Today being Veteran’s day we talk about service to our country. I think we have a greater role as the people of God in the service we render to our God, so I want to share a message with you today that will reflect that.
I heard of a Baptist preacher some time ago who was finishing a revival and then he, at the conclusion of his sermon, he said, “If I had all the spirit liquors in the world I would dump it in the river. The whiskey and all that kind of dangerous stuff.” He said, “If I had all the beer in the world I would dump it all in the river.” He said, “If I had all the wine in the world I would take it all and dump it all in the river.” And so he concluded his sermon, and the song leader got up and said, “Our closing hymn shall be, Shall We Gather At The River.” But I pray that today you’ll become intoxicated by the Word of God, and certainly not by the spirit liquors. May God bless us today.
Today I want to talk on the subject, the anatomy of love. Let us pray.
Father, open our hearts and minds as we turn our minds and turn our hearts to You. Accept us now and our worship. And now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight, oh God, our Rock and our Redeemer. As these Your people await a word from You, disappoint us not. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Passage is found in the book of Luke the 15th chapter. It's a familiar passage, one that I'm sure you've heard over and over again. This passage of scripture is very familiar. In the very first few verses of this chapter, giving context to this passage, the Bible says from verse 1 of Luke, chapter 15, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Him.” That is Jesus, but the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, they had a problem with that. “They said, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,’ and Jesus told them this parable.” And He went on to give a series of parables.
When one looks at this passage, one would probably think that these scribes and Pharisees were concerned about Jesus, that He was eating and having fellowship with sinners and publicans, because we understand that in the middle eastern culture that when one sits with sinners and publicans or when one invites friends to have what they call table fellowship with, it meant that they have accepted them as part of their circle. They were welcome and invited guests, and so they could see why, or we could see why they may have had a problem with Jesus eating with those riffraffs, those who didn't fit in, who were not part of the group, but as we read into this text we discover that they were not so much concerned about Jesus and His reputation. They had a problem because Jesus somehow, it seemed to them, had accepted these sinners into His circle. And these ‘people of God’ didn't understand the nature of God's love. And so they had a problem.
Jesus sought to make it clear to them, so He gives us what someone calls a list of lost and found. He gives us the stories, three parables, the Bible says. The parable of the lost son, the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost sheep. There's also another lost son who is the older son and we’ll try to look at him in a minute.
But there's something interesting as we look at these three parables and the parable of the lost sheep tells us clearly that the sheep is lost. The sheep knows that it is lost. But the sheep does not know how to find its way home. Something unique there. The parable of the lost coin teaches us that the coin is lost. The coin does not know that it is lost, nor does the coin know how to find its way home. The parable of the lost son teaches us that the son is lost. The son knows that he is lost, and the son knows how to find his way home. When you also look at the elder brother in the parable, the elder brother is lost. The elder brother does not know that he is lost. He doesn't consider that he needs to find his way home because he knows that, in his mind, in his thinking, he is not lost.
What is Jesus trying to teach these disciples? We're talking about anatomy of love. As we look at these parables, we discover that the sheep is lost, and if you understand anything about sheep you understand the nature of sheep. They're very docile. Very, you know, not so smart animals, and so while he is there, he knows that he has drifted from the fellowship. He knows that he has gone astray. He looks around him and he's all alone, but he does not know what to do next. How to find his way home. So the Bible says that the shepherd goes in search for the lost sheep, because he is lost. One sheep. Goes after that one sheep until he brings him home.
The coin is lost. Of course the coin being an inanimate object, the coin does not know that it is lost, nor does the coin know how to find its way home, but the keeper of the house sweeps and she searches until she finds her lost coin and she rejoices because her lost coin is now part of her possession again.
But when we look at the lost son, the younger son, the younger son is interesting because the younger son does something amazing. He wishes his father dead, because in the middle eastern culture, no one asked for their inheritance if their father is still alive. Scholars tell us it was wishing his father dead. He was hoping that his father would die. He had no desire to be at home. He had no desire to be part of that household, of the Church, of that community. He wanted to go his own way and do his own thing and drift away and find himself doing what he wanted to do. He knew what he was doing. He was conscious of his actions. So the Bible says his father gives him his inheritance. He goes to a far country. Squanders his money in riotous living. While there he recognizes that he is lost. But he knows how to find his way home.
But there is something interesting so far and that is the father. The father of that lost son does not send a search party for that lost son. The shepherd went in search for that one sheep that was lost. That woman went in search for that one coin that is lost. Isn't a human life more valuable than that of a sheep or a coin? Why didn't the father send out a search party for that lost son? Well one, it has to be the nature of the son's lostness, if I were to use this term, because the son chose to be lost. But he recognizes the error of his ways, and then he begins to say unto himself, “My father has so much and if I can just get back home, it's going to be okay.” And so he plans his speech and he’s saying to himself that if he gets home he will say to his father, “You know, don't make me your son, I don't need to be your son. Just have me as one of your hired servants,” and he journeys home. But there is something amazing, that while this lost son is journeying home, what he doesn't know and what he doesn't anticipate, what he doesn't expect, is that his father is out there waiting with outstretched arms. And so as he gets there he begins to offer his words, but his father is not so much concerned about what he has to say. The father is concerned that his son who was lost, is now found, and rejoices with him.
Let's move now to this lost older brother. See, there is something amazing about this older brother, and that is, the older brother has some issues, deep issues within him that he doesn't deal with. He’s a member of the church. He’s a member of the community. You see, when folk look at that family, who is that bad guy, who is that, you know, that wayward child? It’s that younger boy who wanted to go out and squander his inheritance and everybody sees him as being lost.
And yes he was lost, but when they look at that son, the older son who stayed home, “Oh that's a good boy. He stays home to help dad and to take care of the family,” and everybody understands him. But there is something brewing on the inside, as our scripture reading would reveal. There is something brewing on the inside, because all these years, while his brother has gone and wasted his money and drifted away from home, he’s holding on something that is deep inside of him. It’s his selfishness. It’s his pride. It's his arrogance. It's his unwillingness to let go and to love.
So his brother comes home and he has a problem, because as he gets close to the house, he hears music and dancing, and you know, something is going on. If he were in our community he would discover that cars all around in his father's driveway, and he’s wondering what's going on. A servant comes out and says, “Yeah, your brother, your brother, your younger brother. Remember him? Yeah, he’s back home. He’s found and everybody's rejoicing.”
But he has a problem. He has a problem. He says to his father, “All these years I have worked with you. I have slaved for you. I have been there. I have done all that. I have been that good boy, and your son, who has wasted your money, now he comes home and you have shown him a party. You're rejoicing because your son who was lost is now home, and I have been around all along.”
See, the problem with sin is that sin eats from the inside out. The problem with sin is that sin is a conception of the mind. Sin is not what we do. It's in reality who we are. Read Genesis chapter 3, and you will discover, you will discover from verse 7 to 9 that when Adam discovered that he had sinned, that his nakedness was before him, what did he and Eve do? They covered themselves with fig leaves, didn't they? But what happened when God came in search of him? “Adam,” He cried. “Where are you?”, as if God doesn't know where we are. He called out to him. He says, “Well Lord, I'm hiding.” “Why are you hiding?” He said, “Because I'm afraid.” No, he didn't say that. He said, “I'm naked.” “What do you mean, you’re naked? You’re covered with fig leaves. What do you mean, you’re naked?” Cause sin is not physical. It’s spiritual. He was physically covered but spiritually naked. Empty before God and the world.
That's why Jesus in Matthew, chapter 5 says that if you think it, it’s sin. It's a problem of the mind. Because Jesus never wanted us to get to the point in our existence where we would know what is good, or differentiate between what is good and evil, because He knew that within us, as human beings, even before we had fallen in to sin, He never wanted us to experience good and evil.
In Genesis chapter 2, He says to Adam and Eve, He says, “Every fruit of the garden you shall eat of, but of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat thereof.” Genesis, chapter 3, verse 22 says when man had eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God says he has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil.
And I often wondered what's this knowledge of good and evil? I read a paper from Dr. Rodriguez, did some research and I did my own research paper and discovered, yeah, you see, the knowledge of good and evil, God didn't want us to possess that knowledge, not because, as Dr. Rodriguez says, it was a deficiency when God made us within the creation of man, and it's not that God didn't want us to know the difference between good and evil. We have to get deeper than that. You see, there is something about God, because God does know good and evil, doesn't He? The Bible says God says, “They have become like one of Us, knowing good and evil,” which means that God knows good and evil.
When I was a young pastor, I thought that what that meant was, God didn't want us to experience good and evil, but no, that's not what the text means. You see, there is something about God that we don't have or we possess. When you think about it, you know, God us there and we are down there. We are so far removed from Him. But when you look at all the things that God has that we don't have, there is one that stands out, and that is God is self-existing. God is God all by Himself. He possesses immortality, and so in His greatness, in His Majesty, with all His being and power, God is the only one who is self-existing, who is self-sufficient. And only God possesses that wisdom, that God is the only one who really decides what is good and what is evil.
He did not want man to possess that ability because He knows we would mess it up. So right there from the beginning, God says, “You can eat of every tree in the garden, except from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Right there God had distinguished between good and evil, and He expected men to pay homage, or to be obedient. When man partook of the fruit then man became like God in the sense that now men can decide all by himself what is good and what is evil. The unfortunate thing is that we are so messed up, that when God declares something good, we declare it evil, and when He declares it evil, we declare it good, because we don't have that ability to distinguish between the two.
That lost son did not understand the nature of God's love. Nor did the scribes and Pharisees. And so God wanted them to understand that there are those in this world who are lost who don't know that they are lost. We need to find them. It’s part of our service to God. There are those who are lost. They know they are lost, but they don't know how to come home. We need to find them. And there are those who are lost, who know that they are lost and all we can do is pray for them.
But then the most frightening thing here is that there are those who are lost and don't know it. They don't know that they are lost. This son was lost and he did not know it. The older son. He's lost and he refuses to accept his father's love. He refuses to come home. He refuses to come in, but he’s the guy who's been in church all along.
You know what Ellen G. White said about this passage? She said the worst sin is the sin that is inside, the sin of the heart. She says, the drunkard knows that he’s a drunkard. He knows it. Everybody can see it, and he knows he’s messed up. But when we harbor sins like pride and selfishness and jealousy, stuff like that in our hearts, and nobody can see it, we walk around as if we are all that. We beat our chest as if we are okay. We look at folk and we say, “Yeah, he's messed up,” and we get to the point where we major in the minors with our walk with God. But God's love is so deep, so broad, so vast, that He takes everyone who comes within His reach, and everyone comes within His reach because He is God.
And here he is extending his love to this older son but he doesn't want his love. But the younger son sees the errors of his ways and he runs back to his father, and that's what God is saying to us today. That it doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter what condition you are in. His love is there. All you have to do is accept it because He cannot force it upon you. He cannot make you want it. It's up to you.
God wants us to understand who He is. And you know, as I close, let me remind you that this whole idea of love and service; you know, I don't serve this country because, you know, I have nothing else to do. I remember when I first joined the military, I was like, “Man, this isn’t for me.” It’s like, “What am I doing? I left the pastorate to join this thing?” This is, they want to tell you what to do and what not to do and where... The military controls your life. I said, “What I doing here?” 1990 I deployed to Kuwait, and then I began to talk to soldiers and minister to soldiers and minister to their needs and discovered, “Hey, this thing is not about me. It's about serving humanity. It's not about this government for me, it's about serving humanity. It's about living light so that those in darkness can see.” And that's why I serve, and that's what it's about. It's about service, but it’s service to God first and then service to man next. And that's Christianity. That’s Christian perfection, by the way. Read Matthew, chapter 5. Jesus says, “Be ye perfect, even as your father in heaven is” what? “Perfect.” Oh, forget that twisted. They think you've got to be sinless to be perfect. You’ve got to be just... No, it's not about that.
When you read the parable of the story where Jesus says if a man comes behind you, you know, and he wants your shirt, give him your jacket as well. If he tells you to go 1 mile, go with him 2 miles. What you see there is selfless service. He says, if your enemy hits you, love him. In other words, Christian perfection is living the life where you can look at your enemy in the eye and still love him, because there is no way by yourself, as a human being, that you could love your enemy. You can only do that when your relationship with God is mature enough to allow you to do that, and so Jesus is saying, be you mature, to the point where you can love your enemy, because when he says go 1 mile, you know, the Jews had a problem with going 1 mile, he says, “No, go 2 miles,” Jesus was saying to them, you know what, when you’ve been forced to go 1 mile, that’s servitude, that's force, that’s compulsion. When you go the second mile you’re in charge, because you now decide how far you want to walk, how slow you want to walk, when you’re going to take a break. You're in control. You have relieved this man of his burden and now you have taken control, and that's what it's about. It's about service. It's about having that mature relationship to the point where God is in control of your life. You know it, you experience it, you sense it, you feel it and you look at yourself and you know that you’re messed up but you look at God and you know that you're okay.
Where are you in your relationship with God? Where are you in your fellowship with your fellow man? Where are you in service to God and service to your fellow man? Is your love that mature? Because here's a father who could love a son who wishes him dead, who was gone astray, who has squandered his money and he can still love a son who is messed up on the inside. Where are you in relationship to God, and your love to your fellow man?
My prayer for you is that you’ll allow God to so, just envelope your being and so squeeze you in that you can feel His love and His warmth. How many of you desire that kind of love? Love that will allow you to share it with somebody else. Do you desire that? God bless you.
Father take our love. Take us and make us what we ought to be. In Your name we pray. Amen.
Hymn of Praise: #12, Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee Scripture: Luke 15:25-32 Hymn of Response: #340, Jesus Saves
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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 11/24/08