How long do you last unplugged?
Think about it. Once you unplug your phone, it will last maybe 12 hours. A tablet will last perhaps 9 hours? What about an electric car? 45 minutes?
But how long does a human last when you unplug them from their life source, not from their tech, but from their God? It might be 80 years… longer in some circumstances, less in others. We are alive…but for a time. It doesn’t last. And the Bible says it’s because we have been unplugged from the source of life – God. We may have made that decision in different ways and express it in different words – perhaps we angrily defy God, or we politely ignore him, either way we are all unplugged.
What is really surprising is how God reacts to our disconnection. We see it in the story of the lost sons in Luke 15. There are two lost sons because Jesus is speaking to two groups of people (15:1-2). He’s talking to sinners: the people whose lives were messed up but who were coming and listening to Jesus. But he’s also talking to the religious: the so-called experts who come to Jesus and criticise him for spending time with sinners.
The story opens with the younger son announcing he is taking his future inheritance and moving away (v. 12). He is deliberately disconnecting from his dad and it’s tragic. He’s saying: “I can’t wait for you to die. I will take your good money but I don’t want you in my life, I don’t want really to be your son anymore.”
We can treat God like that. We say: “I will take this world, this life you have given me… but I don’t want you in my life”.
The younger son goes far away and for a while it’s fun. First walking out felt amazing. The new friends, new places and partying feel great. But when the money runs out, the reality emerges. He has nothing. Things get even worse when a severe famine strikes (v. 14). The same can happen to us. You lose your job, your relationship ends, you get sick, your parents die, and your world is shaken. All of a sudden, all the silly distractions are revealed to be just that.
It’s at this low point that the son sees things as they really are and he repents. As it says in verse 17, “he came to his senses”. He swallows his pride and admits to himself he was wrong. But that’s not all repentance involves, he also changes his behaviour. He leaves his rebellious, wasteful life, returns to his father, admits to him he was wrong and asks for forgiveness (v. 20). Yet, incredibly, before the son can even recite all his sorry-speech, the father welcomes him back with open arms. The whole time his father had been looking for him, longing for him to come home. As soon as he saw his son, he ran to him, embraced him and celebrated (v. 22-24). That is how God responds whenever one sinner repents.
But there’s another lost son in this story. He’s just lost in a different way. The younger son was lost because he went far away from his father. The older brother is lost even though he’s close by. When the younger son returns, the older son is lost in self-righteousness. He refuses to join the party. He criticises his father saying “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends” (v. 29).
The younger son noisily rejected his father’s authority and care. The older son quietly rejected his father’s compassion and forgiveness. Both sons were lost. They both had just wanted what the father could give them. Only the younger son came to see it.
Remember the two groups of people Jesus was speaking to? Both lost, both disconnected from God, just in different ways.
To the sinners Jesus is saying: “Your life is a mess without God and you know it. Don’t pretend everything is ok. Turn back and God will welcome you back. He will throw his arms around you no matter what you’ve done. So come home.”
To the religious people he is saying: “Don’t presume on God’s love. Don’t miss out on God’s love because you think you deserve it.” The problem for a lot of religious people is we can think we deserve a medal because we’re missing out on what the world is doing. But we are just as lost as everyone else.
Religion is not the answer. Religious practices are like searching for the right adaptor to plug back in. We all know the struggle – this one’s a USB, but you need a lightning port…this one works on Samsung but not Apple. Religion is humanity coming up with our own ways to try and plug ourselves back into God’s power source. But when we detach our lives from God, the Bible says it’s more like taking scissors and cutting the cable, or ripping out the connector. A new plug is not going to fix it. It’s not about us finding our way to connect back to God, but letting God find and renew us in Jesus.
Maybe you’re lost and you know it. Maybe you’re religiously self-confident in your own goodness before God and only just starting to see it.
Every single one of us is created and cared for [link to previous article]. And every single one of us is lost and longed for.
Jesus came from heaven to seek and find us. His death on the cross proves God’s promise that when we turn back to him, perhaps fearful and filled with doubt, God will embrace us and welcome us in.