A Wayward Son Celebrated
In this article on Luke 15 we look at the reaction the father of the prodigal son had when he returned home. The son had left his father's house and gone off to a foreign country to live an independent life. His life abroad soon turned into "riotous living" in which he squandered the inheritance he received from his father and could no longer live on his own thereafter. This young man’s adventure was the emphasis of a previous article titled, “Lost In Worldly Living.”
What happened when the father saw his son coming home is quite remarkable. The son probably expected his father to be upset and angry, but he was not. Verse 20 says that when he was yet a great way off, “his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” The father warmly received his son back into his home even though he had been a wayward child. No doubt, he had eagerly been waiting for his return.
If he ever felt the need to rebuke his son for his conduct, he did not act immediately after his return. Two things, it seems, were more important for him at that moment: make the lad feel at home again, and ensure he was okay.
The father was all the more kind and compassionate because the son was in a terrible situation when he was away from the family home. He said to his servants, "Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry" (vv. 22-23). To the father the son was dead and lost. He was dead and lost because he missed the blessing of paternal affection while he was away. He was dead and lost, also, because he deprived himself of the security and protection his father provided in the family setting.
Surely, when the father said his son was dead he did not mean he was no longer alive. When he made that comment while ordering his servants to take care of his son, he probably was still holding him after kissing him. Biological death isn't in view here. The notion of death in this story rather has a spiritual meaning. To be dead is to be in the state of being severed from God by sin.
Sin causes separation between God and man. The prophet Isaiah said, "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2). A person whose life is dominated by sin is dead. The apostle Paul explained this when he said that God through the blood of Christ "quickened", that is made alive, the Ephesians Christians "who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1).
The prodigal son was lost in the sense that he did not understand the purpose of life. He thought life was all about having a good time in "riotous living" when it rather consists in one having the right relation with God through Christ (Isaiah 53:6; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
Thankfully, he was now found and much alive again. In other words, he had been restored as a child loved by his father and under the influence of his teaching. And this required a celebration which the father demanded. The son was treated with honour and hospitality. He was clothed with the “best robe,” a “ring” was put on his hand and “shoes” on his feet. The celebration culminated when the “fatted calf” was killed.
Spiritually, the restoration of the son can be applied to the situation of a sinner restored to a position of righteousness whereby he has fellowship with God and strives to do what is right (1 John 1:3; 14:23; 1 John 3:7, see Luke 19:10). It also refers to a penitent child of God who returns to the fold.
We need to remember this lesson when a sinning brother or sister who has been “overtaken” by sin returns to the assembly. We need to show them compassion and be welcoming (Galatians 6:1). And so should parents treat a teenage son or daughter who has run away from home but is now back.