While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)
After having spent all of his inheritance on riotous living, the Prodigal Son was left with nothing but the memory of what he once had: a roof over his head . . . food to eat . . . a bed to sleep in. Most importantly, he had a father who loved him with all of his heart. But he had turned his back on all that and set off to a distant country. It did not go well for him there. Now, sensing his overwhelming need, he imagined what it would be like to be back home, even if only as a servant rather than a son. And so, with a heart filled with a godly sorrow for the way he had spurned his father, the Prodigal set out for home. No doubt he was feeling some trepidation; when he had asked for his inheritance while his father was still alive, he was essentially saying, “I wish you were dead now!”
Take a second look at today’s verse; you read that the father saw the son “while he was still a long way off.” Do you see what that presupposes? The father was looking for and longing after the return of his son. Each day the father looked off into the distance, hoping that this might be the day when his son would return home. Finally that day arrived, and the father could not even wait for the son to walk up to the front door. Filled with compassion, the father ran out to meet him. Now, in the patriarchal culture of Jesus’ day, fathers just did not do this sort of thing! It would be considered undignified and embarrassing.
As the father was running toward the son, you can be sure that the son’s anxiety was accelerating. What kind of greeting was he about to receive? Would his father scold him for his utterly foolish behavior? Would his father rebuke him for his harsh, unfeeling words when they had last been together? The son knew he had that coming—he deserved a good tongue-lashing! But this was his great fear: Would his father disown him and order him to turn around and leave at once? No doubt the Prodigal was nervously rehearsing his apology one more time: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men” (Luke 15:18-19).
But because the father in the story represents God our Father, he did the one thing that the Prodigal hadn’t expected—what he hadn’t dared even to hope for. The father threw his arms around his son and kissed him! The son began to confess his sin, but his father interrupted him:
The father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:22-24)
In other words, the son would be received back in the same capacity in which he left—as his father’s son! This is what I call the “Prodigal Promise.” We are all prodigal children who wander away from our Father more often than we would like to admit. We turn away from our Father’s plan and purpose for our lives, determined to blaze our own trail. Perhaps it may seem like we made the right decision for a while. But before long, we find ourselves in the same sorry circumstances as the Prodigal: empty, unfulfilled, and desperate.
There is only one thing left to do at this point: return to our Father. That’s right; no matter what we have done or failed to do, the Prodigal Promise is offered to all who will simply return to the Father.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
How is it with you today? Do you feel like a prodigal son or daughter? Have you wandered away from your Father in heaven? Fear not! Your heavenly Father is waiting and watching for your return. And please remember this: your Father will not wait for you to get all the way home.
“Come near to God,” James promised, “and he will come near to you. . . . Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:8, 10). While you are still a long way off, your God will come running with open arms and nail-scarred hands. Your final steps toward home will find His kiss still warm upon your cheek.
Now that’s a homecoming worth coming home to!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!