Walking towards the Light from the cross of a King

A blog by Josh Humbert

Soundtrack for a Prodigal Son


What runs through your mind at your lowest point? When you stare at rock-bottom; when your plans have all failed; when the promises of joy have been unmasked as lies leading to pain….when you’ve fallen completely on your face, what do you say? When you’ve run as far as you can possibly run and you face the impossible distance you created, are there words?

What does “prodigal” sound like?

The following is what my dad would refer to as “the cutting room floor.” When preparing a sermon, there is sometimes just not enough time to cover all the things you want to cover and some good content gets left behind. Personally, it’s how I want my sermon prep to be: where I’ve studied diligently and the Lord has blessed me with much to think on and work with.

So, in an effort to not leave it totally behind, here are some thoughts I just didn’t get too in a recent message. What comes next didn’t necessarily fit into a message per se, but perhaps it can find it’s mark through this.

I’m preaching a series on the account of the prodigal sons and father from Luke 15 and the first message was focused on the younger, perhaps more well-known younger brother. The character we typically think of first in this parable….the Prodigal son.

The younger brother flagrantly disrespects authority, brings immense shame to the family, and publicly humiliates his father by asking for his “share of the estate.” This is akin to saying to his dad, “I wish you were dead,” for in this culture, the inheritance was only to be given when the father has passed away.

Shockingly, the father grants the younger son his wish and off he goes to a “distant land.” He “squandered his estate with loose living.” That is to say, he throws it all away. ALL of it. Everything his father had worked to leave him, this blessed inheritance….wasted. He spends it on prostitutes and partying. His moment of “YOLO” doesn’t last too long.

Just as suddenly, a new reality awaits: a severe famine hits and he faces extreme hunger and desperation. A desperation so raw he takes essentially the lowest job available and one that would revile those who heard Jesus tell of it: feeding pigs.

His hunger is burning inside of him. A hunger burning so strong that he is jealous of the pig slop. He wants….what the pigs want. And “no one was giving him anything.”

The cruel realization dawns: where he has spent his money on women and parties…now, during his time of most real need, no one gives him anything.

This is where we find him now…in the pig pen. Jesus, the masterful story teller, with an economy of words that is unrivaled, paints the bleakest picture imaginable for this young man: starving to death, without help, utterly alone, in a distant land and far from home in every possible way.

How heavy would shame weigh on him now? Waves of remorse crash over and over on the shore of his conscience. Calculating all he has thrown away. Understanding how HE had burned through his father’s life-work so quickly and recklessly. How deeply embarrassing his actions have been! He has brought dishonor not only to himself but surely to his family back home as word travels back to his old community–”Did you hear? He’s now feeding swine!” He’s a punchline, a cautionary tale. He finds himself covered in mud, grime, and pig waste….but covered in humiliation and utter despair as well.

In the awful stench of the pig pen, with hunger gnawing at his insides, with grief and humiliation all around…this beautiful, wonderful phrase comes next:

“But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father and will say to him, ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.'”

But when he came to his senses…..
But when he came to his senses…..
But when he came to his senses…..

In other words, in all his striving and seeking for pleasure, joy, and meaning in the things of the world, he was sense-less! In all his running after sin, he was literally “out of his mind.” Sin deceived him and left him starving and wanting what pigs want. The “life” he thought he would find by running has instead left him staring death in the face. As he now knows, sin always leads to destruction of everything good. There is no exception. MORE! Yes, there must be more to this life than what he’s seen.

“But when he came to his senses”……this is an awakening, a remembering, a repentance. This is a turning point. This is stepping back from the edge of destruction and turning to face home, to return to the father. This is where it all changes.

What does Prodigal sound like?

A band called Bellarive have a song on their record called “Tendons (The Release)” that, in my opinion, that may capture what this young man may have felt as he thinks of his father. This may be the soundtrack to a prodigal. Lyrics in italics, my thoughts interspersed as well.

“Barely beating now, my heart is overcome.
I fear there’s nothing left for You.
Can You hear my heart from there?
It seems the distance is what I chose to bear.”

A prodigal knows the distance is his choice. He owns his sin here. He is calling out from a place of weakness. Nothing left. empty. honesty. raw. regret. pain.

“So rip these tendons, they hinder my reach toward You.
Rip these tendons, they hinder my reach toward You.”

His flesh (tendons) has betrayed him. Knowing he must escape the traps of temporary pleasure, he only desires to reach toward his father’s embrace. deep need. real hunger. father.

“Would You meet me here?
Where I rest my bones?
Where I lay my head down?
This place is my escape.
Oh God, I need You to initiate.”

The questions of a prodigal. Would ANYONE reach out to him now? Is there any hope? Does despair have the last word? Is he too far gone? Escape has become entanglement. There must be some way to resolution. somewhere. somehow. please. help. reach.

“So rip these tendons, they hinder my reach toward You.
Rip these tendons, they hinder my reach toward You.”
Light up the sky,
Set our hearts on fire.
Light up the sky
Let us see our Creator.”

Get the junk out of the way. Provide direction. Darkness surrounds, send LIGHT! Which way is “home?” Father, can I just see You? longing. burning. need.

And now, the song becomes a poem that grows to a sonic climax.
This song was originally sent to me by a friend who knows my musical sensibilities well and he was concerned that the voice of the narrator in the poem would not fit my tastes. And on first listen, I did find his voice somewhat jarring. But now, when placed in the context of a prodigal, I see it as fitting.

His voice isn’t the clear, pleasant narration of a trained voice-over professional. This isn’t some Morgan Freeman reading. But then again…that’s not how prodigals cry out, is it? It is the weak, passionate, almost frantic voice of desperation. A voice that may just be how prodigals cry out with the words to match. As he slowly rises from the filthy muck and stands to find his bearings so he can head home, perhaps this is what he says:

“If the Titanic was made to sink
then so was my heart.
For I made sure it was impenetrable.
Oh, what a wretched man I am
Who will save me from this flesh?
Paul whispers in my ear,
“Oh don’t worry my friend…You’re in good company.”
Poets before me have tried to measure this love.
And if 40,000 brothers cannot
with all their quantity of love make up this sum
Then how can my heart contain this mass?
It would only burst at the seams into a million tendon pieces.
So what then?
What good is a broken heart to You?
Could You even hear my heart from there?
And like a father assuring his son to come home,
“Oh my son, it’s enough, it’s enough.”
So who am I to accept this grace that just falls like rain?
Cause we all know I chose to lay my head in this desert.
But like a fish out of water, we only know then what it means
to be parched.
So if Christ is alive, the Love, the Groom,
Then take heed my friends!! For chivalry is not dead!
For I know no other lover who would have met me here in this place.
So I awake and I rise from my bed of complacency.
Oh, my God, I’ve been sleeping with a corpse!
Oh, and these bed sores they still rest in my bones.
Oh, how I’ve made a beautiful dance with this cadaver
But my audience is appalled.
Oh, how strong these tendons!
How they desperately need to rip from this ancient Adam.
So light up the sky, and set me aflame!!
Burn this bone and tissue!
For I no longer want to be entangled in this sinew
that hinders my reach towards You.”

You and me are prodigals just the same. We’ve all gone running after things we think will satisfy and bring lasting joy. We’ve all believed the promises of sin only to discover they were truly insidious lies all along. We’ve all been in that pig pen, facing that choice: stay at rock bottom only knowing hunger and starvation of the soul, or to go to the Father?

We’ve all chosen to lay our heads in a desert. We’ve all danced with the death and sin that destroys. Resting in a bed of complacency. Sleeping with a corpse.

But when he came to his senses…..
He begins by thinking of the goodness (the goodness!!!!) of his father. His father is so generous, even his hired men have plenty to eat! He remembers well that is father is loving and giving.

Romans 2:4 “…the goodness of God leads you to repentance.” Yes, Paul is right! The goodness of God leads us to repentance. To change. To leave the pig pen. God is so good that He demonstrates His own love towards that while we were still sinners, Christ, His only begotten Son, comes to die for us. Remember the goodness.

And now, Christ IS alive! HE is the Love. HE is the Groom.
He is the only One who meets prodigals as they are; cloaked in shame, regret, and so needy. He takes delight in meeting prodigals! It’s what Luke 15 is all about.

There is no one else who will meet you there. You can have all the money in the world; it will not love you. You may love the cash, but those Benjamins don’t love you back. Money doesn’t come to you in time of deepest need. You can have all the success or all the power and fame; that does NOT matter. Those things don’t love you. They will not reach into the mud to rescue you.
Christ is alive and He alone meets sinners like you and me. He loves you more; certainly more than my feeble words could express.

In the film, The Dark Knight Rises, Commissioner Gordon tells of Batman’s sacrifice to a young officer and he says, “there’s a point, far out there…one day…you may face a moment of crisis. And in that moment, I hope you have a friend like I did, to plunge his hands into the filth so that you can keep yours clean!”

We have a Friend like that, except much better. Jesus plunged His hands much farther into the filth….He BECAME the filth. He became our sin and He bore the distance we created by taking our place on the Cross. Bearing the weight of our sin and God’s just wrath towards it….taking on the shame and guilt that was due us, He bled for all prodigals. He bled for you and me.

2 Cor. 5:21
God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.

Jesus plunged His pure hands into the worst filth so that you and me, prodigals every single one of us….can come home to know the Father’s extravagant and outrageously deep love. No other lover would meet you in that place. No other lover would TAKE your place to bear such a price.

But Jesus did. And, just as He claimed He would, He rose again. He is alive.

You may ask, like the poem, “what good is a broken heart to You? Could You even hear my heart from there?”

Jesus wants you to have a whole heart, but He accepts a broken one. He wants you to know restoration, cleansing, renewal, rebirth, forgiveness, grace, mercy…true love. And a broken heart is just the thing to offer Him.

David, after his prodigal running and sinning, comes to write these words:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

He CAN hear you from “there,” because His “there” isn’t far away. His “there” is right “there” with you now. He will not despise or turn away. He accepts. He accepts. He accepts a broken heart. Yes, this is true! He restores the runaways. He takes the fractured mess you’ve made and turns it into something beautiful. It’s what He does. I have seen it with my own eyes. The broken becomes a new creation. Redemption.

So take heed my friends! Do not stay in the pig pen! The only thing worse than ending up in the pig pen is STAYING in the pig pen. The only sin worse than falling down, is never getting back up. Jesus is better!

He is the Bread of Life that truly satisfies.
He is the Living Water that quenches your deepest thirst.
He is the Truth who offers life abundantly in a world that lies about glittering roads that really only lead to death.

If you are in a time of running away in your life, I pray that as you read this, as much as possible, you look ahead to where this road leads. Consider the famine and pig pen that will await. Please, consider. Please, turn back now!

If you are in the pig pen now….I pray you do “come to your senses.” Do not despair, but remember how good the Father is! You don’t have to stay hungry. You don’t have to stay thirsty. Turn to the only One who satisfies. He is there with you, even now, right where you are. Come home.

If you’ve been there in that pen but have come home to the Father, I pray that in some way, by His Spirit, this writing would cause you to rejoice anew in the great love of Jesus.

“Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome;
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re ‘better’
You will never come at all.

I will rise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
And in the arms of my dear Savior, Oh, there are ten thousand charms.”
—–Joseph Hart.

“I didn’t notice You were standing here…
I didn’t know that
that was You holding me.
I didn’t notice You were cryin’ too
I didn’t know that
That was You washing my feet.”
——Crowder

Your comments, messages, thoughts, etc are always welcome. Thanks for reading.

(Three side notes. First, if you’d like to hear the actual message I preached on the younger brother, you can get the podcast here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/thousand-oaks-bible-church/id524787224?mt=2. Second, I will be preaching about the older brother on Wed, March 6th at 6:30 if you are in San Antonio area and want to join. Third, if you have thoughts on a particular piece of music, painting, literature, film, art, etc that you think fits the older brother, message me your suggestion! Still thinking on this one.)

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This entry was posted on February 24, 2013 by in Blogroll and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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