Luke 15:11-32

  1. It's not easy to understand a father's heart.

    1. Men are not always good at letting their hearts be known.

    2. Their sons and daughters get occupied enough with themselves that they don't notice their dad's thoughts and feelings.

    3. And, the sad fact is that some men have offspring but are not fathers.

  2. Yet, understanding a father's heart would bless individual lives, families, congregations - the whole world - in innumerable ways.

    1. The scriptures offer us something of crucial value to add to the discussion: knowledge of the Heavenly Father and how he deals with his children.

    2. A glimpse of his heart gets us past whatever impressions the faults or failures of our earthly fathers may have left us.

    3. And, nowhere does his heart shine more brightly than in this wonderful story Jesus told.....From it we learn something of:


    1. What goes on in a father's house is determined by who he is - by his nature and character as a person. His presence there is the factor which sets the tone of life in his house.

      1. He doesn't merely make up rules arbitrarily.

      2. He loves some things and hates others, does some things and doesn't do others, because of who he is.

      3. What is allowed or not allowed in his house starts right there - with who the father is. There are certain standards in his house because of how he has lived. He hasn't barked out orders, nor majored in condemnatory comments, but he lives his values.

    2. There are, therefore, some things that will never be at home in the house of a wise and loving father.

      1. The younger son in this story could not engage in the reckless living that had captured his imagination as long as he was living in his father's house.
        1. He appears to have known it.

        2. What he had long since learned about his dad's values, and what was expected in his house, left him no doubt that he would have to go somewhere else if he wanted to pursue a wild and riotous lifestyle.

        3. There was goodness in his father's house. Even the hired hands were treated well. There was an atmosphere of decency and respect. Each one was loved. But there were some things you couldn't do in dad's house.

      2. The older boy had some attitudes - a spirit - which he couldn't take into his father's house.

        1. His self-absorbed, envious, judgmental heart just could not go in for the celebration.

        2. It wasn't what his father wouldn't allow that bothered him. It was what his father was allowing - and the fact that he wasn't getting anything out of it for himself to emphasize his superiority.

        3. He no more shared his father's values than his younger brother did. He imagined what went on in the far country just as much as his brother did, only he did it as a martyr who had sacrificed all the "fun" for nothing. Now he sat outside fuming in self-pity. The things that made his father rejoice brought no joy to him, so he sat out in the dark alone.

    3. Fathers, let your sons and daughters know who you are well enough to know what is expected at your house.

      1. By consistent and unassuming conduct, let them see what the values of your house are. Let them observe integrity and decency and gentle strength in action.

      2. Realize that your children will grow to the place where they make their own choices, but remember to let who you are be the measure of what is acceptable, or not, in your house.

      3. Your kids have to know by observation that there are some things which, if they are going to do, will have to be done somewhere. That sense of their father's values will bless them more than you will ever know.

  4. From the Lord's wonderful story we also learn something of A FATHER'S HEART.

    1. The Lord's story has so many lessons in it, but it really is, more than anything else, about how a father feels.

      1. A father's love, and his knowledge of life, do fill him with emotions as he thinks of his children.

      2. Some of those feelings are there because he knows what the world can do to a person who is young and inexperienced - he knows that, invariably, there is a harvest to be reaped from wild living.

      3. And, some of them are there because he wants the voluntary love and respect of his children, not the bought-and-paid-for subjection of hired hands.

    2. So, with one boy, his heart fills with fear and concern as he watches a son head foolishly off into "the land where God is not." (As R.C. Trench put it:)

      1. He knows the young man is facing heartbreak, and he prays anxiously that he will come to his senses before he has brought consequences into his life that cannot be repaired.

      2. He has enough experience in life to know that the boy is wasting so much opportunity, that he won't find any lasting satisfaction in reckless living, and that his "sophisticated" new friends will drop him as soon as they have used him for all they can.

      3. But he also knows that a person with a free will who has made up his mind has to learn to hard way, so he watches with terrible heartache as his boy walks away from him in pursuit of a very poor choice. The father's house is still there...and he waits...but his heart hurts for his son.

    3. And, with the other boy, the father's heart feels the loneliness of not having the company and support of his son during one of the most meaningful moments of his life.

      1. He misses the goodwill and shared joy of the one who had always been with him.

      2. He just thinks that some things are meant to be enjoyed together with those who mean most to you.

      3. The father's house is still there...and he tries to celebrate...but his heart hurts for his son.

    4. Sons and daughters, whatever age you are, give some thought to how your attitudes and actions affect your father.
      1. Don't just say, "It's my life..."

      2. He can't love you without feeling awful anxiety when he knows where bad choices will take you, or terrible loneliness when you show no interest in the important moments of his life.

      3. Honor your father by having enough thoughtfulness to consider his heart.


    1. If the father in this story represents God, and I don't think there's any doubt he does, we're being given an insight into what a father will do, can do, and can't do to help his sons and daughters.

      1. There is wisdom here that every man who is worth his salt hungers for: how to offer the right help at the right time.

      2. There is also a thought-provoking reality check for every son or daughter who gives any consideration to what it means to have a father.

    2. For the younger boy, who had foolishly but willfully chosen the road to "the land where God is not," the father watched and waited.

      1. His son had left for the far country on purpose, and the father knew he wouldn't returned until he purposed to do so. But he so wanted to see the familiar figure of his on the horizon facing home.

      2. That younger son wouldn't be facing home until he realized the truth about what the far country was doing to him, and what he was doing to his father, and what there was about his father's house that was best for him after all. The far country was in his heart before he was in the far country, and it would have to be out of him before he could come out of it.

      3. That turning toward home, which is produced by godly sorrow for wrong choices, and which produces a change of behavior, is called repentance. Until that young man "came to himself" in this way, the father could love...and he could long for his son...and wait...and watch...

      4. And when that moment came and his boy was facing home, the father saw him, and he ran to welcome him, embraced him as his own, and celebrated as if his grief was over.

      5. That's a father's help! A father helps a son recover from the embarrassment and regret of failure. If he had only welcomed the boy, it would have been grace. That he ran to meet him with kisses, shoes, a robe and a ring was amazing grace. But that he threw a party to celebrate him as his son was the exceeding riches of his grace! Understanding a father's heart makes you so deeply grateful for that grace that you want more than anything to live the values of his house, not the ways of the far country. It makes you want his will to be done in your life.

    3. For the older boy, on the other hand, help of a different kind was required - but still help marked by overwhelming grace.

      1. This son sat out there in the darkness of jealous, suspicious anger. He was making an ugly, passive-aggressive statement by his absence from the party.

      2. His father saw what was happening this time, too. And he knew that if a person is left to stew in those kinds of feelings they will fester and spread poison through his soul, ruining his relationships and robbing him of opportunities just as surely as wild living will.

      3. So, in an act of wonderful love, and of remarkable maturity and wisdom, he went out to meet this son, too. He cared. He took the initiative. He went in search of his boy who was not at home in his company.

      4. The father entreated him, that is, he gently appealed for a place in his heart. He allowed his son to honestly express his emotions, thus validating him as a person, then he explained to him why being his son meant that it was appropriate for him to join the celebration over his brother's life.

      5. That's a father's help, too. A father helps a son recover from littleness and selfishness he will regret if it goes on. It extends understanding and acceptance, but it also issues a well-placed call to be a bigger person. That's what understanding a father's heart makes you want to be: a bigger, better person. It makes you want your heart to be like his.

  6. We were all excited with Clay and Sharon recently when their two grandsons were selected by Major League Baseball teams in the same draft. I got to see part of a note that Caleb (the oldest) wrote to his dad, Mark. He said, "Dad: It's 2:00 AM the night before I fly out and I can't sleep because the anticipation of tomorrow is killing me. I wanted to sit down and write you a little bit of what's been on my mind....Most importantly, I know that your approval or love is and never will be based on the amount of success I achieve in the game of baseball but the content of my character. It's based on the man of God that I've been created to be. I couldn't have been blessed with a better dad. You have quietly shown me what it is to be a faithful man of God through thick and thin. No matter what has happened, you've stayed faithful. I've watched and learned. I think of the months that Pa was getting his liver transplant and the months after. You taught me so much without saying a word, but simply by acting it out....I'm so glad to have you as my Dad! You're the best! I know no matter if I play 15 years in the big leagues or 15 games in A-Ball you'll be proud. What an amazing feeling...." That, my brothers and sisters, shows some understanding of a father's heart.

  7. That's a shadow of the kind of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called children of God, and of the kind of love due to him who first loved us from us. It's what he longs to hear us say as we make the good confession, put on Christ, and walk in the light, loving and honoring him every step of the way. Does the Father's heart have the place in your life it deserves to have?