Sermon on Luke 15:11-32
April, 17, 2008. Chunlin Hu
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen!
In Luke 15, Jesus told three famous parables to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law to explain why He was together with the variant “sinners”. In the third parable, Vs.23 (The Father said: ) Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. Vs.27 (The servant said) ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ Vs.30 (The elder brother said:) But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
This is the Text.
I Sermon Introduction
One day I told my daughters the story of “the prodigal son”, and I asked them: who do you like mostly, the younger son, the elder son or the father? They replied: How pitiful that little calf was! The family had a feast and celebrated, that is ok, but why they must kill the little calf which had nothing to do with the sins of “the prodigal son”! That was unfair! In the other day, they asked me: why our Lord Jesus Christ told us such a miserable story, is Jesus love? I replied: Jesus tells this parable because He loves us；Jesus tells this parable and loves us because He Himself replaced the fattened calf.
II A “New” Focus
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, traditionally, there are two major titles of this parables at least. One is “The Prodigal Son”, another is “A Lovely Father and His Two Lost Sons”. I prefer the latter one, but today, I would like to introduce another title which is “the fattened calf”. That is another son who is talking about the parable, who is the Only Begotten Son of the Father, who was the atonement on the Cross for our salvation, who suffered, was crucified, died and buried, who ascended into the Heaven, seated at the right hand of Father Almighty, who is with us now and then, here and there. Yes, today we focus on Jesus and His Cross. In fact, this topic is not a new one at all, just as Paul said: “but we preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23a), “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Also, in my opinion, there are two traditional theological points around this parable. First, one displays its focus on “the Lost and Found Department” (Barbara Brown Taylor, 1993). Based on the three parables, the sermon argues that these parables do not call us to mend our evil ways and repent but to search for the lost and to rejoice when they are found. I love this one, but my question is: why the lost has been lost? Who went out or came down to search them and how? Particularly, how do you know that? Finally, what does our joy rely on?
The second one is more traditional. On one hand, the story of the prodigal son truly focuses on the repentance of sinners. But on the other hand, we explain it in our confessions. God’s love has no presupposition, because God is love. Man’s repentance is not the presupposition of the love of God. In contrary, God’s love is the presupposition of the repentance of man.
We usually begin with the concept of “true repentance”. The repentance of man is always self-righteousness and some kind of “face-saving” (Arthur A. Just Jr.,1998 ). So Vs.17-19is not true repentance of the younger son. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’” the father’s compassion precedes any confession of repentance by the son. Moreover, the prodigal son did not say “make me like one of your hired men” in Vs.21 after his father had loved him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Now, “the great omission” presents the true repentance of the prodigal son finally.
Moreover, According to this passage, “when he came to his senses”, what was he thinking about? He was recalling the love of his father in the past. If the father had not loved him, he should not have decided to go home. In this case, “we love because he first loved us” (Cf. 1 John4:19).
However, is justify righteousness and salvation truly free and gift? On one hand, for sinners, for every one, it is absolutely true. On the other hand, for God, it is not true. Contrarily, we were bought at a price (Cf. 1 Corinthians6:20, 7:23), and Jesus Himself is the price. Because we are redeemed not with perishable things but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (Cf.1 Peter 1:18-19)
III: Context and Function
If we put this text in a large context, we could see that this event took place on the Way of the Cross of Jesus, or the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (9:51-19:27). So the function of the parable is that Jesus was predicting His death .
Comparably, Luke places the major emphasis and depicts the dramatic progress of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. The whole movement of events had meaning for him. Jesus was moving on towards Jerusalem in order to die. The parable of the prodigal son was one of these events. The parable serves the same subject: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners and die for them.
IV Law and Gospel: the fattened calf
“Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate”.
What does “Bring” mean? That is the Father’s will. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father (Galatians1:3-4).
What does “the calf” mean? We already noticed that ton moscon ton siteuton was repeated 3 times in the parable, it does make sense. “ton moscon” dose not only mean “a calf” or “a bullock”, but also means “a tender juicy shoot” (Cf. Isaiah 53:2)
What is “the calf” for? It is for quw , for sacrifice. Exodus 29:14 says: “But burn the bull’s flesh and its hide and its offal outside the camp. It is a sin offering”. The calf was sin offering. It was repeated almost 120 times in this sense in OT. But how dose the NT say? Hebrews10:4-5: “because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me”. That is why after the sacrifice of the calf, the family will have a feast. What are you hearing? “Take and eat, this is my body”!
In Hebrews10:5, Jesus mentioned “a body you prepared for me”, that is why the Calf is “the fattened”. What does “the fattened” mean? It is prepared for sacrifice instead of other purposes. Let’s go back to Genesis 22:13-14: “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided’”.
Finally, what does the celebrate mean? Let’s go back to Isaiah 53 and Isaiah 54. After the description of the suffering of the servant, The LORD says: Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband (Isaiah 54:1). That is the “celebration”. That is the Gospel: He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
But like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. So from generation to generation, nobody looks at the calf in the parable. Christ Jesus who is talking about the parable made himself nothing; he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!
V Conclusion and Benediction
Dear brothers and sisters, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. He redeemed us that we might receive the full rights of sons. We all are the prodigal son, we all are the elder son, we all were lost. But because the Son of God, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba , Father.” So we are no longer a slave, but a son; and since we are a son, God has made we also an heir. To God be glory, praise and thanks for ever and ever. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The grace mercy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.