Coming Home (Luke 15:20-24)
How does God react if you come to Him or come back to Him? Tension fills the moment we return to someone from whom we have been alienated. Will he rebuke me, insult me, give me the cold shoulder, act indifferently or welcome me? How the Father receives us back is the heart of this parable. The Lord Jesus longed for us to believe that God is really like the father in this story. The very moment you make a real, actual, decisive move toward the Father, He has already received you back. Because it is a story, the parable presents in stages what actually happens in an instant.
The Lord Jesus presents God as even better than the best human father. This story answers two abiding questions about God.
How Does God Receive Us When We Come Back?
The Father actually watches for us to return. God's attitude toward us when we are away is not one of passivity. He does not respond with contempt or indifference. The emphatic word is that the Father "saw" (v. 20) the son at a distance. Both love and fear sharpen the eyesight. The father had been looking. This is the truth of the other two parables in this chapter. This father seeks like a shepherd (v. 4) or like a woman who lost a coin from her wedding jewelry (v. 7). Whether it is one sheep out of a hundred, one coin out of ten, or one son out of two, the father seeks. The most basic thing to be said about the Father is that He looks and longs for you to come back.
The Father feels deeply when we return. This father was moved with compassion, pity, and his heart went out to meet his son. The word itself refers to the moving of the viscera, the internal organs. The father felt for the son so deeply that it moved his very physical frame. This is the same thing said of Jesus in the face of human grief and loss (7:13). The father felt this before a word was even said by the son. God does not wait for our speeches before He loves us. While we were still sinners He acted in love toward us (Rom. 5:8). Before you were ever born, knowing that you would rebel, God nevertheless sent His Son for you. His compassion runs before you. For an aged Oriental man to run was incredible—it was considered beneath his dignity. This presents the depth of the Father's compassion.
The father receives tenderly when we return. The father kissed him tenderly or covered his face with kisses. Even more than in our world this was a sign of forgiveness and restoration to relationship. After Absalom had rebelled against David his father received him back this way (2 Sam. 14:33). God wants to demonstrate outwardly and obviously His tender reception when we return to Him.
The father does all of this before the son says a word. This means that there is nothing in God that should cause us to hesitate in coming back. There is no grounds for reluctance regardless of what you have done or how long you have been gone.
How Does God Treat Us After We Come Back?
God reacts with eagerness when we come back. The word "quickly" should not be ignored. The father does not even let the son repeat his memorized and rehearsed speech. God does not investigate or humiliate when we return. He interrupts the carefully crafted speech of the son with showers of honor and festivity. What God does for us He does quickly.
God reacts with generosity when we return. None of the things done for the son was in the order of a necessity. He could have come back on probation. He could have been received with reserve and coldness. He could have been welcomed with a sedate, private ceremony. But the Father gives more than enough. Salvation is more than mere pardon and an embarrassed reception back into the family. It is justification, sanctification, adoption, responsibility in the church, resurrection, and glorification. God does more than the necessary when He saves.
God reacts with dignity when we return. The son received a long, stately robe worn by nobles on state occasions. God honors us with the best when we return. We have "put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27, KJV). In spite of how we may actually be, God has covered our garments from the swine pen with dignity (Zech. 3:3-5). God shares with us His authority when we return. The signet ring indicated a person of authority and standing in a king's house. God does not merely tolerate us as a slave; He gives us the dignity of authority in His house and family. Shoes were the mark of a son, not a slave. Further, shoes could be worn in the house only by the master of the house. They symbolize possession and freedom. Far from holding us in contempt, God floods us with the tokens of adoption into His family, dignity in His household, and responsibility in His kingdom.
God reacts with celebration when we return. In all the universe, what moves heaven with hilarity? When we come back to God, heaven celebrates. There was only one fatted calf and it was reserved for the most special occasion. Nothing moves heaven like one away from the Father who comes back. What greater contrast could there be than that between the naked son longing for the carob pods of the swine and the honored son feasting with the father in the family home?
If you are away from God, this is what He desires to do for you. There is nothing in Him but a welcome when you return. Why not accept the invitation to start the celebration this very moment?