The Prodigal Son
September 22nd, 1968 @ 8:15 AM
THE PRODIGAL SON
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-22-68 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message. I have one or two preliminary things to say before I begin, and one is this: the day of miracles has not passed. I saw Cameron Townsend, who heads the Wycliffe Bible Translators, I saw him in Rio and again in Brasilia. And I knew that already he was in a covenant of prayer that God would let him and his wife enter Russia to translate the Bible into the dialects that compose the separate parts of the Soviet Union. You cannot get a Bible into Russia, and for him to pray that he would be invited by the Russian government to come and to teach the Bible and to translate it into some of the languages that compose the states of the Soviet Union, was almost too much to ask of God.
But last night I got a long distance telephone call from Cameron Townsend in Mexico City, and soon after got another long distance telephone call from his wife who is in North Carolina. And they have been invited by the Russian government to come into Russia and to translate the Bible into Russian tongues, and to teach the Bible to the Lord’s people who are unknown to us but known to Him there. I cannot imagine such a thing. What prayer is able to do!
Now the second thing is something that we can easily do. Wednesday night at 7:30 o’clock, and the next Wednesday night at 7:30 o’clock, we will be here in this auditorium making this long, long journey with the pastor to the South American continent. This coming Wednesday night we will look at the country, mostly. All the cities in the world together are not as beautifully situated as the city of Rio, and we shall look at Rio. We shall visit the greatest falls in the world, the Iguazu Falls on the Iguazu-Paraná River.
Now this is what I want you to do. When I make a journey like this, I listen to the missionaries, and they have such colossal needs. I’ll give you an illustration. One of our missionaries is working on the campus of the great new Sao Paulo University. And he said to me, “One of the ways I have of reaching these young students is teaching them English. And I use the Bible for my textbook, teaching them English. They are pagans. They are not interested in the Bible, but they are interested in English. And I teach them English and thus teach them the Word of God.”
But he said, “Oh, how I wish I had Bibles to put in their hands when I teach the class.” I said, “Do you mean to tell me that you don’t have enough money to buy Bibles to teach your students?” He said, “I do not have the money to buy Bibles.” “Why,” I said, “I can’t imagine it. How many Bibles do you need?” He said, “I need two hundred.” I said, “I will send them to you when I get back.”
Now that’s what I mean. Why get them such things? Now I am not saying we are going to take up a colossal collection Wednesday night, I just want you to bring a little something. Just bring a little something. And we will gather together, and we will distribute it among those missionaries that I visited in South America. It will be a sweet thing to do whether they need it or not.
Well, what are you going to do this morning now? Well, I turned this thing around, my preaching day. As all of you know who come to church on Sunday night, and that means all of us, there is no one here that doesn’t come to church on Sunday night. Other churches may have members that don’t come on Sunday night but not the First Baptist Church. All of us come to church Sunday night.
Now as you know, Sunday night I preach about the Lord, as such. I preach in the Gospels, been doing that for years. I’ve been preaching through the life of Christ. And I do that every Sunday night unless there is some special exigency that arises. Every Sunday night you just count on it. Every Sunday night the pastor is bragging on Jesus. He is preaching about something in the life of our Lord.
Well, I thought I would turn it around today. I am going to preach, in that long series in the life of Jesus, I am going to preach that sermon this morning. I am now in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, and I am going to preach that sermon this morning. Then tonight I am going to preach a sermon that I thought you would be interested in. “How do you preach, pastor, when you go to a church in Bolivia or Chile or at the ends of the earth? What do you preach to those people?” Well, I thought I would preach one of those sermons tonight at 7:30 o’clock like I preach when I go to a church in a foreign country. The title of the sermon is Christ Loved the Church, and Gave Himself For It. So tonight I am going to preach a sermon that I have preached many times through a translator, through an interpreter, in a church far away.
And then the sermon that usually I preach Sunday night, I am preaching now. If you would like to turn to the passage, Luke chapter 15, I have already preached on the first fourteen verses—I mean the first ten verses. Now we begin at the eleventh verse, Luke chapter 15, verse 11:
And He said, and Jesus said, A certain man had two sons:
And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I, I perish with hunger!
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
I am no more worthy to be called thy son: just make me as one of thy hired servants.
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his finger, and shoes on his feet:
And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry.
For this my son was dead, he is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
Nobody could ever tell a story like Jesus. We are going to build the sermon around three alliterative words. And the first word is “weary,” weary. This boy was weary of his father’s house and his father’s righteousness; tired of it, sick of it. The boy did not come to his father and say, “Father, I have been turning over a great problem in my mind. I have learned that life is a responsibility and a discipline. I realize that I have been born in circumstances that are conspicuously auspicious and favorable. But the time has come when I ought to earn my own bread, and find my own status, and establish my own title, and to be received as a man.” He never said that to his father. What he said to his father in effect was this: “Father, I want to be free from this bondage. I am young, and an adventurer, and the exciting world is calling, and I want to be gone and away from these restraints at home.” He was filled with ennui in the dull, colorless life at home. Why, he couldn’t sit down to eat where that somebody had to say grace at the table! He couldn’t go to bed at night but that somebody reminded him to pray. He couldn’t get through a weekend without having to go to Sunday school and Training Union and church. He couldn’t be out late at night or drink a little on the side without a reprimand from his father. And he was weary with it all. The titillations of the flesh beckoned. The exciting world called and the very blood danced in his veins as he thought of the pleasures to be explored. Weary with his father and with his father’s righteous life; so, he said to his father, “Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me” [Luke 15:12]. Now isn’t that freedom for you? Freedom depending upon the largesse and the gifts of somebody else. “I want to be free. I don’t want to be bound down by these stale, drab conditions. Life is calling and I want to answer. I want to be free. Give me.” Isn’t that something?
And every man is just like that. All that he has is a gift from God, and all that he uses is the misuse of gifts from God. “I want to answer the dancing call of the world. I want to jig to the tune of the devil. I want to respond to all of those pleasures that await me.” And the only way he can do it is to take God’s gifts and prostitute them before the world. Isn’t that strange? “Give me, give me.” Because everything we have, God gave us.
“And not many days after, he gathered what had been given him and took his journey into a far country” [Luke 15:13]. “Not many days after”; any time a man or a youth bends himself toward pleasure, he hastens God out of his sight and out of his mind and out of his memory. “Let’s get rid of God; let’s get rid of God and all the restraints of heaven. Let’s forget Him.”
And he took his journey into a far country. The farther away the better; the farther away the sweeter. Going so far that whatever he did would never reach his father’s ears. “I am going to be free. I am going to enjoy the world and life. I am going to cast off these restraints. I am going away, far away, forget God, and I am going to live life to its fullest.”
So he left and entered that far country. You talk about weariness. Weariness? He thought he knew weariness when he was weary of his father’s house and his father’s righteous life. But he didn’t know what weary was until he began to serve the devil and to live in the pleasures of the world. The weariness of sin, the ennui of the cheap rewards of the world, grind a man’s soul to death. Weariness? “And when he had spent all” [Luke 15:14]––isn’t that amazing? Everything that he had was spendable. Everything that he had was outside of himself. Whatever he had he could spend. What a description of a man of the world. Let me show you what I am talking about.
There is an attempted description of the wealth of God’s saints, indescribably precious, “that fadeth not away; incorruptible, reserved in heaven for you” [1 Peter 1:4]. The riches and the treasures of those who love God can never fail. But what he had he could spend, and that’s all he had, what he had outside of himself; spendable. “And there arose a mighty famine in the land.” There is always a famine coming when a man gives himself to the world. “And he began to be in want” [Luke 15:14]. I can just see that young fellow. I can just look at him. I can recognize him. I can see exactly what he did. And he began to be in want. Heretofore, when he was sick, the physician was there to minister to him. Heretofore, whatever he needed, father and mother were there to supply his wants. Now he is in need and he is in want, and I can see that young fellow look around half expecting to see the face of his mother or of his father. But all that he sees are strangers.
“And no man gave unto him” [Luke 15:16]. Isn’t that friendship? When he had lots of money everybody liked him. And everybody welcomed him, everybody enjoyed having him around. I can just see him at the bar. I can see him at the club. When he hit town everybody knew he was there. When he had money everybody loved him. When he lost his money, when he spent everything he had, there wasn’t a friend among them. Not one, not one. “And no man gave unto him” [Luke 15:16]. Talk about weariness; there is not any weariness as in the world.
Now we are going to build the second part of this exposition around the word “will,” will. He had a will of his own, and he was exercising it. “This is my life, and these are my choices. This is what I am going to do.” Let me make a comment on the whole breadth of this parable. It has three parts. The first part of this parable, and the Bible refers to it as singular, a parable—the first part of it told the story of the lost sheep [Luke 15:3-7]. And the second part told the story of the lost coin [Luke 15:8-10], and this third part of the story tells of a lost boy [Luke 15:11-32].
Now we are lost sometimes as a sheep is lost, just going astray. We are lost sometimes as a coin is lost through the neglect of others. But down underneath, there is a grimmer truth, and that is this: no matter what the environment or the sociological explanations, no matter what the ignorance and the deprivations, yet there is the stark fact that when we sin, when we sin it is because we will to sin! We want to sin!
Now I read, as you do, and I listen to these editorials and these commentators as they explain to us all the crime that arises out of poverty, and out of neglect, and out of the ghetto, and out of the underprivilege. And I am sure the sociological explanations that these men who are humanists and studying, these behavioral psychologists, I am sure what they say is partly true. But it is only partly true.
Any time a man sins, any time a youth is delinquent, it is because he chooses to be delinquent! I don’t care what kind of a background that he had. Any time a man turns to crime it is because he chooses to turn to crime. Any time a youngster is delinquent and breaks the law, it is because he chooses to do it, no matter what his father was or what his mother was. There is always that element of moral personal responsibility in our choice, in our wills, so with this young fellow. He willed to leave his father’s house. He willed to go out into the world. He willed to do it. And the father did not seek to hold him or to change him [Luke 15:12]. You have lost your boy when his will is alien to the father’s house. You don’t have him anymore. He’s gone. He’s gone. And this boy left [Luke 15:13].
But what an amazing thing! What an amazing thing: “I have a will, and I am going to choose to be free from all restraint. There will be liberty without law! There will be freedom without conventions! I am going to be free.” And he left to exert himself as a free moral agent [Luke 15:13-14].
Well. “And he joined himself to a citizen in that country who sent him.” Well, of all things! This boy has a will of his own, and he is going to exercise it, and he is going to be free, and that citizen sent him into the field to feed swine [Luke 15:15]. And the shame and degradation of that assignment nobody but a Jew could feel. Isn’t that strange? “I am going to be free. I am going to leave the weariness of this house. And I am going to leave these moral restraints, and I am going to be free!”
And that citizen to whom he joined himself sent him, ordered him to feed the hogs. Well, what a come-to-pass! “I am going to be free. Ah! I am going to sin with pleasure. And I am going to drink with abandon, and I am going to live a life of the epicure. I am going to be free, absolutely free.”
Oh, he falls into the worst slavery that mind can imagine! “And he sent him to feed the hogs” [Luke 15:15]. “I am going to be free.” Oh, there he is in the gutter. Absolutely free, in the gutter? “And no man gave unto him” [Luke 15:16]. Where is that bar keeper? Where is that liquor establishment that took his money, and took his money, and took his money, and when he ran out of money, threw him out?
I thought all my life that all of these alcoholics ought to be paid for and kept up by the men who took their money, the liquor industry, and the man who sold him the drinks. But they are chiselers by nature! They suck the man dry, then throw him out, pith and wry, there he is in the gutter. Same way with a girl; she may be beautiful and alluring and attractive, and the world consumes her, and then when the world is done with her, she is a rag and a bone and a hank of hair; cast off. Ah! Ah!
“And when he came to himself…” well, what an unusual description; “when he came to himself” [Luke 15:17]. When he went away, and when he threw off the restraints of his father’s house, then he wasn’t his self; he was somebody else. What an astonishing thing! Sin is insanity! And wickedness and iniquity is madness! “When he came to himself”; a man is not himself when he abandons himself to the world. He is mad. He is insane. “When he came to himself,” when he was in his right self, he turned to his father and said, “Father, make me as one of thy hired servants. My will is thine” [Luke 15:18-21].
You are at your finest and at your best when you kneel, yieldedly and surrenderedly before the heavenly Father and say, “Lord, not my will, but Thine, be done” [Luke 22:42]. That is the true freedom.
Now the last word is “welcome.” “And he arose and came to his father, and when he was a great way off his father saw him” [Luke 15:20]. Well, filial love had died, but not paternal love, the father’s love. “When he was yet a great way off his father saw him.” Underneath those rags and out of that famine and sin and riotous living, his father recognized him immediately by the stride of the step, by the lines in his body, by the features of his face, in memory; that boy had been prayed over and wept over for the years he had been gone.
“And his father saw him and ran to meet him” [Luke 15:20]. The father must have said in his heart, “When the boy comes near the house, his courage may ooze out his fingertips; going through these servants, he may become shamefaced and self-conscious. And I must meet the boy to give him encouragement and help.” And he ran, and took him in his arms, and kissed him before any confession was made [Luke 15:20]. No charge. No castigation. No sharp words. No quarantine until the disease of sin had passed. No recounting of what he had done that was wrong. The father just took him in his arms and kissed him.
And the son said, “Father, I have sinned” [Luke 15:21]. I have always felt that a man was nine-tenths in the kingdom of God if he would say that. “It’s not her fault, it’s mine. It’s not their fault, it’s mine.” “I have sinned, done wrong before God and before thee, and I am not worthy to be called a son” [Luke 15:21]. You are mostly in, you are inside the gate, you are in heaven almost when you get to the place where you will say that to God: “I have sinned. I have done wrong. I have” [1 John 1:9] And I tell you that would remake anybody’s house and home if he would say that: “It isn’t your fault. It’s mine. I have done wrong”—heal ten thousand breaches, if we’d just humble ourselves.
And the father said, “Bring forth the best robe. Take off these old garments that remind us of the life in the far country. Put a robe on him” [Luke 15:22]. That’s an emblem of character in the Bible. “These are they who wash their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 7:14]. Bring a robe. Put it on him. Put a ring on his finger, status and honor, and shoes on his feet. The slaves went barefooted; the shoes represented his adoption, his reception into the family. “And bring hither the fatted calf and let us eat and be merry”; the heavenly feast. “For my boy was dead, and is alive again; my boy was lost, and he is found” [Luke 15:23-24].
I have to conclude. There is no sweetness in heaven or in earth like the dear preciousness of drawing nigh to God. “Lord, Lord, here I am, and here I come. My will, God’s will; my life, God’s life; my way, God’s way. I shall be bound by golden chains to Thee Lord, forever; and here I am.” We are going to sing our song, and while we sing it, you to give yourself to Jesus; or a family you to come into the fellowship of the church, while we sing our song and make this appeal, come now. On the first note of the first stanza, come. Make the decision now to come. And in a moment when we stand up singing, stand up coming, do it. Say yes, and come. “I will arise and go [Luke 15:18], and here I am,” while we stand and while we sing.