I’d like to begin with a simple question.
Who—or what—is the Bible about?
We ask questions like this all the time: What’s that book about? That movie? Or we say, “Tell me about the game, your day, or your family.”
Those are straightforward questions, and—most of the time—they have straightforward answers.
But you might say that the question about the Bible, what the Bible’s about, has a less than straightforward answer.
The Bible is primarily about God.
And then—after it’s about God—it’s about you.
I’ll show you what I mean.
Jonah’s a good example.
If you think the Bible is primarily about you, you might hear of Jonah and come to think that every breath of wind is a call from God for you to go and do some amazing or outrageous thing.
If the Bible’s about you—and you’re Jonah—you need to be less reluctant to the call of God.
That would be the lesson.
But if it’s about God—ask the question:
What is God doing?
And in Jonah, God—through a disgruntled prophet—is saving many.
The one man is cast into what would be considered certain death, but since the lot fell on Jonah, it doesn’t fall on the mariners.
And so the rough, tempestuous sea is muzzled, and the men make vows to God.
You’re not Jonah, with a tough choice to make.
You’re the mariners, or the men of Nineveh, who hear and believe because of the one sent to them.
Before you even open the book, you have to ask: what’s the Bible about?
And you have to have the answer—the Bible is primarily about God.
I’ll give you one more obvious example.
David and Goliath.
I’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth saying again because David and Goliath is so misused.
If the Bible is primarily about you, you might think that David and Goliath is about you overcoming giants.
Read popular opinions about this.
David will be a stand-in for an addict and Goliath, the addiction.
I’m sure you’ve heard David and Goliath referenced when some untalented sports team is playing against one really talented sports team.
So David is boiled down to you, and Goliath is whatever you want to overcome in the world.
But David and Goliath can’t possibly be about those things, because not every addict overcomes his addiction. The underdogs don’t always win.
But David never loses.
As often as I’ve heard the story, David always wins.
So what’s the Bible about?
Is the Bible about you—and what you must do—you Jonahs and Davids?
Or is the Bible about God—and what God has done for you in Christ? And so no matter what your life may look like, you have a God who fights for you.
Asking it that way makes the answer obvious—of course the Bible’s about God and what God has done for me in Christ. Of course!
But the parables in Luke put this to the test.
Today’s Gospel lesson is known, the world over, as the parable of the Prodigal Son.
It’s known as the third parable in a sequence of parables in Luke chapter fifteen, beginning with the parable of the Lost Sheep and the parable of the Lost Coin.
Interestingly, however, St. Luke writes that “[Jesus] told them this parable…” (Luke 15:3).
He doesn’t say “these parables,” plural.
He says “this parable,” singular.
But three stories follow.
And—as parables do—these stories reveal to us the kingdom of God—who God is, what He’s doing, and what that means for us and for our salvation.
And—as parables do—these stories offer some degree of shock, because they don’t make a lick of worldly sense.
Jesus says, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4).
Jesus asks some men a question.
He says, “What man of you…does not…”
And if the Bible’s about us, primarily, we’ll hear Jesus and think that we should be like the man in the parable who leaves ninety-nine percent of his flock in the wilderness, the desolate place, the place deprived of protection and aid—that’s what “open country” means.
It’s the same word as “desert.”
If the Bible’s primarily about us, we’ll hear Jesus and gladly leave the ninety-nine for the sake of the one.
But see, we never do.
We’re concerned about preventing loss, that’s true.
But we’re not so concerned with loss prevention that we don’t rejoice when we’ve been 99% successful.
We don’t leave the ninety-nine.
In the parable, you’re not the one who’s looking, you’re the one who’s lost.
This is not primarily about you and what you must do to find what’s lost.
This is primarily about God—who He is and what He is doing to seek and find and save the lost.
And this is the Kingdom of God.
If there are ninety-nine “found” sheep—and one “lost” sheep—God is not content to let the lost perish.
He desires not the death of the wicked but that he turn from his evil ways and live (cf. Ezekiel 33:11).
If you’ve ever wondered why bad things happen to good people, why—as a Christian—you must take up your cross and follow Jesus, consider that He would leave the “found” sheep, who belong to Him, who know His voice, who’ll be raised on the last day to everlasting life—He’s content to leave them in the open country—so He can find and save and bring back the one.
As part of the ninety-nine, that’s difficult to hear.
But if you’re the one—or if your son is, or your daughter, your friend, your neighbor, your dad—then it is the love and power of God at work.
And—“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
Then, Jesus says, “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?” (Luke 15:8).
If the Bible is primarily about you, you’re the woman. And if anything of value is lost, the world stops until you find it.
That’s how everyone operates, right?
Of course not.
We’re content to let a lot of things remain lost, so long as we have some vague idea of where they might be.
It’s in the house—that’s good enough.
But in the parable, you’re not the one looking.
You’re the one lost.
And God seeks diligently, to find you.
This should be a source of profound relief for all of us.
Your salvation doesn’t rest on your not resting.
You’re not saved because you seek diligently.
God seeks. God finds. God saves.
And then, “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
Which then brings us to the Prodigal.
Knowing what the Bible’s about, consider all that our God and Father endures and does out of love for you:
The lost son says to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me” (Luke 15:12).
He asks for his inheritance, that’s how we might say that, but when is an inheritance given?
After a death, right?
So it is as though the younger says to his father, “Father, please die, so I can get what’s coming to me.”
Those of you who stand to inherit much from your family, have you never thought the same?
Secretly, privately, have you daydreamed what you’ll do—with the house, the car, the money, the land.
These things tear families apart.
Nevertheless, the father divided his property (cf. Luke 15:12).
The younger son soon left and “squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:13-16).
As God endures our wretchedness with long-suffering patience, desiring for His love to outlast our pride—
So also does God send the whirlwind to break and hinder the plans and purposes of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.
God made sure to destroy the younger son’s false god of money.
But at least he had his health, right?
So God sent a famine, and now the boy’s in need.
Spiritually speaking, being in need is one of the most helpful things, because it teaches you to hallow God’s name, not your own.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, after all.
And this poor boy fed pigs, because God brought him low.
He can no longer rely on money.
He can no longer rely on his own strength.
Feeding unclean pigs, he can’t even claim to be clean, and his lack is such that he longs to eat pig food.
God made sure that no one gave him anything.
So where else can he go—but home?
Perhaps the most important detail in the parable is the reasoning of the son and the reaction of the father.
The younger wants to trade.
He wants to confess his sin, but he wants to trade his sonship for earthly security, the promise and blessing of God, for a bowl of stew.
And the father will have none of it.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’” (Luke 15:21).
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found’” (Luke 15:22-24).
Such is the love of God for you.
While He may be found, so to speak, God will endure our wretchedness with patient long-suffering.
But He’ll also send the whirlwind our way.
In the parable, you are not the one who searches.
You are the one who was lost and is now found.
The Bible isn’t primarily about you—and that’s good news.
The Bible is primarily about God—who seeks, finds, binds up, strengthens, and restores you to the Kingdom of God.
And there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 3, 2021
Luke 15: (1-10) 11-32
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt