Exile and Homecoming

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“But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:32)

Martin Heidegger, a 20th Century German philosopher, said that all human beings are characterized by one thing, homesickness. In other words, we all feel as though this world really isn’t our home. Why is this? The answers lie within  Luke 15:11-32. In this parable, Jesus covers the main theme of the Bible, mankind’s exile and homecoming. Today we’re going to be looking at this theme in 3 parts: 1) Why we all have a feeling of homesickness, called our human condition, 2) The divine solution to this problem, and 3) The celebration, our homecoming.

 First, our human condition. For the past few weeks, our children’s ministry has been studying Genesis, the creation of the garden and of mankind. The Garden of Eden was meant to be Adam and Eve’s and all of mankind’s eternal home. It was meant to be a place where we could be our true selves. The Garden of Eden was truly the Garden of Eden. There was no sickness, no H1N1, no death, no school shootings, no hunger, no harsh Chicago winters, no school exams, no caged animals in zoos, you name the bad and it wasn’t there. It was complete paradise! Not only that, God walked in the garden. In the garden, mankind could talk to God face to face. They could walk with God, hold God’s hand, commune with God, enjoy God, and love God. In the Garden of Eden, mankind’s souls were completely satisfied.

Jesus reveals this garden, this loving home, with our Father God in verse 11. He says, “There was a man who had two sons.” Both sons lived with their father in their home. They had everything that they had ever needed. But what happened to the younger son is the same thing that happened to Adam and Eve. In verses 12-19,   Jesus tells us that the younger son wanted to leave and live his own life. He thought by doing so, he could find true happiness. But after leaving, his life went from good, to bad, to worse. In verses 12-19, we see his deteriorating condition. He goes from having a home (11) to being in exile (12, 13a); he becomes restless (13b); he becomes hungry (14,16); he now has to work for his food (15); and finally he longs to return home (17). This younger son went from having everything to having nothing. He’s now in exile. We too are just like this younger son. Because of our sins, we are restless, we are hungry, we have to work for our food, we are in exile, and we long for a place we can call home. During the Jewish Holocaust, Eva Hoffman’s family fled Europe in order to escape Adolph Hitler’s mass genocide.  In her book, Lost in Translation, she said,  “Since Adam & Eve left the garden, is there anyone who does not feel in exile?” What Jesus is trying to say in this parable is, we are all lost prodigal children. Even though we all live in America and have homes, we still feel lost, alienated, and homeless. Why is this? It’s  because we were not made to live in this fallen sinful world. We were made to live in the Garden of Eden. C.S. Lewis, a 20th Century Christian writer wrote in his book, The Weight of Glory saying,  “This is not the world we were built for.” We feel lost, alienated, and homeless because there is nothing in this world that can ever satisfy our deepest longings and needs, no matter how hard or how long we look.  Before my parents divorced, I have this vivid memory of my dad and I standing in front of my house. I was probably just 4 years old. We were standing by the road. He had just finished using the garden hose and started winding it up. He then showed me how to wind it up. That’s all I remember. Everything seemed fine to me, even though it wasn’t, because I was standing right next to my daddy. Many of us have a memory like this and we long to go back to that place of memory. But if we go back there, we might be greatly discouraged. About 7 years ago, I had the opportunity to revisit that same place where my father taught me how to wind up the garden hose. I really couldn’t wait to get there. I thought only great memories would flood my mind. At first, when I first got there, I didn’t feel so homeless. A great satisfaction came over my heart. But seconds later, I began to remember how impatient my dad was with me when he was teaching me how to wind up the hose. I  also remembered other bad things that he did. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so good or at home after all. C.S. Lewis says if we go back to that place of memory it will cheat us. The feelings we remember aren’t really a satisfaction we had, rather they are only idols.

Why is that we equate memories as being the good old days when in reality they really weren’t? There could be many reasons. But one reason, perhaps is, God left us a memory trace back to Adam and Eve. We remember what life was like at the foot of God. We remember the beauty of God. We remember the peace and satisfaction that we once had. We weren’t there, but we know and we long to have it once again. So this is our human condition. Because of our sins, we are lost and are in exile and long for a place we can call home. But how can we find it and how can we get there?

Second, the divine solution.   Luke 15 is comprised of 3 different parables. All the parables have the same theme, someone or something is lost.  But the first two differ from this last one. In the first parable, a sheep gets lost. Wanting to find this one lost sheep, it’s shepherd leaves his other 99 sheep in the dangerous open field in order to find it. And  when he finds it, he rejoices. In the 2nd parable, a lady lost her coin. Wanting to find it, she sweeps the entire house looking for it.  And when she finds it, she too rejoices. In the 3rd parable, a son gets lost. There’s rejoicing in the end as well, but Jesus doesn’t tell us who goes out to look for him. Who does? Nobody! According to the first  2 parables, who should have gone out to look for him?  The older brother. In those days, it was the older brother’s responsibility to keep the family together. He received most of the inheritance for this mere fact. He was to keep the family’s land and was to keep the family together. But in this parable, the older son doesn’t go looking for his younger brother. In fact, he just continues to work in the field as though nothing happened.

During the Vietnam War, a young soldier from America became missing in action. His family tried to find out what happened, but due to the war, it was too hard. Finally, his older brother flew all the way to Vietnam and went to the jungles looking for him. There was fighting going on all over the place, but he survived. No one wanted to shoot him because both sides were in awe and were  filled with great respect for this older son’s  quest. This elder brother risked everything, even his own life, in order to get his younger brother back home again. That’s what the elder brother in this parable should have done. But doing this would have come at a great cost to him. To find his brother might mean losing everything, perhaps even having to sell his share of the inheritance in order to find him. But the older brother doesn’t go looking for him at all. In fact, he becomes mad when his younger brother  returns home on his own and especially when his father gave his younger brother his robe, his ring, his sandals, and his fattened calf. Of course, the elder brother should not have cared about these things. He should have just been happy that his younger brother returned home. But unfortunately,  the elder brother loved his possessions more than he loved his younger brother.

Actually, it was impossible for this elder brother to look for his younger brother. It’s  because he too was in exile. He also was lost. He  was restless and wasn’t happy with what he had. In reality, we are all like this younger brother and we are all like this elder brother. Because of our sins of idolatry, we are lost and are in exile. What Jesus was trying to tell us in this story is, we are all prodigal children who are in need of an elder brother who is willing to give everything in order to bring us home. But where can we find this brother? In this parable, Jesus only mentions 2 brothers. But there is a 3rd brother. Who is it? This brother is Jesus Christ himself.  Jesus did something that the elder brother in this story couldn’t do. Jesus left everything in order to look for us. He left his heavenly kingdom. He went from being an omnipotent, omniscient, eternal God to a man of flesh who felt all kinds of pain. He lived in the world preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, healing the sick, saving the lost, and raising the dead. At the end of his life, Jesus was betrayed, mocked, spat upon on, tempted, and ridiculed so that we could have peace and satisfaction that we don’t deserve. He was stripped naked on the cross so that we could be clothed with the robe of dignity.  He received a crown of thorns on his head so that we could receive a golden ring. He drank the cup of eternal suffering so that we could receive the cup of joy in the father’s heavenly banquet feast. He felt the absence of God so that we could be brought home again.  We were in exile because of our sins. But Jesus was exiled so he could bring us, his prodigal brothers and sisters, back home. We have a perfect and true elder brother in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Third, the celebration, our homecoming.   Verse 32 says, “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” When the one lost sheep was found, when the one lost coin was found, and when the younger brother was found, there was a huge celebration. Likewise, when we are found, there is a great celebration in heaven. Luke 15:10 says, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (ESV)  When the younger son returned home, the father had his servant kill the fattened calf. If you remember, the fattened calf could feed 75-100 people. That meant, the father had invited the whole community over for a huge feast and celebration.

After celebratory feasts, no matter what’s going on in our hearts  we always feel like we’re home. There is a sense of joy and satisfaction that we wish will never go away. But they go away. Reality sets in. We have to get up and wash the dishes, clean up the mess, and get ready for work the next day. Last weekend, my wife and I celebrated our 13th year anniversary. We rented a beautiful cottage in Middlebury, IN, near the home of the Amish. It was quite and peaceful. There were no kids running around and yelling. There were no dishes to wash. I didn’t have to go to work or be anywhere. It was just my wife and I. To me, it was paradise. But Sunday morning, reality hit. It was time to get ready and go back home. Celebrations and feasts are so nice to have because we always feel a sense of satisfaction and joy. But these feelings are only temporary. However the Bible tells us, Jesus will make this world our home once again. In this new home, there will be no more death,  mourning, crying, or pain. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

When Jesus brings us home, he will give us an ultimate homecoming feast. Our Father God will see us and will fall on our neck, hugging and kissing us. What kind of people would we be if we could almost taste that? What if we could almost feel our Father’s kiss on our necks? What if we could almost taste the incredible food? We would have quiet confidence. We wouldn’t freak out over anything.  We wouldn’t lose hope. We wouldn’t get stressed out. We wouldn’t fear anything. We could keep on going. It’s in the future, but it’s coming!

But still, reality is reality. We live in a fallen world. We get stressed out. We get tired. We have financial problems. So how can we keep our future home real to us as we live in this fallen exile world? God left us the greatest resources ever. He left His Word and His church.  The Word of God refreshes our hearts our minds.  When we are down and depressed, we can come to the Word of God and remember the gospel. We can remember what Jesus has done for us.  Jesus also has given us his church. Jesus’ church is time of intimacy with our Father God. In church, we worship God and  celebrate what God has done for us. We celebrate because Jesus, the Son, was dead and is alive again.  We celebrate because we were once lost, but we are now found.  Church also gives us a communal experience. If we want to have fellowship with Jesus, we must worship him together. We can’t have a feast by ourselves. Likewise, we can’t have church by ourselves. In order to keep our future home real to us, we must come to God and worship Him together. We must also share our lives together. We must eat together, confess our  sins together, hold each other accountable together, make decisions together, and learn together. Let’s thank God who, in His infinite love and mercy, has given us a way to keep our future home real to us as we live in this fallen exile world.

We have been alienated from our true homes and we are all so desperately seeking a place where we can find true peace, joy, love, and satisfaction. This is our human condition. But how are you trying to satisfy this? Are you trying to satisfy this in your family, career, work, or money? No matter how hard we try or no matter who we look to for help, we ourselves and no one else can help us satisfy our human condition. But Jesus, our true elder  brother can, because he gave up and left everything in order to look for us and to bring us home. And when we enter into our true home, our Father God will say to us,  “We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

 

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