Prodigal Son - Loving Father
Over the last few weeks Michael has been teaching us about real Christian love. How we should be less selfish, less proud, more patient, not keeping records of wrong and not delighting in evil. I have been very struck each week that the quality we look at is shown to perfection by God our Heavenly Father. I would like to spend a few minutes this morning looking at how God’s love for us is manifested by looking at the story of the Prodigal son. The parable is maybe better titled as the story of the Compassionate and Loving Father.
In the beginning we see the younger son ask his father for his inheritance. Our video showed an immediate response with a bag of gold being handed over. But in those times and also now getting a share of inheritance generally means selling land, livestock, building and property and shares. In doing that the remaining estate is less profitable. But the father in our story is willing to do that and give his son what he has asked for. The father is also willing to let his son go – a child he loves and delights in and also potentially an extra hand on the farm and someone to care for him in later life. Very unselfish traits. We see this again at the end of the story when the father is willing to put aside his own joy and celebration to go and chat and encourage the older son who refuses to come to the party. He puts his own interests aside for the benefit of his son. Also those words he says – everything I have is yours are again very unselfish. He leaves nothing for himself, no little nest egg for a pleasant life in old age, he has and will give it all away.
And God our heavenly Father does the same with us. He gave us His most precious possession- He beloved only Son, to come to this world and die to save us from our sins. We have heard it said that our salvation is a free gift , and it is for us, but it was a very costly act on God and Jesus’ part- it cost them everything, they kept nothing back. And just because they love us so much. Our Father loves us with a truly unselfish love.
The younger son goes away, wastes all his money, eventually comes to his senses and heads back home. In verse 20 we read – while he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His father could only have seen him if he was looking out for him. I like to think that from the time the son left, the father spent a lot of his time sitting on his front porch or at the town gates watching and waiting and hoping that his son would come back. We are led to believe that he was a wealthy man and could have well afforded to send his servants to go looking for the son to see if he was ok. But he didn’t, he waited and waited, for weeks, months, years we don’t know but he waited patiently letting the son decide for himself when or if to return. A very patient love.
And our Heavenly Father is also very patient with us. He wants each person to come to Him, to be in relationship with Him, to fulfil the unique plans and purposes He has for everyone. But He is a real gentleman, He doesn’t coerce, force, push or pull us. It must be so hard for Him watching us struggle and go the wrong way, knowing all the rich blessing He has in store for us, that he could very easily give us. But He loves us and He waits for us to come to Him in our own time. He loves us with an amazingly patient love.
When the father sees his son, he runs to him. Men of his position and stature didn’t run in those days and certainly didn’t associate with dirty, stinking wretches which is what his son had become. But the father was willing to break all those cultural rules, without caring who saw him and run to his son, maybe even getting down on the dirty road, put his arms round him and kiss him. He probably got filthy and smelly in doing that, but he didn’t care, pride in his position didn’t matter any more because his son had come back. He was willing to humble himself in the eyes of his peers and get down on the same level as his filthy son.
And isn’t that what Our Heavenly Father has done for us. He the creator of the world, all powerful, all seeing, all knowing, everywhere present, King of kings. He was and is willing to come down to our level, to associate with us, human sinners, who really are filthy in His totally pure and Holy eyes. But He in Jesus came to this world to become one of us and as Philippians 2v8 tells us He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross- the worst and most cruel kind of death possible. And He did that because of His love for us – a love that is very humble and not proud.
The son begins on his prepared speech – Father I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son. The message translation adds in some amazing words – But the father wasn’t listening, he wasn’t listening to the apology. I don’t know about you, but if I was in that position I would want to know that the son was sorry for all the wrong things he had done, and boy had he done a lot of wrong. He had forced the division of the estate. He had an arrogant disregard for his father’s authority as head of the family. He squandered his inheritance in wild living. He went to work for a pig farmer. Jews of that day did not go near pigs because they are seen as unclean. But this guy wanted to eat pig feed – he had really sunk to the lowest level possible. But his father wasn’t listening, he was not interested , he had no intention of keeping any record of the wrongs done to him. He was overjoyed to have his son back again.
And isn’t that a picture of how God deals with us when we come to Him in repentance. 1 John 1 v 9 tells us – if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Yes we do need to confess our sins to God and turn away from doing them again, But God will forgive us and cleanse us. And He even goes further. Hebrews 8 v 12 tells us – I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. Our loving Heavenly Father keeps no record of our wrongs. What an amazing blessing- there is no list, there is no record, all our sins are washed away and forgotten because of the blood that Jesus the perfect Lamb shed for us.
The father in our story doesn’t take the opportunity either to show some schadenfreude, or as the message translates it – he doesn’t revel while others grovel. Again if it was me there would probably be a bit of well you deserve what happened to you because of what you did. Bad actions always have consequences. Didn’t I tell you this would happen. But the father isn’t doing any of that. He isn’t listening. He is planning a party. The past is in the past and will stay there. The only thing that matters is that the son is home again.
And our heavenly Father is the same. He won’t revel while we grovel in our confession and repentance. He is just so happy that we have come back to Him and ask for His forgiveness. The past is forgotten and He is celebrating our return to Him.
There is another quality of love that I think runs throughout this whole story. Kindness. Or as the message translates it – love cares more for others than for self. The father in our story is really only interested in making his sons happy. He knows the proposed course of action of the younger son is not beneficial, but he lets him find out for himself that that course of action is not the way to make himself happy long term. The father spends time with the older son as well trying to encourage and help him see the bigger picture. When the son comes home, the father doesn’t tell the servants to put his son in the bath, launder his clothes and return them to him. No. There is a clean set of clothes, new sandals and even a robe and a ring. The father is restoring the younger sons position to a son at the heart of the family and not just a servant. And the party – that wasn’t just a family dinner for the household, I suspect everyone in the town was invited and it was an amazing party, an amazing celebration.
Our Heavenly Father is just as kind and caring to us. He didn’t let us take the punishment for our sins, He let that fall on Jesus. He watches over us 24/7, doesn’t sleep on the job. He has our names carved on the palms of His hands so He can look at us all the time. He has even numbered the hairs on our head. When we repent of our sins and come back to Him in repentance, He restores us and He even goes further. He adopts us into His family and makes us His heirs, co heirs with Jesus. He is so kind to us. But He is also very generous. We read in the Bible the words – how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him. How much more – there is always an abundance with God in His dealings with us. Those lovely words in Ephesians 3 v 20 – God does more than we could ask or even imagine. That is how generously and kindly He loves us.
There is within each of us some of the qualities of the younger son. There is within each of us some of the qualities of the older son. But God wants us to become like the father, loving others with the same love that He loves us with. A love that is not proud or selfish. A love that is patient. A love that keeps no record of wrong and doesn’t revel while others grovel. A love that is kind and generous. And may God help us as we strive for that ideal. Amen.
I would like to close with some words of saint Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3 v 16 – 19)
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