Surfers Paradise skyline as seen from Tugun Beach near Coolangatta, Gold Coast, Queensland Photographer: Orderinchaos
If you take a glimpse at the Gospels you will see that Jesus often times reveals truths through parables. Jesus is the master storyteller and Jesus’s story of the prodigal son is one of the greatest stories of all time. Most of you have heard it before, but it is a story worth retelling and reexamining. 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 Father’s 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 father then 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 wicked. No one is out of reach of God’s love.