“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:22-24
Next week I am helping to hostess a party for my life group. I chose “JOY” as our theme, and planned for us to take time to pray for our children, particularly those who are prodigals. The idea came about one night at life group when one of the members promised to kill the fatted calf and put on an extravagant banquet when his daughter returns to the Lord. Another father in the group said, “Why not feast by faith now?” Then yet another father jokingly added, “Yes, after all it is the year of the rib, right?” Thus the feast by faith was born. We plan to eat (barbeque, of course), fellowship, worship, and pray with exceeding great joy!!
I wanted to decorate the table in keeping with our theme and had already purchased glittered ornaments that spell the word JOY. In addition, I purchased symbols of the work of God in our prodigal’s lives: skeleton keys as a reminder that He alone holds the key to their hearts, and butterflies symbolizing the freedom and new life that comes with truly knowing the love of the Father. I continued my search online for ideas for our party and came across an excellent sermon on the Prodigal Father, by Noel Due. I encourage you to check it out when you have time at http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=627102230130. I listened enthralled by the picture of God the Father reconciling the world to Himself. I saw for the first time the Christmas story within this parable. The JOY OF THE FATHER in the parable held me spellbound. Some may misinterpret this father's actions, and even label him passive. Yet this father understood all along that to draw his son to Himself he had to let him go!! He gave his son what he asked for and then proceeded to wait patiently for his return, knowing he had loved him well. This father sought and found his prodigal by continuing to be the loving and joyful father he had always been. He allowed his son to come to his senses and to the end of himself, all while he waited patiently to bless him with forgiveness and the restoration of their relationship. If there were tears in this father’s eyes, they were tears of anticipatory joy, not of self-pity, regret over his parenting, or worry.
In the parable, both of the father’s sons failed to receive and operate out of their father's love for them. The younger son openly expressed his hatred and demanded his inheritance, essentially saying, “I wish you were dead. I only want what You own. I care nothing for you.” The older son served his father, but obeyed with the attitude of a slave, considering his father an unfair master. He worked for approval and missed completely the love and delight of his father. The younger son defiled himself and squandered all he was given by the father. He then crawled back to the father hoping against hope to at least be permitted to live as a hired hand on the father's estate. He was in for a surprise.
The Father unconditionally loved both sons and allowed them as adults to exercise their free will. The younger son chose to turn his back on him, yet he never turned away from his son. His face was always turned toward him in love. He waited, knowing his love would ultimately win the boy, and when the boy was within sight, He RAN to meet him. Although culturally unheard of, the father hiked up his skirt and ran, pleased to identify Himself with his shamed son. He ran in view of all the villagers and embraced the son who had not loved him. He demanded no recompense. Instead, he put his robe and signet ring on the boy. Both symbolized full reinstatement of sonship (relationship and inheritance) and authority to run the father’s estate. Then he held a banquet and invited everyone to share in His joy, because his son once dead now was alive.
This father loved without missing a beat, and the boy was won. With an understanding of what he deserved, the boy was amazed to find his father full of joy and prepared to celebrate his return. No doubt the boy rejoiced in his father's love and finally entered into the joy of his father. The father in the parable reconciled his son to Himself by giving up his own life (to include the inheritance), humbling himself (running shamelessly to the boy), and forgiving him. Then he restored to his son everything he had squandered.
The older son questioned why his father never killed a fatted calf for him. He never realized all that the father owned was his. Nor did he understand that he was equally loved and blessed, not because he obediently served his father, but because his father’s very nature was love.
How does this parable compare to the Christmas story? Look closely at the Prodigal Father and you will see God the Father reconciling His children to Himself. Hated like the father in the parable, God nonetheless humbled Himself, laid aside His glory and came to earth intent on dying for us. He ran to us unashamedly, choosing to identify Himself with us by becoming a man – a tiny helpless infant in a manger. He grew, experienced everything we experience, and yet lived a perfect life of love. Then He voluntarily gave up His life for our sakes on the cross. He paid the price to reinstate us as His children when we were defiled, broken, starving, and selfish. He gave us the right to become His sons and daughters, a right we could never merit. And our heart was won and opened to receive His unconditional love. At that point, we entered into the joy of our Father.
We can learn much about Christmas joy from the Prodigal Father. He loved and permitted others to choose to receive and reciprocate his love. He understood the power of unconditional love and remained confidently joyful even when misunderstood, rejected, or hated. He was full of joy for he lived a life of pure love. He rejoiced to see men reconciled and relationships restored. He celebrated relationships extravagantly and cherished reconnecting with those he loved. He gladly gave of all he had, no strings attached. His joy was to give Himself. He is a joy-filled Father. That is why in His presence there is fullness of joy. Joy originates and flows from the Father’s heart into ours so we may in turn share it. May the Father's joy be yours and mine this Christmas and always!!
By faith several in my life group are waiting in love for their prodigals to come home to the Father. Please join us in praying for any prodigals you may know and love. Believing His love powerfully woos, we wait patiently with HIS JOY in our hearts, celebrating ahead the day when our loved one will turn for home and meet The Father running on the road to embrace them. May the Lord continue to help us to wait as He waits -- expectantly and joyfully!!
Rest in the shadow, Terry