If you have never read the story of the prodigal son, it is well worth the read. I go back to this story periodically because I need to be reminded of the intensity of God's love and sacrifice on my behalf - when I least deserved it, as often as I need it, and without condition. As a point of reference, here is the scenario in a nutshell. A son, heir to his father's inheritance, doesn't want to wait for his father to "kick over" to get his "share" of the family treasure. So, he demands it of his father - taking what he gets and squandering it on living just as he wants. When it is all gone, he finds himself homeless and penniless. He is forced to take care of pigs - something a good Jewish boy would never do as these were animals considered unclean. To top it off, he even eats the pig slop to stay alive. One day, at the end of his rope, he considers what he should do next - amazingly, he considers home as his option! It should come as no surprise to us that this was his "only" option when he was at the end of his ability! But...he doesn't really think he is going home with a great fanfare and his father's acceptance. Instead, he thinks he will go home as a servant to his father, "a hired hand". What he didn't realize was just how much his father's heart had been aching all this time he'd been away!
When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’ (Luke 15:20-21 MSG)
I guess one of the most important lessons from story of the Prodigal is the truth no bad deed separates us from the love of God. We may lose fellowship for a while, but nothing separates us from his heart. There is a connection there - not so much based on what we do or don't do - but based on the love of a father for his child. This should give us a moment to pause - for we cannot possibly understand the depth and breadth of this love - but we can walk into it and experience the vastness of it!
I want us to see the posture of the father as it illustrates the posture of our heavenly Father toward us:
* He was watching for his son's return. Now, I don't know about you, but if my kid had been gone out into the world for a long, long time, I am not sure if I'd be standing there watching for his return! I would grow weary waiting. Good thing God isn't like us, huh? Isn't it good to know God sees us even when we are a "far way off"? No distance is too great! No vigilance is too extreme on his part! He watches for our return. This is good news, is it not?
* He was moved by compassion. God sees the need of his son and runs to meet it. Here we see the lovely picture of our Lord's heart - he doesn't turn against those he calls his own. Don't believe it? Consider God's heart toward Israel - look how many times they wandered off doing their own thing, only to find him always moved to a place of compassion. Sure, there were consequences to their wandering, just as there are to ours, but his heart toward them never changed.
* He doesn't let his son get all the way home before he embraces him. This father ran to meet his son. Isn't that like our God? He doesn't make us get all the way home before we can enjoy the splendor of his embrace. He meets us on the road! If you don't see the significance of this father "running" to meet his son, let me explain something of Jewish "tradition". It was beneath the "honor" of a wealthy landowner to "run". He had servants to do that. He was supposed to always be dignified and running was not in that list of "dignified" characteristics. To run to his son showed he did not care about his "status" - only the well-being of his son!
* He doesn't ask his son for an accounting of the monies. The father would have been well within his rights to do so, but he simply embraces the son. Unconditional love! He doesn't demand restoration of the funds - he could have. He doesn't demand restitution by working off his misspending - he could have. He doesn't judge the son's past behavior - he simply embraces him in spite of his behavior! This is the picture of God's love - embracing his kids in spite of their behavior.
He gathers the clothing of a son - not the rags of a servant. He prepares the meal of royalty - not the dregs of the pots. He positions him in a place of honor - not the low status of a hired hand. He celebrates the return of his son - not the good fortune of his estate. Here, we see God unceasing in his love; patient in his waiting; and overwhelmingly willing in his forgiveness and restoration. No sweeter picture of love exists. Just sayin!