Pastor's Column

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The distant country

At our church we are doing a sermon series based on Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son. You probably know the story: A young man asks his father for his share of the inheritance, now. He basically wishes his father dead. He says that his father's stuff is more important to him than his father. And once his father relents, the boy takes the money off to "a distant country" and spends all he has in wild living. Soon, he has nothing left and finds himself all alone in a famine stricken land. It is then that he decides to come home and beg for mercy, only to find his father has been waiting for him the whole time and is graciously ready to welcome him with open arms.

It's a story of good news. A picture of God the Father's relentless love for us.

But in my sermon last week I said that before we can appreciate how good the good news is, we first have to see how bad the bad news is. So I focused in on the "distant country." I said that the "distant country" is a metaphor for sin. It's where we go when we decide to leave God and live life by our own rules.

Many of us have spent time in the distant country. Some of us might be there now. So there are three things we need to know about life in the distant country:

1. Distant Country will leave you broke.

Here's how Jesus tells the story, in Luke 15:13-14:

13: "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14: After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.

Most people assume that the word "prodigal" means rebellious or lost. What it actually means is "recklessly extravagant." That's what this young man was. He "squandered" his money. He "spent everything." This young man was out on his own and he chased every wild way of living he could imagine and he did so until the money ran out.

But his prodigious spending left him broke. Suddenly a famine hits and the whole country is suffering, but he suffers the most because he has absolutely nothing set aside for an emergency. He finds himself hungry and broke and "in need."

And that's what happens to us. When we willfully and deliberately walk away from God and pursue a lifestyle of sin, we are going to find that those things leave us empty and broke. It might not always be money that it costs, but it'll be something:

The distant country might end up costing us our reputations.

The distant country might end up costing us our jobs.

The distant country might end up costing us our families.

The distant country might end up costing us our integrity.

The distant country might end up costing us our self-respect.

This is what Jesus is saying about sin: We can chase it and think it is fun and it is freedom and it is fabulous, but eventually it is going to leave us empty and broke.

2. The distant country will leave you all alone.

Luke 15:15-16:

15: So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16: He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

What I want you to notice is the last phrase: "no one gave him anything." We don't get a lot of details, but we can read between the lines. When this young man was living it up and spending daddy's cash, he probably had friends galore. There were all too many people willing to join him in wild living. But then the money ran out, the famine hit, he took a job slopping hogs, and suddenly all those so called friends were nowhere to be found.

Sometimes wild living seems like a great party, and there are all kinds of people willing to join you in it. But friendships built around patterns of sin are not going to last. The farther down the road to the distant country we travel, the more the people who really care about us are going to be driven away.

3. The distant country will leave you at the bottom.

When this young man finds himself in the hog trough, he has sunk about as low as he can get. He's living in a non-Jewish country, and now he has to subject himself to a citizen of that country. It would have been a serious blow to national pride to be compelled to go to work for a pagan.

Worse, the job was feeding pigs. Pigs, of course, were non-kosher. Jews consider them to be unclean. So having to work in the midst of them would have been humiliating.

Even worse yet, to be reduced to the point of possibly eating pig slop would have been beyond the pale. Few people in Jesus' audience would have been able to imaging a scenario worse than this.

Sin has truly taken this young man farther than he wanted to go, kept him longer than he meant to stay, and cost him more than he ever intended to spend. And that's what the Bible says about sin: it is a deadly snare that wants to pull you in deeper and deeper.

Romans 6:23: 23 For the wages of sin is death. ...

When we walk away from the Father's house, when we choose to go off and live in the distant country, when we put ourselves on the throne of our lives and kick God off of His, when we believe our way is the best way and we don't need God or the Bible to tell us what to do, then the paycheck we have earned -- the wage we deserve -- is death.

It may start out as just another innocent decision or change that seems like no big deal. It's my life, right? They're my choices.

But before you know it, your life has begun to hurt more than you ever imagined. The distant country will always leave you at the bottom. It doesn't matter what made you leave the father's house, the alternative is eventually the distant country, and the distant country will take everything you have and leave you with nothing but death.

But thanks be to God that Romans 6:23 doesn't end here. There's a second line to the verse:

but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There is a way home from the distant country. There is road to redemption. There is a savior.

This is the good news, and it is so very good. The bad news is bad, but the good news is good.

Jesus made the long journey from heaven to earth so that He could help lost sinners find their way home from the distant country.

So if you find yourself paying rent to a life of sin, look to Jesus and find hope. He paid your wages at the cross. You can come home again.