The Father's Joy!
v.31-32 And he [the father] said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; was lost, and is found."
Dear friends in Christ, what a fitting text we have before us this Sunday as we celebrate the gift of fathers on this Father's Day! It is a time of great joy and celebration for so many families to honour—and give thanks to God for—those men in our lives who are our fathers—whether by flesh and blood—or by word and deed. Those men who have steadfastly provided for—protected—instructed—and disciplined those in their care—particularly teaching us the importance of faith in Jesus Christ as the foundation for life everlasting!
And so, no doubt, many of you have thought about how best to express your love and gratitude for all that fathers have done. We want to give them something we know will bring them joy as we celebrate this day: maybe a nice bottle of rum—or a new Hawaiian shirt—or some such. Of course, for most fathers, the greatest gift is simply that of time—spending time with their children and loved ones on this special day—made even more joyous as this is the official first day of summer! A time which marks increased time for relaxation and fun with family and friends—this summer will hopefully be particularly joyful as we come out of the serious lockdowns and restrictions that have plagued us this past year of pandemic.
Well, when thinking about what special gift might make the father in your life smile with joy, you may be surprised to learn what it is that brings great joy to your Heavenly Father. Previous to our text, Jesus told two other parables about lost things: a sheep and a coin. At the conclusion to each parable, when that which was lost has been found, and there is celebration, Jesus remarks: "Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance (v.7)…Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents (v.10)." Then, at the conclusion to our text, which highlights the gracious and loving nature of God our Father in dealing mercifully with His wayward children, the father in the parable pleads with his stubborn elder son, saying, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found (v.31-32)."
So, what is it that gives your Heavenly Father the greatest joy? Repentant children. Those who recognize that they are sinners in need of His grace—who turn away from sin—and embrace the forgiveness the Father longs to bestow through the blood of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ—which raises us from death to life. St. Paul, in our epistle reading from 1 Timothy, also highlights this merciful nature of God, "But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1 Tim. 1:13b-15)." Just a little while later Paul writes that God, "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:4-5)."
We see the fullness of the depth and depravity of humanity's sin in our Gospel text from St. Luke. The familiar story of the two sons of the merciful father. The younger son takes his inheritance early, leaves home and squanders his money on reckless living—living only for himself and his sinful wants and desires—rejecting the love and care and wisdom of his father. However, he eventually hits rock bottom—having lost everything he decides to return home—hoping to bargain with his father so that he could return—not as a son, but as a hired servant—so he could at least survive. Yet upon his return home, his father, who has been keeping a sharp look out for his son all this time, sees him coming from a distance. Abandoning all decorum and dignity befitting his advanced age and station in life, this father runs to greet his wayward son. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him (v.20b)."
The son tries to follow through on his plan—he begins his prepared speech—"'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate (v.21b-24)."
Can you imagine? Here comes the son slinking home—knowing he has deeply wronged his father. But before he can get a word in edgewise, his dad has run to greet him, embraced him, and showered him with kisses! While he tries to stumble through his oh-so-carefully constructed speech of repentance—his father is barely listening. Not because he doesn't care about what his son has to say, but for joy that his son has returned! The father is busy giving orders to the servants: get the best robe—put a ring on his finger—kill the fattened calf—we are going to PARTY tonight!
The young man is stunned into silence. For his father exhibits no animosity—no anger—no bitterness or frustration—only joy! Joy that his boy has returned home. Joy that his son is alive again. Joy that his boy has been found! Just so is the heavenly Father's attitude toward you and me and every sinner! We can barely imagine it. For we daily sin much and deserve nothing but the full and unreserved wrath of the Father on account of our sin. But instead, we receive mercy. We receive a warm welcome! We receive joy and celebration.
For those who repent of their sin and look to the Father for mercy shall surely receive it. For the Holy Spirit works mightily in our hearts to show us our sin by the light of God's Law, but then also comforts us by the peace of the Gospel. For Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom you and I are the foremost. He came to bear the Father's wrath for our sin in our place. That by His shed blood all our sin may removed—cast into the darkest depths of the sea—never to be seen again.
Now, we can enter into the Father's presence with great joy and thanksgiving—knowing we have been covered in the robe of Christ's own righteousness—that we bear the crown of life earned by His bloody death and perfectly lived life. We are not castaways. We are not doomed to suffer in hell for eternity, but rather we are received with utmost joy and celebration into the Father's house—the kingdom of heaven—where there will be rich feasting that will never cease. What joy that puts in our hearts, beloved! What confidence and peace! For we know the great love the Father has for us in giving us His own Son, so that we can enjoy eternity with Him.
Therefore, we must be watchful that we do not fall into the trap of the other son. He thought he was righteous (even though he was not), as is clearly evidenced because he is indignant at his father's mercy toward his wayward brother. He refuses to celebrate with the others. We, too, might find it difficult to rejoice in the Father's grace toward our brother—our neighbor—especially when they have sinned against us. We stubbornly want them to suffer for the hurt they have caused. We don't think it is right for them to get away with such sins, scott-free, as it were.
Of course, this isn't really the case, anyway, is it? No, indeed, all sin has a cost—a price that must be paid in blood—but this price has been paid in full by Christ Jesus for you and me and for all people. Even the sin of stubborn self-righteousness that sometimes infects our hearts—when we hold other peoples' sins as greater than our own—less deserving of grace and mercy. Even still, the father comes to this petulant older son and beseeches him to enter the household and rejoice. Against all decorum and dignity, once again, the father seeks out his son, to plead with him.
Remember that our gracious Father continually does the same for you and me. He exhibits compassion (splanknitzomai—gut feeling) toward his sons. He calls us to remember that all His gifts are already ours—by virtue of our faith in Jesus. So, we freely rejoice in God's Word, Baptism, and Supper whereby He both calls us to repentance and bestows on us the forgiveness for our sins. Indeed, these are the very means by which the Father approaches us—chases after us—seeks us out—to bring us near—to bring us to repentance—so that we may be saved.
For this Father in heaven is like no earthly father—for all earthly fathers—even the very best—are still deeply flawed human beings with sins and vices. Yet our heavenly Father is perfect. He is perfect in patience, love, and understanding. He is perfect in grace, mercy, and forgiveness. As can be seen in that which brings Him joy—that we repent of our sin—so that we may be forgiven—and enter into His eternal kingdom of life and peace. Called by His love. Called by His mercy. We freely embrace His love for us in Christ Jesus who died for us. And now, we may joyfully approach the Holy Supper of our Lord's body and blood—which is but a foretaste of the great feast to come in the Father's everlasting home. What good news! What great joy! For you and me and all people. Thanks be to God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.