At MCM we meet a lot of homeless or destitute people. Many started out on what they thought was an adventure into the world feeling invincible and full of hope, only to find that things are a lot harder than they expected.
So many remind me of perhaps the most famous destitute person in the New Testament – the Prodigal Son. You can read his story for yourself in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 15, verses 11 to 32.
We might be so familiar with the story that we fail to appreciate just how badly the younger son had behaved. For one, he was effectively guilty of wishing his father dead. Under normal circumstances, he would have had to wait until his father had died before receiving his inheritance, but not him. His impatience led him to dishonour his father in a most callous way.
He then went on to waste everything he had obtained in what must have been a fairly short time. The text says he squandered it in reckless living. Most of us who are reading this have worked hard for what we have. Imagine how grieved we would be if we saw our kids throwing away what we had laboured so hard and so long to obtain or develop. Finally, we are told that he wasted his inheritance on prostitutes. Our culture prides itself on it’s liberal stance on sexual matters, but even today, such behaviour finds its way into our Sunday papers and gossip columns.
Even if we don’t find the fathers’s compassion towards his son surprising, surely the immediacy of the restoration should raise our eyebrows a little. I suppose we might have expected that this lad to do time that fitted his crime. Surely some probation period might seem wise, but no. Immediate restoration was what he received.
There is much encouragement for those who from time to time back slide, or slip quietly into temptation. The truly penitent are immediately restored. Outrageous, but wonderful!
The true depth of God’s outrageous grace if revealed when we think about the gifts bestowed upon the prodigal.
The first act of the Father was to call for the best robe. The best robe had significance since it suggested favour, and honour bestowed upon the wearer. Think of Joseph and his coat of many colours. Think also of the robe of righteousness given to those who have received forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ.
The father also called for a ring to be put on his finger. This was not just a bit of first century bling. The ring denotes authority, the power to make decisions and to see them carried out. This ring sets the wearers out as a representative of the father himself. Shocking isn’t it to think that this level of responsibility was being placed on the shoulders of one who had acted so foolishly with his inheritance, yet we are told in 1Cor. 13 that love always trusts. There was something in the contrite attitude of this boy that showed that he had learned his lesson.
As believers we carry the very authority of the risen Christ. Everything we do, we are to do in his name and for his glory. We might expect that this authority be stripped from us should we fail, but once our sin has been confessed, we are restored fully. The ring is placed on our finger immediately! Truly outrageous stuff.
Then the sandals were placed on his feet. Only children of the family wore sandals. Servants or slaves went about barefoot. This was total restoration to sonship. The prodigal did not feel worthy to be called a son. He would have been delighted to just have been given a chance to earn his keep, but no. Sonship fully restored. The elder son hadn’t got it. He was a son with a servant/slave mentality that thought that love and acceptance could and should be earned by hard work. Grace didn’t come into his thinking. The way he starts his argument is telling “Look, these many years I have served you…” This stay at home backslider can only see his brothers return though legalistic, pharisaic eyes. This however, is not about earning anything. Grace not freely given is not grace at all.
The thing that seemed to get the elder brother’s goat (pun intended) was the fact that the prodigals return was celebrated. Some see the fatted calf to be a type of Christ, citing the fact that blood had to be shed for the reconciliation to be effected. Certainly it was an image of celebration. There is joy in heaven over every sinner that repents and by extension, every backslider and prodigal that finds his way home. Legalists may raise their objections, but the love of the father demands celebration there and then.
Such joy may be outrageous, but it also gives us hope.
Those who heard this story for the first time could only have been shocked, maybe outraged that God could be so merciful to sinners. Instant restoration for the truly contrite. Favour and honour restored without delay. Authority restored there and then. Immediate reconciliation and sonship. Let’s celebrate – today! We may find it hard to believe that God does all that for us every time we return to him – we know what we deserve -however let’s let this amazing story broaden our hearts to fully embrace God’s outrageous grace to us.