Lent 4C 2016 (Lk 15:1–3, 11–32)

Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO
Bethlehem Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO


Today, we get the well-known parable of the prodigal son. This parable is about the scandal of the Gospel. The foolishness of the Gospel. The radical free-giftedness of the Christian message. It’s insane to the world, unbelievable to the self-righteous, but to sinners, real sinners, those who are guilty, despicable, and unworthy—to them, even to you, dear Christian, the message of the Gospel, the scandal of it, the almost lunacy of it, “it is the power of God,” as Paul says. This parable isn’t even about the younger, prodigal son or his older, self-righteous brother at all. This parable is all about the Jesus way of doing things, that is, how the Father saves sinners in and through His Son, our God Jesus Christ. This way is offensive, scandalous, but it’s God’s way of doing things to the great joy of sinners the world over.

(1. God saves sinners who want Him dead.)

We all know that God saves sinners. It’s the only message Jesus has given His Church to proclaim. We make “sinners” abstract though, don’t we? We might give lip-service and say, “Yes, I’m a sinner.” But more often than not we look out in the world, and it’s there that we find the sinners. Indeed, they are sinners. But we tend to think, “Yes, I’m a sinner, but I’m not THAT kind of sinner. I don’t do THAT. I don’t believe THAT.” But God saves sinners who want Him dead. That’s what the younger son wanted. “Father, give me the portion of the goods that falls to me.” “Give me my inheritance now, dad. You know, the stuff I’ll get when your gone. I want it now. I don’t want to wait that long. What benefit do I have living with you anyway?” Yes, sinners would rather have God dead, have nothing to do with Him. They reject His love and life and live for themselves. “There, in the far off land, he wasted his possessions living recklessly.” Eat, drink, and be merry. I’ll just live how I want. I don’t need God’s Word, who cares what it says anyway? Just let it keep collecting dust on the shelf. But those are exactly the sinners God comes to save. “All the tax collectors and sinners drew near to hear Him.” Jesus your God eats with those sorts of sinners. God saves them in His Son, Jesus. For such sinners as these God sacrifices the fattened calf. He sacrifices His Son that sinners, who want God dead, would be saved from their sins by God’s death. Even you, dear Christian.

(2. God welcomes sinners back freely and with great joy.)

Now, when sinners are brought back to God there ought to be conditions. That’s what sinners and the self-righteous think. Sinners want to bargain their way back into God’s good graces. “I’m not worthy to be called your son so make me one of your slaves.” The self-righteous don’t want bargains. They want restitution. “No just saying, ‘I’ve sinned.’ That’s not good enough. That sinner needs to show how sorry he his.” “When this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” You see, when God welcomes sinners back, there are no conditions! He welcomes them back freely and with great joy! In Jesus we’re welcomed back with open arms. He is the mercy of God, God’s compassion, the eternal and forever Compassionate One. “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” The Father seeks out sinners with Jesus. No matter how far off they’ve gone. No matter what they’ve done. They’re welcomed back with the nail-scarred arms of Jesus. The son who took of his father’s livelihood is given the ring of sonship, the best robes, sandals, and the feast of feasts. There is great joy over “this my son who was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

(3. It’s radical and unbecoming to our sensibilities.)

The free gift of salvation, of being welcomed back into the family, is radical. No strings attached! It’s free. There’s joy. It’s unbecoming. Shocking. A wealthy man running like that? Wouldn’t happen. He’d bring shame to himself, offend those around him by running in the loose and free-flowing garments of the day. Bystanders might see more than they wanted. Yes, it’s unbecoming. Who cares? God doesn’t. He can’t do otherwise! It’s radical and unbecoming of God that He should be made fun off, spit on, beaten, crucified. It’s not right that God should die, but that’s what your God, the true and living God, does to save sinners. Jesus, who is life itself, dies. The Author of life is nailed to a cross. He’s buried. It’s unbecoming of God to use water to save. It defies what we think God should do. It seems beneath Him to bring us His body and blood in bread and wine. Who cares? God doesn’t. That’s His Jesus way of doing things. He begs all to come into the feast. The unrighteous, the sinners are welcomed in, no strings attached. There is only joy and celebration. He even begs the self-righteous to come. “His father came out and entreated” the older son. 

That’s God for you in Jesus Christ. He saves, He welcomes sinners. He begs the self-righteous. He may have to do some unbecoming things: shed His blood, die. But that’s what He does.


It’s His Jesus way of doing things. Your God, Jesus, dies. He rises. He washes. He feeds with His body and blood. It’s all radical. It’s unbecoming. It’s all for sinners, for you. To save them, to welcome them no strings attached. Freely. Openly. That’s God for you, dear Christian, in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter what THEY have done. It’s all forgiven. God gives us of His livelihood, He gives the life of His Son to save us. The Son dies. All that’s left for sinners is the ring of sonship and the garment of Christ’s own righteousness from the Font. Just your feet being washed in absolution, being “shod with the Gospel of peace,” as Paul says. All that’s left for you is the feast of Christ’s body and blood, the true sacrifice for sin. All of this prepares you for the eternal feast of feasts that will have no end. Where there will be joy eternal and everlasting over every sinner who’s been saved in the radical and foolish way God does it—the Jesus way. It’s the only way.


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