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COLD AS ICE
SEPTEMBER 14, 1997
We are fascinated by things that are cold, aren’t we? Over the past few months we have licked popsicles, eaten snow cones and slurped frapachinos while we have waited expectantly for our first cold front. We Texans consume in record numbers large amounts of iced tea, ice cream, iced coffee while we use our ice machines, ice boxes and ice packs. We love ice. We like our ice cubed and bagged and crushed and sculpted. We go to ice hockey matches. We go ice-skating. And we never drive in ice storms. All this talk about cold and ice has even infiltrated our vocabulary. Have you ever thought about it? When we want to relax we say, “I am going to chill.” When something is really good we say, “That is cool!” When someone is mean to us we say, “ You are cold-blooded.” We love things that are icy and cold.
You know Jesus Christ one day told a story about a young man whose heart was cold, as cold as ice. This is an account that many of you can identify with because, if the truth were known, large blocks of us have hearts right now that are as cold as ice toward God, Himself. Way down in our heart of hearts we have those frigid feelings toward the Lord. We many now ever realize it on the surface. People next to us might not see it. Yet we know, down deep, that we have doubts and questions about God. Maybe we are going through a difficult time, have experienced an illness, lost a loved one. We are kind of saying, “God, I am cold toward you.” If you can identify with what I just said, you have come to the right place today. In Luke 15, Jesus Christ, through the classic story of the prodigal son, is going to show those of us with cold, hard hearts how to thaw them out and have warm, tender hearts toward Him.
If you have your Bibles, turn to Luke 15. If you don’t have your Bible, don’t worry. I’m sure a neighbor next to you will have a Bible. And who knows, if you are single, you might meet the man or woman of your dreams through sharing a Bible. Now this story is popular. Most people are already familiar with it. Let me give you the cliff notes, though. We have got four expressed characters in this parable and one implied character. The four expressed characters are the father, his two sons and the citizen of a foreign country with whom the younger son affiliates. Those are the four expressed characters. Now we have an implied character, and that is Satan, himself. You know Satan does his best work in anonymity. He kind of attacks us in a clandestine, stealth-like approach. You don’t really see him here when you first ready the story, but believe me, he is here. Satan loves for us not to see him. “Satan is not there. Surely he is not in this situation. How could he judge me?” Well, let’s see what happens in this classic and riveting story from the gospel of Luke.
I am going to break the story down into three stages. The first stage of the thawing out process is the stage I call “the ice age.” Turn to your neighbor and say the ice age. We have all be there before. I have and so have you. We have all been in the ice age at one time of another in our lives.
Luke 15:11. There was a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’” Put in modern terms it would say, “Dad, show me the money!” Back in Biblical times this was unheard of. In effect, the son was telling his father that he wished he were dead. Now most theologians and pastors read this section and determine that the prodigal wanted the cash, that he was greedy and wanted the worldly possessions. No. This was a rich dude. He was loaded. The prodigal was a hitter. He didn’t really want to enjoy the benefits of the house. He already had the money, the Verchasi wardrobe, the chariot. He had it all. He wanted control of the house. He wanted control. He wanted to run the show. He wanted to determine his own destiny. He wanted to forge out his own future. He said, “Dad, give it to me now. Show me the money.”
Can’t you just hear his father saying, “Son, you are as cold as ice. You are willing to sacrifice our love. You never take advice. Someday, you will pay the price. I know.” Can’t you just feel the broken heart of this compassionate and loving father? Yet the son hardened his heart toward the father. He iced him out. And he went his own way. The Bible says that he went to a distant country after he had all of his cash.
He should have stayed in the house, right? But he didn’t. You see, the evil one couldn’t have touched him if he had stayed in the house. Because our house represents our relationship with the Lord, the evil one sticks out his bony finger toward you and me and calls us out. “Come out to where I can put my hands on you. Come next to me so I can smell your cologne. Come out of the house so that I can get between you and your makeup. Then you will be doing things that you never thought possible. Come on.” And the prodigal left the house. And the prodigal messed up.
This young man had something that many of us are injected with. The evil one comes in and injects us with the spirit of restlessness. All of us are restless, aren’t we? Those who have jobs, want another job. Those who don’t have jobs, want a job. Those who are married want to be single, get rid of him. Those who are single suggest throwing him their way. Those who are thin want to be big. Those who are big want to be thin. Those who have a bunch of hair want short hair. Those who have no hair try to glue some on. A spirit of restlessness. Are you going through the ice age right now? Are you as cold as ice toward God? Ladies and gentlemen, a dissatisfied heart always leads to a disappointed life. Yet, we don’t realize what we have in the house.
Just yesterday, on my day off, I was driving in my truck with my son EJ. He is five. I had my sunglasses on and EJ had to have a pair of my sunglasses on, too. So we were kind of doing the man thing and both of us have our sunglasses on. He took his sunglasses off and said, “Dad, these are cool.” I said, “Thanks, EJ.” He said, “Dad, could I have them for a day?” I answered, “Yeah, you can have them for a day.” Then he said, “Could I have them maybe for a week?” I stopped and said, “EJ, what is mine is yours. You’ve got it.” After I said that I thought whoa, that is what we are talking about this weekend. The father was saying to the son, “What is mine is yours. Why are you doing this? Why are you going to a distant country?” He had it all, but he missed it.
That ushers in the next phase of this process. First you have got the ice age. Next you have got the meltdown. This meltdown is going to be pretty brutal to the prodigal. You see, the prodigal thought that he had it. The Bible says that he hit two disasters simultaneously. He thought that he had made a bunch of new friends. He was spending all his money. He was having a great time. Suddenly, he looked and he didn’t have anything left. Then a famine hit the land. He didn’t have any food.
Luke 15:14. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in the whole country and he began to be in need. No money. No food. And guess what he did. Now remember, we are talking about a Jewish boy. Guess what he did. He joined himself to a citizen of that far country and he began to feed his pigs. Jews didn’t touch pigs. They were considered unclean. And here was this Jewish boy playing around with Arnold Ziffel. If you didn’t laugh, you are really young. That was a Green Acres reference. The Bible said that he was so hungry that he wanted to eat the slop and the scraps that the pigs were eating.
And then came one of the last steps of spiritual rebellion. Then you start to do things, consider things, contemplate things that you never thought you would. Six months prior, if you had walked up to that young man, in his Verchasi outfit, with his chariot, by his house with all of his servants and told him that one day he would be wanting to eat with the pigs, he would call you crazy. “What planet are you from? No way. Not me. I am the man.” Yet because of the financial setback and because of the famine, look at what he is doing.
I thank God for forgiving me for all the things I did. But I also thank God for protecting me from a bunch of things that I almost did. Don’t you? Maybe I thought about it. But no. When I was right there on the edge, I didn’t. If you run away from God, if you are a part of the ice age, it is just a matter of time before you experience a famine. Now we have some people right now experiencing famine. Maybe you are in a relational famine. Maybe you are in an emotional famine. Maybe you are in a spiritual famine and you feel hungry. You feel in need. You feel that something is really kind of wrong with you in the pit of your stomach. There is a hole in your heart and you want to fill it.
God loves you and me so much that He allows us to go through a meltdown. And notice how this physical meltdown led to a spiritual meltdown. I can almost hear the prodigal saying, “I’m me…lt…ing.” I have to confess something to you. Now you know I am a health nut. I love an ice cold coca cola with crushed ice. I love crushed ice. While I have made very few requests regarding the new building, I have asked that we have a crushed ice machine available. I love crushed ice. Only a few places serve it right. Dairy Queen and Sonic. The reason I enjoy crushed is that after you have enjoyed your ice cold coca cola, you have the crushed ice remaining. And just like that it begins to melt. And then you can chew it up and it is good. So March 16th is my birthday. If you ever want to get me something special, just give me some crushed ice. Just say, “Ed, here is a bag of ice, man. I love you.” That is what God does to you and me. We run away from him. We go through the ice age. Then He begins to crush us. Maybe through an experience, through a letdown, through a setback, through a separation. Then we begin to me…lt.
Let me stop right here. When we begin to melt, we have two options. Most of us harden our hearts again. We get those frigid feelings toward God. Some of us do that. The other option we have is to continue to turn our hearts and our lives toward God and allow the warmth from His love to melt us and to thaw us out so that we can move toward Him.
Well, let’s continue. I love verse 17. “When the prodigal came to his senses….” In some translations it says when he came to himself. You see we are not really ourselves until we turn toward God. If you are away from God now, you are not yourself. There have been times when I have turned my back to God, I was not myself. Now I am myself. I am with God. I am relating to Him. I am loving Him. I am living the life that He wants me to live. And so are you if you are doing that. Verse 18. “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.’ Every time we sin it is against God and the prodigal knew this. If I have sinned against you and you have sinned against me, first of all we have sinned against God. The prodigal did not try to play some kind of blame game. “Well, I was breast fed instead of bottle fed. My diapers were on too tight. I went through counseling seventeen years ago. That is the reason I am doing this. It is not really sin…” No, the prodigal said, “I have sinned against heaven and against you.” Always remember this. It is God’s goodness, not just man’s badness that leads us to repentance.
I want you to draw a little stop sign by verse 18. I will tell you why. I ask myself this question. What if the prodigal had stopped right here? That is where most of us stop. This is where most of the time I stop when I am dealing with God. If God is working with me on a certain situation in my life, and I may be kind of cold as ice in the situation. Then I may start the meltdown and begin to turn toward Him. I will go through the motions and say, “God, I was wrong. God, I feel bad. God, it was a sad situation.” That is fine and good. But the Bible called that worldly sorrow.
You might want to write down II Corinthians 7:10. It say that godly sorrow bring repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret but worldly sorrow brings death. What I am talking about is referred to as warm-up repentance. Most of us go through the ice age, then the meltdown and feel really, really bad. We think that we are repenting. That is warm-up repentance. As most of you know I was on the team at Florida State University. I didn’t play that much. I was on the team. My freshman year I thought that I was going to be some sort of All-American. I played 17 minutes the entire season. But every game I walk into the locker room and got dressed. I would go to the trainer and he would tape my ankles just like the starters. I would go to the pre-game meal. I would listen to what the coach had to say. Every single game. I would hit the floor and hear the pep band play, “We’re going to fight, fight, fight for FSU…..” I would dribble and shoot lay-ups. I was looking good in warm-ups, man. The hair was working. Everything was great. Then I got to sit and sit and sit. You know my rear got sore. I didn’t play. Now if you looked at me right before the tip-off, you would have believed that I was a starter, that I could really play. But I was not good enough. I looked good in warm-ups but I never hit the court.
God will work in our lives. He will begin to melt down our ice cold hearts. We will go through the motions of repentance. We will cry. We will meltdown emotionally. We say that we will change our ways and go back to God. “I know I am living a life of sexual sin. I am going to change. I know I am living a life of deception. I am going to change. I know I am too materialistic. I am going to change.” Yet we continue to melt down and then freeze over, melt down and then freeze over, melt down and freeze over. We are just shooting lay-ups spiritually. “Here I am God, just warming up.” We never hit the floor and play the game.
So we have got the ice age, the meltdown and now, my favorite part, we have got the turn around. That is the good part. Look what happens to our man. He went through all the motions. He was emotional. He was down. He was depressed. He was groping in all that pig slop and mire. He smelled and probably hadn’t shaved in weeks. But look what happens. Verse 20. “So he got up and went to his father….” True repentance always involves the will, the mind and the emotions. There is totality involved here. “….but while he was still a long way off, his father saw him….” I am sure the father, like many elderly men in the east, would stand on the top of his roof and look every single day and wait for his son. I bet that he recognized him a long way off. You know a father can recognize a son by his walk, by his gait. And the Bible says, “….but while he was still a long way off, his father say him and was filled with compassion…” This is referring to our God. “….so he ran to his son…” Circle the word ran. This did not happen in Biblical times. Fathers, especially elderly men, did not run. This is a picture of God running. God loves you and me so much that when we have gone through the meltdown phase and begin to turn toward Him, He comes running. He doesn’t just sit there and wait. He runs after us. The Bible says that, “…he threw his arms around the son and embraced him and kissed him.”
Now why does the Bible bring that out? I think for two reasons. Number one, because it shows the love of the father. Number two, Deuteronomy 21 says that the prodigal son should be stoned on the spot for bringing disgrace on his family. And if the neighbors had tried to throw rocks at the son, to stone him, they would have hit the father. What a beautiful picture of what Jesus Christ did for you and me. He took the licks. He took the thrown rocks caused by your sin and mine. He did that so that we could have eternal life.
Then the Bible says that after he kissed him, he brought him back into the house and they celebrated. They had a party. He gave him a lot of stuff. Jesus was detailing the love and compassion of the father. In a real sense, this story should not be called The Prodigal Son, it should be called The Story of the Loving, Compassionate and Forgiving Father.
What does this say to you and to me? I think it says three important things. I think that we have to thank God for these things. First, thank God, for His love. This is a story about love. That is how much God loves you and me. Even though we are cold as ice, even though we are melting, He still loves you and me. Thank God that He is a God of love. Number two, thank God for His patience. Have you ever just thanked God for His patience? II Peter 3:9 says, “God is patient.” He is waiting for everyone to come to repentance. God is patient? I have got to ask you. How long did you test the patience of God before you became a Christian? How long are you testing the patience of God right now? God is loving and God is patient.
Number three, thank God for His hospitality. Isn’t God great? God just puts out the welcome mat for you and me. He doesn’t care what we smell like, what we look like, how far away we are, if we just make a little turn, just start that turn, He is running to greet us, to forgive us, to welcome us back into the house and to throw a party.
Are you as cold as ice? Are you willing to sacrifice this love? Do you take advice? Because if you don’t, someday you will pay the price. I know. I have seen it. It happens all the time. Running away, you leave the world behind. Could that be you and me? Respond to the love and the patience and to the hospitality of God.
Now, this next part is going to blow you away. This story is incredible because all of a sudden, Jesus just changes gears. He changes the spotlight from the son to the father and suddenly He changes it to the older son. And you are not going to believe what happens when the older son gets involved. Now I would love to tell you about it but, this message will be continued next weekend.