But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.
In a distant country, the prodigal son has fallen to feeding the pigs and desiring their food. By the divine presence of God on the mercy seat between the cherubim, the Holy Spirit gives the son the ability to come to his senses and return home. When he does, the father who is the I Am does not sit in his home on high to wait for the son. He runs down to lovingly meet him while he is still a far off.
Every now and then, we hear sermons of a Father that is to mean and scary to come home to. There is an historic sermon from the Colonial Puritan preacher Johnathan Edwards entitled “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God.” In this message, the Almighty is seen as an other-worldly titan who merely sits ready to send people to hell at the slightest act, word, or thought of disobedience. This is the prototype of the “Fire and Brimstone” message that is sometimes used to try to scare people into becoming Christians. While there are various scriptures that describe the wrath of God, over use this model of an angry heavenly father has done more harm to the spread of the Gospel than good.
Some hearing too many of these “Angry Father”messages bet a self defeatist attitude and do as they wish with the idea, “Since God is going to get me anyhow, I may as well have my fun.” Others having this scary image rebel against God becoming atheist believing that no god is better than the mean and vindictive being preached in our churches. Some Bible scholars and theologians rebel against the “Fire and Brimstone” approach with the “Just Be A Good Person” doctrine that says as long as you help people and are kind to others, you need not worry too much about morality and spiritual growth. Such doctrines create churches that allow for unrepentant homosexuals to enter the clergy and makes excuses for pastors who flagrantly cheat on their spouses. Yes, there is a day of judgement where some will be in eternal glory and others in eternal damnation. But fear and intimidation were never meant to be the main focus of the Gospel message, as it is written; For God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the World, but that through Him, the world might be saved.
In 4th century Egypt, a young man read various scriptures and saw a different type of Father. This young bishop saw a God who loves mankind so much that He pursued Him. He read in Luke’s Gospel where a shepherd left 99 of his sheep to find and rejoice over the one that was lost and found. And that a woman searched her house up and down for the one lost coin and rejoiced over finding it with her neighbors. This African man of God, Athanasius, included Luke’s Gospel as one of the 27 essential books for all Christians. That list was voted on by his fellow bishops and accepted as what we now call the New Testament. The Father that Athanasius and the early Christians saw in our text today not a harsh and wrathful being to run away from. They preached what as David sang, Our God is slow to anger and plenteous and mercy … who does not deal with us after our sins. Early Christianity preached as Jesus described in this parable, our God is the Father who comes to us with love, mercy, and compassion. He is the Father worthy to come home to.
The Father loves us enough to choose for ourselves and equips us to be ourselves. The father of the younger son gave the younger son the portion of the estate that would go to him after his death. With that kind of wealth, the young man could go and do as he wished. The father gave with no preconditions or strings attached even though he had every right to do so. He offered no threat to the son if he failed to do his bidding or follow his example. The father gave and let the younger son be himself.
Isn’t that what God does for us? He gives us freedom of choice and gives us what we need to be ourselves. We have a mind, we can choose to learn or be willfully ignorant. We can see and understand for ourselves or blindly accept what others say. God gives us this freedom because love can only exist with free will. He lets us make the choice to obey His will, or to take what he has given us, go way from his presence, and waste the gifts – waste ourselves on earthly desires.
And when we choose wrongly, we have no need to fear eternal punishment as we bring punishment on ourselves. Look at the text. The father didn’t make the son spend all his money and have friends that would leave him when hard times came. The son did that on his own. The father didn’t hire the son out to feed pigs and make him want to eat what the pigs were eating out of his hunger. The son did that on his own. The father has nothing to do with the hellish conditions that his son is in. That is the son’s making because the son chose to leave the presence and reject the ways of his father. Hard times fall on everyone, good or bad, as there was a famine in the land. But, we make our good situations bad and our bad situations worse when we choose to leave the presence and not walk in the ways of God. He has never made a hell for us (Matthew 25:41 teaches that the lake of everlasting fire was prepared for the devil and his angels). But by our choices, we make our own hell in this life and unless we repent, we will suffer a fate that we weren’t created for. We were created to be in communion and relationship with God and each other. That is why the Father made us. We can continue to choose to want to eat the pig slop of this world. Or, we can come to our senses and seek the presence of the Father.
And this Father humbles himself to come to us. While the son is still a long ways off, the father gets out of the house and runs to him. In ancient Eastern tradition, this would have been scandalous. An elder, especially a father who is in the right, would never run out and so much as greet a junior, especially a son, who is in the wrong. True justice would have that son come all the way home and face the judgment of the father and all other elders in the household. The father is overjoyed that the son has decided to walk in the right direction. The son has not said a word of repentance yet. But, the father who is in the authority and right is overflowing with so much love that he lowers himself to come to the son that came to himself.
Two thousand years before any of us were born, Our God did something no other god of any religion had ever done. He left his place of authority and judgement as He saw us at a distance. Despite our distancing ourselves from him and still being a great distance after coming to ourselves and coming to Him, He came to us. He took on flesh, was born of a virgin, faced great temptations without falling for them, taught with great authority, healed with miraculous power, died on the old rugged cross, and trampled down death by His death. No other religion teaches of a God who loves us so much that he would humble Himself and be obedient unto death, even death on the cross. A Father who would send his only begotten Son to give Himself for our salvation is a Father of great humility is more that worthy to be worshiped, praised, glorified, returned to, and to repent to.
And where there is pure repentance, there is full restoration. Notice in the 21st verse how the son does not repeat his rehearsed words in verses 18 and 19? “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
The son drops his pretenses of just wanting to be a servant; seeking some sort of confirmation so that he can have something basic. All he offers to the father is a pure and simple confession. Upon hearing this confession without added on conditions and desires, the father gives the son the best robe, a symbol of royalty. He gives him a ring, a symbol of authority. He gives him sandals, protection for the feet. He brings out the fatted calf and has everyone to eat and be merry for the son that was dead is now alive. The son that was lost is now found. And this restoration comes only by a sincere and true repentance.
Our father still gives full restoration to those who offer sincere and true repentance. We tend to forget this because we are too busy trying to get “anointing, empowerment, favor, the next level,” and all of these modern catch-words which often translate to a new car, house, and leisurely lifestyle. And if we get these things, we are still spiritually empty because the fullness of restoration is being hindered by us wanting basic temporary blessings instead of everlasting wholeness from the eternal Father. We must repent without condition nor expectation for the temporary. We must confess our sinfulness without desiring the things of this world no matter how good or necessary they may be.
When we confess like the son confessed, the Father heals our wounded hearts, puts our broken spirits back together, restores our sin sick souls. The father, the angels, and the saints rejoice as we have come from death to life. We are no longer lost. But we are found in the presence of the Kingdom of heaven even as we are still on this side of the Jordan. And if we continue to live in sincere and true repentance, we will enter the kingdom where there is the ceaseless celebration where everyday is Sunday and Sabbath has no end.
Yes, there is a day of judgement where some will face eternal damnation and others eternal bliss. But until that day comes, let us take joy and comfort that we have a Father who is worthy to come home to. His wish is not to have us punished forever. He wants restoration with the lost and to maintain restoration with the found. Therefore, let us always come home to the Father through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit each day and each our in the day in repentance that we will be fully restored as His children.