I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. Luke 15:18-19 (KJV)
The Prodigal son’s story has been replaying in my mind over and over again. As a parent I have also seen it at first hand. The son- he is young and wilful. He thinks his father is holding back on his inheritance. He should wait, but he wants his inheritance now- he has plans- friends to meet- places to go- things to do. He wants to have fun. He needs his inheritance. He wants to spend his birth right. Esau sold his for food- there is a message here somewhere! Joseph’s brothers tried to destroy him and what would have been rightfully his. Cain murdered Abel.
What is our problem? I suggest it is one of GOVERNANCE. The reality is that it is governance that will determine our eternal destiny. We decide who governs us through our power of choice- Our Will. Interestingly and contrary to popular belief- God allows us to exercise our will. It is Satan who imposes his will upon us. Unfortunately, when we are in a state of rebellion, we do not realise this and think it is the other way round!
Back to the Prodigal Son- he asks for his inheritance and his father, without questioning him, gives it to him. He allows him to exercise his will / power of choice. How many times do parents restrict their children’s power of choice? Perhaps it is due to the lack of grace (God’s), or fear. Maybe memories of their own teenage years flash across their minds and they (parents) think that to impose sanctions will prevent rebellion from rearing its ugly head! But sanctions cannot change the condition of the heart.
So off the son goes cash in hand- money in his pocket. What does he spend his inheritance on? A home of his own? Setting up his first business? Educating himself? Giving to the poor? No, he spends his inheritance upon Himself! The account in Luke 15:13 likens his rebellion to one of a journey to a “far country” and his self-indulgent activities as “wasting his substance with riotous living”. This riotous living no doubt consisted of the polar opposite of his home life. He acquires new fun: friends, prostitutes, drinking, drugs, partying- everything that his parents might not have approved of.
There comes a point in the son’s life when the money runs out, the fun stops, the wine, women and partying dry up and the friends disappear. Lesson number one- Satan, the author of rebellion, causes us to waste our “own substance”. Our rebellion costs us more than it benefits us. Lesson number two- he spent his inheritance on things that were neither lasting nor essential- they were in effect “wasteful”.
In his father’s house, we get the impression that the son want’s for nothing. He comes from a wealthy background with servants, delicious food, land, comfort- nothing appeared to be lacking - except in his own mind. Lesson three, rebellion distorts reality – one can even argue that we end up lying to ourselves by creating an alternative reality so we can justify our actions- Satan is good at that! When his money went- so did his so-called friends. Lesson four, outside the father’s house there are no rules - the son made things up as he went along and in doing so entered into a state of lawlessness (see 1 John 3:4).
It was when he became destitute and enslaved to the citizen of the country (Luke 15:15) that “he came to himself” (verse 17). He then realised the cost of rebellion: a life of servitude to a slave owner, feeding pigs and being tempted to eat pig swill. Only then could he appreciate the benefits of living in his father’s house:
“And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!” The citizen was the antithesis of his father.
He did not appreciate the life that his father had provided for him- even the servants were treated better than he was in the “far country!”
This misunderstood father has been keeping watch- looking out every day to see if his son would return- day in and day out. Can you imagine his heartbreak? He did not stop his son, he allowed him to leave and take the inheritance that as the younger son, he had no right to receive. The father is one day rewarded with the sight of his son all the worse for wear- dishevelled, emaciated and smelling of pigs - returning home. What a joyful day that must have been. There were no, “I told you so”, no admonition, no punishment- no, it was the exact opposite:
“But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him”.
What a beautiful picture of a loving father- which brings me to the title: he was misunderstood. Often we view the parable from the perspective of the lost son, but I would like us to pause a little while to see the picture of God that is painted instead. The father accepted the son’s decision to leave home and was gracious enough to grant him his inheritance early.
God gives us the opportunity to exercise free will. He loved his son enough to allow him freedom to choose how to live his life. We also see how much God loves his lost children and longs for their return to his house. What an image of tender compassion is depicted when the father runs towards him, embraces him and kisses him. His response is a mix of overwhelming joy and relief- “behold what manner of love the father has bestowed upon us.” (1John3:1).
So it is with us. Many of us can identify with the sentiments of the lost son- we cannot appreciate the love of the father, the comfort of his presence and the blessings of his provisions until we do not have them- neck deep in pig muck, mud and mire and need rescuing. The happy ending for the son: reinstatement of son-ship, inheritance and every good and perfect gift that the father had in house- is ours too:
“But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
The realisation of the riches of our heavenly inheritance, hard fought and won through the sacrifice of Christ, should fill us with overwhelming gratitude: the robes of righteousness and salvation (best robe); the authority as a kingdom heir (the ring); the Gospel (shoes) as well as spiritual and material blessings (fatted calf). We like the son can still if we have not already done so, “arise” and go to our Heavenly Father, right now and tell him that we have sinned and in an instant, he will envelop us in his Everlasting Arms and restore our inheritance to us – “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3). Friend what will you choose?
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