The Essence of Revival
And he said, A certain man had two sons:
This text is one of the most well-known and most preached in the Bible. A certain minister went to a prison to preach to the inmates. The chaplain took him aside before the service began and asked him, "You are not planning to preach on the Prodigal Son, are you?" The preacher replied that he indeed was. "Please don't," said the chaplain. "The last five preachers who've spoken here have all preach- ed on the Prodigal Son and we're about 'prodigaled' out."
I would like for us to look at this familiar story in a little different light. There are many applications... to the sinner, to the backslider, or focusing on the father or on the brother. But let us examine this passage in the light of the six words that are found in verse seventeen, "And when he came to himself..." In this phrase we find the essence of revival in capsule form. Something happened to the prodigal...something mysterious and profound.
If we could understand and reveal what really took place in the heart of the prodigal at that moment in time, we would be well on our way to understanding the concept of revival in the individual hearts of God's people. Many of God's children are like the prodigal. Some are in the "far country," while many others are headed in that direction. There are certainly not many enjoying the fellowship that our Heavenly Father offers.
Our purpose in this message is to help the Christian draw closer to God in real heartfelt personal revival, to help us to "come to ourselves," before we ruin our testimony and the chastening hand of God touches our lives. What caused the prodigal to "come to himself?" I believe that this process is the work of a Sovereign God and not subject to the dissecting hand of man. But I believe that we can see and understand how God works in the hearts of His children to bring them back to His fellowship. The story of the prodigal allows us to get a glimpse of His power in the lives of His people.
I. He Came to a Place of Restriction. v. 14 In verse 13, we have a synopsis of the young man's seeming success. It doesn't take God very long to summarize his backsliding. He wasted his resources with "riotous" living. It is interesting that the greek word asotos is used only once in the Word of God and it is translated here as our English word "riotous." His lifestyle must have been sinful indeed for the Holy Spirit to use a special word. It means an excessive, or abandoned life.
Notice, however, that his excess came to an end. He spent all, meaning he consumed everything. God allows His backsliding children to wear themselves out. How many times have you seen a headstrong young person strike out on their own with a "better idea?" Parents know that there is no use to reason or plead with them. Some lessons must be learned the hard way, and the prodigals lesson begins in verse fourteen.
There arose a mighty famine. Isn't that just like God? He will not allow His Word to be maligned. Just as sure as we sow corruption, we will reap the same. So many people think that they will somehow be the exception, but God, slowly and surely, brings the backslider to a place of restriction. God's timing is perfect. The famine arose immediately after the young man's money ran out! God knows how to bring circumstances to bear in our lives to remind us of His sovereignty and power.
II. He Came to a Place of Resignation v. 15-16 We have all heard people at certain times say, "Well, I'll never......." Many times the very thing we'll "never" do is what we end up doing. The young man never expected to end up in such a condition. Here was a nice Jewish boy from a good family. Surely he would never lower himself to feed swine, that unclean animal that the scripture outlawed for Israel's consumption.
But he was forced to adapt. He had to do something! The phrase joined himself carries with it great meaning. It means to cleave, to glue or fasten himself to the citizen. This was not just a job for the prodigal, but he compromised and lowered himself severely to this man! His pride and prominence was now gone. His power had dissipated. Circumstances dictated a change of attitude. He who had made such great demands upon his father now latched on to a foreigner just to stay alive and fed! Do you see the hand of God in his life, tightening the rope from which the prodigal was dangling?
III. He Came to a Place of Realization v. 17 In this verse, we find our text and also a change of attitude. He came to himself. That is, he arrived or became known. Somehow this young man changed on the inside and the change showed itself on the outside. He saw things from a different perspective. He began to perceive things in a God-ordered way. What a mysterious perception! We have all seen backsliders who have been the object of prayers and much visiting one day just "come to themselves." They begin to see things as God sees them. Their decisions change as their perceptions change.
Here was a young man who finally saw himself as others saw him. Not only had he separated himself from his father's love and care, but he had lowered himself below even his father's servants! The home that seemed so restrictive and restraining now seemed as a haven from the hunger and impoverishment he now endured. He now saw two things differently with the help of God. (1) He saw his own condition in it's raw failure and sinfulness, and (2) He saw his home and father as protector and compassionate supplier.
The bondage of home was actually real freedom. The freedom to roam turned out to be cruel bondage! Oh, how we need to understand that God's design for our lives is best and all we can to is ruin His work when we seek our own will. God uses varied means and methods to make us "come to ourselves" and accept his will for our lives.
IV. He Came to a Place of Resolution v. 18a Realization only brought him halfway to his desired goal. It's one thing to know what to do; it's quite another to actually do something about it. He made three good resolutions. First, he said I will arise. This was a vertical resolution. It involved an upward mobility. Second, he said I will go. This was a venturing resolution. Also, he said I will say. This is a verbalizing resolution.
In this verse we find an essential quality of coming to oneself. This time of resolving is a mysterious process that only God understands. I have personally conversed with Christians who have been out of fellowship with God for long periods of time and come to this place of resolving. None I have spoken with can effectively explain how they came to this place. It just happened! It is the grace and mercy of God which herds His people back to His bosom.
V. He Came to a Place of Repentance v.18b-21 Notice in this passage the thoughts he verbalizes for the first time. I have sinned... These words are not magical in themselves. The pharaoh of Egypt said this to Moses more than once as the prophet of God pleaded with him. The difference between pharaoh and the prodigal is that God has revealed his sinned to his heart. If repentance is real, it results in action. Verse 20 says, And he arose... The great controversy about repentance in religious circles today is easily solved in scripture. Repentance is a change of mind and heart that results in a change of action on the part of the repentant.
He finally saw himself as God saw him. His sin was not just a "personal choice," but was an offense against his father and against God. Today's psychologists are careful to protect their patient's self-esteem, but the Bible teaches that the way "up" is "down." Our self-esteem is really sin-esteem. The emotionally healthy Christian has Son-Esteem. True repentance restores God's rightful place of pre-eminence in the heart of the believer.
VI. He Came to a Place of Restoration v. 22-24 No backslider ever drew near God without God drawing near to them. Here is the real beauty and wonder of coming to oneself. The prodigal only wanted relief from his unfruitful and painful lifestyle. But he received much more. God always exceeds the hopes and expectations of His people.
Notice what the father gave his son. Bring forth the best robe... The robe is a symbol of righteousness for the believer. The prodigal certainly had not lived righteously; he had broken the heart of his father. But being clothed with the best robe reveals God's forgiveness. The prodigal only wanted to be a servant, but the father desired his son's restoration. ...and put a ring on his hand... Here we see that the son's authority had been restored. The father was restoring his rights as a son.
...and shoes on his feet... This symbolizes a changed walk. The son had probably been barefoot, which was a reproach in biblical times. There was no doubt that the son's life would now change. Lastly, there is the call for the fatted calf and feasting. This shows the joy of restored fellowship. Now both father and son could enjoy each others company again, along with the entire household.
Conclusion: Now the circle is completed. From fellowship to failure and back to fellowship again. All Christians have times of slackness and indifference. Some even go to extremes as did the prodigal. Our Heavenly Father stands ready to accept us back into fellowship if we will only 'come to ourselves." May God use this message to accomplish His work in some backsliders life.
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