The Prodigal Son
September 22nd, 1968 @ 10:50 AM
THE PRODIGAL SON
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-22-68 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the greatest church in the world; the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor, the best preacher in the world who is delivering the morning message. My next book is entitled My Humility and How I Achieved It.
First: a miracle; I just cannot believe what God is able to do. Cameron Townsend, the head of Wycliffe [Bible] Translators, said to me some time ago, “I want you to covenant to pray with me that we can be invited to Russia to translate God’s Word into the language of those Soviet states and to teach the people God’s Book.” “Why,” I said, “You cannot even smuggle a Bible into Russia, much less be invited to translate it into the languages of those people and to teach it.” “But God put it in my heart, and you pray.”
Well, you had never heard such limping praying in all of your life. But last night Cameron Townsend called us from Mexico City and his wife called us from North Carolina, and they have an official invitation from the Russian government to come into Russia and to translate God’s Book into the languages of those states and to teach the people God’s Word. I cannot believe it. It is fantastic! That’s the Lord. That’s God!
Second: I want you to do something when you come Wednesday night. At 7:30 this coming Wednesday night in this great auditorium, we will look at the vast continent to the south of us. All the beauty of all the cities of the world does not compare to the beauty of situation of Rio. We shall look at it. We shall visit what they say are the greatest falls in the world, the Iguazu Falls on the Iguazu-Parana River. We shall visit that continent this Wednesday night.
Then next Wednesday night at 7:30 o’clock, we shall look at God’s work among those teeming peoples of the South American continent. Now when you come Wednesday night I want you to bring a little something with you. Not much, but a gift. When I make a journey like this I listen to the missionaries. I watch them. And I love to help them just to show them that our sympathies and remembrances are with them. I love to send them something when I come back home.
But mostly it is like this. I was talking to one of our missionaries, a gifted young fellow, who works on the campus of the great new Sao Paulo University. Now he works with youngsters that are socialistically orientated; they are communistically indoctrinated. They for the most part are pagan and heathen and have a vicious attitude toward the Christian faith and have rarely been introduced to it as we believe it. In order to reach those students he teaches them the Bible. They couldn’t teach them the Bible as such, so he has an English class, and those brilliant young students are eager to learn English.
So he teaches an English class, but his textbook is the Bible. Now he said to me as I walked around the campus with him and looked at that teeming university, “Oh,” he said, “how I wish I had Bibles to put in their hands when I teach them English.”
I said, “Do you mean to say that you don’t have any Bibles?”
“No” he said, “I don’t have any Bibles.”
“Well,” I said, “why don’t you have them?”
He said, “I do not have the money to buy them.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “WelI,” I said, “how many Bibles do you want?”
He said, “I need two hundred.”
I said, “Missionary, when I get back home I will send you the money to buy the Bibles.”
That’s what I mean. It will take practically nothing from us. Just bring a little something with you, and we will send them a gift, and among them we will send that young missionary money to buy two hundred Bibles. We might even send him a little more to buy three hundred. You can’t tell. It’s just something sweet and precious to do.
Well, now this morning. I have turned my sermons around. Every Sunday night here, unless there is an exigency that arises and it seldom does; every Sunday night at 7:30 o’clock in this great auditorium, I preach a sermon on Jesus. I have been doing that for years, preaching through the life of our Lord, bragging on Jesus.
Well, tonight I thought you might like to know how I preach when I make one of these extended mission tours. So tonight I thought I would preach a sermon that I often preach when I am speaking through an interpreter to a congregation far away and in a different language. It will be entitled Christ Loved the Church, and Gave Himself for It [Ephesians 5:25]. Now that’s what I am going to do tonight. I am going to preach a sermon that I preached in churches in these countries far away.
So that meant that the sermon on Jesus that I would preach tonight I am preaching at this morning hour. Now in the years and the years that I have been preaching in the life of Christ, I have come to the eleventh verse of the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Luke. It is the third part of a parable. Singular, a parable; the Bible calls it a parable. The first part was the story of the lost sheep [Luke 15:3-7]. The second part was the story of the lost coin [Luke 15:8-10]. And the third part is the story that Dan Beam sang about a moment ago; Luke 15, [verse] 11:
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 the father 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 the fields to feed hogs.
And he wanted to fill his belly with the husks that the hogs did eat: and no man gave unto him.
But 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,
And I am not worthy to be called thy son: make me just one of thy hired servants.
So 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 put his arms around his boy, 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 boy was dead, and he is alive again; he was lost, and is found.
Could anybody tell a story like Jesus? Now as I expound that passage we are going to weave the sermon around three alliterative words, and the first one is “weary.” The boy was weary of his father’s house and of his father’s righteous life; sick of it, tired of it, weary of it. You see, the boy did not come up to his father and say, “Father, I have been turning over a great problem in my mind. I am beginning to understand that life is an accountability. It is a responsibility. It is a discipline. And I have concluded that I ought to go out and earn my own bread, and make my own name, and find my own station and status, and be received as a man.” Now he never said anything like that to his father.
What he said in effect was this, “Father, I am weary and tired of these restraints! I want to be free. I am an adventurer, and I hear the world calling, and my blood dances in my veins, and I want to be up and away and gone! I hear the voice of pleasure and gladness and good times. And I want to enjoy [it] to the full.”
Life indeed had grown colorless and wearisome in his father’s house. He was sick of it. He couldn’t even eat a meal without somebody saying grace at the table. He couldn’t even go to bed at night without somebody reminding him to say his prayers. He couldn’t even go through a weekend without having to attend Sunday school and church and Training Union. And not only that, he couldn’t even drink a little and stay out a little without a reprimand from his father.
So when he came to a certain age, he said: “I am sick, I am tired, I am weary. I am leaving out! This exciting world is calling. And the titillations of the flesh are beckoning, and I am gone! Going to throw off these restraints and these stale conventions, and I am going to draw life to the full, drink it to the last drop.”
So he started out, but the absurdity of how life is put together when a fellow does it that way—so he came to his father and said, “Father, give me, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me” [Luke 15:12]. What an amazing come-to-pass. “I want to be free. So, give me.” That’s the absurdity of all mankind. The only way we can waste our lives and dissipate our endowments is to take what God has given us and misuse it on the world. “Father, give me.” And, of course, God is good, and His finest gifts, He bestows upon them, and we can do with them as we please.
So he took what the father gave him—to be free from the restraints of his father and to have liberty to enjoy to the full all of the pleasures that those gifts might entail [Luke 15:12]. So it continues. Not many days after, he gathered what he had and went into a far country [Luke 15:13]. Any time a man wants to give himself to pleasures, he hustles God out of his life and out of his memory and out of his sight quickly. Let’s do it fast. Let’s make it soon. And took his journey into a far country, just as far away as he could get, the farther the better and the sweeter and the more full of enjoyment and pleasure. And nothing of what his life led him into would go to his father’s ears. He was far, far away. Weary of his house, weary of his father’s righteous life, weary of the restraints of home, just weary of it all.
My brother, there is no weariness in this world like the weariness of the world and the weariness of sin. He thought he knew weariness in his father’s house and in his father’s righteous life, but he never knew what weariness was until he found himself in the ennui, and the waste, and the destruction, and the weariness of sin. Look at it. Look at it. And in that far country, wasting his substance and his life in shameless living; “when he had spent all” [Luke 15:14], what a commentary! Everything that he had was spendable, and nothing that he had but that he could spend! How different the saint of God. There is an attempted description of our possessions in glory, “an inheritance undefiled, indescribable, incorruptible that fadeth not away” [1 Peter 1:4]. Everything he had was on the outside of him and could be spent, and he spent it [Luke 15:14].
“And there arose a great famine in that land.” Always that famine comes, always. “And he began to be in want” [Luke 15:14]. That was a new experience. Heretofore if he was sick, there was the physician to call in. Heretofore, whatever he wanted, there was father and mother to gratify his every need. But now in his want he looked around, and I can see that boy as somehow and unconsciously he looked for a mother’s face and for a father’s face. And all that he saw was the faces of strangers, “and no man gave unto him” [Luke 15:16]. Alone and in want, that is weary weariness.
Now the second word is “will”; will. The young fellow said, “I have a will of my own, a choice of my own. And my will is to leave my father behind” [Luke 15:12-13]. I want to say something here kind of parenthetically, but it is following the text. This parable, a parable the Bible calls it, a parable in three parts; the first parable describes a lost sheep [Luke 15:3-7]. Lost like a sheep just straying away, nibbling here this lush watercourse, that tuft of grass. The evening came and the great perpendicular, precipitous walls arose around the thing and that little thing was lost, lost like a sheep, just drifting into eternity without God.
Now the second part of the parable, lost like a coin through the neglect of others [Luke 15:8-10]; lost in the house, many, many homes where the children are lost, buried under the debris of the worldliness and indifference to the house; lost like a coin through the indifference and neglect of others [Luke 15:8-10].
But this story, the third part of it, is the story of the lost boy who was lost because of an obstreperous, sinful, incorrigible, selfish, pleasure-loving will [Luke 15:11-32]. Now my comment: when these sociologists and these behavioral psychologists say that these delinquents and these criminals, they are men of sin and violence because of their environment, because of their fathers and mothers, because of the ghetto or the submarginal area in which they grew up. Now I am not denying that environment and the psychological impact of parents does not have any vital, deep and everlasting effect on a child; but I am saying this also, that any time a youngster sins or any time a man falls into wickedness, he also does so because of his own sinful choice. He chooses to do it!
And when a man says, “I am standing here a delinquent, or standing here a criminal, and it’s my father’s fault or it’s my mother’s fault, or it is the environment’s fault”; I am just avowing to you that whatever the ignorance or whatever the social environment or whatever the background, there is a grimmer truth underneath, and that is this: that men are sinners because they choose to be sinners. Every delinquent teenager chose to be delinquent. And every man of wickedness and sin and crime chose to be a man of sin and wickedness and crime. That’s the way it is with this boy. This boy said, “This will of mine I shall employ as I please! And however the father’s will or whatever any restraint, whatever any convention, I am breaking it! I am free and I choose that freedom of indulgence and will” [Luke 15:12-13].
All right, again. What a strange come-to-pass. “I am free. I shall will to do what I please.” And he leaves and went enjoined himself to a citizen of that country who sent him to feed the hogs [Luke 15:15]. Well. Ah! Ah! I am willing that I be free! When your boy wills to be free of you, he is not at home any longer. You can’t subvert the alien will of your boy. And the father made no effort to keep him or to hold him, let him go [Luke 15:12]. You will have to do that.
But when the lad said, “I want to be free of my father’s house and free of my father’s righteousness, and I want to exercise my freedom,” so he went out to eat, and to drink, and to carouse, and to sin, and to waste his life in a riotous, rapturous living [Luke 15:13-14]. And then the next sentence says “and joining a citizen of that country, that man sent him to feed the hogs” [Luke 15:15]. And only a Jew could ever understand the shame of that assignment.
Isn’t that strange how life is put together? Free to drink, free to lust, free to enjoy, free to sin: but a slave! And the hardest taskmaster in this earth is the world and the judgments of sin. Here is a man in the gutter; in the gutter. “And no man gave unto him” [Luke 15:16]. Ha! Ah! The sardonic, colossal indifference of those on whom he had wasted all his fortune; they sucked him dry and spit him out, pith and wry.
I often think of the liquor industry and the barkeeper. Take what a man has and take what a man has and take what a man has and when they’ve taken all that he has, they throw it out in the gutter. There he lies in the gutter. They don’t care: His wife at home, weeping her heart out; the children, were it not for the largess of the neighbors and the charity of the community, go hungry and without shoes. But they don’t care.
I have thought through the years of my life that the liquor industry and the barkeeper ought to be made to pay for that man that they have destroyed. But they will never do it. They never do it. They will take, and take, and take, and take all that he has and then say to the church or say to the compassionate heart of the community, “Now you take him and take care of him.” That’s the world.
And young woman, the world will do you the same way. They will love you, and receive you, and pet you, and adore you, and cuddle you when you are beautiful and young. Then they will throw you away and call you a rag, and a bone, and a hank of hair!
Ah! “And no man gave unto him” [Luke 15:16]. They let him starve. They let him cry. They let him weep. They let him die in his own agony, and in his own misery, and in his own need and in his own want. That’s what the world will do to you; a hard taskmaster, the world and sin.
So, sitting there on the top of a corral fence, looking at the hogs eat and the tears rolling off of his face, he came to himself. That’s what God says. “He came to himself” [Luke 15:17]. He found his right self. In other words, a man is not himself when he takes his own will and wills to devote it to sin and pleasure and the world.
Sin, God says, is insanity! And iniquity and wickedness, God says, is madness! And the man is not himself when he gives his will to the world and when he lives away from his father’s house in a far country. He’s somebody else. And when the boy came to himself [Luke 15:17], he said, “I will arise, go back to my father, and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and I am no more worthy to be called a son: make me one of your servants’” [Luke 15:18-19].
“Father, just a hired hand, you tell me. You command me because I am not worthy to be a son” [Luke 15:21]. Did you know you are almost in the kingdom when you say that? I don’t care who you are. “I have sinned. And I am not worthy to be called a son” [Luke 15:21]. Did you know all heaven and earth is changed when a man says that? Did you know nine-hundred ninety-nine times out of a thousand if a man will say that in his house, in his home, he has a new day, a new wife, new children? Almost all of us are that proud, lifted up, self-willed kind of a person. It’s her fault. She did so and so. Or it’s their fault. Or it’s the in-laws fault or the children’s fault, on and on and on.
It’s not very often you will find a man who will stand up before God and say, “Lord, I’ll level with You, God. It’s my fault. If I were different, everything else would be different.” I am just saying to you, you are nigh to the kingdom when you say that: “I have sinned against heaven, and before Thee” [Luke 15:21]. You are almost in.
Well, when he gave his will to God, when he gave his will to the father, he arose and came to his father [Luke 15:20]. Now the third part and I have but a moment, the third part; welcome, welcome. And when the boy was yet a great way off his father saw him [Luke 15:20]. Filial love had died, the boy wanted to be away. But paternal love was just the same. And when the father saw him a long way off in his dirt, and in his rags, and in his famine and need and want, the scars and marks of sin, and riot, and waste all over him; when the father saw him he recognized him a long way off; the stride of the step, the lines of the body, the configurations of his face. In memory, that boy had been remembered and wept over and prayed over ever since he left.
And the father saw him and recognized him immediately, and the father ran to him [Luke 15:20]. “Maybe my boy will lose his resolution as he gets near the house. As he tries to walk through that gauntlet of servants, the boy may falter. He may hesitate, the courage ooze out of his fingertips.” And the father ran to him, and met the slow stepping shame-faced lad. “And the father ran, and put his arms around him, and kissed him” [Luke 15:20].
Why, there is not a word there of rebuke, no sharp and jagged sentences of condemnation, none at all. No ostracism, no quarantine until the disease of sin has run its course, no weeping until there is a proper sense of guilt and conviction, nothing at all! When the boy came back and the father saw him, he ran and put his arms around him, and kissed him [Luke 15:20].
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind,
And the compassion of our heavenly Father
Is most gloriously, wonderfully kind
[ from “For the Love of God”; Fredrick Lehman, 1917]
Aren’t you glad? So when the father saw the lad he said to his servants, “Bring the best robe, and put it on him” [Luke 15:22]. Let’s get rid of these old rags and the remembrances of the past and these scars of the yesteryear. That’s what Christianity is. It’s a faith. It’s a doctrine in the land of beginning again [2 Corinthians 5:17].
Everything in the past is wiped away, clean, forgotten, buried, forever forgiven, not remembered. Bring the best robe and put it on him [Luke 15:22]. That’s character. “These are they have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 7:14]. Bring the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand” [Luke 15:22]. That’s position and status, sonship. “And put shoes on his feet” [Luke 15:22]. The slaves went barefooted, but a son wore shoes into the family of God. “And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it: and let us eat and be merry” [Luke 15:23]. This is the heavenly feast. Oh, the gladness! The incomparable glory and joy of being in the father’s house, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” [Luke 15:24].
That’s God’s goodness to us. I can’t beat that will. I cannot. My will will be devoted in some way, somehow to some other commitment. It just will. I am in the world serving there; or I am in the kingdom serving here. And the sweetness and the preciousness of serving God in the kingdom is joy and light and glory forever.
Come. Come. Come. We are going to stand and sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or one somebody you, come. Make it now. This morning, this hour, do it. If you are in the balcony, there is a stairway at the front and on either side, at the back on either side, and there is time and to spare. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come. This is my wife. These are our children. All of us are coming.” Or just two, you and your wife, or your friend or your brother, or just one you; make the decision now, and when we stand in a moment to sing, stand up coming. God attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.