if everyone thought him crazy—he ran!

The Best Dad Ever is crazy about you. God actually did this for you—He came running for you. God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, suffered an undeserved death, and rose from the dead, all for one reason: He’s crazy about you! He paid the highest price one can pay: He gave His life. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) He loves you with the greatest love possible; He’s crazy about you!

ILL: Max Lucado wrote:

There are many reasons God saves you: to bring glory to himself, to appease his justice, to demonstrate his sovereignty. But one of the sweetest reasons God saved you is because he is fond of you. He likes having you around. He thinks you are the best thing to come down the pike in quite a while…. If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, he’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, and he chose your heart. Face it, friend. He’s crazy about you! Max Lucado, A Gentle Thunder (Word, 1995)

Francis Chan wrote a book appropriately titled, Crazy Love. That’s exactly what it is. The Best Dad Ever is crazy about you.

  1. The Best Dad Ever celebrates your return.

As soon as the father had his son safely home, he threw a party! And it was a no-holds barred, spare-no-expense, kill-the-fattened-calf party! He celebrated his son’s return. There was no recrimination, just forgiveness and celebration!

Each of the three stories in this chapter—the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son—ends with a party, a celebration. Jesus is making a point. When you turn toward God, He is waiting with open arms to welcome you, and all heaven breaks out in celebration! And since people are always turning to God, that means the party in heaven never stops! Heaven is a non-stop, full on celebration! God is glad you’re home!

ILL: My son Jeff, who is now in heaven at the party, tried and failed at several things.

He enlisted in the Marines and washed out after a couple weeks at boot camp.

He signed on with a fishing boat in Alaska, but got violently seasick and was sent home after a couple weeks.

He signed on with a cargo ship in Alaska. Jeff had Aspergers, a form of high functioning autism that left him handicapped socially. So when the boss on the cargo ship told him to jump on the crane and move that big crate, he did. You or I would have told the boss, “I’ve never run a crane before and have no idea what I’m doing.” But Jeff just jumped on and let her rip. He dropped the crate on the deck, smashing about $10,000 worth of vodka. They sent him home. I told him, “At least you picked a good crate to smash!”

Here’s the thing: each time we welcomed Jeff home with love and good humor. But we never threw him a party. I read this story, and I wish I would have thrown Jeff an all-out party—the kind of party that says, “You are loved; we are crazy about you and so excited you’re home.” I wish I’d done that.

Well, the Best Dad Ever does. He celebrates your return. There’s a party in heaven with your name on it!

  1. The Best Dad Ever loves us all.

This dad had two sons, both stinkers, in different ways. But he loved them both. He loved the self-righteous, up-tight, religious older son. He loved the selfish, wayward, rebellious younger son. He loved the good boy and the bad boy. He loved them both.

The Best Dad Ever loves us all.

No matter what kind of stinker you are.

The challenge for us is to love like our Father loves. Do you find some people harder to love than others? I started thinking about who I find it hard to love, and well, it included just about everybody! I’ve got a long ways to go to become like our Father, because the Best Dad Ever loves us all.

Even the ones you can’t stand.

Question: Are you like the Best Dad Ever?

 

[1] Barclay, W. (Ed.). (1975). The Gospel of Luke. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press.