I've worked with homeless people before and I've recognized them for who they were, and I hesitated as I watched these two men. I was by myself, and it was night. I saw what they were doing, they were digging into the large ashtrays that were placed outside, looking for cigarette butts large enough to still smoke. They were acting quite frustrated. They were not finding much of anything. It was obviously a favorite spot outside this convention center. Most people would come outside and smoke there. They could not believe that they were finding nothing. What they did not know was that the building was filled with over six thousand youth pastors at a convention! They were not finding the cigarettes they were used to finding.
As I went through the second set of doors, one of the men asked me, "Do you have a cigarette?" I thought, If I could tell him of the dangers of smoking, I could invite him to a "Five-Day-Plan." But I knew that he wasn't real interested either one of those at the moment, so I just gave him a negative response. He simply walked away with his friends in search of others more obliging.
I walked down to the bus stop and caught the bus that took me across the river into Kentucky and to my hotel. Along the way I noticed in the dumpsters behind almost every fast-food place there were people looking for something to eat.
I slept in my comfortable bed and I ate my wonderful continental breakfast the next morning. I relished it for some reason that morning. I got back on my bus and went back to the convention center and got there early for my first meeting, so I decided to go for a walk. A special thing about Cincinnati is that you can walk a fourteen-block section of town without ever going outside. They call it the "Skyway" because it is on the second floor and connects buildings using enclosed walkways over the streets. It's all enclosed and very nice. I was on the walkway that connects a fancy hotel, a "high-rise." I wasn't staying in that one. I walked through the lobby with all its beautiful chandeliers, and on to the next sky-way to a store called Saks Fifth Avenue. Have you ever heard of that? I walked in there one time and I can't even afford a pair of socks there.
And the sky-way that connected that hotel with that fancy department store was littered with homeless people sleeping on bits of cardboard on Sunday morning. Some had five-dollar bills laying around them which had been dropped by passers-by. They were so sound asleep they hadn't picked them up yet.
As I looked at each of these men, I couldn't help but wonder who they were. "Who are you? What are you doing here? You must have had a home at one time. Did you have a family? Who were your parents? Did you open presents on your birthday? Did you ever sit around a Thanksgiving-day table so full of food that it took days to finish it? Did you ride a bus to school? Did you ever sit in a Sunday school class, or a Sabbath school class? Who are you? How did you end up here?" These silent questions remained unanswered as these men slept as if to wake up was to open eyes to the reality that they had no home.
Turn with me to Luke 15. One of the most beautiful stories in the Bible is about a homeless person. Jesus tells this story in about 30 sentences. Luke 15:11. Jesus Continued:... When I see something like that I think, "What was Jesus continuing?" Look back at verse 1 to see whom He is talking to and why. In verses 1 and 2 it says, Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear Him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." And Jesus started telling parables. This is one of the parables that He was telling to the Pharisees. He was continuing, He was trying to instruct them. He was telling this parable to the Pharisees in front of the tax collectors and sinners.
Verses 11-12: Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them."
Evidently the younger son felt constrained by his father. He felt the need for freedom from his father, from his father's rules, from his father's laws, from his father's house, from his father's sight. He felt no obligation to his father. He felt no gratitude. Yet he still made claims on his father's wealth. What I find amazing here is that his father said okay. His father allowed his son to make this grand mistake. How hard it is to allow our children the freedom to make mistakes when we know what the outcome will be. But this father realizes that his son is going to make this mistake one way or another and allows it. Might as well be with his knowledge and his blessing. Jesus did that. With Peter. Remember Peter walking on the water? He didn't say, "Now Peter, don't look away." Peter needed to make that mistake, didn't he. But the Father was still there. Jesus was still there.
I'll give some parental advice, and this is from one who knows little. Allow them to fail in your home so that they can survive in this world. Give them the opportunities to fail where you can be there to pick them up, so they can learn. That's what this father did with his son. "Okay, I'm going to allow you to make a mistake." Also notice that the father did not burn bridges. He does not say, "If you leave, don't plan on crawling back to me when you run out of money!" He didn't burn bridges. Have you burned bridges between yourself and your children? Maybe you have. Ask forgiveness and ask for the power to rebuild those bridges! It's not too late. Don't burn bridges between your loved ones and your self. As you will see, the bridge was there when this young man came home.
Verse 13: "Not long after that, the younger son got together all that he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living." He squandered his father's wealth, what he had been given. That is what it means to be Prodigal, to squander, to throw away, to waste. This man not only squandered his wealth, he squandered years of his life, he squandered his spirituality, all to gratify himself and his search for freedom.
Verses 14-15: "After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs." Remember to whom Jesus is telling this story. The Jews! The Jews would have nothing to do with swine or pigs and not touch them. And here, I'm sure the Pharisees are saying, "Yes, he kind of got what he deserved. That's as low as a son of Abraham can go. To be around pigs! Ironically this man left in search of his freedom and he only found slavery. Look at Proverbs 5:22,23 The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for his lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly. What is it that enslaves us? Our own sinfulness. And yet this young man thought that he was going to gain his freedom by being his own sinful self. And there he did find slavery. He ends up feeding the swine. He found that he had more freedom in his father's house!
Luke 15:16: "He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything." Now, where were his friends, the people he had been squandering his wealth with? It's no fun to do it by yourself. Misery loves company. Where are they? Nobody there to offer him a bite to eat.
I remember my first day at school at Standifer Gap Elementary. First grade. My mother was driving me to school, and as she pulled up in the parking lot I was so excited! I actually remember what my mother said before I got out of the car. She said, "Be careful about who you choose to be your friends." I remembered that, ad I disobeyed. I met Billy and Billy became my friend. Billy liked to do things in class, like talk out of turn. That was a bad thing back then. Billy loved to talk when the teacher was talking. Guess who he talked to? He talked to me. Guess who also got into trouble with Billy? I did. I had not chosen my friends wisely. That's such a minor thing, but it grows. As you become teen- agers it becomes more critical who your friends are because they will guide you to things that are not normally done by yourself. And then when you get into trouble, where are your friends? They disappear just like this young man's friends did.
Our friends are a constant influence on our actions. Choose them wisely! They had helped him into this situation but they were not here to help him out of it. This man had chosen friends who left when the going got tough.
Verse 17: "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!' Remember, his father had not burned the bridges. His thoughts returned to his father. See how important it is not to burn bridges? He remembered his father's love, not his love for his son. He dare not think that high. He remembered his father's love for his servants. He loves his servants so much that they have food to spare! And here I am, and I have nothing. "Wow, if my father would simply hire me as a servant, I would have more food than I could eat." His father's love was drawing him home. Yet he did not realize the extent of it.
Verse 18-19: "I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men. He did not yet fathom his father's love. He composes a speech to give to his father with hopes of becoming a servant.
Verse 20 first part: "So he got up and went to his father. Notice, this says nothing about him taking a bath. It says nothing of finding better clothes. It says nothing about changing himself. He got up as he was and went to his father, as he was, right out of the pig sty.
D.L. Moody told a story about an artist who was attempting to paint the Prodigal Son. He searched the streets of the city for a long time to find a man who looked destitute enough to fit the description. He could find no one until one day he finally found a beggar that looked the part. He went up to the beggar and he said, "Here is my address. You come to my studio tomorrow at ten o'clock. I will paint your portrait and pay you well." The beggar thought, "Oh, I'm getting my portrait painted." He went and found a comb. He found some soap. He found some clothes that looked a little better than what he had. He shaved and cleaned up. At ten o'clock, the man showed up at the artist's studio but the artist asked, "Who are you?" "I was to have my portrait painted at ten." "No, I never saw you before. I don't know you. Oh, but.. I was looking for a beggar." "Well, I am that beggar. I decided to clean up a bit since I was going to paint my portrait." And the artist said, "Go away. You are of no use to me now. I needed you as you were. Now you are of no use to me!"
We must come to the Father as we are! He know what we are really like. If we wait until we are good enough, we will wait until eternity has past!
Verse 20 last part: 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." The prodigal son did not realize the hurt and void that he had left in his father's house. His father was waiting and watching for him. His father recognized him through all of his filth and ran to meet him. And he got up to him and stopped and he said, "Wait! Go take a bath and then I will hug and kiss you." NO! He took him as he was, into his arms. He didn't even wrinkle his nose and say, "You smell like a pig." He hugged him and kissed him in his present disgrace! But the son doesn't yet realize what is happening and begins the speech that he has been rehearsing all the way home. He's brought it down to two sentences because he wants it to be refined. He wants to get it out fast. He doesn't want his father to send him away before he's done with his speech, and so he starts it.
Look at verse 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.'" True words indeed. He had sinned against Heaven and his father. He was not worthy to be a son. But his father does not let him finish the speech! His father refuses to hear the part about being a servant for this is not a servant, this is his child.
Verse 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." The loving father did not say a thing about "let's get you cleaned up and then we will think about what to do." He orders his servants, "Quick! Bring my robe and cover what is unclean." To make this son look like he belonged and had never left. He is now covered by his fathers righteousness. He had a ring placed upon his finger to replace the one that had been lost. A ring symbolized family membership in those days. On such a ring would have been the family inscription or crest. It could be used in the market place like a credit card. This son's past credit history had just been erased! The Father had paid his debt in full. He now has a new platinum Master Card on his finger. He is HOME!!!!
Verses 23-24: "'Bring the fatted calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate." This man had perceived his father to be stern and severe just as Satan wishes us to think of our Heavenly Father. But now he has a different perception His father is a Father of Love!
I wish that the story ended here. But this is not a story of one lost son but of two lost sons. The older son was homeless as well. Let's see why.
Verses 25-27: "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come," he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'"
Unlike his father, the older brother had not been looking for the prodigal's return. He had probably heard rumor of his brother and had thought that he gotten what he deserved. Verse 28: "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him." Notice who went out to whom. The father goes out to his son as well to plead with him. "But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you" Slaving? Remember what I said about the older brother being homeless. He considered himself a slave of his father. He was homeless in his own home. He did not even claim his own brother: "this son of yours."
He was a slave in his own father's house. He was homeless in his own father's home! That's the way he felt. "I've been working my way..." Have you ever heard that? "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. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him.'"
Verses 28-30: "'My son,' the father said, '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.'"
Wow! "My son," the father said. He calls him, "son." "My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours. The fattened calf was yours. Everything! You didn't realize that you had it all in my home. You were a slave in my home. You didn't realize how good you had it. 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." This loving father not only affirms that the eldest son is his son, but reminds him gently that the youngest son is still his little brother. "This brother of yours has returned." What did the brother decided to do? Jesus does not say but allow His hearers to decide for they are the elder brother of the story.
Who are you?
No matter who you are, we have the same Heavenly Father, not a keeper of slaves, but a lover of His children!
Thanksgiving reminds us of what we are thankful for. I am thankful for many wonderful things! But I am most thankful that I will never have to be homeless because my Heavenly Father has paid the price to keep me as His son.
Opening Hymn #560, Let All Things Now Living Scripture: Luke 15:18-20 Closing Hymn: #296, Lord, I'm Coming Home
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last updated 12/2/99 by Bob Beckett.