What a Father!
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me. ’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. ’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. ’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound. ’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him! ’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'” Luke 15:11-31 (ESV)
I have been reading a book by Sinclair Ferguson, By Grace Alone. While working my way through this book, I have found that I have not been able to make very fast progress. Mostly because I have to stop and reread portions over and over again. For that I am thankful. This morning as I was reading, I was shocked by how such a familiar parable could affect me in such new ways. The Lord, in his abundant goodness, has shown me how much I have fallen into a similar state as the prodigal son. I have been blinded by my desires and wishes and have lost sight of my Loving Father.
In one of Fergusson’s efforts to discribe the actions of the prodigal son, he compares the son to Adam and Eve.
“Alas, Adam and Eve discovered that by snatching for what they wanted apart from God, they lost both God and what why wanted. Instead of experiencing life, they tasted death. They ended up in a “far country” — an expression that also surely reminded Jesus’ hearers of the exile in Babylon and banishment from the presence of God. That is where this young man is heading. He is not simply emigrating; he is making a disastrous pilgrimage away from security and plenty. The father’s house is a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8) But he wants something different. There in a far country, exiled from his father, he squanders his inheritance on what the NIV vividly calls “wild living”…What a tragic fall. He has flashed across the sky like a brilliant meteor; now he is a spent force. He wanted everything; now he is nothing.” (pg. 19)
Oh, how I have snatched for things apart from God! This time in raising support has really been hard. Like Adam and Eve, I have snatched for the fruit… I have sought to fulfill this call with my efforts, with my strengths, not the works and power of Christ. Like the prodigal son, I have found myself in the depth of the consequences of my choices. Searching for accomplishments and fulfillment outside of the Lord had left me in a needy state. But to satiate this need, I continued to search of fulfillment outside of the Lord. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit convicted and drew me back to a place of repentance.
What really impacted me this morning was the actions of the father, the actions of my Heavenly Father. I was reminded of a statement that I had heard in a sermon in Eufaula, AL a couple of weeks ago, “familiarity breeds contempt”. I had become “familiar” with my God. In my worship of my idols of comfort and approval, I had forgotten the majesty, the amazing grace that was being shown to me. I can further associate with the prodigal son in that so often, I come to my father with a disrespectful prayer of forgiveness. I was further impacted by Fergusson’s explanation of the son’s rehearsed prayer.
‘”Treat me as a servant,” the son plans to say. This is an expression of the natural instinct of men and women whose hearts have been awakened to their sin and need. Their first instinct is to say: “I will pull myself together. I will begin to do things that will please God. From now on, I will do better at keeping his law. I will change my lifestyle. I will try harder. I will work my way back into his favor.'” (pg. 21)
This morning, as a very similar prayer was on my mind and my lips, I was reminded of something amazing, a forgiving Father who was running with open arms BEFORE I could even speak.
As the son was returning home, he knew that he would have to endure a kezazah (literally “cutting off”) ceremony. But at a great distance, his father begins to run to him, embraces him and kisses him. He did experience the kezazah, but it was a “cutting off” from the consequences of his sin, something the son never could of expected.
“Is the family home on a hillside? What instinct makes a father look into the distance (he was still a great way off)? How does the father recognize him? Is he in the habit of looking into the distance, wishing, wondering, praying? Has he never lost hope? Some of the silence in Jesus’ storytelling are stimulating and evocative; that is part of His genius as a storyteller. Then the moment of moments comes. The father runs from his vantage point – either down the hill or along the village street. So long as we think, “Of course he ran-his son was coming home,” we will never be able to hear his parable the way Jesus’ contemporaries did. “An oriental nobleman with flowing robes never runs anywhere.” Furthermore, given the dishonor the son has done to his father by leaving home, this man’s actions must am the watching neighbors. This is an astonishing sight. Indeed, it is almost certainly scandalous.” (pg 22)
What a wonderful picture of God’s amazing grace! The Father has dealt with the consequences of my sin, just as the father dealt with his prodigal son’s sins. The cost of selling a third of his estate was massive, but it was inconsequential compared to the payment Christ made on the cross. “The father’s embrace of forgiveness means that his retuning son never says the last sentence of his carefully crafted speech. The father welcomes him home not to be a slave but a son raised from the dead and adopted back into the family.” (pg 23)
How freeing! How amazing, how scandalous God’s grace is! How wonderful to be reminded, to be amazed, to be reminded of the love of the Father! Thank you Father for the newness of your mercy, for opening my eyes to this “familiar” parable and the wonderful grace that it shows.
Grace, what have You done?
Murdered for me on that cross
Accused in absence of wrong
My sin washed away in Your blood
Too much to make sense of it all
I know that Your love breaks my fall
The scandal of grace, You died in my place
So my soul will live.
By Grace Alone by Sinclair Ferguson. Reformation Trust Publishing, 2010.