Summary: Behold the Father’s Love 1) For the obvious sinner 2) For the oblivious sinner
Do your parents have favourites? Do they love your older or younger sibling more than you? It feels that way some times doesn’t it? Especially when your parents let your older sibling do more things than you, or let the younger ones get away with things they never let you get away with.
How about our heavenly Father, does he have favourites? The Pharisees certainly thought so. That’s why they scoffed when Jesus ate with tax collectors and other people the Pharisees considered to be “sinners”. They figured that if Jesus really was the Son of God, he would know not to spend time with such sinful people. After all God didn’t care for people who had rejected him did he? Instead didn’t he love those who faithfully served him and kept his laws as the Pharisees thought they had done? The truth is our heavenly Father does not have favourites. He loves both obvious and oblivious sinners and desperately wants both to repent. Jesus made that clear through the Parable of the Prodigal Son - a parable that helps us behold the Father’s love for all sinners.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is really quite simple. There was a father who had two sons. The younger one didn’t like living at home and made his feelings clear by demanding part of the inheritance immediately (as if this was something his father owed him). The son might as well have said, “Dad, I wish you would just die.” In spite of his son’s poor attitude, the father gave him part of the inheritance, and with this newfound wealth the son ran away. “The farther the better” he must have thought, “that way I can live how I want and not the way dad has ‘made’ me live all these years.” That of course translated into wild living.
It’s not difficult to see how the younger son in the parable represented the tax collectors and other obvious sinners with whom Jesus was spending so much time. Just as the younger son couldn’t wait to get out of his father’s house and live life on his terms, so the tax collectors had abandoned the commandments they learned as children and took advantage of their neighbours by charging more tax than was necessary. Having the extra cash on hand often led the tax collectors into a life of overindulgence. For these reasons the tax collectors were reviled by the common people and considered to be among the worst sinners in society.
The first few months away from home may have been exciting ones for the runaway son but he soon found out that the pleasures of this world don’t last forever. He first ran out of money and then the country where he was living was hit with a famine. The young man tried to find work but this apparently didn’t go so well because he had to beg for a job and was only reluctantly given the task of feeding pigs. Think of how shameful that must have been for a Jewish boy. It was bad enough that he had to beg a gentile (a non-Jew) for work but even worse to be sent to handle pigs – animals that were unclean for the Jews! Still, the young man hadn’t hit rock bottom yet. Apparently the pay was so horrible that the young man was hungry enough to want to fill his stomach with the slop that was being fed to the pigs, but he was denied even that! Do you see Jesus’ point regarding sin? While running away from God’s commands to live life on our terms may seem like the fun thing to do, in the end sin can only make us a friend of swine.
As the son thought about his predicament he came to his senses. He realized that running away from his father’s house had been an insane thing to do! He also believed that if he went back to his father, he would find a better life again. Even though he had forfeited his right to be treated like a son, wouldn’t his father at least receive him back as a servant? The son then started for home intent on making this confession: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men” (Luke 15:18b, 19).
With a few short sentences Jesus helps us understand the nature of repentance. Repentance is not feeling sorry for yourself because of what your sin has done to you; it’s being sorry that you have disobeyed God. A repentant person also knows that he has no one but himself to blame for his sin. The younger son did not say it was his father’s fault for being “too oppressive” that he had run away. Nor did he blame society for making him believe that a better life could be had away from rules and morality. He blamed himself. A repentant person also knows that he cannot go on living in sin. The son’s plan was not to call up his father, make his confession, and then ask his father to wire him some money so he could keep partying. No, he left behind that life-style when he set out for his father’s house.