Date: 19 Jun 2016
Text: Luke 15:11-32
I’m sure that most of us here today know or have heard the story of the prodigal son. In that story we hear of a young man who feels constrained by his environment; who wants to spread his wings and who wants to go out into the big, wide world and find out for himself what life is all about. The story as many of us know it focuses on the young man, touches on the attitude of his brother and vaguely makes mention of his father. I want, this morning, to look at the story but then to think a bit more about the father, after all, it is Fathers’ Day!
Just to refresh your memory, it is worth running very quickly through the story of the Prodigal Son. It concerns a father who had two sons. They all lived together on a farm where the two sons worked and helped their father to run the place. The younger of the two sons though seems to have been like a lot of young people today who always think that they know best. He may also have been a bit of a hot head and eventually he got to the point where he was fed up with the daily grind of working on the farm. He wanted to go off and do his own thing, to see the world and supposedly have a good time. So with that in mind he persuaded his father to give him his share of the inheritance, the money that he would have inherited when his father died. His father, because he loved him, reluctantly agreed and gave him the money.
So, off went this young man, pockets bulging with money, ready to explore the big, wide world. After he left the family farm he did a lot of travelling, met a lot of people and spent a lot of money. Needless to say, while he had money in his pocket he could enjoy himself, at least he thought he was enjoying himself and he indulged in the infamous wine, women and song! You can almost picture him; the life and soul of the party buying everyone drinks, and of course while he had got money he also had friends. Eventually the money ran out and so did the friends meaning that he was left absolutely penniless and friendless. Needless to say, he got into such a state that he didn’t know what to do next; in fact, so low did he get that he ended up working on someone else’s farm looking after the pigs. To fully appreciate the depths to which he had sunk, we need to understand that in Jewish culture looking after pigs was the absolute worst job that anyone could have, it really was the lowest form of employment possible. However, it was the only work that he could get and after all, beggars can’t be choosers. It was during this time that he got so low that when he was hungry he even fancied eating the same food as the pigs.
As happens to all of us when we have tried to spread our wings, he came crashing to earth and realised that he couldn’t carry on like this and needed to do something about it. Consequently he swallowed his pride and decided to return his father’s home and see if he could work there. He remembered that even his father’s ordinary workers were better off and better fed than he was. So, off he went with his tail between his legs, back to where he started from. I wonder how he felt at that moment. He had gone off with high hopes and plenty of money, no doubt bragging of all that he intended to do. Now he had to swallow his pride, return to the family home and beg for help. How many of us have known that moment, either as children or as parents? Either way it is not an easy situation to deal with.
To most people this story is all about the son; but, what about the father, how do you suppose he felt through all this? Like all fathers he would have loved his son and wanted nothing but the best for him. He acceded to his son’s request and let him have all the money that he asked for. I suspect that good old Dad was reluctant to do that but felt that in the long run it was probably for the best. We think that the Bank of Dad is a 21st century phenomenon but this story proves that it has been in existence for rather a long time. Luke doesn’t suggest that the father argued or tried to persuade his son not to go; perhaps he did, perhaps he didn’t; it’s difficult for us to sure. One thing I am sure of though; is that the father would have agreed to his son’s request with a heavy heart. We have no idea how old this son was but I think it may be safe to assume that he would have been in his early twenties rather than being still a young child. For parents in general and fathers in particular it is always difficult letting a child go out into the world to live their own lives. In fact it may well be the hardest part of parenthood and fatherhood. Whatever the father may have felt though, he sent his son off into the wild blue yonder with his love and with a hope in his heart that he would one day return safely.
Luke doesn’t make clear what the father did after his son had left although I think that if we read between the lines we may be able to see that the father watched at the farm gate day after day to see if his son was on his way home. For quite a while it was a forlorn hope; he watched and waited but his son never appeared. And then one day, joy of joys, as he peered into the distance he saw his bedraggled son appear on the road to the farm. As a father waits for the hopeful return of their child it can be a heart wrenching time; now this father’s heart must surely have skipped a beat as he saw his much loved son walking towards him.
As dear old Dad saw his son walking up the road towards the farm and back into the bosom of the family, he ran towards him. At this point we need to understand something else about with Jewish culture; men just did not run as it was thought to be undignified. This father was so happy though that custom and culture went out of the window and he gathered his cloak around him and ran to greet him. That must have been quite a sight; a middle aged man with his cloak tucked into his belt running down the road; he obviously couldn’t care less what the neighbours thought!
Remember that this wayward had taken his inheritance early and gone off and wasted it. He was hungry and his pride was hurt. He probably expected to receive a very frosty welcome from his father and he was fully prepared to work as a servant as a form of recompense for all that he had done and all that he had got wrong. Despite what the son may have felt it was his father who made the first move, something that fathers always seem to do. Luke tells us that his father “ran to his son threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20b). If nothing else those simple acts demonstrate a fathers’ love for his son. It didn’t matter what the son had done, his father was overjoyed to see him and welcome him home. The son on the other hand may not have been feeling quite so full of joy; in fact I suspect that he was feeling very contrite and very small given all that he had done to upset his father. His response to his father’s welcome is worth pondering on, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21).
I don’t know what the son was expecting although I doubt that it was the kind of welcome that he actually received. Regardless of what he was expecting there was probably far more than he expected. Within just a few moments of his son’s return the father ordered that he be given a new robe, a ring was put on his finger and he was given new sandals. Not only that but the father ordered that the fattened calf, that’s the one they kept for special occasions, be killed so that they could have a big, big party. The father forgave his son for all that he had done wrong and the son realised that he had made a huge, huge mistake in doing what he had done by going off and wasting all his money. The father waited lovingly for his son to return and when the son did return and confessed his sin, his father forgave him and welcomed him.
God Our Father
That story is the exact picture of how we are with God. God loves us and gives us all that we need each and every day. And yet we want more, we want to do our own thing; we want to ignore our Father and go off and please ourselves. Eventually of course we realise that we can’t go on living like that, we have to move forward by moving back to our Father. He is there waiting for us with His loving arms open wide, all we have to do is return to Him and say we are sorry, He will forgive us, welcome us into His family and then we will be able to spend eternity in paradise with Him. Not quite the fattened calf that the farmer killed for his lost son but something far better; far better because when we turn to God our Father in faith we become His children and He treats us as such.
We come to our heavenly Father by placing our faith in Jesus Christ and accepting Him as Lord and Saviour. As we do that we become part of God’s family; something that brings with it eternal life and much, much more. The returning prodigal son had a fattened calf killed in his honour but when we return to God we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; Someone Who is with us permanently and will remain with us until Jesus returns. It is the Holy Spirit Who brings us an amazing selection of gifts from God, one of them being our changed position before God and our relationship with Him. In Romans 8:15a, Ephesians 1:5 and Galatians 4:5 Paul tells us that it is through the Spirit that we have received “adoption into sonship”. In this new relationship God regards us as His children. Whilst the NIV uses the word “sonship”, the good old AV/KJV and the NRSV use the word “children” whilst a couple of other translations use the word “sons”. Regardless of all that, I believe that the context is clearly intended to include girls and boys. Paul goes on in Romans 8:15b and Galatians 4:6b to tell us that it is through the Spirit than we can cry out, “Abba, Father”; we are able to call God, Daddy! How about that? God the creator of the universe and all that is in it. God Who is the Father of Jesus Christ. And we are allowed to call Him “Daddy”; isn’t that truly amazing? Jesus Himself used that same name when praying to His Father whilst in the Garden of Gethsemane. On that occasion Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for You. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:36).
Going back to our relationship with God; perhaps even more importantly, our Daddy is always there for us; He never travels away on business and is never late home from work. He is never ill and will never die. He will never disappoint us or let us down. Whilst no father on earth is perfect, because we all make mistakes; our Father in heaven is perfect and He never makes a mistake. That is a Father to be proud of, a Father Whose role in our lives we really should celebrate.
Being adopted into His family by God brings with it enormous privileges, privileges that we either aren’t aware of or may have forgotten about. In Roman Law and culture an adopted person lost all the rights and privileges that they had in their original family but gained all the rights and privileges associated with their new family. Regardless of the background of the adopted child, once adopted they were the equal of any biological child of the parents and received exactly the same rights, privileges and inheritance. Fathers also took on the full role and responsibility of fatherhood when they adopted children; it worked both ways. The same happens when we are adopted by God. As adopted children of our heavenly Father we become His heirs, and since Jesus is also His Son we become co-heirs with Him. That means that we have a lot to look forward to as we will receive all the gifts and privileges that come to us as God’s children. We will receive eternal life, the promise of a glorious future in heaven with Jesus and with our Father. All of that comes because we have been “adopted into sonship” by our Daddy.
The prodigal son felt that he could have a better life away from his father. He felt that he could make his own way in a big wide world that was full of traps ready to catch him out. Such a situation also applies to us. We think that we can cope on our own; we don’t need anyone else and we especially don’t need God. The prodigal son was wrong, realised he was wrong and made the momentous and perhaps belittling decision to return to his father. He sought his father’s forgiveness, something that his father was happy to give. The same applies to us as well. We move away from God and think we can live life our own way without Him present. If we think that then we are wrong, very wrong. We need to turn back to our heavenly Father and become part of His family; we need to become His adopted children with all the privileges that that position brings. I somehow doubt that children ever realise or appreciate that a father’s love knows no limits. God’s love for us as our heavenly Father is also limitless and has no boundaries.
If you have turned away from your Father in Heaven then be like the prodigal son; think again, admit you are wrong, turn to God and seek His forgiveness. He is a loving and forgiving Father Who is waiting for us just as the prodigal son’s father waited for him day after day.