Jesus told a story of a man who had two sons. The younger son was discontented with life at home and he said to his father, ’Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’ So the father divided the property between his sons and the younger packed his bags and left for a distant country. He was a foolish boy and soon he’d wasted everything he had. There was a bad famine in that land so with no money he was desperate. He tried to get a job but the only work he could find was to feed pigs. He was so hungry that he had to share the pigs’ food!
That brought him to his senses. He said to himself, ’All my father’s workers sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, "Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand."’ He got right up and went home to his father.
His father was watching out for his son’s return and ran to meet him. The son started his speech but the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to his servants, ’Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet and get a feast ready. We’re going to celebrate. My son was lost and is now found!’ (Luke 15:18-24).
That story has happened in real life many times. I read of a man who had committed a crime for which he was deeply ashamed. When he’d served his prison sentence and was about to be released he wondered if his family would reject him because of the scandal he’d caused and the shame brought on the family. He wrote his parents saying that he would be coming back by bus but didn’t want to embarrass them with his presence if they didn’t want him back. He asked them to tie a yellow ribbon on the old oak tree at the beginning of their street if it was all right for him to return home. If there was no ribbon on the tree when the bus passed he wouldn’t get off the bus.
He was in quite a state on the bus journey and as it got nearer his street he couldn’t bear to look at the tree. He was so emotional that he asked the driver to look at for him. He needn’t have worried. The tree was covered with yellow ribbons! The whole community joined his parents in welcoming him back.
There’s a famous American song written about this story: ’Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree’. Here’s just a few lines:
’I’m coming home I’ve done my time
And I have to know what is or isn’t mine.
If you received my letter telling you I’d soon be free
Then you’d know what to do if you still want me.
O tie a yellow ribbon ’round the old oak tree
It’s been three long years - do you still want me?
A simple yellow ribbon’s all I need to set me free
If I don’t see a yellow ribbon ... I’ll stay on the bus, forget about us
Now the whole bus is cheering and I can’t believe I see
A hundred yellow ribbons ’round the old, the old oak tree.’
(Russell Brown/Irwin Levine)
The man was forgiven and welcomed back into his family. And that’s what God does to anyone who comes to Him and asks to be forgiven. He doesn’t show us a yellow ribbon but the Cross of Jesus as His sign of forgiveness and acceptance.