"So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." (Luke 15:20)
I have seen the joy of the Lord in the eyes of my father on a warm August day in Muskegon, Michigan. I have seen the anger of fear in the eyes of the guilty on the battlefields of Southeast Asia. And I have seen the mist flowing upward from the warm bodies lying in the field drifting upward to their final destination as their blood drained their bodies last ounce of life. There was enough spirit within me to ponder, what now and where have they gone? A question that not only deserved but demanded an answer and it is one that you must answer as well. There are two extreme measures, and each one of us must decide which one to accept.
On a warm August day in 1970, the Boeing Jet cruised down the tarmac of the airport in Muskegon, Michigan. The jet stopped at the gate, and those who were onboard began there descent from the plane. One was a skinny soldier who had one year prior left that same airport on a journey to a far off place halfway around the world. Now he had come home, and he briskly walked into the terminal and searched his pocket for a dime to make a phone call. As the phone rang a feeling of great relief came over him and he was having trouble controlling his emotion. A pleasant lady answered the phone, and it was music to hear the kindness of her voice. “Maranatha Bible Conference, may I help you?” she replied. “Yes,” the Army soldier said, “Could you please deliver a message to Dr. Robert W Kirkpatrick that he has a package to pick up at the airport.” The lady said that she would, and he hung up the phone.
The soldier walked out of the terminal and sat down on one of the benches along the outer wall. There was a cool breeze blowing in from Lake Michigan, and the leaves of the trees sounded off gentle whispers. The birds were singing their morning praises to the Creator as the soprano sound of idling jet engines rested on their pads. In a short time the peace of the early morning was fractured by the sound of squalling tires wrenching into the parking lot.
The car tore through the lot up one aisle and down another searching for a parking spot. Once found the car leaped into the slot and the driver was out before the vehicle had come to a complete stop. The man came running at full throttle at what seemed as fast as an Olympic runner. The soldier rose from his bench seat and started to walk towards the running man. But he misjudged the distance and was nearly knocked to his feet by the impact of the running man pulling him deep into his chest.
As the soldier stood there within in the arms of his father, they both bathed each other in the steady flow of tears of joy. As I looked into my father’s eyes, as best as I could see through the tears I was weeping, my heart knew I had seen the joy of the Lord.
Our text comes from the parable of the Prodigal Son. It is one of my favorite parables because every one of us is in a far country. Those of us who are parents have had the experience of our children going off to the far country or someday will. We are concerned as to how our children will act when away from the home base. Will they honor you by their actions or bring disgrace to the family name? Will they live safely or be in dangerous situations? Will the day come when they arrive home safe or are they gone forever? The answer to these questions requires a strong faith in the promises of God.
I spent my time in the far country as a belligerent soul. Dishonoring my father’s name and surely would have brought him shame. Now I am a father who ponders these same questions. I think my children are good but know the truth that they had wrenched souls just as I. I remember many a night when my children were in their teen years waiting up late at night praying for their safe arrival home. My fears are born from the evils of this world, and I know them because I have been a part of them. Have not we all to a measure?
This parable speaks of a son who took his inheritance and went off to the far country and squandered it in riotous living. When he had reached wit's end he had nowhere to go but back to his home and plead with his father to take him back beneath his wing. But his father who loved him, all the same, had been concerned continuously for his errant son’s welfare and searched the horizons daily for his return. Is this not what parents do search beyond the home hoping to see their child returning?
God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, created every one of us. All are His, but so many are lost in the far country. He loves us every one because He created us them His image. Like any parent He wishes that none of us should perish. In His longsuffering He waits for us to return unto Him that He may fellowship as we desire fellowship with our children. "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) We have lived in the far country racking up a debt that we can never pay, but our Heavenly Father loves us so much that He sent His Son Jesus to pay that sin debt for us. There are the few that have accepted that free gift of salvation and follow His Son Jesus upon faith in His Promises as they journey to the Promised Land. Our Heavenly Father searches the horizons in great anticipation for the day of our return. "Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His godly ones." (Psalm 116:15) A returning loved one brings the joy that I have seen in the eyes of my father on that warm day in Muskegon.
There is the story of a trial in the courts of heaven. God is the judge, and humanity is the defendant. At the end of the proceedings the elders reached a verdict and humanity was found guilty of rebellion against God’s Word. I was there, and as I looked out into the eyes of the accused I could see the anger of their fear. The same as I saw in Southeast Asia. They knew their guilt for they had lived it. They knew their disobedience, their negligence, and they knew they had been found unworthy of God’s grace. Then before God could pronounce the sentence humanities advocate, Jesus rose to speak. "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness." (Matthew 7:23)
Then the next verdict was read of a wretched soul guilty, and God the Judge awaited the advocate response. Jesus answered, “Father,” He said, “this little child is my brother, he has followed me, and I have promised them everlasting life.” Jesus turned to the defendant and spoke, "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master." (Matthew 25:21) God, the judge, then pardoned him and welcomed him into the Kingdom for eternity.
I cannot think about the measure of things without listening to the truth as spoken by our Lord and Savior Jesus Himself. "Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure--pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return." (Luke 6:38) What are we giving and what are we receiving? Are we giving most of our time and energy to the things of this world? Are we in love with power, possession, and fame? Do we have a love that is more concerned for our brothers and sisters, or is it self-centered? Have we found anything in this world that is satisfying to the spirit?
Jesus gave His all that each one of us might be adjudicated by God who judges in His love and mercy. Jesus gave His all that He might be the just and the justifier. Jesus shed His blood that our sins can be forgiven. He gave His life that a repentant soul could live forever in His Kingdom. There is nothing that Jesus withholds from us that we might have life and have it abundantly. What are we giving to Jesus to receive such a gift to have it poured into your lap a good measure--pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return."
We are in the far country, but it is not where we desire to be. Man has been searching for a place of peace and joy, and for centuries upon centuries he has not found it. I tell you the truth it will not be found here because the god of this world prowls about to steal, kill and destroy. (John 10:10) Are you here alone in the far country without a Savior? Have you searched high and low and across the broad road and not found the peace and joy for your spirit? Your Heavenly Father is searching the horizon for a repentant child of His to point his path towards his heavenly home.
The Apostle Paul said, "I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." (2 Corinthians 5:8) Our God is love and to be a part from Him is to be in a place where there is no love. I cannot contemplate being in such a place, and I am sorrowed for those whom I know are going there. It is not that I loved God, but that He loved me that brought me into the arms of His love. He sent His Son to seek and to save that which is lost, and to this very day and for a short time longer He is calling your name. Can you hear His call? Consider the question, “Where can I go but to the Lord?”
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me.
Come home, come home, you who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home!
If you hear His soft and tender voice, then answer for this is the day of your salvation. "For He says, "At the acceptable time I listened to you, And on the day of salvation I helped you." Behold, now is "the acceptable time," behold, now is "the day of salvation." (2 Corinthians 6:2)
Thomas N Kirkpatrick
First Baptist Church of Durant, August 23, 2015