Luke 15: 20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
Return of the wanderer
I wonder what it took for the younger son to get up, make that first step and start walking? Of course, he had no assurance that the Father would accept him, or wasn’t still very angry, but, what had he to lose now anyway – he was starving and the pigs weren’t much company!
A great way off
Next though, we have a wonderful phrase: “when he was still a great way off”.
I mean, how far had he managed to get barefoot dressed in rags? How long had he been on the road? We don’t know, but even at the distance he was, the father saw him and had compassion. I imagine he looked a sorry sight!
This same phrase in the original greek language (G3112) “a great way off” is used of our spiritual state in the following scriptures:
Acts 2:39: “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, G3112 even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
Ephesians 2:17 “And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, G3112 and to them that were nigh.”
Coincidently, the same phrase is used in Matthew 8:30 “And there was a good way off G3112 from them an herd of many swine feeding.” Is this how Jesus, in his imagination, got the idea for this parable?
The point is though, how does God see the sinner? Is he looking at us in anger and disgust? No, he sees our broken sinful condition and has compassion on us.
A sprint to the finish
That’s the amazing thing about the grace of God: it doesn’t matter how far away we are, or what we have done. If, we take one small step towards the father, He’s sprinting towards us! Therefore, even before the son has arrived at the garden gate, he is met by a father who embraces him and covers him with a whirlwind of kisses!
Indeed, God doesn’t wait till we’re sorted out before he accepts us or embraces us. In fact, the Father showers undeserved affectation on the son even before he’s uttered one word of repentance or confession! This mess of a son comes as he is; dressed in rags; stinking of pigs; no shoes on his feet; homeless and broke.
Without a doubt, this amazing Father has already has forgiven his beloved son long ago and before he’s even uttered one word of confession. The fact that he’s coming home is enough; he just wants his son back.
He loves, not for what the son has or hasn’t done but as in the words of Luke: “this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Hours in repentance?
Likewise, God didn’t wait until anyone of us spent hours in repentance in confession. No, while we were yet sinners; while we were yet enemies he loved us! This is hyper-grace or whatever you want to call it! This son has been reconciled; he’s been brought near!
“Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ”
Understandably, maybe the son was expecting anger from his Father but instead he finds that this Father is towards him, favourable and full of love. Neither is God angry with you. His love is towards you!
Romans 5:8 “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
This is a love that is worth thinking about. Did we deserve this kind of love, this kind of forgiveness, this kind of blessing? No we didn’t!
1 John 3:1 “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.”
A rehearsed confession
Moving on though, the son does manage to blurt out his carefully rehearsed confession. Before he can request, “that he be made into a hired servant” , the Father interrupts and issues swift commands to his servants to shower his son with blessings!
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.”
What is the Father teaching his son? What is God teaching us? Favour is not dependent on our performance; it is because of Christ in us – our identity. The Father favoured and blessed his son because he was his son. In fact, he could never really be a hired servant! First time around, the younger son demanded his blessings because somehow he didn’t think the Father was that good or generous. This time around his performance is miserable and yet he finds out that he is still favoured and loved. He now knows who he is!
The worlds system: the world that Cain built, is based on independence and self-sufficiency. (Cain built the first cities). It doesn’t seek or need the favour of God. Indeed, Cain murdered his brother Abel because God looked favourably on his sacrifice and rejected his! Through it he becomes a spiritual orphan – lost!
Likewise, the prodigal son tries to ‘go independent’ but learns through the school of hard knocks in the far-country or world, that he is nobody apart from his Father. His identity is based on who his Father is.
1 John 2:2 “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
Orphans or sons
Hence, after being embraced and kissed by the Father, the prodigal knows without a doubt that he is not an orphan ( a child without a home or a Father.) Similarly, Jesus doesn’t want us to feel like orphans and he has sent the spirit of sonship into our hearts crying abba Father!
Galatians 4:6 “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.”
Jesus tells his own disciples two important truths in John 14: “No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.” and “There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”.
How can Jesus be so certain? Because, on the cross, he was abandoned or orphaned for us when he cried: “My God My God why have you forsaken me?”
Therefore, as believers we can be assured that we are not orphans we are sons and that our home is in the Father’s house!
Of course, the behaviour of the Father could be construed by some – especially the religious – as reckless. God though, if he’s going to do anything – doesn’t hold back. He is kind of reckless! He lavishes his love on us! God doesn’t just cover the cake in cream – he lavishes it with cream!
Ephesians 1:8 “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished on us”
I mean, how many religious church people would accept a sinner into the community without a least first checking thoroughly the genuineness of the repentance and that he wasn’t just home for a free meal?
Furthermore, putting the ring on the son was basically saying: “here son is my cheque book”. Ridiculous to give this scoundrel the best robe and sandals. Why not something cheap from Asda? This Father is definitely not thinking straight. No, he’s thinking with his heart!
Spur of the moment decision?
However, I don’t think this was the spur of the moment decision. The Father had been planning this for a while. The calf had been fatted up – just for this occasion! Just imagine how good the steak of the fatted calf tasted to the starving prodigal!
1 Corinthians 2:9 “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
No more wandering
Do we really think then, that there was any danger of this son ‘ falling away,’ leaving home again – wandering? No, of course not. Why go back to the pig pen when we’ve eaten steak for the first time in months!
If we have encountered the lavish love of the Father; the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit and our empty hole in our heart is filled (the whole reason for leaving in the first place). Then why would we leave? Love and grace are the antidote to sin!
This son has found out what it means to be rooted and grounded in love. He is home!
Ephesians 3:17 “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love”
The story ends with: ” and they began to make merry” …. ah, but that’s not the end. Enter the elder brother!
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