Today’s message dovetails with last week’s when we discovered that God is good, even better than we think! Today we discover another, related part of His character that affects or should affect how we carry out our own lives.
Jesus came, in part, to show us what God, the invisible God, is like. As humans, we mostly need to be near each other, in close proximity, in order to know what someone else is like.
As Pastors, Mark and I are often are asked to help young couples get ready for marriage. And on occasions it’s a couple that, for one reason or another, has a long-distance relationship, or they haven’t spent a lot of time together. They love what they know about each other. But we like it when couples are exploring just how serious they are, to live in the same geographic location for a while. Why is that? Because you can only be on your best behavior for just so long. The real you comes out, given enough time. The makeup is off, the tired behavior after a tough day, the grumpy first thing in the morning, whatever, it comes out. And we find out who each other really is. It takes seeing each other, hearing each other, the tones, the body language, the little and large clues, to get down to knowing the other person. We need as much of that as we can get.
So how do we get to know what God is like and what He thinks? He has to reveal Himself. And so He has given us His book, first of all, to tell us. But the most clear, remarkable understanding of Who He is, came from God becoming a Man in the form of Jesus. We know what God is like by seeing what Jesus is like. Humans need proximity to really get to know someone. And God supplied that.
So let’s see what God is like:
11 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry. 25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ 28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ 31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”
God is mercifully compassionate.
The father in the story here is God Himself. The younger brother is a broken human. The older brother is also a broken human but with a different problem. The younger one was presumptuous, rude, and determined to spend resources that weren’t directly his on himself. He didn’t think of tomorrow, he only loved what he could experience right now and when he ran out of friends and resources he was a mess. And at rock bottom, what he believed to be true; about whose fault this all was and what his father was like, brought him to an answer. Hat in hand, humble, truthful, broken, not expecting special treatment, he cast himself down at his father’s feet.
But here’s the surprise. The father didn’t just take him in as a servant. Or tell him to get lost. Or tell him that we had your funeral and you are now dead to us. Or tell him that his sinful ways just didn’t matter. (Hey, we all sow our wild oats).
No, despite all, he looks at him and restores him to family status. And throws a party for him. He left for the party life which destroyed him. The father gave him a redeemed family party. After his humble repentance the younger brother was restored because God is mercifully compassionate.
The older brother is a surprise. He’s broken alright, but he’s broken in a way that won’t let him be like the father. He can’t be a part of any celebration that involves “that son of yours.” I never had a party. And I’m so much better than him. And then he accuses the father. Angry. Bound. Unrepentant. He couldn’t handle the revealed nature of God and follow.
Here’s another place where Jesus also reveals what God is like:
35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. 36 But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. 37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. 38 Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
God looked on the mess of humanity. It’s a mess of their own making. Tired. Scattered, as in distant from others, independent, hurt, sick. Sheep that have no shepherd will bite, they will compete against the weaker ones, overgraze any pasture they remain in, be subject to predators and won’t be anywhere near healthy. We are not like God. We compare ourselves, conclude that we’re better than the average sheep, certainly not like that one, blame someone for the situation and move on. Mostly by ourselves.
God looks at the details and has compassion. In both the previous story and now in this scene, God looks and has compassion. There’s a Greek word behind that, too hard for me to pronounce correctly. But here’s the thing. It’s not an adjective, describing feelings. It’s not a noun, giving you the state of mind or status. It’s a verb. An action word.
God is mercifully compassionate. Yes, He is good, better than we think, as we learned last week. Mercifully compassionate.
So what do we need to do? We need to open our eyes. We need to take a full inventory of our brokenness. In brutal honesty and with hat in hand, we need to humble ourselves and go to God. We need to believe that God is mercifully compassionate and that by the sacrifice He made, that He will forgive us and restore us. We need to make sure that everyone around us knows what the Lord is like. And not separate ourselves from, or look down our noses, acting the older brother. Or the superior sheep.
We need to become mercifully compassionate in a world that is increasingly broken.
Does God excuse sin? No. Sin is still sin/brokenness and He defines it, not us. It kills us and condemns us. But He remains mercifully compassionate. He sends laborers to us. And He sends us as laborers. Because He is mercifully compassionate and compassion is a verb.
Will we open our eyes and do something to bring the broken to God? That is the question. Because that is what God is like.