Photo Above: (Cize-Bolozon Viaduct) France. Photographer: Kabelleger/David Gubler (http://www.bahnbilder.ch)
Jesus: The King Who Forgives Sinners
“11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 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.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “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. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:11-32 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus’s story of the prodigal son is one of the greatest stories of all time. Most of you have heard it before, as it has has been retold in countless plays throughout the centuries, but it is a story worth retelling. In this story we learn much about the heart of God, the gospel, and ourselves. There is a lot of great literature about the prodigal son, the older brother, and the gracious father, but I just want to briefly focus on the gracious father who represents God.
As you know the story starts off with the younger brother asking for his inheritance so he can go spend it on prostitutes and wild living. It is easy to just read the story and think, ah that’s bad, but not really understand culturally how significant it was for the boy to ask for his inheritance at this time. In this culture for one to ask for their inheritance before their father died, was the equivalent to saying “dad your dead to me, I don’t care about you, and don’t want to know you anymore, or bear your name.” This request would have been brutal on any father. We see in the story that the father acquiesces to the son’s request, probably in grief. In this culture the father would have been able to hold a symbolic funeral for his son, for such a evil request. This funeral would be to represent the child being dead to the family. We see no evidence of the father doing this in the story.
So the story moves on, and the son gets his inheritance from the father and goes to travel, and spend his inheritance on prostitutes and wild living. The boy ends up spending all of his money. A famine hits the land, and the son eventually finds himself in a dire situation barely able to feed himself. The son comes to his senses and realizes that even slaves in his father’s house have it better than he does. He decides to go back to his Fathers house in hopes that his father will accept him back at least as a slave.
So the son makes his way back home, probably feeling utter shame and embarrassment. As the son gets close to home his father sees him in the distance. The scriptures say “while (the son) 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.”
This fathers gracious reaction is extremely significant. The father had every right to shun the son, but instead he does the complete opposite. The father runs to his son in love. (In the Middle East, during this time, it was considered humiliating for men over age forty to run. As the father ran, he would have had to lift his robe, another humiliating act in that culture.) The father didn’t let the embarrassment stop his love, he ran toward his son at full speed and then threw his arms around his son and kissed him.
The father immediately orders his servant to put a robe, a ring, and sandals to be put on his son. In this day slaves were bare-footed, but sons wore shoes, so he is reinstating the boy as a son, not as a slave. The ring would have given the son the ability to transact business in the markets in his fathers name, much like a credit card. The boy gets his name reinstated.
The story doesn’t end there. The father immediately orders his servants to throw a party and feast for his son. He tells the servants to go and kill the fatted calf (very expensive) for the feast.
The prodigal son is an amazing story and is hard to dislike no matter if you are a Christian or not. Everybody loves a story of redemption and sacrificial love. But Jesus teaches this parable, not just because it is nice and gives us warm feelings, but because it is a representation of the Gospel, and the very heart of God.
The Bible shows that we are all like the prodigal son in the story. We have all sinned against God, and have all essentially told God you are dead to me, I don’t care what you want, I want to live life my way. The scriptures declare “there are none who are righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) So we have all sinned against God many times in various ways. CS Lewis gives a great analogy about our fascination with sin:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
God’s response to our sin and abandonment to Him is much like the generous father, but much more generous. Jesus in response to our sin, does not shun us, he instead bears our punishment for our sin on the cross. Jesus dies in one of the most excruciating possible ways in order to bear God’s wrath that was stored up for us. Jesus now invites us all to know and follow him. (1 Timothy 2:4) Jesus in the Book of Revelation declares “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Just as the father of the prodigal son ran toward his son when his son returned, Jesus rejoices anytime a son or daughter comes to their senses and comes back to their heavenly father. (Luke 15:3-7)
Jesus invites us to follow him now, and to know him now. In this life we are guaranteed trials and tribulations (John 16:33), however Jesus is preparing a feast and a eternal city for those who return to the Father through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ will pardon every sin you have done, no sin too great, no prodigal to bad.