A Father and His Children
Once upon a time, a long while back, there were two children who lived on a beautiful countryside estate with their father. The kids, a son and a daughter, were heirs to everything their father had built. Their father was everything you could want in a dad: strong, caring, wise, fair, brave, with a great thick beard. Every day the family would tend the land together, seeking to bring a good crop at the end of the season. It was a good life, filled with purpose, adventure, belonging, and challenge. But their were dangers. The countryside was filled with wild animals, roaming violent nomads, and the like. And so their father had a set of principles designed to keep his son and daughter happy and safe. Each time he reminded them of his rules, he got very stern; their safety was no joke to him.
Initially, the kids trusted their father without hesitation and followed his principles to the letter. After a while though, each child began to question their father's intentions. Were the dangers he talked about really there? What if the land beyond their property was even better that he let on? What if he wanted to keep the secrets kept to himself? Could he be trusted? These whispering questions lodged themselves in the heart of each child, and as they grew up, they drifted away from the principles their father had given, each in a different direction. The daughter, unsure if her father would really leave the estate to her based solely on the fact that she was his daughter, decided to take things into her own hands. She would follow the principles so carefully, so completely, that her father would be forced to hand over the inheritance she deserved. The son on the other hand was a bit more adventurous. He wondered what else the world had to offer outside of his dad's estate. He decided to explore, selfishly, and to find out for himself.
Let's stop for a moment. We'll come back to this parable, but first, let me tell you a true story about God and his people. God, the Father of life, formed and fashioned this universe in which we live, and owns absolutely everything in it. He also made us, his finest creation, and has offered to us the position of heir; granted we trust him and follow his good principles, designed to keep us safely near his presence. However, in our pride and distrust, each of us has decided, like the son and daughter, to take things into our own hands. The Scottish theologian Sinclair Ferguson says that the "lie of the serpent" was the assertion that God "is in fact restrictive, self-absorbed, and selfish" and so "now at the bottom of our souls, whether we follow God's laws or not – human beings do not trust God's goodwill toward us." (Tim Keller, Preaching, p 53).
Think about yourself for a minute. Each of us likely tends naturally toward one of the two directions (outright rebellion or suspicious obedience), but the key is to realize they have the same root. We don't trust that God is generous. We don't believe at our core and so act as if He will do us good, at least in the way that we want.
And so that comes out, either by disobeying his principles, like the son, running after pleasure, popularity, or power, seeking to grab at our own blessing. We act like a pagan, a rebel. Or, like the daughter, we decide to manipulate God through our obedience. We try to compel God to bless us based on our goodness. We act like a Pharisee, a rule-follower.
So what hope is there for the rebel and the rule-follower? Let's go back to our story to find out.
As the father learned of his younger children's growing disobedience and distrust, he became very sad. He knew how dangerous the world truly was. One day, not heeding his warnings, the children wandered into the realm of their father's archenemy, Lucious, a traitorous former servant. Lucious, ecstatic about the chance to harm his great enemy, took the children captive and demanded a king's ransom in return for their life.
Now, the father had a third child, his eldest...a Prince. This son was his favorite, and it was easy to see why; he possessed every good quality in perfect measure. He was courageous, kind, wise beyond his years, destined from birth to become a great King. The prince kept his Father's principles perfectly, staying near him and loving him fully. But it was clear what had to be done. A ransom like that could only be paid a life for a life. The greater the value of the life being offered, the more payment that could be exacted. And so the father offered the life of his eldest son, his perfect son, in the place of his rebellious son and distrustful daughter. The perfect sibling was sacrificed to buy back the wayward ones.
Whether you know that gospel message or not, the exhortation this morning is this: identify the legalist or lawless lies lodged in your own heart that loosen your grip on your loving Father. Root them out, kill them, and turn instead and believe in the goodness and generosity of God, remembering how He did not spare His own son for your soul!
And this reminds us of our need to confess our sins.
Prayer of Confession
God, Father in heaven, we confess that too often we have failed to believe that you are generous, and that you are good and do us good. We confess that even if we say we know these truths, we have not acted like we believe it. We have not lived according to your good commands. We have traveled the road of life falling into various ditches, either puffing ourselves up like a Pharisee, or running away like a renegade. Father, these are great evils. And so we confess our individual sins to you now.
And now Father, would you turn the eyes of our souls to our REAL older brother, Jesus, the Prince of Peace and the King of Kings, who we know according to your Word left his throne in heaven and became like us, "that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery." Now that you have freed us from death, free us today from the slavery of unbelief!