A woman and her grandmother were sitting on their porch discussing a member of the family who had strayed away.
"He's just no good," the young woman said. "He's completely untrustworthy, not to mention lazy."
"Yes, he's bad," the grandmother said as she rocked back and forth in her rocker, "but Jesus loves him."
"I'm not so sure of that," the younger woman persisted.
"Oh, yes," assured the elderly lady. "Jesus loves him." She rocked and thought for a few more minutes and then added, "Of course, Jesus doesn't know him like we do . . ."
Do you ever feel that way about yourself? People tell you, "God loves you," and you think, if that is so, God must not know me very well.
Lois Cheney wrote these sentiments in her book, God Is No Fool:
They say that God has infinite patience, And that is a great comfort. They say God is always there, And that is a deep satisfaction. They say that God will always take you back, And I get lazy in that certitude. They say that God never gives up, And I count on that. They say you can go away for years and years, And He'll be there, waiting, when you come back. They say you can make mistake after mistake, And God will always forgive and forget. They say lots of things, these people who never read the Old Testament. There comes a time, A definite, for-sure time, When God turns around. I don't believe God shed His skin When Christ brought in the New Testament; Christ showed us a new side of God, And it is truly wonderful. But He didn't change God. God remains forever and ever, And that God is no fool. 1
Maybe Cheney hits a nerve with you. You've always felt what she wrote. "Yeah, I have heard people say that God forgives, but God is no fool." And you know that if God is no fool, then He could never accept you having been as foolish as you have.
In the play You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown explains why he hates lunchtime: "I think lunchtime is about the worst time of the day for me. Always having to sit here alone. Of course, sometimes mornings aren't so pleasant, either - waking up and wondering if anyone would really miss me if I never got out of bed. Then there's the night, too - lying there and thinking about all the stupid things I've done during the day. And all those hours in between - when I do all those stupid things. Well, lunchtime is among the worst times of the day for me." 2
Let me tell you some good news: in spite of the fact that God is no fool, and in spite of the fact that we sometimes are, God really does love us. He really loves you, no matter who you are, or what you have done, or even how long you have done it. And He will gladly forgive you and accept you if you will come home to Him.
That's what Luke 15 is all about. We see the context in the first two verses: "All the tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to listen to Him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!'" (HCSB). In other words, Jesus got into trouble with the Pharisees because He hung around sinful people. And it was in response to that accusation that Jesus told these three stories: the story of the lost sheep, the story of the lost coin, and the story of the lost son. Jesus was using these three stories to say, "Listen guys, I hang around with sinful people because God loves them and wants them to come home." In fact, Jesus said on another occasion, "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10, HCSB).
In these three stories in Luke 15 Jesus shows us who God is and how He feels about lost people. In the first story, you are the sheep and God is the Shepherd. In the second story, you are the coin and God is the widow. In the third story, you are the son and God is the Father. By looking at these three stories we find five proofs of God's love for us.
I. He will let you make your own choices
We see this portrayed in the third story Jesus told - the story of the lost son. In this story a son comes to his father and says, "Dad, go ahead and give me my portion of the inheritance." Or, in less polite terms, "Dad, I can't wait until you are dead to get my share of the inheritance. Give it to me now." If my son or daughter asked such a thing of me, I would say, "Forget it. In fact, if that is your attitude, you just might not be included in my will at all." But amazingly, the father in the story consents and gives his son his inheritance.
The son, immediately after getting it, leaves home and begins to live it up. He frequents bars. He spends nights with prostitutes. He wastes his money. And amazingly, the father lets him.
I think what Jesus was trying to communicate in this story was this: because God loves you, He will let you go your own way. You see, God respects your free will. He will not force Himself or His will on you. He will let you go your own way, even if it is the wrong way.
I am reminded of the story about a school teacher who lost her life savings in a business scheme that had been elaborately explained by a swindler. When her investment disappeared and her dream was shattered, she went to the Better Business Bureau. "Why on earth didn't you come to us first?" the official asked. "Didn't you know about the Better Business Bureau?" "Oh, yes," said the lady sadly. "I've always known about you. But I didn't come because I was afraid you'd tell me not to do it." God may tell you not to do some of the things you want to do, but He will not stop you.
God did not make us to be His robots. He could have. He could have made us so that we always do the things He wants us to do and say the things He wants us to say. But God doesn't want our forced and coerced obedience. He wants us to love Him and worship Him of our own free will. So, out of respect for us, He lets us make our own choices in life, whether to have a love relationship with Him or to live our lives apart from Him.
Even hell is an expression of God's love and respect for you. If you want to live your life apart from God, then God will honor that. He cannot take you to heaven, because that is the place of His kingdom and you would have to live under His rule. That is what you do not want. The only other place is hell. So, because you want to live apart from God, God will let you go to hell. G. K. Chesterton once remarked, "Hell is God's great compliment to the reality of human freedom and the dignity of human personality." By letting people go to hell God is saying to us, "You are significant. I take you seriously. Choose to reject Me - choose hell if you will. I will let you go."
II. God shows His value of you
The way God values you is seen in all three of these stories. In the first story, the story of the lost sheep, you are likened to a sheep that a shepherd has lost. You say, "That doesn't sound so great to me." Well, it would if you were a shepherd in the ancient world. A shepherd's sheep were his life. Every one of them was prized and precious. With this picture God is saying to you, "You are prized. You are precious." You are the most important thing in His life.
In the second story, the story of the lost coin, you are likened to a coin that a poor widow has lost. Take note that this widow only had ten coins, each one of them worth about a day's wages. Therefore, every one of them was treasured. Losing one was losing a lot. You may be able to identify with this story if you have ever lost a significant amount of money. With this picture God is saying to you, "You are treasured." You are valuable to Him.
In the third story, the story of the lost son, you are likened to a son whom a father has lost. If you are a father, you know how important your children are. Their preciousness is far beyond value. You can only imagine how painful it would be to lose one of them. Some of you may know that pain from experience. With this picture God is saying that you are as precious to Him as a child is to its father.
When something is lost, its value is always intensified, isn't it? Sheep are always important to a shepherd, but when one is lost, its value is intensified. Money is always important to a person on a fixed income, but when a significant portion is lost, it is sorely missed. Your children are always precious to you, but imagine how your love for them would become almost a crushing weight if one of them were lost.
I remember several years ago our family went to Disney World. I had heard horror stories about children being snatched away from their parents while in the park. I was told that they carried the abducted children to a restroom where they changed their clothes, rearranged their hair, and made them unrecognizable. Then they carried them out of the park, never to be seen again by their parents. I couldn't look forward to that trip because of the fearful feeling I had in the pit of my stomach that we might lose one of our children.
A young woman had been seeing a psychiatrist. The doctor had established that she was a wife and mother of three children, and he asked, "Which of your three children do you love the most?"
She answered instantly, "I love all three of my children the same."
He paused. The answer was almost too quick - too glib. He decided to probe a bit. "Come, now, you love all three of your children the same?"
"Yes, that's right," she said, "I love all of them the same."
He said, "Come off it, now! It is psychologically impossible for anyone to regard any three human beings exactly the same. If you're not willing to level with me, we'll have to terminate this session."
With this the young woman broke down, cried a bit, and said, "All right, I do not love all three of my children the same. When one of my three children is sick, I love that child more. When one of my three is lost, I love that child more. When one of my children is confused or in pain, I love that child more. And when one of my children is bad - I don't mean naughty, I mean really bad - I love that child more." Then she added, "Except for those exceptions I do love all three of my children about the same."
In Luke 15 we are introduced to a God who is a Father. As a Father He loves everyone. But the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin and the lost son make it clear that when you are away from Him, when you are lost, He loves you even more.
III. He searches for you
The theme of the search is significant in all three of these stories. When the shepherd lost his sheep he left the ninety-nine others in the field to go in search of the one that was lost. When the widow lost her coin, she swept the house thoroughly until it turned up. When the father lost his son, though he did not go off in search of him, we get the impression that daily he stood on the porch looking down the road, hoping to see his son coming home.
If you are away from God, rest assured that He not only loves you, He is looking for you. In 1981, a Minnesota radio station reported a story about a stolen car in California. Police were staging an intense search for the vehicle and the driver, even to the point of placing announcements on local radio stations to contact the thief. On the front seat of the stolen car sat a box of crackers that, unknown to the thief, were laced with poison. The car owner had intended to use the crackers as rat bait. Now the police and the owner of the VW Bug were more interested in apprehending the thief to save his life than to recover the car. So often when we run from God, we feel it is to escape His punishment. But what we are actually doing is eluding His rescue. That's the way it is with God. If you are away from Him, He is searching for you. But He is not looking for you in order to punish you - He is looking for you in order to rescue you. In fact, that is why Jesus Christ came to earth. He said that He had come to "seek and save those . . . who are lost" (Luke 19:10, NLT).
IV. He will welcome you home
We see this primarily in the story of the lost son. Remember, here is a boy who couldn't wait for his father to die to get the inheritance, so he asked for it ahead of time. He then took the money and traveled to another place, desiring to get away from his father and the rules of home. There he wasted his money in riotous living. When he ran out of money, there began to be a severe famine in the land, and the boy, now broke and away from home, began to suffer hunger and want. He found a job feeding pigs, but it didn't pay well enough even to keep him well fed, and there was no one in that city who cared whether he lived or died.
Finally, the son came to his senses and said, "Here I am working in a pig sty and not making even enough to eat on. Back home even the servants do better than this." And so he decided, "I'll go back home. I know Dad won't take me back as a son, but maybe he will hire me as a servant and at least I will be cared for."
He began his journey home with a well-prepared speech to ask his dad for a job. But when he got within eyeshot of the house, his father, who had been looking for him, saw him a long way off, and went running to him. The son saw his dad coming and prepared his speech, but before he could say what he had intended to say, the father had embraced him and kissed him. The boy tried to make his speech, but almost not listening, the father told his servants to bring out the best robe and put it on his son, and bring shoes for his feet and a ring for his finger. He told them to kill the fattened calf and prepare a great feast in honor of his son who had come home. The father gladly welcomed his son home without scolding or reprimand.
Would you believe that is the way God will receive you if you will come home to Him? He won't scold you. He won't hold you at arm's distance. He won't hold a grudge against you. He'll just love you, forgive you, and accept you.
I think a lot of people stay away from God because they fear that He would reject them. But Jesus said, "the one who comes to Me I will never cast out" (John 6:37, HCSB). If you will come to God, He won't turn you away. He will love you and accept you.
V. He celebrates your restoration
Notice that Jesus said God celebrates when a lost person comes home. In verse 7 He said, "I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don't need repentance" (HCSB). In verse 10 He said, "I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God's angels over one sinner who repents" (HCSB). And in the story of the lost son the father says, "let's celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' So they began to celebrate" (Luke 15:23b-24, HCSB).
You know what God will do if you decide to come home to Him? He will throw a party to celebrate.
In his book, Come Share the Being, Bob Benson tells about the time that he had to carry his teenage son 700 miles from home and leave him at a college dorm room to start school. Even though they were proud of their son and excited about the beginning of his college career, their hearts ached with loneliness and pain, because their son, who had been with them since birth, was 700 miles away.
"Somebody said you still have three at home - three fine kids - and there is still plenty of noise, plenty of ball games to go to, plenty of responsibilities, plenty of laughter, plenty of everything - except Mike. And in parental math five minus one just doesn't equal plenty. And I was thinking about God. He sure has plenty of children - plenty of artists, plenty of singers, and carpenters, and candlestick makers, and preachers, plenty of everybody - except you, and all of them together can never take your place. And there will always be an empty spot in His heart - and a vacant chair at His table when you're not home. And if once in a while it seems He's crowding you a bit - try to forgive Him. It may be one of those nights when He misses you so much He can hardly stand it." 4
Would you come home to Him today? Let me tell you how you can do that: First, confess to Him that you have been away from Him. You have been living life your way instead of His way. Second, tell Him that you want to turn around and come home. Ask Jesus to forgive your sins according to His death on the cross for you. Invite Jesus as the resurrected Lord of life to come into your heart and life. Then thank Him for receiving you into His family and making you His child.
Does God love you? Yes. And God demonstrated His love for you in that while you were yet a sinner, away from God, going your own way in life, He sent His Son Jesus to die for you.