THE FATHER’S LOVE
Key Verse 15:20
“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
Heavenly father thank you for your unconditional love, thank you we can worship you today, and that we can do so in our sanctuary. Please give us each the word of God in our hearts today. In Jesus’ name Amen.
Today’s passage is a beautiful parable. It is full of descriptive adjectives and illustrative narration. Charles Dickens said, “It is the finest short story ever written.” It is so, because it’s origin is divine and comes from Jesus. It mainly teaches us about two things, in the most poetic way it teaches us about God’s heart and unconditional love, and it also teaches us about sinful human beings.
Part 1, The Younger son was too cool to live at home.
The beginning of verse 11 reads, “There was a man who had two sons.” What a beautiful introduction. How happy a man is to have even one son, but he had two sons. Like Paul and Jason, they are happy to have two sons, I am pretty sure. Likewise the father in this parable was happy raising his sons and watching them grow, and teaching them how to play sports and do many things. He was joyful thinking his kids are a chip off the old block. But one day the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me my share of the estate.’ Probably, it was about 24 hours after the younger son’s 18th birthday. He did not want a curfew and household chores. He decided to move out and live on his own to enjoy what he thought would be unlimited freedom. The father had always wished to have a good relationship with his two sons. Now it was shattered by his youngest son’s audacious request.
Under his father’s provision it was time for the youngest son to study hard in school and have noble aspirations. His father had everything and could enable his son to achieve whatever. His fields were abundant, and the green pastures of his property were full of grazing sheep. He should be learning the value of hard work and the benefits of a wholesome life and godly relationships with his family members. Because he was made in the image of God, of course he had some of these good desires. But his desire to gratify his sinful nature dispelled good intentions, and he gave into his sins. This culminated into a demand for his share of the estate. Here we see there was a tendency toward separation from his father, rather than a tendency to have a mutual understanding. There was a “gap” in the relationship, so to speak. Just as there is an inherent gap between us and God, which we call “sin.” Maybe the youngest son thought, “My dad just doesn’t understand me.” Or, he might have thought “my dad’s rules are so strict!” The father was a noble father, who probably had godly parents and grandparents. But this son was a member of the Millennial generation, and wanted to buck all the family traditions.
The son’s demand for his share of the inheritance was like saying that he never intended to come back home ever again, not even for his father’s funeral. He felt this permanent decision gave him a legal right to his inheritance. Maybe he had a crafty lawyer who helped him draft some kind of bogus lawsuit, 20 pages long, with confusing language that really didn’t mean anything. Surely his behavior would test his father’s nerves but he did it anyway. In the movie “Fiddler on the Roof”, the character Tevyeh tries to enforce his wishes on his daughter to obey and marry the person whom he suggests, mainly because he wants her to marry another Jewish person. When she marries non-Jewish man he disowns her. This is not an unrealistic representation of many parents, who can be loving but at the same time very controlling and temperamental. What did the father in this parable do? Verse 12b reads, “So he divided his property between them.” He went ahead and granted the request, probably with a straight face, but was suffering greatly when he did so. Of course, the father could have fought back, but he didn’t. How patient and forgiving the father is. It is not easy for parents to part ways with their children. I could relate when my daughter went away to college, and she did not want to go to an Illinois school like Wheaton College. So I had to reluctantly grant her request to leave the State and it was not easy.
Here the father represents God who gives all men and women freedom to obey God’s commands, or to not obey. Freedom is God’s wonderful gift allowing people to make their own decisions. In Genesis, God told man he could eat from any tree in the Garden, but not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or he would surely die. Yet he still let the tree be there and be accessible. God did not want the man and woman he created to be obedient robots. Finally Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan’s tempting illusion that sin is beneficial for gain. Then the world came under curse and the relationship with God was broken. Yet God had hope and devised a plan to bring us back to dwell with him in paradise.
The prodigal son in this passage represents fallen mankind, who want to go their own way apart from God. Verse 13 says he was living a life of sin in “wild living.” We are now deeply engaged in the captivating plot of this parable. So then what happened when he left home and did this? Did he ride off into he sunset and live happily ever after? Stay tuned.
Part 2, Life on a Pig Farm.
Verse 14 reads, “After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country and he began to be in need.” Because of his sinful life, he spent everything he had. We often hear of stories of celebrities who cannot handle their fame, and even though they make millions of dollars they spend it all and end up poor. This happened to the prodigal son. Sin somehow manages to burn cash at an alarming rate. When you read a book about finance or wealth management, it does not tell you to live a sinful life, in so many words it tells you to do the opposite. Because of the youngest son’s wild living, his life hit rock bottom, and he had to take on an undignified job. I thought my job in high school working at McDonalds was undignified I would come home greasy after cooking all day. But his job was worse. He had a job feeding pigs. He was so hungry that he even longed to eat the pods fed to pigs, which were known to be of carob, which is pod shaped fruit from tree more similar to beans. He was in such a bad position he was unable to eat pig food even – it’s like saying he couldn’t eat dog food if he wanted even. For sure he was unable to go shopping at Whole Foods.
In this passage we see the word “wealth” mentioned. Wealth in this parable symbolizes one’s talents, intellect, purity, love, relationships, faith, and joy. These are meant to be used for God’s purposes, but when they are squandered they are quickly used up and lost. Those who do not choose God to be their master, are mastered by the power of sin. One who studies the Bible, can do well in life. But one who lives a party life squanders God’s resources. In my college years I witnessed some friends of mine who chose to party and they set out for Las Vegas thinking it would be paradise and they would live their life there. But they only came back a little while later with no money and spiritually and physically tired. Sin appears fun for a little while but leaves us spiritually bankrupt.
Part 3, the Younger Son’s Repentance.
Look at verses 17-19. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’“ After enjoying the pleasures of sin, he finally came to realize his wrongdoing. It was a moment of clarity that he had not had in a long time. After he suffered, he remembered his father’s love, and how his father cared for him. He had everything, now he had nothing. He was in pain for his mistakes, as some say, “pain is God’s megaphone.” Until now he thought he was a decent person, but self-realization came when he could see that he was actually a wretched person before his father.
When he remembered his father’s love his heart was completely changed. He became humble, he wasn’t proud anymore. We know before he was for sure a proud person. But now he was preparing to restore his relationship with his father and admit to his wrongdoing and was willing to submit to be his servant.
It is very difficult to say “I’m sorry.” But the prodigal son was not afraid to say “I’m sorry” and to repent. The only way to come to God is with a humble and contrite heart. Coming to God in repentance is the beginning of a vine and branch relationship with our creator God. One who realizes they are a sinner can restore his love relationship with God and with others and best of all receive God’s gift of salvation. Amen!
Part 4, God’s Unconditional Grace.
As the youngest son approached his father’s house it would have been normal to feel ashamed, and he probably did. Perhaps the closer he drew to his father’s house the more Satan began to accuse him of his sins saying, “There’s no way your father can forgive what you have done.” Perhaps he thought about getting beat up by his older brother. Yet he pressed on when he remembered his father’s unconditional love.
Now we see a beautiful reunion in verse 20b. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Though the son broke his father’s heart and spent half of his money while he was still living, he did not remember his transgressions at all. Instead he kissed his son’s dirty cheek and hugged him. Probably because of his job he didn’t smell very good but the father hugged him and kissed him. The father forgot all his son’s past transgressions because his joy was so great. Paul, who knew the love of God, said in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Before the son could even finish all of his intended apology his father interrupted him. Let’s look at verses 22, 23. “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it! Let’s have a feast and celebrate.’” The father was so happy to have his son back safe he not only forgave him but he even threw a celebration and gave his son gifts. The ring was as a symbol of restoring his position as an heir. And the robe is God’s grace covering his shame and dirty appearance. Rather than looking dirty he now looked like a prince.
In order to forgive all our sins, God made his one and only Son a sin offering. In order to forgive us unconditionally, he crucified his one and only Son to cleanse us with his blood. While we were still a long way off, in our sins apart from God, God sent Jesus to us. Through Christ God puts a ring on our finger and makes us heirs of the kingdom of God. God’s love is unconditional and can pardon the worst of sinners. He is our compassionate and forgiving heavenly Father.
After this beautiful reunion between the father and youngest son, the older brother came back from working in the field. He heard the sounds of joyful music and dancing and inquired what was happening. The servant explained about his brother’s return and that they were celebrating. The older son became very angry and refused to go in. He thought that his younger brother didn’t deserve anything because he worked harder. Yet his father did not give him even a young goat. He only looked at what he didn’t have and became unthankful. He was mad at BOTH his father and also at his brother. He refused to call him his brother and called him “this son of yours.” The father explained….”We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (31,32). According to the father, the older son’s inheritance is safe. His father’s possessions were all his. We see that the younger son who had sinned now had a good relationship with the father, but the older son did not have a good relationship at all. The younger son was lost and then found, and the older son was lost and was NOT found. The Bible is telling us that the quality of the relationship with God is what matters most. The quality of our relationship with God takes precedence over legalism. Our relationship with God should be deep and connected, not like a boss and employee relationship which “appears” obedient but leaves us lost.
In this passage we learn that sin gives us a temporary high, but it has many devastating consequences. We especially learn about God’s broken heart for all wandering souls. Though we are by nature is sinful, God allows us to come back to him and forgives us of our sins when we repent. He restores our position as his precious children and gives us the gift of eternal life. In the kingdom of God there will be a glorious homecoming and a great celebration for those who repent and believe in Jesus. May God help us not to be legalistic like the older son, learn to build relationship with our God as a son and the Father, and have his compassion on those who are lost and find them in Christ.