The Joy of the Father

The Joy of God
Luke 15:11-32
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one that we can easily identify with, for it speaks of the love of the father in spite of the actions of the son. Even though the son mistreated and abused his father’s generosity, the father's love remained steadfast. The story begins with a selfish son demanding his inheritance even before his father dies. But it was much more than a simple request to be given his inheritance. When the passage states, “So he divided his wealth between them” (vs 12), the implication is that the father did more than give his son a portion of his wealth; his father divided the money essential to his livelihood. Furthermore, in the Jewish society, the son's request was an unforgivable offense, for it was a public statement that he no longer wished to be associated with the family. Yet surprisingly, the Father divides his wealth.
Predictably, this disrespectful son spends all his inheritance on the unrestrained pursuit of pleasure and sin. In the parable, Jesus is making it clear that the son did not lose his wealth because of “bad luck” or misfortune. He lost his wealth because of the sinful, immoral choices he made. Having spent his wealth, he is forced to become a pig herder and even eat the pigs' slop. The imagery points to one at the bottom of life, forced to eat food no longer fit for human consumption. Realizing that the servants of his father are treated better, he decides to go back to his father and request that he be allowed to live as one of his servants.
It is in verse 20 that the parable takes a surprising turn. In the verse, several vital statements highlight the father's attitude and point us to his astonishing unconditional love. We read that the father saw him while the son was still a “long way” off. This provides the first hint pointing us to the Father's incredible love. The statement “long way off” is the same word used in verse 13 to describe the place the son went (“distant country”). In other words, even as his son was in a distant country, the thoughts and love of the father were still with him. The son was absent from the home, but he was not absent from the heart and mind of the father. He was still thinking about his son, longing for his son to return. His love and forgiveness towards his son extended even when he was living in sin. The father had already forgiven and had compassion for his son even before his son repented.
The second statement is that when he saw his son, he ran and embraced him. As the son approached the father, he had no assurance that he would be received back. As he came to his father, he did so with fear and apprehension, recognizing that he was no longer worthy to be a son. But the father’s actions show the deep love of the father. There was no lecture, no demanding of retribution. There was just unbridled love, compassion, and forgiveness. For the father, there was no concern about how the son wasted his wealth, there was only the joy that he had returned.
This story presents a picture of God’s compassion for us. Even as we abandon him and live without consideration of him, his loving eye is still watchful over us. He longs for us to return to him, and no matter what we have done, he accepts us back with unconditional forgiveness and unshakable love. This brings us to the principle woven throughout the scripture: It does not matter where you have been; it only matters where you are going! When we seek God, the past becomes insignificant and meaningless, no matter what we have done, for His forgiveness is complete, and He restores us to the standing of being His children. In Christ, all things become new. Do you still dwell in the past? Remember God’s forgiveness erases the guilt of the past, and His grace restores us to the position of being His children. When you turn back to Him, He runs to welcome you home for that is His joy.

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