When Paul wrote about being “transformed by the renewing of our mind” (Romans 12:2), he used the word for the metamorphosis a butterfly experiences when it leaves the cocoon. When we give our life to Christ, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and convicts us, we develop a longing to be free of harmful traditions and habits and experience freedom.
Here’s the thing: if a butterfly is robbed of the struggle, it will never be able to fly. If God’s creation gives us insight into the mind of the Creator – and I think it often does – there are times that He is going to let us struggle. He will do all the things only God can do – but there is purpose to the struggles he allows us to have (or perhaps even wants us to have).
Today we are going to talk about the importance of living in brokenness. This is not a call to shame and depression; it’s a look at the metamorphosis, the struggle to break free of all kinds of things that threaten to wrap us in sin and failure. Our text is the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
But when he came to his senses he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father.
But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.
But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
The Lost Younger Brother
- He basically tells his father, “I want to live as if you were dead.”
- He sells his inheritance at a loss; he has no sense of the life that has been offered to him
- He moves to a country that is “far away” in more ways than one
- He loses everything the father gave him
- He settles for the most “unclean” work imaginable rather than go home.
He is arrogant, rude, selfish, irresponsible, and blind to his path to destruction. He is content to be degraded and used to live far from the Father. Jesus’ Jewish audience was probably tracking with him so far – yeah, that’s a bad kid. His heart and soul are a wreck and his life followed.
The Lost Older Brother
- The older brother should have helped heal the broken relationship between his father and brother. Instead, he apparently does nothing. He lets his younger brother publically shame himself so he can benefit.
- He keeps everything his father gave him with entitlement instead of gratitude. “All these years I’ve been slaving for you.”
- He becomes combative and argumentative, bitter that a sinner like his brother would be celebrated when they came back home.
- He brings out a scorecard: “What? Not even a goat for me?”
- The story begins with the younger brother insulting his father leaving the house; it ends with the older brother dishonoring his father by refusing to enter.
He is arrogant, rude, selfish, judgmental, and blind to the corruption in his heart. Jesus’ audience was probably a little more surprised by this twist. The older son was supposed to be the good guy, but his heart and soul were a wreck also.
Two brothers in two fields. Both far from the Father in ways that look very different. One is wildly sinful, the other properly sinful. One is obviously rebellious, the other subtly so. One shames his father by challenging him, the other by failing to defend him. Only one makes it back home. What changes? What’s the difference between the two?
One of them was willing to reveal his brokenness with the hope of recovery and restoration.
- “I have sinned against heaven and earth” vs. “I have never disobeyed.”
- “Just make me a slave!” vs. “All these years I’ve slaved for you!”
- “I’m not worthy to be your son” vs. “You’ve never given me what I deserve!”
One sees his sin and is driven to repentance; the other refuses to see his sin and responds with judgment. One is humble and vulnerable before God and others; the other refuses to concede he could have done anything wrong. One longs to return home; the other refuses to enter his house. One knows what it’s like to be found; the other never knew what it was like to be lost.
The younger brother reached a point where he said, “This is who I am - and it’s not good.” He “came to his senses” and saw himself as he truly was – through the eyes of the Father. The older brother never saw himself as he actually was. He never comes to his senses. At this point in the story he remains blind to his sin, unbroken and unrepentant.
Did you notice that nobody went to get the older brother for the party?
- the village would certainly be buzzing with the news of the returned sons
- a party had started for his long lost brother on his property
- his father had to butcher one of the older brother’s cattle and go through the process of preparing it, which I assume took a while.
- there were servants who were certainly a part of all of this
And nobody goes to get him.
But why would they? What would he bring to a party like that? Well, we know what he brought to his father. Judgment. Anger. Jealousy. Accusations. Unhappiness. Pride. Grudges.
Luke records a story where Jesus was in the house of a Jewish religious leader when a “sinful woman” shows up to wash his feet with very expensive perfume. They criticized him, but he responded: “Whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47). It's not that the Pharisees didn’t need forgiveness –they just didn’t think they did. They didn’t know what it was like to feel the weight and the cost of their sin – and then find forgiveness, healing and hope.
Genuine brokenness brings repentance and transformation.
Brokenness and repentance are not important just because they restore our relationship to God – it is in this struggle that we grow to understand grace and forgiveness. The younger brother and the sinful woman were changed. Even while they were “the worst of sinners” (to quote the Apostle Paul), God the Father extends his forgiveness, grace, love, and restoration. “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience… (1 Timothy 1:16)
Kenneth Bailey, author of The Cross & the Prodigal, notes that a Jewish son who lost his inheritance among Gentiles and returned home would meet a community group that would break a large pot in front of him and yell, “You are now cut off from your people!” The father probably ran in order to get to his son before he entered the village so that his son does not experience the shame he deserved. The village would probably have seen this emotional reunion and realized they would have to do what the father did and accept the lost younger son in spite of what he had done.
This is where brokenness and repentance sends us – back to the Father who loves us, runs to us, embraces us, cleans us up, restores us, invites all of us to celebrate with him.
**The posts in this series (Look Beneath The Surface, Break the Power of the Past) are built from a summary of notes I used when preaching a sermon series based on Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the books and the study guides). Most of the main points comes from his work. I note when I quote him directly, but most of what you read are this insights paraphrased or adjusted to fit my audience and venue. Learn more at his website and his blog, and by all means order his books and read them thoroughly.