Remember the context of Jesus’ first coming? His contemporaries viewed the coming kingdom as a national deliverance from foreign oppression and personal deliverance for the righteous. Jesus turned that idea on its head and proclaimed deliverance for the needy; the sick, the oppressed, the sinner. The Jewish leaders expected judgment for the sinners, not redemption. When Jesus ate with those considered “sinners,” it meant acceptance and recognition in their culture. This coupled with His announcement that the kingdom had come to sinners led to many a protest from the religious leaders.
One of these protests is found in Luke chapter 15, “Now all the tax-gatherers and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ And He told them this parable, saying,…” (Lk 15:1-3). Jesus then goes on to tell three parables to illustrate that the very thing He was being accused of is exactly why Jesus came; to rescue the lost.
The last in this series of parables is the story of the lost son, sometimes referred to as the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32). To summarize the story, a wealthy landowner had two sons. The younger son requested his share of the inheritance from his father so he could set out on his own. The father agreed and the younger son took the money and headed off to a far away country. After squandering his inheritance on loose living, the son ended up working on a hog farm in a time of famine and was in the process of starving to death. When the son came to his senses, he said, “My father’s servants are treated so much better than this. I will go to my father. I will throw myself on his mercy. I will offer to become a servant and work off the money I wasted.” So the son returned home.
Meanwhile back at the family farm, Jesus paints a picture of a lovesick father waiting and yearning for his lost son. When the son returns, the father sees him from afar, is overwhelmed with compassion, runs to embrace him, kisses him, and announces a feast in his honor. He will have nothing to do with his son’s plan to pay off the debt, but instead proclaims to all who will hear, “Rejoice with me. My son who was as good as dead has come back to life. My son who was lost has been found.” (Lk 15:23-24).
Let’s stop the narrative right here and say, “Wait just a minute.” Are we to believe that after squandering his father’s money and inflicting the emotional pain of leaving without a trace, that all is forgiven? What about working off the debt? What about some probationary period to make sure the son’s change of heart is genuine? And is Jesus’ parable really suggesting that the attitude of this father – celebrating his son’s return with forgiveness and no thought of repayment – is a picture of how God, the Father, accepts us?
That, my friends, is the absolute unadulterated beauty of the Christian message! When we change our minds about Jesus Christ and embrace His message, all is forgiven. There is no probationary period. There is no “good works” requirement of being better than my neighbor, giving to charity, or performing any acts of penance. To our calculating and cynical minds this is too good to be true. That is the uniqueness of the Christian message. And this free gift is being offered to you right now.
When you strip away the media caricature of Christianity, when you strip away the uninformed biases we have heard all of our lives about Christianity, at the heart of the Christian message is the story of a lovesick Father rejoicing in and accepting without reservation the person who embraces His message of good news. And the good news is this: Jesus Christ died for your sin problem and offers to set you free from its penalty and its power.
Yes, it is almost too good to be true, but we believe by faith that this “beautiful unfairness of grace” is indeed completely true. And the lesson for our children is two-fold. It is to rejoice and be grateful in the grace that was given to them free of charge. It is to approach God as their Abba Father without fear; completely loved, forgiven, and accepted. And it is a call to extend that grace to others. When our families are saturated with this grace; fear, worry, and disharmony will diminish, and joy, cooperation, and love will increase.