In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the prodigal son, and how after some hard lessons stemming from his initial pride, and accelerated by desperate circumstances, he humbled himself and came home to his father. In Part 2, I discussed that the older brother was still at the point of pride, arrogance and self-righteous unforgiveness when it came to his non-conformist little brother. Today, I will focus on the father’s reaction to them both.
How the father’s heart must have hurt when his younger son asked for his inheritance early. It was like wishing his father dead. At the very least the prodigal was saying that he had no more use for his father’s love, wisdom or company. The only thing he valued was the money and the right to make his own choices. The father loved his son enough to give him his freedom. He did not want to force his son to do the right thing, though I am certain he would have welcomed his son’s wanting to do so out of love. That would not happen until some difficult circumstances changed the son’s perspective. When the prodigal son did come home willingly, and humbly, his father did not have to be talked into taking him back. The father’s love for his son was so great that he ran—not something that older men of the East were likely to do—to greet his son. I’m sure the son looked and smelled like he had been spending his time in a pig sty, but his father embraced him and did not even let him finish his rehearsed speech before he sent his servants to fetch the robe, ring and sandals, items that symbolized honour, authority and family status. And then the feast! The fattened calf was not just for a small intimate family dinner. The whole village would have been invited. Considering that the actions of the prodigal son would have brought shame to his family and his village and would have merited being stoned by those villagers (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), this feast would have been a clear message that his son was not only to be spared, but also restored to his rightful position in the family.
The father’s reaction to the older brother was just as compassionate. The older brother must have been certain that he was justified in making the comments he did, but he also was quite insulting to his father. The brother questioned his father’s judgement, and even though, according to tradition, the older brother would have received twice as much inheritance as the younger brother, he selfishly whined about not having enough. As a matter of fact the older brother now had it all. The father had given everything he had to his two sons, and the younger son’s share had been wasted. All that remained belonged to the older son. Surely if he had wanted to have a party with his friends before this day he could have had it. But what he wanted was all the attention, and he was not at all pleased that his father was giving some—a lot—of it to his younger, sinful, brother. Indeed, because of the older brother’s selfishness, the father left the festivities to come out and speak with him. The father did not chastise his older son. He didn’t tell him to stop whining and being selfish. He patiently answered him and showed love to him as well.
We need to remember that this parable (Luke 15:11-32) was shared to teach Jesus’ listeners about the grace and love that the Heavenly Father has for all of His children. That He cares for those that are lost, even when they are lost through their own willfulness. That there is rejoicing in heaven when a lost soul humbly admits his need for a saviour. And that those who think they are above reproach are actually in worse shape than those who know their need. All of this applies to us. Our Heavenly Father loves us so much that He sent His Son to make a way for us to come humbly home to Him. And He will welcome us with open arms. He will run to meet us if we will only take the first steps of the journey. He will not hold our past against us, or even the fact that we were sure we were right all along. All we have to do is accept His invitation to come home, and the rejoicing will begin.
A lot of kids grow up without knowing that their father loves them. Sometimes it’s because he doesn’t live with the family. Sometimes he’s there, but is either too busy, or just doesn’t know how to show his love to his children. Other children grow up having the great benefit of a father who loves them and knows how to show it. What a wonderful example they are of God’s love for us.
I am convinced, however, that God loves us more than our human minds can comprehend. Throughout the Old Testament we see the Israelites constantly messing up when they should have been trusting and honouring God. He would get angry with them, but would always forgive them when they repented of their foolish ways. (II Chronicles 7:14) He never completely rejected or disowned them. Instead He said that He would remove the judgement against them and protect them from their enemies. (Zephaniah 3:15-16) In the New Testament, God showed His remarkable love for us by sending His son to take all the punishment for our sins so that we could be made righteous enough to come into His presence and enjoy eternal life with Him. (John 3:16) Throughout the Bible God’s love is demonstrated. (Romans 5:8, John 14:21, John 15:9, John 16:27, I John 3:1, I John 4:10, Titus 3:3-7, Ephesians 2:4-5, Ephesians 5:1-2, Luke 15, Psalm 136:2, Jeremiah 31:3)
I suppose there are some who would say that parents have to love you because they are your parents, and they may feel the same way about God. The amazing thing is that God not only loves us, but He likes us too! Zephaniah 3:17 says that He takes great delight in you and shouts for joy over you. The New International Version says that He rejoices over you with singing. Now seriously, how many people burst into song when they think of you? God does.
Today’s verse continues the theme in my last post (January 5, 2011) from John 1:1, where we learned that Jesus was referred to as the Word. After John 1:14, John no longer uses the term Word to refer to Christ, perhaps because this is where John tells us that Christ became a man and took up residence on earth. This is an incredible thought. Think about it. What in this plan could be of benefit to Jesus? He gave up every good thing to come to earth, not to live in a palace with all the blessings of great riches, but to live the life of a nomad, one who was pursued by both the most needy people and the self-righteous haters of the day. The term that is here translated as “took up residence” comes from a Greek term that means to pitch a tent. He left heaven to live in very lowly conditions for us. He did this because He loved us. He did this because He knew it was part of the bigger plan, the one that the Father has to redeem us.
So, there was Jesus, the only Son of the Father, living among the people. The Message paraphrase of this passage says that He “moved into the neighbourhood”. How would that change your life if Jesus moved in next door? What if he moved in to your spare room, and joined you at your dinner table, or more significantly on your sofa as you watched TV? Would you do things differently? Many people of that time didn’t recognize Him as God, just as many people today don’t. But He is still here with us today, no longer in flesh but in Spirit. He is there with you at your dinner table, while you watch TV, while you surf the Internet. And He still loves us just as much as He did when He put on flesh to walk among us. Amazing!
Jesus is referred to as the only Son of God, unique because He is in fact God. When we receive His gift of grace, we also become children of God. (John 1:12) We are adopted into the family. God the Father has just as much love for us as He does for Jesus. Because of Jesus, John and others of his day were able to see God’s glory, His grace and truth. Jesus was the personal revelation of God. He still is today. He still represents the goodness and love and light and life of our Heavenly Father.
When I was young I had trouble understanding John 1:1. I didn’t really get what word was with God. Finally I figured out that “Word” represents Christ. It makes so much more sense now. Christ has been with God since the beginning; He is with God, equal to God, and is in fact God. It is interesting that this verse begins in the same way as the account of creation, but Genesis 1:1 goes forward from that point and tells us of creation. John 1:1 goes back from that point and tells us that Christ existed with God before God created the universe. Ah, but you might say, “Wait a minute! Didn’t Christ come as a baby, born in Bethlehem, in a manger? Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?” Well, yes, but that is exactly what helps us to figure out the “word” part. Why did John call Christ the “Word”? Christ is God’s representation of Himself to humanity. Christ is how God chose to reveal Himself to us. Christ came not only to redeem us and bring us salvation, but He came to show us the Father and how much He loves us. So God has given us His word in two ways—through His son, and through the words of the Holy Scriptures. The latter will help us to know the former, and both will help us to know the Father for Jesus says in John 10:30, “The Father and I are one.” That’s all the more reason for us to look at Memos From God together.