Now tonight, let’s turn to the 15th chapter of Luke. I’m not going to read the passage because it’s too long, but it is a familiar story that all of us have read and heard since childhood. It is called, “The Story of the Prodigal Son.” That’s what we call it. There are many ways we could term this passage from Luke’s Gospel. It could be called, “The Story of the Loving Father.” It could be called, “The Story of the Church Member Without Christ,” because that is exactly what the elder brother was.
But tonight I want to dwell on the story of this boy because he was a rebel. He rebelled against his father. And you know what I read the other day? That over two thousand young people who run away from home come to New York every month seeking fame and fortune. They become prey to all the thugs and con men and drug merchants and sex perverts and all the others. Two thousand a month are lured away from their parents to New York City.
This is also a city where young people do a lot of damage. Do you know last year how many school windows were broken in New York? Over 200,000. Do you know how many telephone booths were wrecked in the city of New York last year? Over 300,000. And did you know that these crimes are largely among young people? Now I grant you the older people tell them how to do it, and it is the older people who print the pornography, and it is the older people who produce the motion pictures, and it is the older people who think up all the violence on television, and it is the older people who have handed this world and the mess we’re in to our young people.
But young people are striking out at society in every kind of way today. Some of it is violent, some is destructive, some of it is just plain rebellion, and some of it is justified.
This is the story of a young fellow who ran away from home. Now in this passage Jesus tells three little stories. Jesus always used stories to illustrate spiritual truths. They are called parables in the Bible. He told a story of a lost sheep. He told a story of a lost coin. He told a story of this lost son, and in all three stories he is picturing a loving father searching for that which is lost, and that Father is God. You see God is searching for you tonight. God loves you. He is searching for you, and the search takes Him all the way to the Cross where He gives His Son for you. That is how much God loves you.
But it is also a story of how we are lost from God. The Bible teaches that we are like the lost sheep or the lost coin or the lost boy. We are away from God. We have rebelled against God. We have run away from God, but God loves us. He wants us back, and He is willing to go to any length to get us back. He won’t compromise in telling us how to get back. Some people try to come other ways. He said, “There is only one way back and that’s through my Son, Jesus Christ. If you are willing to come that way, I will receive you and I will forgive you.” And that’s the story of this boy. One day he goes to his father and says: “Dad, you know I am tired of living out here in the country — all the discipline and the hard work — and I am eighteen years of age. I would like to have my inheritance now and I want to go out to ‘New York,’ because I am going to make it big up there.” He had read about ‘Broadway’ and he had heard all about the bright lights. He had heard about all the different things that happened there, and he decided he could like to go.
And his father said, “Son, I don’t advise it, but if you are determined to go, go ahead.” So he starts out for the big city.
You know this weekend one of the people who made the news all across the country was a brilliant young member of the senior class at Wellesley. She expressed how young people are feeling lost today. She described how young people are exploring a world that none of us understand, and are searching for more immediate and ecstatic and penetrating modes of living. And what she was saying was this: young people are lost, confused, and frustrated, and are searching for a way back.
And this is what Jesus Himself said. He said, “The Son of Man is come to seek and save that which is lost.”
Well, this young fellow came from an affluent home. They had a great deal of love in the home, a great deal of discipline in the home, and there was faith in God. I imagine his father gathered the family together every day for prayer and Bible reading, and the boy said, “Oh, I don’t want to talk about God. I don’t want religion. I can’t wait to get away from home.”
How many young people are like that here tonight?
Or, maybe he had to go to church. And he said, “I don’t want to go to church. I can’t wait until I can get away and get to the university and get to college, and go to town — get somewhere so I don’t have to go to church.”
So he rebelled against his father, and rebellion became a way of life for him.
Now it is perfectly normal for a young fellow to pull away from his father. The Bible says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh.” After you are married you are in for trouble if you start living with your parents and depending on your parents. Live with your wife; be on your own; establish your own friends. But here was a young man in his teens, not married, and the reason he was leaving home was because he didn’t like the discipline at home. He wanted to go out and have a good time. Now if he wanted to go out and work and get a job, that was one thing, but that wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted to “goof off.” He didn’t want to go to school any more. He didn’t want to get up and milk the cows on the farm any more. He wanted to go out and have a good time. It was to please self.
You know down here on Times Square — I’ve walked down there a couple of times, and one of those theaters down there has a big marquee that says, “Unsatisfied.” And then you know the pop song that the Rolling Stones made so famous, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction?”
Well, this young fellow was going out trying to find fulfillment and satisfaction and happiness, and he though it lay where all the bright lights and the music and the night clubs and all the rest were. He said, “I am going to have a real ball.”
I heard about a girl the other day. She was wooed by a boy with promises of marriage. She became pregnant. He left her alone. Her father, mother, and family suffered shame and disgrace because of a boy’s selfishness, and that is the very essence of sin — selfishness. That is what sin is all about — self. I want to satisfy self.
I was interviewed on television by a group of students this past week, and one of them said, “What is wrong with being aroused sexually?” He said, “I go out and buy my sex. What’s wrong with that?” Well, the thing that is wrong with it is that the ingredient that sex was made for is not there — love within marriage. Some go out and buy it like shopping in a supermarket — like a steak, like a lunch — with no love, no relationship.
The Bible goes further. It says it is wrong outside of marriage.
But you see this boy was already wandering away from home even while he was at home. He was thinking about it. We don’t wander away all at once. Like sheep, we wander gradually. The Bible says, “All we like sheep have gone astray.” And so this young fellow went, and when he got to town he was like the fellow I read about in London, England, in one of the British newspapers, who had a home in the country and a home in town. He said, “When I am in the country, I want to be in the city, and when I am in the city, I want to be in the country.” The problem was not where he was; the problem was his own heart. Going to town is not going to meet your needs. Going to the country is not going to meet your needs.
I talked to a young person day before yesterday, and he said, “Boy, I’d like to get out of this rat race in this city and get out to the country and listen to the birds and see the grass.” Well, he’d be out there about three days and he’d be wanting to hear the honking of the taxicabs and hear all the screaming of the sirens.
You see it is a heart problem we have. We want fulfillment in our lives. We want a peace and a joy and a happiness that we don’t find anywhere in life. It is just not found apart from God. You can’t find it just anywhere.
And during this past week I have been very interested in reading some of the addresses being given by valedictorians and professors and famous people at the various universities and college. Nearly all of them were pessimistic. Every one of them said that young people were looking for something they can’t find, and the youth themselves, I thought, brought the greatest message. They said, “We are living in a lousy, messed up world. We feel lousy ourselves. We don’t know the answer.” And it was very pessimistic, this commencement season across the country. And one young fellow got up and told them. He said, “This university is standing now, but we’re going to be back. We’re going to be back this fall and we’re going to burn it down.” That’s how he felt.
I talked to a fellow the other day right here in New York City. He said, “Yes, we’re going to burn the town down.” I said, “What are you going to build in its place?” He said, “Oh, we don’t have any plans for that, but anything is better than what we’ve got now. We are going to tear it down.”
Well, I agree there are a lot of things wrong. A lot of things need straightening out, but I don’t believe the way to do it is to tear it down and burn it up. Let’s try to use the democratic processes and straighten it out because I’m not so sure that some of the people I’ve seen marching around saying they are going to change it all would do any better than the people who are running it now. They don’t seem to have any ideas — any constructive ideas.
But you see, this fellow went off to town, and when he got there he had his pockets full of money. Well, anyone who has any money has a crowd around him. You can make friends quickly if you’ve got money. I would have to be a wealthy man because I would never know who my friends were. Everybody is after your money. When your money is gone, your friends are gone. Some friends are freeloaders. His friends were. He had a lot of friends around him.
Did you read the other day in the paper that in the Detroit Zoo they lost their prize ostrich? I think her name was Susie, and they performed an autopsy on Susie and found $3.85 in pennies, dimes, and quarters inside that beautiful bird. That bird was killed by money.
This fellow had a lot of money — went off to town, and got a lot of friends around him. The Bible says there is pleasure in sin. He started doing the things that he learned from his city cousins. He learned a little bit about dope. He took some “trips.” At first it was just a lot of fun, a lot of kicks. It wasn’t long until he began to be hooked. He started taking a few sips of alcohol and it wasn’t long before he had to have it before lunch. He began to fool around with a girl. It wasn’t long before he was in trouble — had to move to the other side of town. All kinds of trouble plagued him.
You see the devil is fishing with bait. He comes along and whispers in your ear and tells you that it is greener on the other side of the fence. Everything is better over there. You just rebel against your parents, rebel against God, rebel against religion, and go out here on your own and you think it’s going to be better. But the devil doesn’t tell you that he’s got a hook in you. Fools make a mockery of sin. The Bible says, “Be sure your sin will find you out.” The Bible says, “There is pleasure in sin for a season.” You see, for a short time you can have a good time, but it is very short. It disappears. It becomes empty. You become disillusioned! Disenchanted!
I was in a European country last summer, and one of the top young people told me — he said, “You know, we’ve had this permissive society now for a generation.” And he said, “Anything goes and we are filled up to here with it. We are sick of it. Let’s take a walk down through the streets of Stockholm.” He said, “Do you see much laughter, much joy, much happiness?” There were throngs of young people, but there was something missing. They looked bored. They had one of the highest suicide rates among the young people in the world. Why? Because all of this permissiveness without discipline doesn’t bring happiness. Happiness and peace and joy are found in God, in a relationship with Jesus Christ, and in a disciplined life.
The Bible says, “Sin when it is finished bringeth forth death.”
And the Bible says that this young fellow began to be in want. It wasn’t long before his money was gone; he spent it all. And when his money left him, his friends left him.
I read the other day in the Daily News — I think they called it “The Prodigal Daughter.” She was nineteen years of age, she had a steady boyfriend to whom she was engaged until one day she stepped out on him. She was unfaithful to him, and listen to what she says as quoted:
I got into trouble with a guy I don’t even like because I went to a drug and booze party. I completely lost control of myself, and I didn’t even know what happened except that the guy whose baby I am going to have disappeared after he heard of my condition. I brought shame to my family and friends, and now I cry myself to sleep at night. I feel like I am falling apart. I haven’t gone out of the house since it happened.
She began to be in want. She went to a party to have a big time, but there came a moment when sin paid its wages. And it always does. You see you can’t commit a single sin without paying for it. You may not pay for it immediately. You may not pay for it as quickly as this girl, but you’re going to pay for it.
The Bible says, “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.”
This young man began to be in want.
There is a film in New York for “Adults Only,” and it is entitled, “I Want.”
The Bible says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
But you see, the Lord was not the shepherd of this boy. He began to be in want. His body began to be in want. Is your body in want tonight for bigger kicks, more high-powered drugs, more sex deviation to satisfy — trying to stay awake at night thinking up things you can do for kicks? Is your mind in want?
The Bible says our minds have been affected by sin and the more we learn, the less truth we know many times — “ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of truth,” because, you see, God is Truth, Christ is Truth, and if you don’t know Christ, you don’t have the foundation of truth.
And, so many of our scientists today — see how many breakthroughs we have. They are beginning to see new areas of knowledge they didn’t know existed a few years ago. Knowledge is now doubling every ten years so that no scientist can know it all. They can only specialize in one small field, and a scientist feels frustrated and hemmed in.
Dr. Elmer Engstrom, who spoke to you a moment ago, Chairman of this Crusade, is a great scientist, and he would tell you that scientists feel frustrated because they have to specialize now in little fields, and they cannot have the whole range of knowledge they once had.
And you see, the spirit began to be in want. He rebelled against God. The human soul is so large the world cannot satisfy it. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
And then something interesting happened. He became a slave. He had to find employment, but a depression had come, and he couldn’t get a job. Finally, the only job he could get was to go out and feed the hogs. And so Jesus said he went out and began to feed the swine. And then he became so hungry that he began to eat with the hogs. It wasn’t long before he looked like a hog. He smelled like a hog. He grunted like a hog. Down in the pigpen with the hogs — a boy who had come from a fine home — gone to have a big time in the big city. How many in New York are like that tonight? Or any of the other great cities of America? In rebellion, going into all kinds of sin, but becoming slaves of sin. Jesus said, “Whoever committeth sin is the slave of sin.”
He had walked out on his father and the love and the discipline of his father, to come under the bondage of a stranger. What an exchange! “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
You know Prince Philip was speaking a few days ago at Edinburgh, and he said something I like. He got pretty tough with some students. He said, “Shut up and grow up.” He said, “Freedom is not license. You can destroy freedom as successfully by making a mockery of it as you can by retraction.” Hurray for Prince Philip! Maybe he will become an evangelist yet.