So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.”
A rehearsal of repentance gets us moving, but the performance of the Father’s grace brings new life. We cannot forget that the son, just before heading home, was attempting to eat the food of pigs. For the Jewish people listening to this, there was nothing lower. In our western mindsets, we would agree that this is very low, but for the Jewish audience it would be seen as far more depraved than we give it credit. Jesus is enlightening them, and us, to the state of our inner human without Him. It is no laughing matter. Jesus is not telling this story for entertainment’s sake but revealing a deep truth—the reality of the state of humanity without a relationship with God. But He does not leave us hanging. We are not left with empty repentance or wishing for a better inner peace. We are not left with man’s good works to toil our way back out of the pig’s pods. We are not left with self-help guides, Ten Steps to Getting Out of the Pig’s Pen. We are not left with nice ideas of harmony and peace that come from emptying our mind while we hang with the pigs. What we are left with is a long distance between us and the Father.
Jesus reveals clearly that the performance of His grace goes way beyond anything we could do or imagine. The son’s highest aspirations were to be a slave in the father’s house. And so it is with many people’s perspectives of church and God—that being part of the house of God and becoming a believer in Jesus somehow enslaves us in a life we wouldn’t wish upon our worst enemy. Jesus doesn’t reveal this picture. “While the son was a long way off,” meaning whatever the distance we travel in our own strength, the Father is wanting and willing to meet us where we are at. We may get moving by a motivation of desperate repentance, but the Father is moved by a radical compassion not from this world. He sees you and I a long way off and comes running. There is no hesitation in the Father’s love. No second guessing as to whether or not He will cross the distance that is between us and Him.
When He gets to us there is no room for explanation. No room for a rehearsal of repentance. Grace drowns out our best attempts at saying sorry. We try and rightfully so—we should try to give our speech—but the embrace of the Father’s arms smother our words as our mouths are covered by His shoulder and chest. We try to utter the words, and the Father’s kiss of grace distracts us from our wrongs. We are stunned, left speechless. The Father heard our rehearsed repentance but utters not a response to our nice attempt to make up for wrongs. He is only concerned with the human who was lost and is now standing in front of Him, found. Tears stream down the son’s face, and the Father’s face lights up with the smile of that which was lost being found.
You and I may be concerned about the distance it will take to get back to the Father today, but He is able, willing and wanting to span the gap. He will run and embrace every man, woman and child who turns to Him. His embrace is greater than your sin. Where sin abounds His hugs and kisses abound even more.
Your Heavenly Daddy loves you so much. You were lost, but now you are found. Rest in His embrace today, receive the kisses of the Father, try to repent but watch your words be smothered in His hug.
// Pastor Josh Kelsey