Letting Go (Luke 15:11-32)

Life’s Hurts, Habits and Hang-ups and Their Healing Choices

Subtitle: Letting Go (Luke 15:11-32)

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church on Sunday, June 9, 2019

Grant and his battles with alcohol:

I have begun reading a new biography. The book is about General Grant from the Civil War. There are many books or movies that could tell the evils of drug or alcohol abuse and this could be one of them. Certainly, Grant remained a great general and fascinating human being despite his alcohol abuse. It is hard to tell exactly how much Grant drank. In the very beginning of the book the author, Ron Chernow, writes that Grant was likely a functioning alcoholic. Further, Chernow shares that today we recognize being an alcoholic as a disease which they did not recognize back then. It seems that General Grant would go months, maybe even years, without drinking and then drink in excess after a major battle. However, even those reports we cannot be too sure of because other generals and politicians would spread rumors about Grant for their own gain. This is how it came about. Let’s backup a little in Grant’s military career. U.S. Grant, actually Hiram, Ulysses Grant, was sent to West Point, though he did not wish to go there. He did not drink alcohol at that point. Later on, he started drinking and drinking in excess in his early military career. In 1854 he was a captain in the army. He had not seen his wife and children in over two years. He was serving in California under an over-scrupulous leader. The leader knew that this young man drank too much and caught him drunk. He warned him to resign or face court martial. Grant’s friends told him to fight it and he would win, but Grant wanted to be with his family and resigned.

Following that Grant could not succeed in civilian life, but then the Civil War breaks out and he had a cause. He tries and tries and tries to get an appointment as an officer. He finally gets his break and he excels in the military to be the man who eventually led the north to win the war. But, you know what? Those tales of his drinking followed him. Anytime someone wanted to hurt him in public relations they brought up how he had to leave the army because of alcohol abuse.

So, today let’s think for a moment about those people trapped in sin. They are just living in it. Now, it is one thing for us to focus on that as Christians. Once we are believers we have identified with the Savior. Once we are believers we have committed to the Savior. However, why are we so very often ignoring the sin in the church and complaining about the world? Why don’t we clean up our house? So, I was reading an article about a pastor’s kid who left the church. This young man, who is now a pastor himself, grew up in the church and was turned off by the church. He was turned off when his mom would take him to the church during the middle of the day to surprise his father and only find his dad being yelled at by a member because he changed the carpet. He was turned off by the church when they would make such a big deal about the drums in the sanctuary. He was turned off by the utter hypocrisy. Then he heard Frederick Buechner speak. Buechner is a well known Bible scholar. Buechner said the Holy Spirit is not in every church. That is very true. Anyways, this pastor’s kid leaves the church, then his neighbor was going to strip clubs at night, getting drunk, etc. This pastor’s kid tells the neighbor he should try Jesus. The neighbor said, I would not try Jesus because many of the people at the strip clubs are preparing to be pastors during the day! Wow! What hypocrisy! We have to take care of that inside the church. Outside the church we must expect the world to be the world. So, as we do this we realize that Jesus came for everyone. The person living in unrepentant sin needs to know about Jesus, that is what they need first and foremost. The biggest thing that harms our credibility is when the supposed Jesus followers are doing the same things. So, let’s clean up our act because we are committed to Jesus. Let’s clean up our act because we are crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20), at the same time, let’s recognize the Gospel is for everyone and let’s take the Gospel to everyone.

The story today is about two brothers. One brother is the older brother. Think of him as the religious person. The younger brother is the worldly person. He is not religious. He is anti religious. Then there is a father. The father represents God.

Let’s read the story and I wish to show you that God is loving and He desires a relationship with everyone. God desires a relationship with unrepentant sinners. God desires a relationship with worldly people.

Today, I want to impress on all of us the high importance of letting go.”


My theme let go and surrender to Jesus.

Let’s read Luke 15:11-32:

11 And He said, “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. 13 And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 14 Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. 17 But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’20 So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. 29 But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; 30 but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”

  • First, let’s say that God desires a relationship with the unrepentant. God desires a relationship with the worldly person, who is living for the world.
    • At this point, Jesus is in Samaria. At this time, He is telling all these parables in an area that is hostile to the Jews in Jerusalem. The Jews in Jerusalem were hostile to them as well. I want to emphasize that Jerusalem Jews did what it took to avoid them. They would travel extra just so they did not come in contact with them. But Jesus goes right through the heart of Samaria and He tells parables. He tells parables that are not in the other Gospels.
    • To the Jerusalem Jews the Samaritans would be unrepentant worldly people. Unrepentant people are in the world, living for the world and they do not care. They live for themselves and God wants a relationship with them.
    • So, here is Jesus in this worldly area, in this area forsaken by most Jews, but not by God. He tells a parable.
    • We call this the parable of the prodigal son. Prodigal means extravagant or wasteful. As you heard in the parable, the son wastes his father’s money.
    • There are two sons in this parable and the younger tells his father that he wants his share of the estate. Now, you must know that there are a couple problems with this. The first problem is that asking for an inheritance early is like saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead!”
      • Regardless of the insult the father divides the inheritance between his two sons. This is the second problem. According to the Old Testament (DT 21:7), the elder son was supposed to receive a double portion.
      • Now, what you need to know is that this is a parable; it is a story with a purpose. It may or may not have really happened. Jesus is setting this parable up in order to show God’s great grace.
  • Jesus is showing that regardless of what we do, God is our Father and as our Father He welcomes us into His loving arms. This younger son is blasphemous to his father, by asking for the inheritance, but the Father represents God. The Father still wants a relationship with him.
  • Verses 13-14 show that the son takes his father’s money and he leaves. Jesus says that he wasted his wealth with wild living. Jesus doesn’t tell us what the son was involved in but we can take a guess. We can take a guess because some of you have been in situations like this.
    • I also think that some of you have had children leave home and disgrace your name. Still some of you have had situations where you were prepared to welcome a child back home. You have been where this father is. Some of you are the father and you have had your heart broken by what your child has done. For you it may not be that your child has wasted your money. You don’t care about the money, it is that your child has made poor decisions and consequently ended up in a very bad situation. It may make you nauseas to think about the situation your child is in.
    • Some of you have done this yourself. Some of you are the younger son and have experienced drastic forgiveness and reconciliation.
  • Now, let’s pause for a moment.
  • This sermon’s point is letting go. We are in a sermon series about life’s hurts, habits and hang-ups and their healing choices. The third choice is letting go. We must let go and surrender to Jesus. Maybe you have done that, have you really? This prodigal son is about to get to the lowest point and he surrenders.
  • The Gospel is in this parable. The prodigal is living apart from the world. We all must come to a point in which we surrender to Jesus. I mean, really surrender. Often times it takes a crisis to make us surrender.
  • Oftentimes, Pride, guilt and fear keep us from surrendering to Jesus. We may have too much pride.
  • Or we have Guilt: Do we feel ashamed? Are we afraid to ask God for help?
  • John Baker writes it this way: Maybe you’ve tried to make deals with God: “God, if You just get me out of this mess, I will never do it again!” You may be embarrassed to ask Him for help. Or you may think God doesn’t know all the things you’ve done wrong and won’t ever forgive you. You’re wrong; He knows. Even though He knows it all, there is no sin that God cannot or will not forgive. He wants to forgive all your guilt. That’s why Christ went to the cross![1]
  • Then there is fear: Are you afraid of what you might have to give up if you surrender the care and control of your life to Christ? Fear takes many forms:
    • We may be afraid to trust God. There’s a story about a guy who falls off a cliff. Halfway down he grabs on to a branch, and he’s hanging on for dear life—he can see five hundred feet down and five hundred feet up. He cries out, “Somebody help!” Suddenly, he hears the voice of God, “This is the Lord, trust Me, let go, and I’ll catch you.” The guy looks back down at the five hundred feet below and back up again. Then he calls out, “Is there anybody else up there?”[2] Sometimes we turn to God only as our last resort. We are afraid to let go and trust Him.
    • Maybe we are afraid of losing control. But we are not in control to begin with. We may be controlled by our anger. We may be controlled by our anxiety. We may be controlled by our chemical addiction. We may be controlled by our own need to control everything. We may be controlled by life. Surrender and let Jesus control you.
  • We also may have worry which keeps us from letting go and surrendering to Jesus. We are worried about what this looks like. Some of us have lived with our hurt, habit or hang-up our whole life and so letting go of it is unimaginable. You may think, I don’t have a major addiction, I just have anger issues, but it is under control. But even a little bit of anger hurts yourself and others and Jesus wants to help you. Let go. You may think, I don’t have major sin or addiction, I just have worry and anxiety. Still, don’t you think the Holy Spirit wants to give you peace (John 14:27)? You don’t have to live with that. But, I wonder, if we like our anger, we like our anxiety, we like our worry, we like our fear, we like our addiction, maybe too much to let go and let Jesus take over.
  • John Baker writes: Worry causes us to confuse the decision-making phase with the problem-solving phase. Consider the process of buying a house. First, you make the initial decision to buy the house. That’s only the beginning. There are several more problem-solving steps that must be taken before you can actually move in. You need to go to the bank and apply for the loan. You need to get an appraisal and complete the escrow. Then you have to contact the moving company and set up the utilities. All of this has to be done before you spend the first night in your new home! If you focus on the “problems”—the individual tasks involved in making your dream a reality—you may never make the decision to buy the house. Make the decision; let God worry about the problem solving.[3]
  • God does have the ability to get us where he wants us. John Baker, in his book, Life’s Healing Choices compares it to America in World War 2. Before we would take a Japanese island we would soften it by bombing it. Then we would take the beachhead. In the history of World War II, once the Marines landed and established a beachhead, they never lost an island. It was just a matter of time until the entire island would be set free.[4] The beach head is like our conversion, or if we have been converted but we have not surrendered all to Jesus, the beachhead is when we turn our hurt, habit or hang-up over to Jesus.
  • BUT, before the beachhead we need softened, we face the consequence of our hurt, habit or hang up. God is letting us go our own way so that we realize we need Him.
  • This brings us back to the parable. The prodigal is facing the consequence of his sin.
  • Verses 15-16 show that now, this son is feeding pigs. Pigs were an unclean animal in Judaism, so for Jesus’ audience this is a big deal. This son has sunk to a very low station in life. But Jesus is setting this up to show the great, great love of God, our Heavenly Father.
  • To have a relationship with God we must repent. However, whether we repent or not, God wants a relationship with us.
    • Verses 17-19 show that the son is repentant. He realizes what has happened to his station in life. He is ready to confess this to his father.
    • Verses 20-24 show us that as he comes back to his father, his father sees him from a distance and runs to him. We also see that his father wants to throw a party to welcome his son home.
      • In that day it was considered a breach of an adult male’s dignity to run, but this Father is so excited to see his son come home that he runs to him and embraces him.
      • A man was commissioned to paint a picture of the Prodigal Son. He went into his work fervently, laboring to produce a picture worthy of telling the story. Finally, the day came when the picture was complete, and he unveiled the finished painting. The scene was set outside the father’s house, and showed the open arms of each as they were just about to meet and embrace. The man who commissioned the work was well pleased, and was prepared to pay the painter for his work, when he suddenly noticed a detail that he had missed. Standing out in the painting above everything else in the scene, was the starkly apparent fact that the father was wearing one red shoe and one blue shoe. He was incredulous. How could this be, that the painter could make such an error? He asked the painter, and the man simply smiled and nodded, assuring the man, “Yes, this is a beautiful representation of the love of God for His children.” “What do you mean?” he asked, puzzled. “The father in this picture was not interested in being color-coordinated or fashion-conscious when he went out to meet his son. In fact, he was in such a hurry to show his love to his son, he simply reached and grabbed the nearest two shoes that he could find. “He is the God of the Unmatched Shoes.”[5]
  • Some of us can hear this story and think like the eldest son. We see his reaction in verses 25-32
  • The eldest son’s thinking is on the side of TRUTH—all TRUTH and no grace. His thinking is that the younger brother made his decisions and he should live with him.
  • But I think that no matter what that elder son cannot see things the way a parent would. That elder son just can’t think about watching the boy learn to walk, rocking him to sleep at night, teaching him to fish, taking him to Chipotle for the first time, school programs and all those other things. A parent thinks with their emotions.
    • I believe that God made us emotional because I think God has emotions. The Father in this parable is clearly God and when we are in the filth of life; when we are in bad situations, I think that God hurts. Some of you know what it is like to hurt and ache and lose sleep because your child is in a bad situation. Then I think you have a small element of how God feels when we are in a bad situation. God grieves and God hurts. Then when we choose to come back to God, He runs to us and throws a party in Heaven.
    • God desires a relationship with all so He sent Jesus for everyone.

God desires a relationship with unrepentant sinners.  God desires a relationship with the neighbor who goes to strip clubs. God desires a relationship with the person out late at night drinking because they are depressed. God desires a relationship with the man who has burned every bridge they have formed because he was never taught how to work with people. God desires a relationship with the person who cannot hold a job because he never had a father to mentor and teach him to work. God desires a relationship with the person who even cannot parent because he was never modeled or taught how to parent. You know what? God desires a relationship with the guy blaspheming Him on the news. God desires a relationship with the Muslim terrorist. God desires a relationship with the Nazi solder. God desires a relationship with every unrepentant person and God desires a relationship with us.

The question is: who do you most identify with? Are you the older brother? If you are a believer, are your interests, God’s interests? Do you desire to introduce those unrepentant people to Jesus?

Are you unrepentant? Are you harboring a hurt, habit or hang-up? Know that coming to Christ does mean repentance. The third step in life’s healing choices is letting go and surrendering that to God. I encourage you, do that today. Tell God in a simple prayer, “God, I wish to surrender my addiction to pornography to You.” Or, “God, I am surrendering my anxiety to You.” Or, God, I am surrendering my anger to You.” Or, God, I am surrendering my alcohol abuse to You.” Or, maybe you do not know Jesus. In that case surrender to Him today for the first time. Tell God: Lord, today, I confess that I have sinned and missed Your perfect standard. I believe in You. Jesus, I believe that You died on the cross for my sins and rose again. I am committing my life to You and trusting in You for my salvation. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Do you know Jesus?

God created us to be with him. (Genesis 1-2)

Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)

Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)

Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)

Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude)

Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5)





[1] Baker Jr., John F.. Life’s Healing Choices Revised and Updated: Freedom from Your Hurts, Hang-ups, and Habits (pp. 87-88). Howard Books. Kindle Edition.

[2] Baker Jr., John F.. Life’s Healing Choices Revised and Updated: Freedom from Your Hurts, Hang-ups, and Habits (p. 88). Howard Books. Kindle Edition.

[3] Baker Jr., John F.. Life’s Healing Choices Revised and Updated: Freedom from Your Hurts, Hang-ups, and Habits (p. 90). Howard Books. Kindle Edition.

[4] Baker Jr., John F.. Life’s Healing Choices Revised and Updated: Freedom from Your Hurts, Hang-ups, and Habits (pp. 92-93). Howard Books. Kindle Edition.

[5] Contributed by: Wayne Major found at SermonCentral

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