The notes this week have been provided by Beth.
Sometimes a passage can be so well known that it can lose its impact. Don’t skim this passage because you probably know it well. Dwell on it; meditate on it; thank the Lord for its truth. The passage can be read here.
Still speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus tells them the parable of the lost son. It’s so well known to us but it wasn’t for the Pharisees. It would have been completely shocking.
There are a few observations about the son that tell us a lot about humanity. Firstly, he’s selfish. He thinks of his own needs above his father’s and doesn’t value the gift his father gives him. There is an obsession in society with looking after yourself first. When the prodigal asks for his share of his wealth, it’s essentially like humans asking for control of their lives. They think they can do a better job following their own ways, rather than following God’s.
When the father gives the son his share of the wealth, he spends it almost immediately. He wastes his money; wastes his life. People think that they are ‘living life to the full’ by living selfishly but ultimately, it lasts only a season and leaves you alone in the squalor with the pigs.
The son has the idea to return to his father and ask to be one of his servants, more than he deserves. If I was listening to this parable for the first time now, I would probably imagine, from this point, it ends in one of two ways: 1) the father tells the son that he is ashamed of him and never wants to see him again or 2) the father, out of the goodness of his heart, agrees to hire his son as a servant. This is what we expect because this is typical of the world we live in.
What actually happens (if you pretend you are reading this for the first time) is really quite shocking. “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.” (v20) See, the father isn’t angrily pacing the floor – he’s looking out for him. He sees him from a long way off. He runs to him. Apparently, it was seen as undignified for a man in the Middle East to run at this time but he doesn’t care. He is undignified in his love for his son. Also, the son has literally just stopped feeding pigs to return to his father; he would be dirty and would probably smell but the father ‘threw his arms around him and kissed him’. This is such a beautiful image of God’s love for us. What we deserve is to be sent to hell. We don’t even deserve to be a doorkeeper or servant at the gates of heaven but the Lord allows us to be welcomed in as a child of God. He embraces us, even in our sinful filth; he is completely undignified in his love for us. There’s no mention from the father here of the son’s mistakes or sins, reminding us that, when we repent, our sins are not only forgiven but forgotten, ‘None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them.’ (Ezekiel 18:22)
It’s significant here that the father gives the son so much more than he could have hoped for. He doesn’t accept him as a servant but welcomes him as a forgiven son and celebrates his return. So too the Lord gives us more than we could hope for, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” (Ephesians 3:20).
The father tells the servants to ‘bring the best robe’ for him and to put a ‘ring on his finger’. These are symbols that the son has been fully accepted, not only into the family but also back into the riches. Although he has squandered his wealth, he will still be adorned with robes and rings. This is a reminder to us that Christ’s grace is sufficient and does not run out. We are given ‘royal robes we don’t deserve’.
The father is so overjoyed he holds a feast and celebrates. This reminds us of v10 that we looked at yesterday, ‘there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’. There is a celebration in heaven when a sinner repents. We should join in with this celebration, rather than being like the elder brother, the Pharisees, who proudly remove themselves from the celebrations.
Father, thank you that you love us in this way. Thank you that you forgive us and embrace us, despite our past. Lord we lift up prodigals to you now and pray that you would bring them back to you. Help us to find opportunities to tell them about you and your undignified, ridiculous and unjustified love for them.