Scripture: Luke 15:20-24, NLT
20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. ’ 22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
Legalism hates grace. Jesus told this story for the benefit of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were self-righteous which is the most evil of all forms of righteousness. It was a righteousness generated by the flesh and it was devoid of spiritual power. The Pharisees were legalistic, harsh, unsympathetic, judgmental and despises of grace. What this FATHER does in this story is more shocking to them than the behavior of the Prodigal. The Pharisees had no concept of a LOVING FATHER who was patient, sympathetic, compassionate, forgiving and willing to share the shame of his wayward son. The Pharisees, as do all legalist, had a twisted and sorted image of God.
They could not comprehend a God who loved sinners.
- Legalism says, I deserve to be a son…
- Grace says, I have sinned, I don’t deserved to be a son…
- Legalism says, love is conditional, you earn it…
- Grace says, love is unconditional, cannot be earned…
- Legalism says, Love is a reward…
- Grace says, Love is a gift…
- Legalism glorifies self…
- Grace glorifies God…
- Legalism keeps score…
- Grace does not keep score…
It was the Father’s shameful behavior that upsets the Pharisees most. He not only allowed the boy to come home, he ran to meet him. Obviously this father loved his son very much and had been prayerfully awaiting his return, when he saw his son coming in the distance, he ran to meet him. Jewish noblemen never ran, it was a shame for a noble man to run, it was a sign of weakness. Men wore tunics in those days and to run, a man had to tuck the hem of the tunic under his belt and this exposed his legs. This was shameful to a Jew. Can you imagine how elated the Prodigal was just to know that his dad was willing to share his shame.
The Father had compassion on the Prodigal and hugged and kissed him. The boy starts his confession but he never gets to finish because the Father interrupts. He begins to bestow the gifts of grace upon his undeserving son. We cannot imagine how irritating this was to the Pharisees who believed that forgiveness has to be earned.
When God FORGIVES He GIVES and here we see the lavish gifts of Grace bestowed by the Father upon the Prodigal.
I. FIRST: THE ROBE FOR HIS BACK…“‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him.”
The boy left in a fine suit of clothes but he came home broke and in rags. His clothes were stained from the filth of the pigs. A Jew was not supposed to touch a pig because they were unclean. The Prodigal’s clothes are stained with uncleanness. They are not acceptable for the son of a nobleman. The FATHER told his servants, “Quick! Bring me the finest robe in the house.” It was probably the Father’s robe. The Father was anxious to cover the boys nakedness, filth and shame.
The Pharisees would have taken this boy in his rags and paraded him down main street like they did the women caught in adultery. They would have demanded that he pay for his sins but the FATHER forgave and he covered the boys filth, shame, disgrace with a fine robe. Isaiah 61:10 reads, I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.
Psalms 32:1, How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!
From the sacrifice of Abel, then the Passover in Egypt, then the Tabernacle in the wilderness all the way to Revelation, the bible teaches that our sins are covered by the precious blood of Christ. The ancient high priest would take the blood into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle it on the Mercy Seat. The Mercy Seat then stood between God and the broken law inside the Ark of the Covenant. It is the blood that keeps God from seeing our sin.
II. THE RING FOR HIS FINGER…”Get a ring for his finger”
The signet ring in the ancient East was equivalent to the POWER OF ATTORNEY today. It was a symbol not only of sonship but of authority. This must have really raised some Pharisaic eyebrows. How could this FATHER trust such an unfaithful son? He knew he had repented. Just as this wise FATHER knew what was in his sons heart when he left, he understands what is in his heart now. He knows the boy is a changed man.
III. THE SANDALS …”Get sandals for his feet”
Sandals were a symbol for freedom. Very few slaves had shoes. When I was a child, we went without shoes in the summer. It was common in those days. We didn’t even wear shoes to church. The adults did but children went everywhere barefoot. This was also true of slaves in America. One of the old black spirituals is called, “All God’s Children Got Shoes.” Our black field hands taught us the song. I remember every word and could sing it for you but I will show mercy.
IV. THE FATTENED CALF… “kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast”
The fattened calf was for a VIP and a special occasion. When I was a boy, we did not have fried chicken every Sunday but we did if the preacher came to eat with us. We didn’t kill a calf for the preacher but we did kill a few chickens. The chicken thing was for a small scale party but to kill a fattened calf, you can feed 200. This gesture on the part of the FATHER was a message to his son: YOU ARE VERY IMPORTANT TO ME…THIS IS A SPECIAL OCCASION.
The Prodigal did not expect a robe, a ring, a new pair of shoes much less a fattened calf and a party. He came home hoping for a job. He would have been pleased with just a job but his father wanted him to have more. His FATHER forgave him and lavished him with gift after gift. The boy has to be amazed at such wonderful grace.
We call this the parable of the prodigal son but we have it wrong, it is the parable of the LOVING FATHER. This story does not glorify sin or the sinner. The prodigal is not the star, nor is his older brother. They are members of the cast but it is not really about them. The focal point of this story is the LOVING FATHER. Every thing here depends of the FATHER. The Prodigal did not pick him self up from his boot straps. His FATHER has mercy on him. The boy didn’t deserve a thing but look at all the GRACE GIFTS he received, so many that it made his brother jealous. The Prodigal would never have returned had it not been for the goodness of his father. His was forgiven and restored because his FATHER was compassionate and gracious. The boy didn’t deserve it and he knew it.
Folks, we are the brothers, one or the other but none of us are represented by the FATHER. He is perfect, unchanging, has endless resources, kind, compassionate, patient, secure, etc. The Father in this story can be represented by God the Father or God the Son but he doesn’t represent humankind. The Father is holy and good.
So today your choice is which brother do I want to be? One repented the other did not.