It’s funny – in reading your comments, I’ve seen many of you looking forward to this part of Luke 15 as much as I. We know it by heart. Reaching verse 20 is like arriving at your favorite line in The Empire Strikes Back or hitting that favorite song in your old Newsboys album. But better. Chills of delight. (And I’m talking the Newsboys good ol’ days – Entertaining Angels at the very latest.)
(While I’m at it, God, can’t we have just one more DC Talk album? Pretty please? Asked another voice in the throng, never to be satisfied…sigh…)
“So he got up and went to his father.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)
I need this.
The son is ragged, emaciated, filthy with pig dung, and as would have occurred to Jesus’ Jewish hearers, probably ceremonially unclean seven ways until Sunday.
Yet the father runs to him.
No calm satisfaction, no benign nod of pleasure, nothing detached. He sprints to meet his son with fervor and delight.
The young man doesn’t even have to reach the threshold of his home, or even the fields, before the father goes running to meet him. So God does not wait for years of good works, harsh penitence, or even self-improvement on our part before he welcomes us home. This fits perfectly with the teaching of grace through faith. God has chosen his grace, worked through the sacrifice of his Son – the very Son telling the parable – to be the cleansing agent. It is that Jesus’ righteousness, imputed onto us, that makes us worthy to walk through God’s fields. And it is his heart as a loving father that leaves him longing, even groaning, to see us in the distance, walking towards him.
It was a breach of etiquette for the father to run at all. Craig Blomberg was one of many commentators who remarks, “no older, self-respecting Middle Eastern male head of an estate would have disgraced himself by the undignified action of running to greet his son” (Interpreting the Parables, p. 176). Jewish patriarchs walked with dignity and care.
This father, chosen to represent the Patriarch of all humanity, runs.
It makes me think…how else has God indignified himself?
How many profanities of his glory and name has he patiently endured? People consider God vengeful and quick-tempered, drawing largely from a cursory glance at the Minor Prophets and God’s threats of curses contained there. But it was four hundred years of idol worship, inhumane by even modern standards, before God pulled the trigger on Israel’s punishment. Four centuries.
The Incarnation was an indignity. For Jesus to shed his deserved magnificence, briefly flashing forth only at the Transfiguration, and take up the glory of humility and service? Beyond words. Jesus was subjected to dirt. He underwent raw emotion, bodily fluids, temptation. He was surrounded by the least of these, constantly reminded of their slowness and sin. Only humble, people-helping doses of his power were glimpsed through his miracles. Ultimately, those people all abandoned him. The Lord of Hosts stood alone before his accusers.
Then he suffered the greatest indignity of all – not just death, but the gory, inhumane death of a common criminal.
So I could live.
Oh, unbeliever. You think this whole Christianity thing is God standing over us with a frown and a baseball bat, anticipating the destruction of mankind. Nothing is further from the truth. Nothing is further from his heart. God became a man, and that man became lower than each of us. You and I never died a commoner’s execution for the sin of living a perfect life. You and I have always had a place to lay our heads.
To be in both worlds full
Is more than God was, who was hungry here. – George Herbert
All for you.
God does not want your sin to be a barrier against you coming home. He waits, squinting into the distance, for any who would come. No sin is too great for him to absolve. If it were, sin would be greater than he – and nothing is greater than he.
As the father kissed his son before his son could even choke out his sorrowful words of repentance, so Christianity stands alone amongst faiths in showing what God did to reach man, not what man must do to reach God.
I pray with longing in my heart that God might use these epically, radically, woefully inadequate words of mine to reveal his father’s heart to someone. I pray that it might bring about another set of weary, starving footsteps onto the road home. I pray that someone might choose to turn forever from their sin and come home to the Father, never to be turned away.
This Jesus is truly worthy of our praise.
And the great stuff doesn’t even stop there.
I’ll have an announcement on Monday and will resume the series next Thursday.