BY LYNWOOD C. PEREZ

  How many of the sermons that you have heard over the years do you still remember? If you are like me, you probably don't remember many, at least not in their entirety. What about stories? How many stories have you heard that you can remember? Probably more stories than sermons I would think. I love stories, and some of my earliest memories of church are the stories I heard.

     I remember a story my pastor told from the pulpit when I was only eight or nine years old. I don't know why I remember this particular story so well. Perhaps it is because the subject it was a young man like myself. Or perhaps it is because the story had meaning to me for some reason at the time. But either way, I remember it well (even though I have forgotten the sermon!). The story went something like this:

     The family sat around the dining room table for Sunday dinner, as was their custom on Sunday evenings. Tonight there was a choice of entrée for the dinner meal. "And what would you like for dinner tonight?" the father asked the eldest. "Fish or eggs?" After receiving the order, he proceeded to the next child and then the next until finally ending with the youngest of the seven, little six-year-old Donald. "And what would you like, fish or eggs?" To which Donald replied "I want fish and eggs." Giggles bubbled up around the table.

     Donald's father explained that only one entrée was available for each person this evening so Donald must choose. Donald adamantly repeated, "I want fish and eggs". This time his siblings fell silent.

     "Now, Donald," the father replied, "you must chose only one, fish or eggs. So what will it be?" Donald rose slightly in his chair, narrowed his eyes just a tad, and with his bottom lip protruding the obligatory distance over his upper lip to communicate extreme unhappiness, declared, "I want fish and eggs or I will leave this house."

     The father paused for a moment, then quietly told Donald how sorry he was that Donald felt that way. He then rose and retrieved Donald's winter coat from the hall closet. Donald saw that his bluff had been called, so he slipped off his chair and walked around the table to his father, but now with his bottom lip out as far as he could stick it. His father helped him with his coat, then walked him slowly over to the front door and opened it. Donald, without a second's hesitation, walked out onto the porch as his father gently closed the door behind him. Without looking back Donald heard the snap of the latch as the door locked.

     Donald walked straight down the porch steps, then along the front walkway all the way down to the sidewalk in front of the house, where he finally paused to take stock of the situation. He stared down the snow-covered sidewalk toward downtown. It sure looked different at night. He began to think about all the walks he had taken with his family along that sidewalk. On certain Saturdays they would walk to town and he would get to look in all the store windows. Oh, it was so pretty! Of course his favorite place was the toy store, where his parents sometimes let him enter and take a closer look at the toys and games. Those walks were always fun and exciting. But tonight as he looked down the sidewalk, it was dark and lonely, totally uninviting.

     Looking back, he saw that the porch light had been turned off. Everything was so quiet. It was a little spooky. He was beginning to feel a little cold, too. Donald slowly turned around and began to walk back up the walkway until he reached the front porch of the house. He climbed the steps and approached the front door. After a moment of deep thought, Donald knocked on the door three times.

     The porch light came on a few moments later and a voice behind the door asked, "Who is it?" "It's Donald," the boy replied. "Donald who?" inquired the voice from behind the door. "Donald, your son," the little boy said pleadingly. The door opened and Donald's father picked him up in his arms, giving him a big joyful hug and bringing him back inside the house, saying, "I am so glad you came home!"

EATING WITH THE PIGS

     You are probably wondering whether Donald had fish or eggs for dinner that evening. Unfortunately, I was never told. But, of course, whether he had fish or eggs is not the point of the story. This modern-day prodigal son was received joyfully back into his father's house. He returned to the father and the father received him with joy.

     God speaks to us in stories throughout the Bible, probably for good reason. Everyone loves stories, and they help us remember the kernel of truth given within. We see that Jesus loved to communicate by use of stories or parables.

     You remember the familiar parable of the prodigal son given to us in Luke 15:11-24. Perhaps this was the text from which my pastor was preaching when he told the story of Donald. In this parable, Jesus told his followers that there once were two sons, one of whom decided he wanted his inheritance early to leave home and make it on his own.

     His father gave him his part of the family estate, and the son set off to a distant country with his new-found wealth and independence to sow his wild oats. But after only a short time he lost everything. He was so destitute that he ended up having to work as a servant, even eating the food of the pigs he was hired to care for in order to survive.

     After a time in this miserable state, he finally came to his senses. He packed what little he had and returned to his father's home, although feeling unworthy even to be called his father's son. He was prepared to repent of his sin and to accept work as his father's servant.

     But as he approached his home, his father saw him in the distance and ran out to meet him, throwing his arms around him. The boy said, "Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son." However, instead of the harsh words he deserved, his father told the servants to place his best robe around the boy and put a ring on his finger and new sandals on his feet. He then told his servants to kill a fattened calf for a feast saying, "For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost but now is found." What a glorious tale of the love of the father for his son!

     This parable of the prodigal son is the Gospel itself. It tells us of God's endless love for His children in spite of their disobedience. It is the story of repentance and the reinstatement of the intimate relationship of an errant son with his loving Father.

     Man at the depths of his heart prefers to have everything his way. The sinful heart wants to live in the foreign country, to live as it pleases according to the desires of the flesh. But the end is the same. My Christian testimony, and perhaps yours or the many you have heard from other believers, report the same thing -- living in sin and estranged from the Father is not fun and exciting. It eventually brings pain and sorrow, broken relationships and personal ruin in so many ways. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and, left to his own devices, man ends up eating with the pigs.

THE OPEN ARMS OF THE FATHER

     The good news of the Gospel is that God our Father in his infinite love has made a provision in Christ Jesus that we might be reconciled to Him. Through it, we may call him Father and He in turn will call us sons and daughters through our union with Christ's death and resurrection.

     As Steve Brown says, "God is not mad at us; God loves us." Even in our disobedience, our Father awaits His prodigal people to come to their senses and return home to Him, where He receives them with joy and thanksgiving. If sin in your life has broken your relationship with the Lord, know that He lovingly awaits your return to Him.

     This Christmas season we celebrate the open arms of the Father. Jesus was born to die for us so that we might live in relationship with our Father for eternity. The judgment for our mutiny against the Most High has been paid by the Christ child, so that we might be restored to our Father, the creator of all heaven and earth, and that we may live victoriously for Him.

     As we celebrate the birth of the Savior, maybe now is a good time to ask yourself if you have left the house of your Father and find yourself in the spiritual cold of the night. Are you living apart from the Lord with a rebellious spirit and finding it not as you thought it would be? Perhaps this Christmas you should turn around, walk back to the Father's house, and knock on the front door. Jesus said, "Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened" (Matt. 7: 7-8).

     Your heavenly Father stands with open arms, and a feast awaits you. Why not come on in out of the cold?

Lyn Perez     Lynwood Perez is Senior Vice President of RTS in Orlando. A 1986 graduate of RTS, he has served with the seminary for fifteen years. In 1989, he moved to Orlando to establish the new RTS/Orlando campus. He is currently Chairman of the Development and Institutional Advancement Committee of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.

Image at top from National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC/SUPERSTOCK




Reformed Quarterly, Volume 19, Number 4, Winter 2000
© 2000 Reformed Theological Seminary
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