The Response of the Father

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.
—Luke 15:20

The parable of the prodigal son is not so much about the rebellion of the son or even the return of the son as it is about the response of the father.

We see this in Luke 15:20. “But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and he felt compassion for him and he ran and embraced him and kissed him.” Have you ever wondered how the father just happened to be watching at the exact moment his son appeared on the horizon? I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think the inference is that for the weeks, months, perhaps years the son had been away from home, every morning the father got up and thought, Maybe today will be the day. And he would go out on the front porch and spend all day scanning the horizon, hoping against hope that his son would return home. And every night, he went to bed with the same disappointment in his heart, day after day, month after month.

But then on a morning that began just like any other day, the father was standing and scanning the horizon when suddenly he saw a dot. And as that dot got larger and larger, he realized it was his son coming home. When the father saw him, he did something contrary to the culture. A man of dignity would never run, but this man didn’t care. His son was coming home, so he lifted up his long robe and ran as fast as he could to meet him! The Bible says he embraced him and he kissed him.

Now the son begins to give his big speech he had rehearsed. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 21). Then the father cut him off. He didn’t want to hear a speech. All he needed to hear was, “I’m sorry.” That’s all it took. And the father yelled to his servants: “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (vv. 22–23). And they began to celebrate. Was the father angry? No, he had been eagerly waiting for his return. This would have been a great place to end the story, but had Jesus ended the story here, we would have missed the point of the parable. This story is not only about the response of the loving father, but also the reaction of the older brother.

The fourth and final act begins in verse 25. “Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he became angry and was not willing to go in” (vv. 25–28). Remember, Jesus told this story to silence the Pharisees, who criticized Him for receiving sinners. The younger son represents sinners who are being saved, the father represents God, and this older brother represents the Pharisees. Notice that this older son was unwilling to go into his father’s house and enjoy the celebration. This older son, because of his self-righteousness, was just as much outside his father’s house as that younger son had been when he was living in the distant country. Both were outside the father’s house.

The father began pleading with the older son to come in. But the older son complained. “Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him” (vv. 29–30). The older brother reveals his years of obedience to his father were done out of duty rather than love. And notice the contempt he had for his younger brother. He refers to his brother as “this son of yours.”

If we’re honest, we sympathize with the older brother, don’t we? We see ourselves as decent people, faithfully serving God. And sometimes we find it difficult to accept that someone who has lived an immoral life could trust in Jesus and occupy the same heaven we do. That doesn’t seem right. But God is saying whether because of blatant sin or because of subtle self-righteousness, both sons are outside the father’s house.

Notice how the father responds. He says, “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found” (vv. 31–32). Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t tell us how the story ends. We don’t know whether the older brother joined the party or remained outside. It was still an open question when Jesus told this story. Would the Pharisees stay outside of God’s kingdom? Would they hold onto their self-righteousness and refuse to acknowledge they were sinners in need of a Savior? Or would they, like the prodigal, admit their sin and accept the Father’s forgiveness? What would their choice be?

Today’s devotion is excerpted from “The Value of Lost Things” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2008.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.


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