Luke 15:20-31

Little children are usually proud of their parents. Mommy is the most beautiful person in the world and Daddy is the strongest. It is not uncommon for youngsters to brag, “My Daddy can beat up your Daddy.” (One boy responded, “That’s nothin’; so can my Mom.”)

Tragically, the respect often turns to resentment, as time tells the children their parents are not the perfect people they were supposed to be.
In fact, their human flaws have inflicted hurts that make many growing children wonder: Does my father love me? Am I worth caring for? Will people accept me?
The saddest aspect of this process is that it usually changes our picture of God. The fatherhood of God comes to us as one of the tenderest truths of scripture. He is portrayed by Jesus as the kindest of fathers, always available, accepting us even when we have failed Him, and giving us good gifts because He loves us. And yet how many experience that Father? Many believe in a God who is hard to please, stingy, slightly on the grouchy side, and with a good memory for failures.
Jesus told a parable about two sons, a prodigal and his older brother. They viewed their father differently, and it affected what they received from him. The way you see God will determine what you ask from Him and what you eventually become. We become like the God we worship. If your Heavenly Father is caring, forgiving and faithful to His promises, you will grow into that image. If, however, your God is moody, difficult to get along with and unfair, you will probably be the same way.
I often ask two things of people in counseling: “Tell me about your father;” and “What is your God like?” Many Christians who have sung, “Yes, Jesus loves me … the Bible tells me so,” do not really believe it, because their experience does not tell them so. But thank God, Jesus can heal the sorrows that life has dealt us so that we can learn from the hardships and not grow bitter.
The Bible says of God, “He heals the broken-hearted; He binds up their wounds.” Jesus can reveal to you what the Father is truly like, so that you can experience His care firsthand. “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the father, he has made him known” (John 1:18). Are you seeing God through glasses fogged up by life’s hurts? What is your Father like?
Is Your Father Accepting?
A boy who had received mostly C’s on his report card was challenged by his father, “You could be getting B’s.” He worked hard — and did. He showed his father the improvement, and his Dad said, “You should be getting As.” Dejected but determined, the lad went to work to please the one man from whom he needed love the most. How proud he was when he was able to bring home a report card with almost all As. When his father saw it he said, “You probably have easy teachers.”
Many adults are still trying to prove to “Daddy” that they are worth accepting. They have lived under perfectionistic demands so long that they never quite feel they can put it all together. If they do, they turn around and fail quickly, knowing they do not deserve success.
Whatever rejection you have received from family or friends, know that your Father in heaven receives you just as you are. Think of yourself at your worst. Are you any worse off than the prodigal son who wanted what the father had to give without the father? He had squandered his father’s gifts and shamed his name. Yet he was never rejected. When he returned home he was welcomed not with rebuke but with rejoicing.
God found you before you found Him. He adopted you because He wanted to pour out His love upon you. John writes, “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God. And so we are” (1 John 3:1).
Is Your Father Available?
My son recently came to me saying, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” I replied, “Andrew, you don’t have to say it three times. Once is enough.” Maybe it wasn’t. Sometimes we parents are so preoccupied with “more important” matters that we fail to hear requests of the little people. How often do they get a busy signal when they “call us up”?
Dads are frequently lousy listeners. One father had retreated to the fortress of his study with the clear instructions to family members: “Do not disturb.” A toddler who was hungry for some attention pounded on the door and announced, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, let me in.”
We need not pound to get God’s attention. Scripture portrays God as a Father Who loves to spend time with His children. He jealously watches over us like a young parent staring into the crib of an infant. God never sleeps; He never takes His eyes off you. He waits for you much more than you wait for Him.
The psalmist marveled at how much God had him on His mind. To count His thoughts would be like counting sand. Then as if to glory in God’s around-the-clock schedule he adds, “When I awake, I am still with thee.”
When the prodigal finally decided to return home, “while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion” (Luke 15:20). He must have been watching every day, never losing hope, waiting for the beloved son to come back. “He who comes to me,” said Jesus, “I will certainly not cast out” (John 5:37). The Father has no more important matter in the universe than to be with you.
Is Your Father Caring?
There is a girl walking the streets of Hollywood today whose father shoved her out at fourteen because she got into trouble. There are countless brokenhearted juveniles who were not understood, cared for, listened to. They now hate their fathers and they hate themselves. They have stooped to prostitution, drugs, and stealing cars in hope of finding an instant of pleasure in an otherwise painful existence.
The Father-heart of God is crushed by these candidates for eternity, created in His image, who have no idea that He is at all interested. His name is slandered by the father who returns home to find that his son forgot to feed the dogs. He is whipped mercilessly, and decides not to love his dad anymore. How many children cry behind closed doors, all alone in a crowded house, then just as alone on the streets where they flee for a little relief?
A father wants his daughter who is pulling A’s at a prestigious eastern university to go to law school at Harvard. She feels a call to the mission field but does not want to disappoint her father. He has his own image of what his daughter will be, not necessarily God’s idea of what He wants her to be. His demanding ways are making a nervous wreck out of his child.
The father of the prodigal had welcomed him even before he got near the house. “While he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The Greek word is the deepest word for human emotion. Greeks would not use it for gods because they thought it showed weakness to be so involved in the life of another. The gods were a-pathetic (“without feeling”) rather than sympathetic (“with feeling”).
Not so our Heavenly Father. He does not look for opportunities to get even; He looks for ways to show His mercy. Like every tender earthly father, He would rather suffer than see us suffer. That is why He sent His only Son to the cross. Isaiah writes, “In all their affliction he was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9).
The treatment the prodigal received away from home is summed up in the five words, “No one gave him anything.” How many are silently suffering with the same testimony. They did not receive what they expected–pleasure, and they got what they didn’t expect–rejection. Maybe that is your story. Turn to a merciful Father. He cares about you.
Is Your Father Forgiving?
I have talked with people whose parents seem to keep a mental tally of all their children’s grievances. Whether or not they are trying consciously to even the score, they are at least saying, “I cannot forget what you did to me.”
Perhaps the prodigal expected that from his father. He was prepared to work as a hired servant. He knew he had wasted the generous inheritance.
He probably did not anticipate the shower of gifts he received at his homecoming. As the days moved on, he might have wondered, “When is he going to come down on me? I certainly deserve it. At least he will give me a good talking to.” He was amazed to find instead the consistent compassion of a forgiving father.
The apostle said, “Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.” It doesn’t make sense. How can you just forgive someone who has disgraced you and the family, left irresponsibly, not doing his share of the work? If you have trouble with that, so did the elder brother. He had to take up the slack. He was hard-working, and was not about to let this incident go by without comment, much less to celebrate his return.
Is that the kind of reception you expect from the Father when you come back after backsliding? Are you still waiting for Him to drop the bomb? Are you interpreting the hardships of life as His way of getting even with you for disobeying Him, for getting the abortion no one else knows about, for being unfaithful to your wife, for living recklessly, for making some bad decisions, for neglecting your children?
Hear then the words of the New Covenant that trumpet forth the truth from the Father, “I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more.”
Abraham Lincoln was asked how he would treat the Southerners after the Civil War. He replied, “As if they had never left.” God treats repentant sinners as if they had never left. Is that the God you worship? Is your Father forgiving?
Is Your Father Generous?
I once had a friend who was not close to his father. Both had disappointed the other and found it hard to be reconciled and express genuine love. This boy found it hard to receive the blessings of God unconditionally. He expected God to pull the rug out from under his secure and happy life. He knew he did not deserve the kindness God was showing him.
The prodigal left home because he wanted more than what he thought he could find at home. On returning he received all those things he failed to get in the world. He had barely started into the confession when his father interrupted by saying to the servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry” (Isaiah 15:23).
The son had acted foolishly with the inheritance. He deserved nothing. His father, however, had the heart of a father. The son had known him as a generous man. Not only had he been willing to divide the property before he was obligated to do so, but he always cared for his family and employees generously. In the words of the son, “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare …” (Luke 15:17).
The elder brother seemed to know a different father. He spoke bitterly, “These many years I have served you … yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends” (Luke 15:29). The man he worked for was a hard-driving boss, not a father. He would pay you your wages, but nothing more. He would give you only what you deserved. Those living under the law get the same treatment. There’s no extravagance, no budging with the law.
Unfortunately, God has a way of blessing the wrong people, just like the prodigal’s father: “When this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots (in other words, “he doesn’t deserve a penny”), you killed for him the fatted calf!” (Luke 15:30). The father’s reply again shows his generous heart. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31).
Jesus declared, “It is the father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32). He said, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the father give good gifts to those who ask” (Matthew 7:11). Does your heavenly Father like to pour it on? The psalmist says, “Blessed be God who daily loadeth us with blessings” (Psalms 68:19). Are you laden down by the generosity of your Father?
In the words of the hymn writer, “His grace has no limits; His love has no measures, His power has no boundaries known unto men. For out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth and giveth and giveth again.”
I grew up in a large family. My father as a pastor did not have a big salary, yet we children never felt poor. When I came home from college he would ask me, “Do you need anything? Clothes–a new suit? He was far more interested in giving than I was in receiving. He had the heart of a father. So does God. “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights …” (James 1:17).
Expect Him to give, not because you deserve it but because you are His child. If you have received Jesus by faith so that you have become the child of God, believe that the Father of Jesus, your Father, is generous with His children.
Is Your Father Happy?
Some fathers rule the home by their moods. Children tiptoe into the kitchen and ask Mother, “Is Dad in a bad mood?” They know that if he is, they had better not bug him. One lady was asked, “Do you wake up grouchy in the morning?” She answered, “No, I usually let him sleep.”
When the prodigal returned the father said, “Let us eat and make merry” (Luke 15:23). It was time to celebrate.
Jesus had just told the Pharisees in the two previous parables that heaven rejoices when sinners come home. It is godly to celebrate because it is like God. The prophet Zephaniah writes of the Lord, “He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will renew you in His love; He will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival” (Zephaniah 3:17).
God smiles down upon His children like a proud father with his own. He sent His Son to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:2). He wants happy children who know how to rejoice like their Father.
The elder son was uncomfortable with the father’s merriment. Life was too serious. There was work to be done. The son did not deserve such revelry. How compassionate the father was to go to his angry son who refused to join the party inside. How patient was his response, “It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
Ecclesiastes says, “There is … a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). God always knows what time it is. May we see Him not as a grouchy old man who gains sadistic satisfaction by keeping us from joy, but as an eternally happy Father who loves to rejoice with His children.
If your God is a grouch–so are you. If your God is a cheerful, loving Father–that is just what He is making you into.
Is Your Father Sovereign?
A teenage boy lives with his grandmother because the parents are separated and the mother can’t afford to keep him. His Mom promises to take him shopping on Saturday. He waits — and she never comes, and never calls. A week later she says casually, “Oh, something came up last Saturday. Maybe we can go next weekend.” She doesn’t realize that she is building patterns of distrust in a boy who wants to love someone who keeps promises. He is finally let down so many times that he no longer expects her, or anyone else, to do what they say. He gives up on life ever being anything but one big disappointment.
From the time he was young he has been wounded, shoved from here to there, misused, abused, forgotten, neglected. That becomes his life story. When you tell him that God cares he shouts back, “Prove it. I don’t see a lot of love.”
A book called When Bad Things Happen to Good People quickly became a bestseller. It struggles with the question of suffering. It proposes a solution popular in what is called process theology: that God cares for hurting people, but doesn’t have as much power as we thought He had. He is more a part of the process than just a part of the solution. In some situations, His hands are simply tied. He would do more if He could.
The Bible, however, describes a God Who reverses impossible situations. Because He sits on the throne and always has, He is able to do with our lives what no one else can. He can take the rubble of the prodigal and put it together into a meaningful whole. He can mend shattered lives. He can give those who mourn a mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
He is faithful to the thousandth generation. He has never broken a single promise. He saw you when you took your first steps. He heard your first word. He was there when you were so fearful you thought your heart would stop. He was loving you–silently. He waits for you to acknowledge His love so that He can prove it to you.
Jesus startled the disciples by talking about God as His Father. No pious Jew would presume such a relationship. And yet when they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He instructed them to say, “Our Father ….” Paul writes that once-estranged people, adopted by God, learn a new word when the Spirit comes into them–Father!
Will you abandon all the pictures of God that have been formed out of your own hurt or rebellion? Have you turned His love into demand? Have you been unsure of His care? Are you still trying to be accepted? Do nagging guilt feelings still leave you lonely and distant from Him? Do you continue to think He is getting even with you?
Will you believe that the Father of Jesus Christ can be and is your Father, too? Will you trust in Him Who sits on the throne to masterfully weave your life into a pattern of beauty–even now? Will you come back? He waits to love you.

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