Keeping the Front Door Unlocked and the Porch Light On
SCRIPTURE: Luke 15:13-24
1. Philip Yancey in his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, tells the story of a pastor friend who was battling with his fifteen-year-old daughter. The pastor knew she was using birth control, and she had not bothered to come home for several nights. The parents had tried various forms of punishment to no avail. The daughter lied to them, deceived them, and found a way to turn the tables on them: “It’s your fault for being so strict!”
2. The pastor stated to Yancey, “I remember standing before the plate glass window in my living room, staring out into the darkness, waiting for her to come home. I felt such rage. I wanted to be like the father of the Prodigal Son, yet I was furious with my daughter for the way she had manipulated us and twisted the knife to hurt us. And of course, she was hurting herself more than anyone. I understood then, the passages in the Prophets expressing God’s anger. The people knew how to wound him, and God cried out in pain.”
3. He continued, “And yet I must tell you, when my daughter came home that night, or rather the next morning, I wanted nothing in the world so much as to take her in my arms, to love her, to tell her I wanted the best for her. I was a helpless, lovesick father.”
4. Think for a moment of that pastor-father standing before that plate glass window with the front door unlocked and the porch light on, achingly gazing out into the darkness, waiting, longing, looking for a lost daughter.
5. This story is too reminiscent of the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. The Waiting Father, which Jesus depicts, is heartsick, yet wanting above all to forgive anew, to announce with joy, “My son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” The Waiting Father was keeping “the door unlocked and the porch light on.”
I. The Father Who Allowed His Son to Go (vv 11-12)
A. This is the request of a rebellious son. In essence he is wishing that his father were dead. His very actions are a statement to all that he wants his father to die.
1. The son is driven by a self-centered pride, “Give me my inheritance.” He is asking for “his rights,” and the father, in an outpouring of grace and love, gives him his inheritance.
2. In making this request, a relationship is broken. The young man received one third of the father’s wealth. (See Deuteronomy 21:17.) This son does not break a law, but he does break his father’s heart.
3. This prodigal is cutting himself off from his roots. By seizing his share of the estate, he intentionally breaks fellowship with his father. The son chooses deliberately to break his father’s heart and severs his relationship with the family.
B. What does the father do? How does he respond to his youngest son’s request?
1. The father does what any father in an ancient village of Israel would do. He grants the request, and in so doing, the father grants the son the freedom to turn away from him. This father is granting his son the freedom to reject his love.
2. He does not sever his relationship with his son. The relationship is broken because of the son’s act. By allowing the son to go, the father suffers, and it is his suffering which provides the possibility for the son’s return.
C. Application: At some point in every parent’s life, there comes the time where we must allow our children to go. We might not have a bundle of money to give to them as the prodigal’s father did, but we must let them go.
Remember when your children were learning to ride a bicycle? For several weeks they rode and practiced their cycling skills until there came the MOMENT!!! The MOMENT when we took the training wheels off their bike and nervously watched them wobble down the street. Just so, as hard as it is, there is a point when we must let them out the front door with the freedom to wobble their way down the street of life. Just as the father in the parable allowed his son to go, so we must allow our children to go.
II. The Son Who Goes His Way and Does His Own Thing (15:13b17).
A. Given the freedom to do as he pleases, the son descends into a hell of his own making in a far country.
1. His money soon runs out because of his carefree lifestyle, and he gives himself to a citizen of that country. The citizen tries to get rid of this “hanger-on” by assigning him to a task he thinks will be refused. Instead, the prodigal accepts the job offer of the citizen to be a pig herder.
2. The prodigal is reduced to eating the bitter berries of the carob shrub which the pigs grubbed for. Regardless of how much he ate, the young man was not full. He was starving and needed to find some solution.
B. The young man “comes to himself.” In a sense he repented, but this repentance is significantly different from his actual repentance before his father.
1. He develops a face-saving plan and decides to work as a hired servant. The hired servant was merely a casual laborer who was employed when needed.
2. Now he can go back home and face his father, brother, and the village. Going home will be a tough pill to swallow, but he must go home because he is starving.
III. The Father Kept an Eye Out For His Son (v.20).
A. Why would the father keep an eye out for his son? Because he knows that the boy will be mocked, taunted, and even abused physically. Also, it is evident that the father anticipated the son’s future.
B. Notice the reaction of the father, who has been watching for his son, when he sees him.
1. He runs down the road. He is a village elder, and he breaks with all protocol to run and greet his son.
2. By his actions, the father, without a word, demonstrates his love. He kisses the son on the cheek, which is a sign of equality.
3. The son responds to the father with confession and repentance.
IV. By His Actions the Father Told Everyone That He Loves His Son (vv.22-23).
A. The father turns to the servant and addresses them with specific instructions.
1. They are instructed to dress the son as servants do a king which insures that the servants will treat the son with respect.
2. The son is to be dressed in the best robe, which is most certainly the father’. This assures acceptance by the community.
3. A signet ring is placed on the son’s hand, which indicates he is trusted in a wonderful way. Shoes are given to the son, which signifies that he is a free person and not a servant.
B. Finally, the father gives a party for the son “who has been lost and is now found.”
1. A calf is killed and the entire community is invited. The father’s joy must be shared by all.
2. Grace wins! Grace always wins. The father gives pure grace and the son accepts it. Now the father and the son begin to celebrate. Indeed a son is found.
Illustration: Philip Yancey’s story
Philip Yancey relates a contemporary parable with a young, rebellious daughter as the actual character. Let me relate to you Yancey’s parable:
A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan. Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts. They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside. “I hate you!” she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times. She runs away.
She has visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play. Because newspapers in Traverse City report in lurid detail the gangs, the drugs, and the violence in downtown Detroit, she concludes that is probably the last place her parents will look for her. California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.
Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen. He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay. He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she’s ever felt before. She was right all along, she decides: her parents were keeping her from all the fun.
The good life continues for a month, two months, a year. The man with the big car? She calls him “Boss”, he teaches her things that men like. Since she’s underage, men pay a premium for her. She lives in a penthouse, and orders room service whenever she wants. Occasionally she thinks about the folks back home, but their lives now seem so boring and provincial that she can hardly believe she grew up there.
She has a brief scare when she sees her picture printed on the back of a milk carton with the headline “Have you seen this child?” But by now she has blond hair, and with all the makeup and body-piercing jewelry she wears, nobody would mistake her for a child. Besides, most of her friends are runaways, and nobody squeals in Detroit.
After a year the first sallow signs of illness appear, and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean. “These days, we can’t mess around,” he growls, and before she knows it she’s out on the street without a penny to her name. She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don’t pay much, and all the money goes to support her habit. When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metal grates outside the big department stores. “Sleeping” is the wrong word - a teenage girl at night in downtown Detroit can never relax her guard. Dark bands circle her eyes. Her cough worsens.
One night as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all of a sudden everything about her life looks different. She no longer feels like a woman of the world. She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city. She begins to whimper. Her pockets are empty, and she’s hungry. She needs a fix. She pulls her legs tight underneath her and shivers under the newspapers she’s piled atop her coat. Something jolts a synapse of memory and a single image fills her mind of May in Traverse City, when a million cherry trees bloom at once, with her golden retriever dashing through the rows and rows of blossomy trees in chase of a tennis ball.
“God, why did I leave?” she says to herself, and pain stabs at her heart. My dog back home eats better than I do now. She’s sobbing, and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home.
Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Dad, Mom, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada.”
It takes about seven hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan. What if her parents are out of town and miss the message? Shouldn’t she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them? And even if they are home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago. She should have given them some time to overcome the shock.
Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father. “Dad, I’m sorry. I know I was wrong. It’s not your fault; it’s all mine. Dad, can you forgive me?” She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them. She hasn’t apologized to anyone in years.
The bus has been driving with lights on since Bay City. Tiny snowflakes hit the pavement rubbed worn by thousands of tires, and the asphalt steams. She’s forgotten how dark it gets at night out here. A deer darts across the road and the bus swerves. Every so often there’s a billboard then a sign posting the mileage to Traverse City!
When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, “Fifteen minutes, folks. That’s all we have here.” Fifteen minutes to decide her life. She checks herself in a compact mirror, fixes her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth. She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips, and wonders if her parents will notice- if they’re even there. The thousand scenes that have played out in her mind did not prepare her for what she sees. There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot. They’re all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise-makers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads “Welcome home!”
Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her Dad. She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized speech, “Dad, I’m sorry, I know...”
He interrupts her. “Hush, child. We’ve got no time for that. No time for apologies. You’ll be late for the party. A banquet’s waiting for you at home.”
No matter what your children do or where they go, no matter how long it’s been, no matter how old they are, no matter what it costs, ?leave the front door open and the porch light on? to let them know that they are always welcome and wanted.
Maybe it’s time for some prodigal to go home. Hurry, the father is waiting.