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.
The Bible says we cannot be neutral. Lots of people try to be neutral. They say, “Well, I’m not for God, I’m not against Him. I just don’t take a stand.” But God says you have to take a stand. You have to choose — you have to choose which road of life you are going to go — a broad road or a narrow road. The narrow Road leads to heaven, the broad road leads to hell, and you must make the choice.
And so this young fellow got to thinking one day, and it’s a good thing when you start to think about yourself. He began to think, and the Spirit of God began to speak to him, and he began to think about his father back there on the farm. He thought to himself, “What am I doing here in these rags, in this dirt, in this filth, eating with hogs when my father has a beautiful farm back there with many servants and many cattle, and I could go be there and be a servant of his. What a fool I’ve made of myself.”
You know the Bible teaches that sin is a form of insanity? The Bible says if our Gospel is hid or veiled, the veil must be in the minds of those who have spiritually died. The spirit of this world has blinded the minds of those who do not believe and who prevent the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, the image of God, from shining in there. Notice, “The spirit of this world.” There is an evil spirit in our world that blinds us to the reality of what God can do. It blinds us to our own condition. Then the Holy Spirit comes along and convinces us and disturbs us of our sins, and we sit and think about it and we are disturbed and unhappy about our condition. We don’t know where to escape. We don’t know which way to go. But this young fellow decided to do the right thing. He decided to get up and go back. He said, “I have sinned against heaven.” He didn’t just say, “I have sinned against my father.” He said, “I have sinned against God.” That’s your problem. Your problem is not a family relationship. Your problem is not really a race problem. Your problem is a problem with God. You get the problem with God straightened out, and you will have a new perspective on how to straighten out some of the other problems. That’s the real problem. The real hangup in your life is what to do about God, what to do about Christ. Let Him come and change and transform your life and see the fulfillment and the power and the strength you will have.
This young fellow reflected; then he made a resolution. He said, “I will arise and go to my father.”
Sixteen thousand young people in Miami the other day arose and demonstrated for decency. Thousands of people followed an Olympic track star down the streets of Toronto the other day, to witness for Christ. They called it, “A mile for morals march.” When are we going to wake up? When are the young people in this country who believe in God finally going to start carrying their flag? Maybe we are going to see a great tide turned, but we will never turn unless we are willing to make Christ the very heart and the very center of our lives. There is nothing else in the arena of American philosophy and thought today except Christ. It is either Christ or it is chaos. Which is it going to be?
The Beatles’ latest controversial record is called, “Oh, Christ, It Ain’t Easy,” and it’s not easy to follow Christ. It is not easy to be a Christian. It’s not easy to live in New York or any of our other great metropolitan areas and live the disciplined life for Jesus Christ. It’s not easy for a young person to resist the temptations of this hour.
Jesus said, “Sit down and count the cost. If you want something easy, then go somewhere else. I’m not the man; I’m not the one.” He said, “Count the cost.” He said, “It’s going to mean death to your self — your own self-interests, your own self-pride.” He said, “It’s going to mean a cross. You may have to be crucified.” He meant that not only figuratively; He also meant it literally. It is going to have to mean less of you and your desires and your ambitions, and Christ is going to have to be first, and He’ll test you; He’ll take you to many Crosses, and He will see if you are willing to go there without flinching. That is what it will cost to follow Christ.
This fellow said, “I will arise and go.”
He started back home, and while he was a long way off, his father was watching for him. Now notice, this is a picture of God. Jesus is telling a story to illustrate a spiritual truth. Here is a picture of God watching for you all the time. He sees you coming down the road, and the son is filled with shame, and dirt, and filth, and sin, and rebellion. Was his father apathetic to his condition? Was his father indifferent? No. The Bible says that he was watching, waiting for his son to return, hoping and praying he would return. And when he saw him, he ran down the road and threw his arms around him and the son blurted out in tears, “Father, I have sinned against you. I am sorry. I have come home to be a servant.”
But the father said, “Nothing doing.” He said, “Bring the ring and put it on his finger, the ring of the authority of sonship. Give him a bath and put on the finest clothes, and then kill the fatted calf. We are going to have a barbecue, we’re going to have a party that will be the greatest party we ever had. My son that was lost has been found. My son has returned.” The Bible says, “There is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repents.” That is why Madison Square Garden is worth all the expense and all the trouble and all the work if just one person comes to Christ. If you knew the value of one soul, if you knew it made heaven rejoice over one person returning to the Father, you would receive Christ. You would return to the Father. You say, “But Billy, you don’t know my sins. You don’t know how rebellious my heart has been. You don’t know how many lies I’ve told, how many immoralities I’ve committed, how many drugs I’ve taken. You don’t know all I’ve done. I couldn’t possibly come.”
You are the kind of person He is really looking for. He receives you tonight. Jesus receives sinful men. That’s why He died. That’s why He rose again — to receive you.
But then out in the field there was his brother. He hadn’t seen his younger brother for years. He was working out in the fields and he heard all the shouting and all the commotion, and he said, “What’s going on?” One of the servants said, “Your brother has returned.” He said, “That scoundrel? You mean that reprobate, that sinner has returned and he expects us to welcome him?”
You see this fellow had been in his father’s home all along, but his loyalty wasn’t really to his father. His loyalty was to his own selfish interests. And it is possible to be in the church and be lost. It is possible to be in the church and be without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And there is many an elder brother here tonight. You are a member of the church, you haven’t yet left home, but even while you are at home, in the church, your heart is not right with God. You need to repent of your sins and receive Christ as your Lord and as your Savior.
Lincoln — before he was killed — was asked how he would treat the rebellious Southerners, and he answered, “As if they had never been away.” That is how God will treat you if you receive Christ tonight — as if you had never been away. He forgives all the past. He writes your name in His Book. You have the assurance that you are going to heaven. Now it is complicated, and it is hard to live the Christian life. I don’t want to fool you. I don’t want you to come under false colors. It is not easy to be a Christian. It means reading your Bible daily, it means spending time in prayer, and it means persecution.
“All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” the Bible says.
We are to live disciplined lives, under the Lordship of Christ. That is not easy, but let me tell you something. The Holy Spirit comes to live in your heart to help you live the Christian life, and then He begins to live through you and in you. It is no longer you living. It is Christ living in you, and it becomes a life of joy. Problems? Yes. Difficulties? Yes. But a life of joy and peace and forgiveness. He can change your life tonight.
There is a man here in this audience who I saw here a moment ago. Maybe you saw me put my arm around him when I came into the Garden. His name is Jim Vaus. Jim does one of the great social jobs here in New York City. Twenty years ago this year, Jim wandered into a tent where we were holding a meeting in Los Angeles. Jim — he wouldn’t mind me saying this — was Mickey Cohen’s wire tapper, had been written up as one of the great criminals of the West Coast. That night Jim found Christ. He and Alice and their children are here tonight, they love the Lord with all their heart, and Jim speaks all over the world. Thousands of people have found Christ under his ministry. What Christ has done for Jim Vaus He can do for you tonight if you put your faith and your confidence in Him. I am going to ask you to do it tonight. You ask, “What do I have to do, Billy?”
I am going to ask you to get up and come.