He was brought up with – as they say – a silver spoon in his mouth. His father was a man of great wealth. He had all the privileges for which a young man could ever ask. And his family was a religious one. From his youngest days, he had learned of God, of His love, of His holiness, of His truth, and of His gracious dealings with His people over many generations. He’d been surrounded by God’s care and by God’s rich provision. God had blessed him beyond measure.
But it was the material wealth that captured his heart. He wanted his share of the family inheritance, and he wanted it now. He only had one brother, so the amount of money would be very large. He dreamed of how he could use that money to live in luxury. Those dreams filled his days and his nights.
“Dad, I want to enjoy my inheritance now, while I’m young. Remember, we don’t know what a day may bring forth. I know that inheritance money is mine, even though you’re still alive. So, I want it now. I want to live my own life.”
And his father granted his son’s wish.
The boy left home and moved away where no one knew him. With all of his money, he would start a new life – his own life – in a new country. And he would enjoy it.
The food! The drink! The women! The activities! The fun! He was without a care. He spent, and he spent, and he spent.
Until all of his money was gone.
His new-found country went through hard times. There was less food. There was no money for strong drink. The women had abandoned him. All the fun and games were gone.
He had to hire himself out to someone who could pay him. He became a virtual slave to a citizen of his new country. He had to do menial labor; and the pay was terrible. To top it off, he was feeding pigs. Every day he had to come in contact with the animals his religious instruction had taught him were unclean. Every day his work was a painful reminder of the unclean life he had been buying with his inheritance money. Every day each of his senses – his eyes, his hands, his feet, his ears, and his nose – made his whole body experience physically the things that he had been doing to his soul. And, to add insult to injury, he was hungry. He wouldn’t eat the food given to unclean animals, and no one was compassionate enough to share his food with him. The rich country to which he had come was, really, very, very poor. And it was very, very cruel.
The young man was utterly, completely miserable.
Then, one day, he woke up. “He came to himself”. The lights went on.
He had been receiving reports of things in his father’s country – the country of his birth. Lots of food and good drink there. And healthy pleasures. And happy homes. He had given up real treasures for body and soul, and he had exchanged them for things that were – now that he could see clearly – no different than the rough seed pods – the empty hulls – that he fed to the pigs. In his adopted country he was living in the worst poverty, when – in the home country he had left – there were still true riches.
You can read the rest of the story in the Bible’s book of Luke, chapter 15. It’s the story of how a prodigal son – a person who had been given great privileges – wasted his life, came back to his father’s house, and was joyfully restored. It’s a picture of how God the Father welcomes back those who were brought up in His Church, who strayed away from it (and, in many cases, really messed up their lives), who woke up to what they had done, and who humbly return to their country of birth – heaven, and to its half-way house this side of heaven, the church.
Now I want to emphasize that this joyful restoration is possible because of a Son who did NOT waste his life in a far country. The Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, willingly relinquished the use of His eternal wealth as the second person of the Godhead. He came to the far country of this world, but he NEVER gave himself into its reckless living (or even into its reckless thinking!). He never stained himself by what was unclean. But the people of the far country of this world hated the Son (because he wouldn’t give in to its way of living), rejected him, and crucified him. They did that not knowing that the perfect Son gave himself so that poor prodigal sons (and prodigal daughters) might have a payment for their sins, and have, in Him, a way back to the favor of their offended Father. And he would rise from the dead to prove that His payment had been accepted. Later he would ascend to heaven where He prays and reigns so that prodigal sons and daughters might be brought back to God the Father. And he sends the Holy Spirit to pursue them in whatever ‘far country’ they’re in, to bring them to their senses – to wake them up to their poverty and their misery, to give them a desire to return to God, and to actually bring them back with humility and confession of their sin. And, when they follow that path, they don’t live as second-class citizens, but as joyfully restored children of God. God the Father is moved with compassion, he runs to the prodigal son as he comes home, he kisses him, and – in response to his son’s words from a truly broken heart, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants, the Father calls his servants to Bring quickly the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. Let’s eat and celebrate! For this my son was dead; but he’s alive again. He was lost, but now he’s found.”
That’s the story of how prodigal sons (and prodigal daughters) are restored in and by the power of the Gospel. It’s the most amazing story we can hear because, to some extent, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters, we’re always returning to God, and we’re always being received with joy. Have you experienced that? This is what the true Christian life is all about.
But there are some prodigal sons and daughters who, in very dramatic and painful ways, squander the good things God has given them, waste their lives with reckless living, come to experience the hardship the slavery and the soul-hunger of “the far country”, and who – one day – wake up and realize what they’ve given up. God’s relentless pursuing grace hasn’t left them. That powerful graced makes them feel their sin, so that they really feel the need of the Savior. And they come home to God in that half-way house we call the Church.
It’s a beautiful story. A story of truly amazing grace. It’s the story of the power of the Gospel to restore prodigal sons.
And you’ll be hearing a real-life example of that power on today’s Visit to the Pastor’s Study.
Listen to the full program now:
Yours in the Lord who pursues us with his goodness and mercy,