The next story without an ending is found in Luke 15:25-32, and it is the familiar passage about an elder son and his father. You may remember that the younger son says to his dad one day, ‘Gee, if you were dead I could take my inheritance and go treat my friends to a good time and be popular with the cheerleaders. But since it’s obvious that you won’t cooperate and kick off any time soon, I’ll take my money now and be on my way.”
The good father, taking the insult in stride because he knows what lies ahead for his wayward child, cashes in a large CD and weeps as the son swaggers into the sunset and descends into a hell of his own making.
The elder son watches all this and returns to his duties. He milks the cows and slops the camels (being good Jews they couldn’t grow pork for Tyson’s) and quietly goes about his way. But one day the prodigal returns and the elder son is furious! ‘Look at Dad,” he says to himself, ‘lifting his skirt like a pagan and running up the street, and for what? A punk brother who took his money and bought whores for himself and his friends? [Funny how easy it is to assume what other people’s sins are without hearing the whole story.] And now they’re throwing a party for him and slaughtering that calf I have been bottle-feeding since its mother died. How could Dad do such a thing? Well, we’ll just see if I go in and greet the little punk.”
At this point the father comes out and talks with his son, but in the end we never know if the elder son returns to his father’s house and welcomes home his repentant brother. Now, let’s bring this story to the twenty-first century.
Our Heavenly Father, who is the Father in the story, does something that we don’t understand.
Perhaps He forgives someone who hurt our family and us, and He doesn’t bestow upon them the punishment our ‘righteous indignation” determines they should receive. Or conversely, we make a little mistake just once in a spurt of passion and stupidity and the whole town knows about our sin. ‘How could God allow this to happen to me?” we shout and then start to back away from going into the Father’s house.
Jesus warned us that as we near the end of the age, many people will be offended by the work of God and turn away from the faith. ”At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other . . . . Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold’” (Matthew 24:10,12). The Amplified Biblesays, ‘Many will be offended and repelled and begin to distrust and desert [Him Whom they ought to trust and obey] and will stumble and fall away, and betray one another and pursue one another with hatred . . . . And the love of the great body of people will grow cold, because of the multiplied lawlessness and iniquity.”
The love of the elder son grew cold for his brother and was growing colder for his father. In his mind, his younger brother had been rewarded with a robe and a ring and a young calf for his misbehavior, while he, who had been ever faithful to his father, was never even given a baby goat to celebrate with his friends. He hated what the father was doing for his brother, and the elder brother’s actions betrayed not only his relationship with his family, but also the selfishness of his own heart.
You see, not all the stones that can cause offense in our lives are stumbling blocks of sin.
An offense can strike at our virtues or our sins, our values or our pride. Quoting Isaiah 28:16 Peter says, ”See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame’” (1 Peter 2:6). And then he continues, ”. . . A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for” (v. 8).
Some of the stones that trip us up can be good things that rub against our sin nature. Solid teaching from the pulpit has been known to cause people to leave churches. Faithful counseling in an office or over lunch has sometimes resulted in people not returning to hear more godly counsel. A steadfast commitment to God’s vision for reaching out to the lost and guiding people out of their sinful lifestyles has led some people to find other churches that are more tolerant of sin, especially their own. If you don’t believe me, try teaching a series of sermons on gossip, and then watch while the gossipers in your church become offended and leave!
Is there a stone in your soul that is causing you to stumble? Are you harboring an offense—it may be real or it may be a simple misunderstanding—that is causing you to withdraw from the fellowship of those you also take communion with? Do you avoid certain teachers or ministries because they said something that hurt you, and now you don’t want to have anything to do with them? God holds out an open invitation for you to restore those relationships, so that ultimately you may restore your relationship with God. The Apostle John reminds us, ‘Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble” (1 John 2:9-10).