The story in Luke 15 of the Prodigal Son—the young man who opted to leave home with his inheritance only to squander it all—is one of Jesus’ best known parables in the Bible. When the young man hits rock bottom, he realizes his mistake and goes back, prepared to accept the consequences. But instead of recrimination, his repentant return is met with compassion, love, and grace from his father who orders a feast to welcome him home.
The word “prodigal” means “wasteful,” and Jesus gives us a picture of the heart of God toward us when we may have wasted resources or opportunities. He told this parable, along with two others, in response to criticism by the Pharisees for the dinner company He kept. As religious leaders watched Him dine with the crooked and the despised, they complained, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them!” They were offended at the Lord’s generosity to those who, in their eyes, were less worthy of His time and attention than they. And that’s another part of Jesus’ lesson; if we, like the Pharisees, suppose ourselves superior to those we deem less deserving, we still do not fare any better in the eyes of God.
As we come to Thanksgiving, this is such an appropriate text because it resonates with the tremendous heart of God-the largeness of His embrace that receives us. Open your Bible to Luke 15 and read the entire chapter. Then look with me at these specific verses, and let’s be renewed this Thanksgiving in His magnificent grace.
The grace that frustrates human pride (Luke 15:1-2, 29-30)
Human pride is personified in the complaining by the prodigal son’s brother who was resentful that their father made a feast for him. It manifests also in the arrogance of the scribes and Pharisees who felt they had an advantaged relationship to Jesus. There are people who never get in on the joy of the Lord. They misunderstand what salvation is. The grace of God is wrapped up in this willingness of Jesus to sit and eat with publicans and sinners. In fact the Gospel of Matthew was written by a despised tax collector who came to discover what Jesus was about and saw the purpose of God released in his life.
This Thanksgiving, let me ask you: Have you checked your guest list for anybody who doesn’t really seem to “fit in”? The spirit of the season ought to be that we invite people into our life who wouldn’t ordinarily be there except that we have reached out to them in the generosity of the love of God.
The grace that forgives all failures (Luke 15:13)
The prodigal son portrays two areas of human failure that encompass all sin: independence and indulgence. Independence (through ignorance, self-assertion, or belligerence) is the pursuit of your life without bothering to consult God as to why He gave you the ability and potential you have. This tendency is present in everyone. But there’s nothing that we have of ourselves; we’ve been entrusted by the Creator with life and abilities, and we’re to honor Him for that.
Indulgence is seen in how the young man gave himself to the unworthy and wasted all he had. There are so many ways that a person can sell out. Whether it’s independence—having it my own way—or indulgence—getting what I want whenever I want it—the marvel of this passage is the father’s wholehearted embrace of his prodigal son—the grace that forgives all failures.
The grace that loves beyond explanation (Luke 15:18-20)
Can you imagine what was going on in the son’s mind as he headed home? When Jesus says that he planned what he would say to his father, He’s talking about our feeling the need to make a litany presentation of ourselves to God to gain His acceptance. But all God is looking for is our return to Him.
Like the father in this story, God does not milk the moment with “prodigals” who come to Him by making them squirm with guilt for as long as possible. That is a human tendency that miscalculates what forgiveness is. I’m called, as one of God’s own, to relay the same forgiveness to offenders that He shows toward me. As the father sees his wasteful son approaching, he runs to him and embraces him. Have you ever been lavishly embraced by someone and felt so unworthy of it you didn’t know how to respond?
The grace that refuses to be reduced (Luke 15:22-23)
The son starts his speech, but just as he’s going to say, “Make me like one of your hired servants,” his father cuts him off and calls his servants to bring the best robe, the ring, the new shoes, and the fatted calf.
The fatted calf was common to the culture and still is to a feast in that part of the world, much as we will roast a turkey at Thanksgiving. The young man says, “I’m no longer worthy to be called your son,” and that is true. But the father refuses to let the son reduce the level of his grace. He says, “Bring out the best robe!” It is the full-length robe worn by the head of the household. This is no slave who just came back; the prodigal son is going to be fully restored to the family.
The ring is given for the sealing or certifying of documents; the son is being re-established in his father’s business. The shoes are not put on him because he has none. In Scripture, shoes taken off are a sign of mourning, weeping, lamenting. By putting shoes on his son, the father is declaring, “We’re not mourning any longer!”
The grace that insists on celebration (Luke 15:24)
The robe, the ring, the shoes, the feast—grace keeps adding more grace! I encourage you, loved one, don’t be apathetic about the season of grace that’s upon us—Thanksgiving and Christmas. Don’t believe the lie that says “really godly” people shouldn’t do anything enjoyable. That thinking is so totally opposite of what characterizes the Lord’s way.
God calls us to celebrate, not for tradition’s sake but for spiritual reasons. We are to be thankful for His great grace and His merciful forgiveness. Indeed, we are called not only to a feast, but also to a life of grace that insists on celebration.
Copyright © 2009, 2011 by Jack W. Hayford, Jack Hayford Ministries. All rights reserved.
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