Have you ever lost a child in a strange place? Several years ago, our youngest daughter got separated from the family as we were having a wonderful time at Opry Land in Nashville, Tennessee. For what seemed to be hours (actually not even a full hour), everything else was put on hold. We were frantic as we searched where we had already been.
Then, someone told us about a "lost and found." When we went in, there she was enjoying herself! What a joy it was to find our lost lamb!
If that has ever happened to you, you know something about the heart of the father (representing God) in the parable Jesus told in Luke 15. I used this parable as my text in my message on Sunday morning. You may know it as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. But I chose to share it as the Parable of the Loving Father.
I chose Luke 15 because of what is going on right now in our nation and even in our churches. The circumstances in our world at present -- the illness, the frustration, the stress, the mistrust and the mandates -- are causing people to be divided whether they are unbelievers or believers. The problem will not be resolved until we learn what Jesus taught in this parable about "repentance and forgiveness."
The parable begins in verse 11 and tells of a younger son from a wealthy family who became restless and thought "the grass was greener on the other side of the fence." So, he asked his father for his inheritance. His loving father graciously "agreed to divide his wealth between his sons" (v. 12, NLT).
The son went "to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living" (v. 13). A famine came and he found himself feeding pigs and was so hungry he wanted to eat what the pigs were eating.
He began to remember how loving his father was -- and how wealthy he was! Jesus said, "he finally came to his senses." This is equivalent to "repentance." He would go home and ask his father to accept him as a servant in his house. As he approached home, he saw his father running down the road to greet him.
Before he could get his full confession out and offer himself as a servant in his father's house, the father reinstated him as his son! The father called for rejoicing, "For this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found" (v. 24).
That's the repentance needed today! But there's another character that enters the story at this time -- the older son -- the son who received twice as much inheritance as the younger one -- and stayed home. When he heard the partying because his prodigal brother was back, he went off the hinge! He "wouldn't go in," even when "his father came out and begged him" (v. 28). He didn't want his brother to return.
When his father assured him of his love, he refused, and the story closes with him outside the fellowship of his father. How sad! He certainly didn't have his father's forgiving heart. And this is where those who profess to be a part of the church must examine our hearts today.
Repentance is the way back to the Father's heart for a nation which has rejected him and gone their own way. And for the church which has strayed from the Father's will and compromised so much of our Father's teachings in His Word! And, instead of critical attitudes, hearts full of forgiveness like the Father's is the way back to unity that Jesus prayed for the church in John 17. And what He taught in the model prayer: "Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us" (Matt. 6:12).
To stress the gravity of our sin, Andrew Murray wrote: "I have said that the meaning of the words, 'The holiness of God,' is not easily expressed. But we may begin in saying that they imply the unspeakable aversion and hatred with which God regards sin. And if you wish to understand what that means, remember that He preferred to see His Son die, rather than that sin should reign." Then he stressed that "the two sides of the holiness of God are united in the cross."
The great hymn says: "The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell." That love will bring prodigals back home to serve a loving Father. And, that love will change the unforgiving heart of those who are true children of God!
• Jack Hall is pastor of First Baptist Church in Shawneetown.