As a Bible teacher, I love to teach about and from the Bible. I love to dissect complex truths and present them with simple words so people can understand.
In my early ministry Paul’s epistles were my favorite because they present truth in a logical manner. In later years I have enjoyed helping students appreciate the Bible as great literature. I didn’t say the Bible was just literature, but that it is great literature.
No matter your favorite genre, whether presented in the pages of a book or on the large screen or small screen, chances are you can discover its roots in the Bible.
If you like romance, try Ruth or Esther for a good chick flick. If you want epic warfare, there’s plenty of that in the older testament and The Revelation. Enjoy poetry? The Psalms and many of the prophets’ sermons were composed by consummate wordsmiths. If you are a thinker and like philosophy, try Ecclesiastes or Job to help answer the riddle of life.
Did I hear you ask, “Where’s the comedy?” Satire drips from lips of several biblical characters, but for a real belly laugh consider these words describing a renegade prophet: “And Balaam rose up in the morning and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. … And the ass saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside …” (Numbers 22:21, 23, kjv). Here we meet a talking donkey who understood the perilous situation better than the fool on his back.
We all enjoy a good drama, especially those that drain salty water from our eyes. I believe one of the greatest dramatic short stories ever written is recorded in Luke 15. We tend to call it the story of the prodigal son, but this is not his story nor is he the leading character. Rather this is the story about a compassionate, patient father whose love for his son can never be broken. There are only four characters in the story: a father, two brothers and a servant.
When I taught from this story at the Shepherds House several months ago, I challenged the men to help me make this story into a script for a movie. Here on the Front Porch Swing, let’s imagine we are producing a “made for television” movie based on this story. Let’s try to get inside the heads of the characters—to experience their emotions as the story unfolds.
What motivated the younger son to request his share of the inheritance while his father was still living? Was there sibling rivalry making home unbearable? Or was he simply tired of the dirty work of managing a farm? Did he have itching feet to explore the world—to see if the grass might really greener beyond the fences?
How might such a crude, insensitive request impact the father? Were tears streaking the father’s face as he watched his youngest disappear on the horizon? It’s your movie, so you decide.
Was the son whistling as he skipped down the path toward freedom? Did he pause to look back one last time to see if dad was still on the porch? Perhaps the jingle of the money in his pockets was music to his ears. As miles passed and borders were crossed, did he feel exhilarated in his new adventure?
Entering the big city with all the new sights and smells, did he check into the best hotel and spend the night out on the town? What kind of new acquaintances did he make, and what drew them to become his friends?
Meanwhile back at the home ranch there is an empty place at the table and a hole in the father’s heart. A cloud of grief filled every room. Imagine the old father kneeling by his bed praying for his son night after night, and wetting his pillow with tears.
Out in the far country, the scene has changed for the young rebel. Drought has come, and the son soon expends all his inheritance in pursuit of his new life. Like his money, his friends are gone. So where is he sleeping tonight? Famine-like conditions make life miserable for this immigrant kid in the big city. And what is that strange, uncomfortable sensation in his midsection? Is this what they call “hunger”? Seeking employment for the first time in his life (and without a resume), he settles for herding pigs, unclean animals he didn’t have to deal with back on the homestead.
Finally, groveling with the pigs for sustenance, he “comes to himself” and says, “How many of my father’s hired hands have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!” Consider those last lamenting words, “starving to death” and describe his physical appearance compared to the day he skipped down the road and out the front gate wearing the best sandals and robe.
The broken lad continues, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” Is that a true statement? Yes! He continues to refine his repentance speech, adding the line, “make me like one of your hired men.”
Then comes the moment when he leaves the pig pens behind, turns on his heel, and begins the long walk home. Back to his father. What is his emotional state now compared to the day he declared his freedom to be and do whatever he pleased? Night after dusty night he sleeps beside the path. Day after day he moves closer and closer to home; old familiar sights greet his eyes. Increasing shame weighs on his shoulders and drags at his feet. Early one morning, just like every other morning, the old father sits on the front porch watching, hoping–even imagining—his wayward son’s appearance down the pathway.
But this morning it is no daydream. It’s real. He sees the unmistakable figure of his young son plodding down the path. (Cue the dramatic music.) Filled with compassion and casting dignity to the wind, the old man pulls his robe high above his knees running as fast as his old legs can carry him.
This is the moment the son dreaded for days on end. But it is also the moment the father prayed for unceasingly. Two bodies meet on the path. Two hearts race with anticipation.
The son begins his recitation, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and you and am no longer worthy to be called your son…” Before he can complete his speech and bargain for a second chance, the father throws his arms around his son, kissing his dirty cheeks. Fearing and deserving the worst, the son discovers grace—amazing grace. A ring is placed on the boy’s finger. It’s a statement. This is no hired hand or second-class citizen. This is my son.
The rest of the story seems almost anticlimactic. A celebration breaks out and carries into the night. Everybody is happy except one. The older brother has never physically left home, but has remained a stranger in his father’s house and a stranger to grace—trapped in his own resentment and self-righteousness.
This story has universal appeal. Each of us is a prodigal. We have all sinned against God and are not worthy of being called His child. Truth be told, we deserve spiritual death and separation from God. We live our lives experiencing alienation from God and from one another. Sin has introduced words like guilt, shame and alienation into our vocabulary.
Consider these lessons from this story:
It’s not what we have done, but what we will do that matters.
It’s not where we have been, but where we are going.
It’s not why we left home, but where we belong.
It’s not how long we have stayed away from home, but how soon will we return.
It’s not how unworthy we are feeling, but how much our father loves us.
It’s not what we plan to say, but what our father will say to us.
It’s not what we deserve, but what our father offers: amazing grace.