Another interesting observation was that there is such a thing as “a different gospel.” The Gospel is not just opening the Bible, reading a couple of verses and dealing with some modern malady or malaise! As interesting as that might be -- even if it is challenging -- the real Gospel is very specifically about Jesus Christ, the cross, sin, repentance and being “born again.”
To me, one of the classic Gospel presentations is the story of the prodigal son. Let’s highlight some aspects that very seldom get their rightful emphasis.
First and foremost is the son’s approach to the father. “Father, give me what I am due, what falls to me, my inheritance” was his plea or demand. The Gospel does start right there. Give me! It is all about me! The biggest problem we all have in our relationship with God is I, me and myself.
Believe it or not, this is the hardcore trinity of sin. It’s all about me. It all revolves around what I want, even down to what God can give me, or how He can serve me or bless me. We all have an ego problem and if we have had any sort of success or fame, that ego becomes a veritable ogre! I define modesty as a relative ability some people have compared with others in hiding their egos.
We all want freedom for I, me and myself! We want freedom from discipline, respect and obedience. These, however, are biblical principles that need to apply in our lives, societies and nations. But the individual wants nobody to discipline him; he doesn’t want to respect anyone and certainly does not want to listen to anybody! The freedom we search for is nothing less than rebellion and anarchy in God’s eyes.
Anyway, the prodigal son wanted his inheritance and so the father gave it to him. God, in fact, does exactly the same. In reality the father was handing his son over to the consequences of his godless desires and values. God does the same.
In Romans 1, it tells us that as we look around us the fact that God exists is pretty obvious. There is no excuse! But Man, thinking himself so wise became a fool as he decided rather to do his own thing. God therefore handed us over to the consequences of this desire so that hopefully as we incur the problems we will turn back to Him.
We will inherit in ourselves the fruits of godlessness. And we are seeing that all around us. Indeed we are where we have chosen to be, each and every single one of us. We are exactly where we have chosen to be in our relationship with God. Our fate is our choice, never more so than in our walk with God!
So the prodigal son is handed over and he makes a startling discovery. The harsh reality in a fickle world of fair-weather friends soon hits him square on. Superficiality abounds, as does deception amidst the pseudo-synthetic value systems. A famine arises, as it always will in these circumstances.
Literally, figuratively and spiritually we will discover that worldly compromise and powerlessness are inseparably linked in the Christian walk. The more we submit to the ways of the world the less power there will be in our lives. And by power I don’t mean signs, wonders and miracles but rather what I term the real power of the Christian walk – the Habakkuk 3 power! That’s the power that reveals a joy and a peace beyond the understanding of the world even though all has collapsed around you. There is no milk, no meat, no olives, no nothing; yet will I praise the Lord. That’s the real power of the resurrected life!
The dictionary defines a famine as a hunger, a shortage of something. In the Garden of Eden man sinned and died spiritually. Thanks to Adam and Eve we all have this spiritual void, that emptiness that emanated from that fateful decision. It is a void that can only be filled by Jesus. We all know that something is missing but we don’t want to admit it as we try to fill the emptiness with fame, success, drugs, drink, denial and deception.
Anyway, the prodigal son had ended up in the pigsty. He was down and out, feeding the swine, and that was certainly not a “kosher” place for a Jewish youngster. He had “joined” the world!
The ultimate degradation in God eyes is to be “in” the world and “of” the world. As believers, we are called to be “in” but not “of” the world. When we are in the former place we are living outside God; we are spiritually dead and disconnected and we are, to all intents and purposes, figuratively and spiritually in the pigsty. Of course we don’t want to hear that.
At least the prodigal son knew where he was, with a bit of help from the smell and grunts! Finally the penny dropped. He came to himself. And so followed the most profound of confessions. “I have sinned. I am unworthy.”
At long last he realised that he was the cause of his problems, nobody else. We just love blaming everyone else! We excuse ourselves and rationalise our philosophies to the total exclusion of our own culpability. And that’s why we never get to a point of sinner revelation.
Only when we ultimately accept that sinful self is the greatest stumbling block in our search for God, will we do anything about it. It is only then that we will vacate the throne of our lives, totally abdicate and hand over to the Lord Jesus Christ. No excuses, no alibis, no ifs, no buts, just utter repentance.
Only the dead self truly submits and only then does a life change. Only then are spiritual eyes truly opened to reveal the truth about the world around you and its delusions That is why the pigsty perspective is so vital on the road that needs to be travelled as we seek the pearl of great price. The son had wanted his “inheritance” but when he got it he found that it had nothing to do with wealth, fame and material things. We need treasure in heaven.
The father declares that his son was “dead” but he is now “alive.” Again we don’t want to get this perspective! It is a matter of life and death. As in Adam, the Bible tells us, we all died spiritually but in Jesus Christ we all come “alive” spiritually. Spiritual “death” in the Garden of Eden and “rebirth” in Jesus Christ is the crux of the Gospel.
The father also declared that he was “lost” but is now found. Profound, for outside Christ we are lost! He is the only way, the light and the truth. Nobody comes to God any other way than through Jesus. The father’s arms are always open. God’s grace and mercy is amazing and there is always great rejoicing when the prodigal sons come home.
When this sermon is preached it usually concentrates on God’s grace, love and mercy. But seldom is there much said about the son’s road to repentance and glory. The path to the Cross – repentance -- is the reason why the Holy Spirit convicts us on sin, righteousness and judgment. Because the Gospel is, in essence, about individuals seeing the truth about self and sin -- and picking themselves up to make the biggest decisions of their lives. The prodigal son “arose” and “came” to his “father.” It’s a massive choice, a decision of the heart and will. There is no shortcut or quick fix.
It is the real Gospel. And it works!