Welcome to Hope City, everybody! Great to see you guys—I’m Pastor Peter and I’m glad you’re joining us for our spring series… Walls! I’m pumped for this series and really believe God is gonna do some cool things in our lives over the next several weeks.
Actually, this series is all about walking in Freedom in Christ! And I really believe these next 5 weeks have the power & potential to change your life wherever you’re at on your spiritual journey.
Maybe you’d say, “I’m still investigating Christianity… exploring what faith in God really means.” Walls is a perfect series to jumpstart your journey of faith. I’m glad you’re here.
If you’re a new Xian or returning to church, this is going to help you in a big way.
Others of you who are long-time followers of Christ are going find yourself going to a deeper place than I think you’ve ever gone before. Bc all of us want to be free, right? All of us want to breakthrough in life—but the truth of the matter, is we don’t always know where to look. Sometimes shame & regret for past mistakes can cripple us… and keep us from moving forward into God’s future
When my kids were smaller I can remember that one of their favorite things to do was to build forts out of blankets and get under there to play and pretend… We’d do this time after time. Well, one weekend, when mom was away, I decided that I’d be the fun dad… you know what I mean, right? Kids always love mom. They fall down, who do they want? Mommy… Kids need to be tucked in at night? Who do they want? MOMMY! Need some cash for the movies??? Daddy. Well, I decided that I was going to win my kids heart. I was going to be the fun dad. If there was a parenting competition, I was going to win that weekend. Besides, Tiffany was gone for the weekend anyway. So… I got out the blankets, and started building the blanket fort… But I uped the ante… I said, let’s get really crazy. Let’s take the sections of our couch and use them in the fort. The plan was to stand these couch pieces up and take the cushions off and build up some walls that would support the blankets even better than ever before! We we’re going to build a house inside our house.
Well let me tell you what I found.
Like 45,000 colored pencils, a couple bags of microwave popcorn, and like an entire scrabble boards worth of game pieces…
I couldn’t believe what was under those cushions! We needed a HazMat suit. But here’s the funny thing: Just lookin’ at the surface, you couldn’t tell we’re sitting on all that crud. On the surface it doesn’t look too bad, you know? The couch looks OK. In fact, the couch was relatively new at that time. But deep down in the cracks was all that junk.
Now there are many of us in this room who are trying to live our lives as if we’re free… But when you get beneath the surface… we’re really not. You know, we post great pictures of ourselves on our Social Media feed so everyone thinks we’re perfect– you know, we look great on FB and Twitter and Instagram — our family is happy & we’re doing awesome.
And we try to keep up that image on Sundays—We walk in here and hug people & kiss babies & shake hands. Like politicians. “So Good to see you brother”
But deep down underneath the cushions, there’s always a mess, right? Deep down on the inside, many of us are hurting. Some of us are in pain and maybe your close friends don’t even know. Maybe your spouse doesn’t even know it. A lot of us are not free because we’re held captive to the past & stuff under the cushions.
It’s like an old couch that we can’t get rid of, we keep reliving the mess over & over again. And here’s the truth: If you can’t let go of the past, you’ll never be able to move into the future.
There are those of us who are tied to the past—and we walk in here and bring our hurts, our hangups, and try to hide things. Try to shove them down deep under the couch cushions where nobody sees them because we don’t want anybody to know what’s really going on.
A lotta this stuff is just beneath the surface of the cushions in our lives and it’s stuff we’ve been sitting on for years. And we try to act like we’re free… but we’re not free. We’ve got walls built up around us that keep us from experiencing the freedom that Christ has intended for us.
Now listen, if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, I want you to listen to what I’m about to say:
Jesus did not die a brutal death on a Cross, and rise from the dead so you could live your life like a SLAVE. In hiding.
Jesus died so you could experience God’s Freedom. To be free from your past… And step into your future with a spirit of freedom.
Through Christ, God makes that kind of freedom available to everyone of us. In John 8:36, Jesus made this promise:
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. – John 8:36
In other words, You may be “free” on one level (free – believe in God, know in your head your sins forgiven). But you’re not “free indeed”—you still struggle with shame or guilt. Or habits that keep you feeling defeated.
Lemme be clear about our goal: We’re going for “free indeed!” kind of Freedom! The kind of liberating freedom that Jesus sacrificed his life to give us!
Today we’ll start our journey by looking at one of the most famous stories in the history of the world, it’s found in Luke chapter 15, that’s page 714, of the NT, if you want to turn there in your Bible or flip in your phone.
It’s the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke, chapter 15. The Bible says when Jesus told this story, he was in the midst of a crowd of colorful characters. There were 2 different groups of people: There were the religious whackadoodles called the Pharisees; they were whackadoodles bc they loved talking about God, but they didn’t like people, okay? (Ever meet religious people like that? I love God but I hate you!)
And then there was this other group of people Jesus tells this story to who the Bible describes as “notorious sinners.” I mean, you know—they had a lot of junk under the couch cushions, you know? Dishonest tax collectors… prostitutes… serious screw-ups. And so to the Super Religious & the Moral Screw-Ups, Jesus tells this story in Luke 15:
There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’
Now, it’s important for you to understand that the ears of Middle Eastern people of that day would’ve heard this story a little different than our ears hear it today. To get the full impact of this story about a father and his son, you gotta understand: There are some things in Jesus’ day, a Middle Eastern dad would never, ever do.
There are some things that my dad, even though he’s been gone for almost 10 years now, I know that he would never do. For instance, I never saw my dad Dance. Except at my wedding. My dad was fun, he loved to laugh, and he loved my mom so well. But I never really saw him dance. If there’s dancing in heaven right now, he’s not too happy. Or he’s doing a little white guy dance on the edge of the gym…
Well, a Middle Eastern dad would never divide up his estate early and give it to one of his sons. That just didn’t happen. In Jesus’ day, a Middle Eastern day would follow 1,000-year-old tradition. At the end of his life, he’d call his family around while he was on his deathbed… And then he’d convey the inheritance to the oldest son… followed by the rest of the heirs. And they’d divide it up, you know, “Here are the keys to the Jeep. You’re gonna get the grill, you’re gonna get the power tools, you get the flat screen.” And that’s how it was always done in that day.
But in this strange story Jesus told, the youngest son is a bit of a punk. And he ask his dad a question that never should have been asked. He says, “Dad, give me my share of the estate now.” Which is to say, “Dad, I basically wish you were dead.” But you’re not… and I don’t wanna stick around for that. So if you can give me my inheritance now, that’d be great. That’s what he’s saying. “Give me my share now, and I’m going to go live as fast and as far from home as I can.” And so the son pleads with his dad and the surprising thing is… his dad does it. Verse 12 says:
So he divided his property between them.
And those listening to the story must have gasped and said, “No way, that’s impossible! Fathers don’t do that kind of thing! Has he lost his mind??” But Jesus was sending a signal very early in this story, “This is not your typical father, is it?” This father hands his son the cash… the boy takes it, stuffs his pockets full of it…. Jumps into his 4-camel-drive chariot… and peels off to Vegas! Why? Because the Father loved the son. Jesus told this story because He wanted us to understand something about the Love of the Father. And that is, that… GOD LOVES YOU IN THE MIDDLE OF YOUR MESS.
Anybody ever make an unwise choice in their life? We all have, right? Some of us have made an unwise financial choice… a dating choice… an unwise marriage choice… a poor choice with drugs or alcohol.
But Jesus wants us to know God loves you even when you make unwise choices.
It’s not a conditional love, “Hey you’ve got to do it the right way and clean up your act… and then I’ll love you.” He just loves you. He’s a perfect Father. You don’t have to earn His love… and that’s so liberating!
But in God’s family, it’s different. As brothers & sisters forgiven by Christ, we should all wear T-shirts that say 2 words: “Me too”. Our society in the past 6 months has seen a rise in the phrase me too. It has come to be a rally cry for those women, and men whom have experienced the pain of sexual abuse. Do you know why the phrase Me Too spread like wildfire? Because it’s a freeing thing when we discover: You know what, I can be honest about myself and somebody else is going to say, “Thanks for being honest because that’s me too… and now we can embrace and love each other’s mess and help each other become who God intended us to be.”
You got some dysfunction in your past and in your family? Guess what? Me too. You’ve got people dealing with some substance abuse? You know what? Me too. You struggle with pornography in your life? Me too.
You see, heres the truth: ALL of us are like the REST of us. God loves you in the middle of your mess! But Jesus doesn’t stop here… the story continues.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.
Picture this: He’s cruising outta town… cranking his stereo, listening to Chance the Rapper, singing “Blessings”. You know? I mean, It seems like Blessings, keep falling in my lap!
No there not.. You took them from your dad!
He’s finally FREE! And for a while, life is just one big party…He’s having fun… he’s doing all the things he wasn’t allowed to do at home… he violates any sense of morality that he’s ever had….he’s living large… And thinks, ‘I’m finally free!” Free from the rules… free from under the thumb of my father… nobody telling me what to do… He’s building his own little tent now.
But you know what’s coming. In isn’t long before he’s broken, homeless, and bankrupt.
14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.
Jesus later says he spent all his money on prostitutes… maybe high-priced call girls. Maybe he snorted his inheritance up his nose. Or got stoned or binge-drank. Who knows? But it’s not long before his car starts swerving in its lane… and his whole life is spinning out of control. Until finally this young Jewish boy ends up working on a pig farm.
15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
Talk about rock bottom! This is a Kosher Jewish boy which means he didn’t eat Bacon!
He’s so broke, he doesn’t even want to eat pig… he wants what the pigs are eating!
And at this point, the whole story begins to change bc God does some of His BEST turnarounds when we’re in the pig pen. Some of you are in the pigpen in your life right now… but you’re sitting on cushions trying to hide it. But listen to me: You’re sitting in the place where God can do a miracle.
Broke and hungry, Jesus says: 17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!
I love that phrase, “When he came to his senses.” See: You will never experience all that God wants for you in your life until you come to that humble moment of brokenness, where you just kind of come to your senses. And realize, “What am I doing? I’m broke, my life’s a mess. I’ve blown my inheritance, I’m living like a pig. Even the guys that work for my dad eat better than I’m eating right now. Why would I ever walk away from my father’s house?” And this boy thinks to himself, ‘What I wouldn’t give for a second chance.” What I wouldn’t give to go back and do things over again. These walls I’ve put up are no good! And an idea hits him:
18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’
“Certainly, my dad can never forgive me… but maybe he will hire me. Maybe I could live in the dorm with some of his other workers and over time, you know, save up a little money and start paying him back.”
Now, he knows this is a long shot. His dad may be like “I was dead to you… now you’re dead to me!” But fresh out of options, he does a U-turn and heads in the other direction:
20 So he got up and went to his father.
What he doesn’t know is what this father has been doing while he’s been gone. See: Every day since his son left and drove fast and far… his Father has been standing at the window… scanning the horizon Watching, waiting, for him to come home. You might expect the Father is waiting with his arms crossed… or his BELT ready. To punish his entitled brat of a son who screwed up his life.
But Jesus says:
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
Didn’t see that coming, did you? Neither did Jesus’ audience. See it’s important for you to understand there’s a second thing a ME dad would never do. A respectable Middle Eastern Man would never run in public. That’s hard for us to understand bc in our day, men run in public all the time. (JOKE: Many of you guys, you put on your running gear & go out and run to stay in shape. Others of you, you put on your running gear to make people think you go out to run to stay in shape.)
But Jesus throws this curveball: While the boy is a long way off, the dad hikes up his robe, starts running, sandals flopping, necklace jiggling, hair blowing in the wind, does what a Middle Eastern dad would never do. And he runs and he throws his arms around his boy & HUGS him and KISSES him and he WELCOMES HIM HOME!
See: This is no ordinary dad who cares about His reputation. This is a Heavenly Father who cares about lost children. And friends, if you remember nothing else that I say today, I want you to remember this right here: If you will stop running, God will run to you.
When you’re ready to stop running in your life, God will run to you.
See: Jesus told this shocking story to SHATTER your conception of what Your Heavenly Father is really like! Deep down, so many people think God is like an ANGRY father—just waiting to punish them for the ways we screw-up our lives. And maybe that’s what your earthly father was like. Angry, judgmental, distant, or harsh, unforgiving. But Jesus says: That’s not how your Heavenly Father is. Q: What is your Heavenly Father like?
Psalm 103:8 says: The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
With a Father like that, there’s nothing to fear. Your Heavenly Father is full of compassion … doesn’t fly off the handle… Even when we blow it… or don’t act very loving… (or even throw it in His face)… He doesn’t change. He is still faithful to love us. Unconditionally. In the middle of our mess. So if you feel far from God today, understand where your Father is right now. He’s looking out heaven’s window, waiting for this moment—the day his son or daughter recognizes the walls they’ve built.
II. GOD LOVES YOU AND WANTS YOU TO COME HOME.
Some of you are in the pigpen right now and think, “I couldn’t go back.” But God loves you right now. And he’s standing by the window, scanning the horizon, patiently waiting for you to come home. The Bible says God is patient and doesn’t want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Now understand: God won’t force you to come home; He will patiently wait for you to stop running. And when you do, He will run to you. Why? When you come to your senses (repent = turn from your way & go His way), he’ll turn your Mess into a Message of His Grace!
He’ll welcome you home with open arms. See, the question isn’t: Is God is ready for us to come home? The question is: Are we ready to finally stop running, to stop building walls and join the party?
That’s the other thing a Middle Eastern dad would never do: He would never throw a party for a rebellious son who had blown his inheritance. You see, in Jesus’ day they did just the opposite.
But Jesus throws in this twist: Not only does this father run toward his son and welcome him home with open arms. Not only does he have tears running down his cheeks as they walk home together. But to those who thought the son should be shunned, Jesus throws one final surprise:
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. (Let’s have steak tonight!) Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
The dad didn’t demand an explanation. He didn’t give a lecture. He didn’t even ask to be repaid. He simply forgave the boy and restored him as a son, even though it cost him his reputation, his fortune, and this extravagant party. The father kills the cow- We’re gonna have Filet Mignon- & throws a Welcome Home Party for him! A Prodigal Party.
I guarantee: When Jesus was done telling this story, those religious nut-jobs who were listening and the messy scandalous sinners who had led very colorful lives… must have BOTH shaken their heads and thought: “What kind of father is this? This is no ordinary Middle Eastern dad. What kind of parent celebrates even when their child makes unwise choices? What kind of dad throws a party when his kid comes home from the pigpen?” And friends, I think Jesus is saying to every one of us with this story: “This is what your True Father is like. This is what your true home is like. God offers you life beyond the walls you’ve built if you will just stop running… He will run to you.”
See: Guys, here at the start of our Walls series, I want you to see something. That story of the Prodigal Son Jesus told 2,000 years ago… still holds true today. The names change. Or maybe the son is a daughter who once she stopped running, her father ran to her.
God turned her around & broke through the walls that were holding her back from experiencing all that God intended for her. No matter how far you run… you can never outrun the grace of God! God meets you in your mess & struggles & says, “Come home! I have something better for you…If you’ll trust me.”
On the day his child returns home, notice , the father didn’t put any conditions on it. He didn’t say, “If you’ll get a bath first… if you’ll get your hair cut… if you’ll get rid of that earring, then I’ll hug you. You’ll get down and grovel, then you can come home.” No, not at all. Remember: His son was coming from a pig farm. He’s prolly covered in pig stink … his hair’s matted… who knows how many days since he’s had a shower. No deodorant… and his father comes out and he just hugs him with a Big Ol’ Bear Hug! The kind of embrace that only a dad can give.
Some of you may think, ‘Well, you know, I’m gonna take a shower first, I’m going to get all cleaned up. And when I get my life together, when I put my faults and my problems behind me, then I’ll go in God’s direction. Bc then will I be loveable.’ But you see: God loves you just the way you are right now… not the spiffed-up, sanitized version of you! He loves JUST AS YOU ARE RIGHT NOW!
And if you’ll TRUST Jesus, He will make you into what he wants you to be. He’ll walk right into your mess & perform a miracle. I think this parable musta hit his listeners like a freight train, that God’s love isn’t like an earthly father. But a Heavenly Father who loves you when you make unwise choices… Who loves you in the middle of your mess… Who loves you while he waits for you to come home… He is a Father who loves you not because you’re good, but because He’s only perfect Father you’ll ever know in this life!
There’s a Spanish story about a father & son who had a falling out. Violent argument. Words were exchanged—big wounds opened up. And the son left the house, ran away and disappeared.
Never came back. And his Dad was desperate to find him– searched for him, looked everywhere, couldn’t track him down. So finally, he put an ad in the Spanish newspaper that said, “Dear Paco, please meet me this Saturday in the town square at 12 noon. All is forgiven, I love you. Your father.”
On Saturday at noon, he went to the town square & was shocked by what he saw:
800 Pacos showed up looking to be loved. Desperate for the love of their father bc that’s what we all want, right?
We all want to be loved, we all want to know that we matter. And in spite of our failures, we’re accepted. And it will be ok. Deep down, all of us deeply desire the love of our Heavenly Father, and I just want you to know today: You. Already. Have. It!
God already loves you and if you will stop running, He will run to you. And if you’re willing to come home… He will throw a party & welcome you home with open arms.
One of the things we do at Hope City every series to taste God’s amazing grace is to celebrate Communion (or the Lord’s Supper) together. Communion is a powerful symbol of God’s love.
Just as the Father killed the fatted calf in Luke 15 to welcome home His son… God the Father sacrificed HIS ONE & ONLY SON JESUS on a CROSS so He could forgive our sin… and welcome you & me home to heaven.
In a moment, I’m gonna pray and your going to come forward to receive the Bread—which represents the body of Jesus broken for you on the Cross. And the Cup—which represents Christ’s blood that forgives our sin & restores our relationship with God the Father.
And if you’re a follower of Christ… you are welcome at the Father’s table! But I also know that there are some of you who’ve never responded and received the love & forgiveness of God. Jesus said after there’s rejoicing among the angels in Heaven when one lost son or daughter stops running… and turns the Father’s direction.
In other words, There’s a party waiting for you today… and today could be the day where you stop running… so God can run to you. And if you’d like to receive the Love & Forgiveness of God for yourself, you can silently pray this prayer after me. Would you all bow your heads?
Say, “Jesus today, I want to stop running. I need you to come into my life. There’s a lot of stuff beneath the cushions of my life that need cleaning up and I’m not proud of. And I want you to forgive my sins. Please run to me. Set me free & save me. Clean up the mess & turn my life around.”
If you’re praying that prayer today, it’s the most important decision of your life. Angels are celebrating… So if you prayed that prayer & decided to follow Jesus… this is your Welcome Home Party. And you are welcome to receive Communion—as an expression of faith in Jesus Christ.
This is a special moment for you. And if you’re here today & you’re still processing, that’s okay too. Don’t feel pressure to participate in Communion. You can just go through the line—and use that time to digest what you’ve heard and reflect on God’s sacrifice so you could be free.
God, I thank you. I thank you for the story of the thousands of prodigals you’ve turned around & welcomed home. Including me. We’re all prodigals. Thank you that we can run far—but we can never outrun your grace & forgiveness.
God, I thank you for those who today are saying, “I need Jesus in my life and it’s time. It’s time to stop running. And I want to run toward Him.” We rejoice with them today. God, I pray that you keep your hand on this series. I ask that you do extraordinary work in our lives in the weeks ahead.
We ask all this in the name of the One who has the power to break every wall that is holding us back, Jesus Christ.
And everyone said together… Amen!