A Godly Father’s Relationship with His Sons

There are three main characters in the well-known Parable of the Prodigal Son.  First, the prodigal (wasteful) or younger son parallels all broken believers who have retreated from the Father only to return and be well-received by Him.  Second, the Pharisaical son parallels those who claim to be a part of God’s family only to demonstrate self-righteous anger when the Father extends His grace to the undeserving.  Third, the protagonist in this story is the father in my understanding.  He parallels our heavenly Father who demonstrates how all who turn to Him receive undeserved forgiveness and love.  The younger brother is undeserving, but so is the older brother.  This is the parable in a nutshell.

Of course, we may learn from all three perspectives in the parable.  First, we direct ourselves to the lesson of the prodigal son.

The Perspective of the Prodigal Son

Retreat

The perspective of the younger son’s retreat is the most common focus when approaching this parable.  Most are able to relate to it.  Certainly the tax-collectors and sinners related to the younger son.  His retreat begins at a point in his life where he has everything; it ends when no one gives him anything – no food, no relief, not gratitude, no compassion …nothing!

If our children depart from the presence of God to do life their own way, they do so because of a perception that they are not free but long to be so.  They wish to cast off the restraint of parental and pastoral authority and do their own thing.  They increasingly take for granted the grace, mercy, and compassion that God affords them.  They will direct their energies, time, money, and abilities to sinful, wasteful living.  They may not sin to the extent of the prodigal son, but they operate under his perspective of life.

Time reveals to the true child of God the same acute disappointment that the prodigal son experienced.  God loves us too much to allow us to retreat from Him.  He will do what is necessary to break our resolve to do our own thing in life.  No one can return to God until they realize just how empty life is without Him.  As parents, that leaves us dependent upon our heavenly Father to deliver our retreating children.

Return

The prodigal son was not a reasonable man when he was running away from such a compassionate dad.  Sin is never reasonable.  But the Bible does say that at last this man came to himself.  He begins to think of his father’s house.  There are steps he takes which lead to his return.  First, he reflects upon how foolishly he has behaved and upon the much more satisfying life he could have with his father – even as servant!  Second, he resolves to return to his father for forgiveness; however, in so doing he finds freedom under the father’s restraint and authority.  Go figure!  His resolve to return came at a time when all hope was lost for him.

When we see how foolishly and wickedly we behave as backslidden believers …how wretched and deplorable the circumstance of our sin is, it makes us long for a time when life was once satisfying.  We come broken and contrite.  We are humbled by our illusory attempt at freedom.  We are now ready to return to the throne of God’s grace for freedom.  There we ask for mercy.  The props are kicked out from underneath us.  We’ve come to the end of ourselves.  We see that there is only satisfaction in an all-sufficient Savior who has given us His all-sufficient Word.  So, we return.

Reception

When the prodigal son returns, his father is waiting and watching.  He runs to his son with open arms and recognizes him from afar.  A father’s compassion knows no bounds.  I speak as one who knows.  It will be demonstrated by his actions.  He doesn’t even allow his son to say what he has rehearsed.  Signs of lavish affection are abundant in the story.  When we are really meditating upon this story, we cannot help but be moved to tears.  The best robe, shoes, a ring, the fatted calf – indeed, all is well!

We find the same reception when we return to God.  We don’t deserve it because of our initial retreat.  And yet, our Father receives us with joy.  There is no “I told you so” attitude here.  There is only love, mercy, and compassion.  There is only forgiveness for the broken and contrite son.

If we are to expect such a reception, then we must return broken and contrite before the Lord.  We must cry out for His mercy as miserable prodigals.  The more accurate our perception of our broken relationship, the greater the joy when we understand the acceptability we have before the Father because of the Son of God.

You may be afraid to return to God because you’ve retreated a great distance.  But no child of God is beyond the reach of the reception we see in Luke 15.  As a matter of fact, how much better it is to realize that we have retreated and then return to the Father.  Then, we too, may experience a lavish reception.  But why does a long period of time need to pass?  I have retreated and returned in a space of five minutes.  Are you actually trying to pay for your sinfulness by remaining in the wilderness?  Didn’t Jesus pay it all?  He has said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7.37) … “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11.28).

Casting the First Stone

All of us have a common problem.  Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked.  So much so, that it is not possible for us to know this fact apart from the grace of God.  But there are times during our lives when we clearly find out how sinful we actually are.  We do or say something that we never thought we would.

Some people are fairly open about their rebellion.  Others are hypocritical.  They are pretenders.  Everything looks and sounds right on the outside, but inside these people are very sinful.  Jesus was confronting religious pretenders in John 8.  They thought they were holy, righteous men and acted that part.  They memorized the Word of God.  They kept the Law of God.  They claimed to fear God.  They thought they were doing the will of God.  However, they were going to murder Jesus Christ.

These men didn’t love God or His Word …not really.  They didn’t fear God or honor Him with their lives.  They didn’t even have righteous indignation against the sin of adultery.  They were not living by the grace of God.  They were fueled by their mutual disgust and hatred for Jesus Christ.  So they set a trap for Savior.

Setting the Trap

“…The scribes and Pharisees brought to [Jesus] a woman caught in adultery” (8.3).  Adultery is a very terrible sin.  The most terrible part of adultery is that the person who commits this sin is unfaithful to the one person in all the world they promised faithfulness.  So this woman was a very wicked woman.  There was no doubt that she had not been caring, loving, or faithful when it came to her husband.  She was guilty and according to God’s Law, she should be stoned to death for her sin.

What could Jesus do in this situation?  If He condemned this woman, what of His message of grace, forgiveness, and compassion?  If He told them to let the woman go, what of the Law, justice, and righteousness of God?  The scribes and Pharisees thought they had Jesus trapped.  They were trying to make Him look bad.  How will Jesus respond?

First, Jesus did say anything.  He crouched down and began to write on the ground.  We don’t know what Jesus wrote or even why He was writing.  The Bible says that the religious leaders continued pressing Jesus for an answer.  They just kept on asking Him what should be done about the woman as He wrote on the ground.

Second, Jesus “raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (8.7).  Then, He stooped again and wrote on the ground.  This time the men “who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one” (8.9).  The people who witnessed this woman’s sin had to throw the first stones at her execution according to the Law.  So, Jesus asked the men to throw stones.  But only if they are without sin.  Jesus was not saying that people need to be perfect in order to carry out the written laws of man or even God.  However, that’s not the point.

Third, what Jesus was saying is that these religious leaders were pretenders …hypocrites.  They pretended to hate this woman’s sin while committing great and evil sin themselves.  Jesus stooped the second time to write only after He pointed out the hypocrisy of these men.  He wanted His Words to settle into their hearts …to convince them of their sin …to show them they were wrecked and ruined on the inside.

I believe these men were given a glimpse of how sinful they actually were.  In this moment of time God showed them that they themselves stood condemned.  The men were consumed with the fear of God’s judgment and the exposure of their own secret sin before all the world.  Perhaps they glimpsed their murderous hearts and so they withdrew from the situation horrified by what they saw on the inside of themselves.  “One by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last” (8.9) they went away.

It’s not that these men were themselves guilty of adultery.  That’s not the point of the passage.  They were guilty of murderous intent and religious hypocrisy.  They felt the shame of it.  They had their own burden of sin.  They couldn’t carry through with this woman’s deserved sentence because they deserved the same and in that moment they saw it.  These men fell into the pit that they had dug for the Lord Jesus.

Forgiving the Sinner

It’s interesting to think about what Jesus doesn’t say or do when these men all leave.  He doesn’t give any inclination of self-exultation.  He doesn’t focus on His victory over these supplanters.  Instead, He asks the women where they were now.  They all went away.  They all found the idea of accusing this woman untenable.  So, Jesus told the woman to go as well.

First, He asked the woman, “Has no one condemned you” (8.10)?  When she says that no one has, Jesus responds, “Neither do I condemn you; go…” (8.11).  Jesus said to Nicodemus that His Father “did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3.17).  He was telling the woman to go and use the rest of her life in the pursuit of righteousness in the presence of God.  The mercy shown her must be an opportunity for repentance and forgiveness.  Jesus came into the world to seek and save those who are lost.

But Jesus also commanded the woman, “Sin no more” (8.11).  Grace always teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lust.  No true believer takes sin lightly.  When God treats us with the grace and mercy that we don’t deserve, our gratitude drives our pursuit of holiness.  We become aware of our suicidal path toward self-destruction.  The hope of grace encourages the soul.  God alone keeps us from falling in order to one day present us faultless before the His presence in glory with exceeding joy.

Do not congratulate yourself.  Do not become satisfied with your own righteousness.  Do not applaud your morality.  Godly men and women abhor themselves.  They repent with godly sorrow.  They learn to loathe the self-righteousness within them.

But self-condemnation is brutal too.  Jesus Christ has forgiven sinners because of His great grace and marvelous mercy.  If He will not condemn you, why do you condemn yourself?  “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Timothy 1.15-16).

If you have experienced grace and mercy, go and sin no more.  You have not done what God requires of you just because you no longer commit the heinous sins you used to commit.  Pride, self-righteousness, and complacency are evils as well.  Depend upon the grace of God to carry you further than you’ve ever been today!  May God take away our penchant for worldliness and transform our lives into the likeness of His holy Son.  When this happens, all glory belongs to Him!