‘While he was yet a great way off his father … ran’, Luke 15. 20
The young Jew came out of the squalor and ceremonial uncleanness of the pigsty. Hunger was the spur; it had awakened in his heart an aching memory of home and of his father’s love. ‘While he was yet a great way off, his father saw him’. Had he been waiting for him? Neither past rebellion nor present rags could repel love’s heart; only by running could those eager feet keep up with it. The penitent spendthrift saw his father running, saw the outstretched arms, and his fears were stilled. ‘Father, I have sinned!’ Our Lord, who painted this exquisite picture, speaks of no tears, yet He must have seen across the centuries that were to follow, the tears of repentance that would course down unnumbered prodigal faces bowed before the throne of God’s pardoning grace. They, like the son in the story, have proved the sweetness of His enduring love.
Alas, for the shadow that falls on this poignant scene; that other son! He had taken his share when the wealth was divided, and he had not wasted it on riotous living; but what had he done with it? We are not told. We do know however, that there was no response of gratitude in that near yet distant heart. ‘Thou gavest me no gift’! The servants in his father’s house had bread enough and to spare, and all that he had was ever there to satisfy this son whose heart was as ungrateful as a slave’s. All was forgotten in the day of his father’s joy. Love which could forgive the young sinner in disgrace, stirred up only bitterness in one who imagined that the gift could be purchased by servile toil, v. 25. ‘He would not go in’. The devastating charge that he levelled against his brother, v. 30, may well have been justified, yet its blackness scarcely stands out against the darkness of the heart that despised both father and brother.
How wonderfully the grace of God has opened up the glad assurance of this parable to us who were by nature sinners of the Gentiles. Of course it is first of all a picture of His grace to the sinners of Israel which was rejected by the self-righteous Pharisees who are typified by the eider son. But we are neither the younger son nor the elder brother; we had no part in the hope of Israel, Eph. 2. 12, ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us’, saw us while we were indeed a great way off both spiritually and dispensationally. Love divine sped to bring compassion to the penitent, and the hands stretched out to receive us are nail-scarred, the hands of His only begotten Son, God manifest in the flesh. What should have happened in Israel was that the elder brother gladly welcomed the younger brother although he was like a publican and sinner. Sadly, he failed to do so. However, the situation finds its glorious expression in God’s dealings with us. The Well-beloved, the Heir of all things, who through all His earthly life, ‘never transgressed at any time his commandment’, v. 29, is the One who comes forth from the Father in His name, to seek the lost. It is He Himself who, ‘not ashamed to call them them brethren’, brings the restored into the banqueting house.
Behold the ‘best robe’ which He brings out at His Father’s bidding; it is the ‘robe of righteousness’, Isa. 61. 10. Who could calculate its worth? He Himself purchased it against our return. He was stripped of his seamless robe before He bore our sins upon the cross.
See the ring which is put on the prodigal’s hand; it is His own, and the hand that holds the ring is wounded. The Heir of all things receives us to be joint-heirs with Himself. ‘God … with him also freely gives us all things’, Rom. 8. 17, 31, 32; Heb. 11. 2.
‘Put shoes on his feet’. He who once stooped to wash His disciples’ feet, whose own unshod feet were nailed in agony to His cross, stoops to clothe our feet with the ‘preparation of the gospel of peace’, Eph. 6. 55.
‘Let us eat and be merry’. Once, the foolish young man in the parable had known the pangs of hunger and remorse, when the silence of that foreign land was broken only by the grunting of pigs. Now the warm, bright banqueting hall of home is filled with joy and music, and he is fully satisfied. So we, who rejoice in the spiritual counterpart of that glad feast, are seated with Him, the Firstborn, in heavenly places, filled with the wonder of God’s love, love of the Father and the Son. The love that will rejoice in a coming day over Israel restored, Zeph. 3. 1 7, is the love that rejoices today over the homecoming of one sinner. It blends in perfect harmony with the love of the eternal Son who loved us and gave Himself for us, Gal. 2. 20.
Feet that run, arms that reach out to receive, a heart that gives, and gives, and dances for joy at the return of one sinner; this is our God, our Father! May His love kindle in us a love like His, a love that waits for, and welcomes, the returning sinner, offering the fullest fellowship; a love that is willing even to go out into the night and intreat the proudest sinner to come in.