Note: This is #10 in a series of posts. If you have not read the Foreword to the series, I hope you will do that first: Foreward
Luke 15:23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.
There are a lot of stories in the Bible about banquets and festivals. One party has to do with Belshazzar who was giving a big party in his own honor. It says in Daniel chapter 5 that he invited 1000 noble guests and after they were into the party for a while, he gave the order that the gold taken from the temple in Jerusalem might be brought in, that he and his guest should drink from the goblets dedicated to the use of worship in God’s holy temple. Then as these heathens were desecrating the holy things of the Jews, praising their own gods, a hand suddenly appeared and started writing something on the wall. It says that he was so frightened that Belshazzar’s face grew pale and his knees knocked together. And Daniel, the Jewish exile, was brought in to interpret this strange message and he did so. The hand writing on the wall basically said, “All right King, your party is over!”
Then too, on the New Testament, there is the famous party of King Herod. He threw a party in honor of himself and invited all his cronies and they sat around and ate and drank and began to get bored and so Herod called for his step daughter, the beautiful Salome to come and dance for them. She agreed to dance if only he would swear an oath to give her anything she wanted. And he swore that oath blindly in front of all his guests. And then Salome revealed to him what she wanted. She wanted the head of John the Baptist delivered to this party on a platter. Now Herod was afraid. He believed John to be a prophet of God, but he had given his word to Salome in front of all these people and so the order was given.
So the guards went and did as he had commanded. And they brought the head on a platter. Here a platter of bread, there a platter of figs, there a platter of roast beef, and there a platter with the head of John the Baptist, all freshly executed, bloody and horrible. And the guest looked at it and you can imagine the rest. Those not too drunk to have passed out must have been revolted. Those with any sense of religion in them were horrified. And one by one they got out of there as quickly as possible. The party was over!
Then there are the parties of the Kingdom, the wedding parties, which describe for us what heaven is going to be about, at least in part. And how earnestly we are to go out into the high ways and by ways and lanes and hedges and to do everything possible to get people to come in and party with us and with God for an eternity!
And finally, there is this great party in our text. The one in which one sinner comes home and all the angels of God and all his servants join in this great jubilation!
A son had sinned. He had disowned his father and everything the father stood for. He wanted to be a party animal and he knew he couldn’t do it there in his native village and so he took all that he had and moved to a distant city. And so, he partied! And he partied with a vengeance! Every night in the taverns. Every day waking up with a hangover. All the bar hops and all the girls and all the scum of the city partied with him and at his expense. They were his friends. They were his cronies. Until that last shekel was spent and he woke up with nothing. And he went from bad to worse until, he, in his words, he was starving to death and no one would give him anything.
Only then he recalled that back home even the worse are given work, if not aid. Hire hands have bread enough and to spare. Beggars do not go hungry; neither do lepers and other outcasts. It is time now to swallow his pride, ask for forgiveness and to see what he could do with the rest of his life. So he goes back to the village where he grew up. A village which now he realizes spelled out all that real life had in store for anyone. It is not the distant and exotic city. It is not the bars and the taverns. It is not the good ole boys and the dancing girls. It is home. A Jewish home town, with the Law and the Prophets, the farm and good, honest work. And parents who really love and a community which really cares about their own and even the stranger.
And the father sees him at a distance and runs out to him, to protect him against the elders who were duty bound to punish him. “The eye of a child which scorns it father shall be plucked out by the ravens!” But the father says, “Put quickly the best robe on him, and a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet and let the elders know that I have forgiven him and am taking him back. Better than that, “I am going to throw a welcome home party and everyone is invited. I want everyone to share in my joy! My son has repented and has come home!”
But wait,” the servants say, “How can we throw a party? What shall we serve your guests?”
And the father answers, “You know that one calf that I set aside, even from its birth. It was a perfect calf. And I did not let it run with the herd. I put it aside and fattened it and have been saving it for this special day when my son would come back home to me. Now go and get fatted calf and kill it and prepare it, that I may party with my sons and with my friends!”
Beloved, we know that the Father is God almighty and we know that the prodigal son is any sinner who repents. We know that the prodigal son is you and it is I. We know that the home village is the church and we know that we who are forgiven and have come home to our church are also to be his servants. As Luther said, “To serve and obey Him in everlasting innocence, righteousness and blessedness.”
But do we know what the Fatted Calf is, and what this homecoming party is? What is it, or who is it, that had to die in order that God could party with us? Who had been born with one special purpose in mind to die for the sins of the world? Who said, “For this purpose I have come to give My life as a ransom for many?” Of Whom did Paul write when he said, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the Law?”
And of course, the answer is Jesus. He is the very center of this parable. Yes, it is true that the Father is loving and forgiving. Yes, it is true that the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents. Yes, it is true that we sin- but by the power of the Holy Spirit, are called back to our senses and given the power to repent. But it is also true that Jesus died for our sins, that indeed, we may be acceptable in God’s sight, in order that we may party with Him.
Now this party takes place every time we repent whether it is within the context of our own personal evening prayers, or perhaps as soon as we do something wrong and regret it. It could be within a confessional service. But it is also and especially true within the context of the Lord’s Supper. For here, He who was sacrificed as a Lamb- (or as it were for the purposes of the parable- as a fatted calf)-is now offered to us. “Here take and eat for this is His Body. Take and drink, for this is His Blood, given and shed for you, for the remission of sins.“ Come, eat, drink, and be merry for God’s adopted sons and daughters were dead but are now alive again, were lost and are now found! Amen.
These are just some of the sermons I preached on this text and about 1/10 of the information I gathered out of Dr. Bailey’s book. It was something I greatly enjoyed doing.
Sola Deo Gloria.
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