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I have experienced evil spirits many times but this time it was different. My husband was away on a business trip and I was at home with my daughter who was 1½ then and my grandfather who lived with us. My grandfather was fast asleep in his room and my daughter was sleeping with me in our bed. This time the evil spirits were making noise in the room, and I felt the spirits were getting closer and closer to us. I was terrified and did not know what to do. I wanted to protect my lttle girl but was not sure how. A few years before this incident my husband and I went to the Philippines. At that time my sister-in-law owned a Christian bookstore. Although I did not believe in God then, I wanted to give her some business, so I bought some books, including a Bible. That night, God reminded me of the Bible, which for whatever reason was in the drawer of my night stand. I took the Bible, opened it and there it was the story of the Prodigal Son. As I started to read the story out loud, I could feel that the evil spirits stopped moving towards us and the noise was decreasing. Below the Prodigal Son’s story was a prayer to repent for our sins and to accept Jesus as our Savior. I knelt beside my bed while my daughter was sleeping peacefully and read the prayer aloud. As I was reading, I was sobbing and shaking while tears were rolling down my cheeks and the room got quieter and quieter. By the time I finished praying, the room was quiet and peaceful and the evil spirits were gone.
God in His ultimate power and love used His Word to redeem me from darkness. God loved me and sought me even when I wanted nothing to do with Him. Therefore, the parable of the Prodigal Son has a very special meaning to me. More importantly it shows that God is love. Today we will focus on the father and his relationship with his two sons. Let us look at the circumstances of this parable.
Chapter 15 starts with Jesus being surrounded by tax collectors and ‘sinners’. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were indignant with Jesus. They complained that Jesus welcomes sinners and He even eats with them. Jesus knowing this told them 3 parables. The first parable was about the lost sheep. Jesus said that if anyone has 100 sheep and looses one, he goes to find that lost sheep. And when he finds the sheep, he rejoices and calls his neighbors and friends to celebrate with him. Then Jesus explains the meaning of the parable, “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (verse 7).
The second parable was about the lost coin. Jesus said that if a woman has 10 silver coins and loses one, she would look for it until she finds it. When she finds it, she rejoices and calls her friends to rejoice with her. Again, Jesus explains the meaning of this parable, “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (verse 10). So we see that both parables have the same meaning, heaven is rejoicing over a sinner’s repentance.
Father’s Love for Younger Son
Jesus continues to tell them the third parable about the lost son. In this parable we know the father has 2 sons. The younger son comes to his father and asks for his inheritance while he is still alive. This was an uncommon practice then and it is still uncommon today. The inheritance is received after the father is dead. By asking his father for his inheritance, he basically says, you are dead to me. I want my part now. Give it to me. Let us think for a moment, if we were in this situation, how would we feel? If our children said these words to us how would we react? Or, if we told these words to our parents, how would they take this kind of demand? From my experience, I do not think that this kind of request will go very far for most of us if not for all of us.
The father surprises us with his response. He complies with his son’s request and divides the property between his sons. The younger brother’s portion was 1/3 of the estate since by law the older brother always got double portion (Deut. 21:17). Soon after the father divides his estate, the younger son gets his portion and leaves for a distant country. Being a parent I can feel the pain of the father. The child wants nothing to do with his father; he left, and the father is not sure if he will see his son again. He lets his son go. I personally do not know any father except one who would have this kind of love; it is our Heavenly Father. God loves His children too much to force them into doing things they do not want to do. If they want nothing to do with Him, God would let them go, He does not force Himself on anyone. What a love!!!
The son gets to a distant land, has fun and squanders all his wealth. When famine comes, he has nothing left and becomes in need himself. He is hired by a Gentile to feed the pigs. From all the jobs this is the dirtiest job he can get because we know that for the Jews the pig is an unclean animal. When he took this job, he abandoned his family, race and religion.
The famine continues. He is feeding the pigs, but he is starving. He would like to eat the food of the pigs, but nobody would allow him to. He is less valuable than a pig to the Gentile who hired him. Only after the younger son hits rock bottom, he comes back to his senses. He is starving to death while his father’s servants live better than him. Many of us in North America do not know what starvation is but if we go to the underdeveloped countries starvation and famine are still real today as it was in this story.
The son makes a decision. He will go home to his father and will say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you” (verse 18). He understands that he is a sinner; he has sinned against God and his father. He is not worthy to be called his son anymore. He lost that privilege when he asked for his inheritance. But now, he is coming back repentant and will ask his father to hire him. As he walks home, all kind of thoughts could have crossed his mind. How will my dad react to me? Will he forgive me? Will he hire me?
Something unexpected happens. While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. So, the father runs to his son, throws his arms around him, and kisses him. In the oriental culture for a father to run would be undignified. Actually, he would humiliate himself by pulling up his long robes and exposing his legs as he runs to greet his son. Noblemen walk slow and not run. But he does not think about humiliation or what people might think. He is too excited to greet his son, to hug him and to love him.
If his son was on a long trip or studied abroad and came back, it is easier for us to understand this kind of reaction. But this son of his wanted nothing to do with his father, spent all his inheritance and his father is running to meet him! It does not make sense from a human’s perspective but it makes sense from God’s. God loves His son and now His son is returning home!
The father tells his servants to bring the best robe and put on him, put on a ring on his finger, put on the sandals on his feet. By these actions, the father reinstates him as his son! The ring is a symbol of authority, and the robe reminds us of Isaiah 61:10 where it talks about God putting on us the garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness. The love of the father does not stop here by reinstating him as his son. It is time to celebrate and have a feast. His beloved son is back; let us have a party!
The father tells his servants to kill the fattened calf that was reared for special celebrations. Meat was not part of their daily diet. So the killed animal has to be eaten in a short period since it can spoil. There was no refrigeration then. It means the father is celebrating not only with his family. He is inviting many people to celebrate this joyful occasion. He says in verse 24 “for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” This verse connects us back to the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin where Jesus says there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. This younger son, the sinner, has repented and the father accepted him in His loving arms. Heaven is rejoicing, the younger son is found; he is alive!
What a beautiful picture of God’s love for us. When we come to God repentant, He rejoices, and accepts us just as we are. Our past does not matter, it is not important how sinful we were, all our sins are washed away! We are forgiven and we are reinstated as God’s sons and daughters. What a lovely image!!! I could stop right here with this good news and celebration, with this un-judgmental beautiful love that God has for us.
Father’s Love for Older Son
However, this is not the end of the parable. The older brother comes into the picture. He worked all day in the fields and now he is walking home probably tired and hungry. As he is near his home, there is music and dancing. What is going on? So he asks his servant and the servant tells him that his younger brother came back and his father has killed the fattened calf to celebrate his younger son’s safe return home.
Let us put ourselves in the older son’s shoes; how would we react to this news? Would we be excited and run into the house to celebrate with others? Would we be disappointed that we were not called from the field earlier to partake in this feast? Or would we be upset about it? The older brother is angry, enraged and refuses to go in. But the father comes out and pleads with his son. The father loves this son the same way he loves the younger one. He ignores his position and dignity and pleads for him to come in. Actually, the older son’s refusal to join the party dishonors his father similarly to his brother’s premature demand of inheritance.
The older son instead of obeying his father and going inside the house to be part of the celebration, gives him a piece of his mind. He says to his father: I slaved all these years for you, I never disobeyed your orders but you never killed even a young goat for me. Now this son of yours returns who squandered all inheritance with prostitutes, you kill a fattened half for him. That is so unfair!
I do not know about you, but I can see myself thinking this way or even saying similar words. I can understand how he feels because we live in this world where we are judged or loved by the things we do. When we meet new people, one of the first questions they ask us: “What do you do?” As we see, the older son is also telling his father, I have been doing what you asked me to do, I obeyed you, I deserve more. This is a human reaction but that is not the case with God. God’s love is a steadfast love and our deeds do not determine God’s love towards us.
The father responds to his older son with love and kindness as he did to his younger son. He reaffirms his affection to his older son by addressing him tenderly “my son”, “my child”; “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” These tender words show that the father loves him very much. Then the father says to him, in verse 24, “this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” We do not know how the older son reacted to these words and if he went inside to celebrate or not. However, that is not important. The important part is the reaction of the father to his sons, which reminds us the way God looks at us and the way He loves us.
God’s Love for Us
We see that the father in this parable is not like any earthly father but instead He is our Heavenly Father. He loves both of his sons unconditionally. He loves them in spite of what they did or what they did not do. He loves them because of who they are. They are his sons. Maybe some of us can relate to this story by having wayward children whom we forgave and welcomed them back. Maybe some of us were rebellious children and our parents loved us in spite of our behavior. Whatever our earthly position is, as a parent or as a child, whatever kind of love we have for our children or our parents have for us, it is incomparable to the love that God has for us.
When God looks at us, He loves us as we are. God does not love us with some conditions – I will love you if… if you will be obedient…if you will read your Bible daily…if you will not be hiding and watching things you should not…if you will stop lying…if you will be less judgmental…and the list of the “ifs” can go on. This kind of love is a human love or conditional love. God loves us because of who He is; He is love. If we had to earn God’s love, I will not be surprised if none of us would make to heaven. We have this carnal nature in us and Paul knew this very well. In Romans 7:15 Paul says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” God’s love is based on grace and not on our actions and our behavior. God looks at us with love and compassion even if we do the worst imaginable things. He loves us unconditionally. However, we should never make a mistake that God loves our sins. God is holy and He hates sin but He loves a sinner.
All of us at some point were more like a younger son, a sinner who came to God with a repentant heart. 16 years ago as I knelt at my bed while my daughter was sleeping, I was like the younger son coming to God with a repentant heart. I prayed to God that I am a sinner, I asked Him to receive me as His child and to put His robe of righteousness on me. I know that at that time heaven was rejoicing for I was lost and now I was found, I was dead and now I was alive. All my past and my sins were gone and I became the child of the Most High God! The same happens when anyone repents, heaven rejoices and that person becomes God’s child.
However, many of us today can relate to the older son, who was self-righteous and behaved like a Pharisee or the teacher of the law. He wanted nothing to do with rejoicing over his brother’s salvation or return. In his mind this brother of his deserved punishment and condemnation and not rejoicing. It is very easy to become like a Pharisee, to be legalistic or holier-than-thou. Once we become legalistic, unconditional love does not make sense to us. However, Jesus should be our example of loving others. Jesus left heaven, He lived among us, and He loved people unconditionally with no strings attached.
I would like to challenge us today to look at the sinners with love, the way Jesus did. We do not love the sins they commit but we love them for who they are, for they are created in the image of God. If they repent, we should rejoice with them and celebrate as the Heavenly Father rejoices for them in heaven. Let us remember that God is love and He loves us for who we are and not for what we do although that does not give us a license to sin. We cannot earn God’s love for God is love.
Let me end with 1 John 4:7-12, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” Praise be to God! Amen.