“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)
One of Jesus’ most famous parables is that of the prodigal son. This is a story that’s quite relatable for many of us. In one way, it’s an excellent depiction of our salvation, illustrating our turn from sin and our subsequent acceptance by God. But in many ways, this story goes much deeper than that. At its heart, the story of the prodigal son is about a person who willfully turns away from God, is eventually broken by his sin, and who returns fully aware of the gravity of his offense.
In this parable, a man demands his inheritance from his father, which he proceeds to squander on an indulgent lifestyle. But after a while, his money runs out, and at the same time a famine sweeps across the land. To keep himself alive, the man is forced to work with pigs. His misery eventually leads him to remember what it was like in his father’s house, where even the servants were better off than he is now. Though he knows he is no longer worthy to be his father’s son, he hopes that he will be accepted as a servant. So he goes home. But before he can request a servant’s position, his father welcomes him back home with great celebration, overjoyed that his long-lost son has finally returned. The man has taken his father’s money and wasted it, but his father willingly forgives him. No word of reproach crosses his mouth; in fact, the father reprimands his other son for being angry with the one who ran away. Without hesitation, the father welcomes his wayward son back into his family.
As believers in Jesus, we are now God’s children. The minute we accepted Him as our Savior, He adopted us into His family. But something we seem to forget is that this adoption didn’t make us automatically perfect. We’re still human, and we’re still going to sin, often in horrible ways. Sometimes, this sin will lead us to run away from God. Like the prodigal son, we’ll take the things God has given us and flee, squandering everything on our own selfish desires. After a while, though, we slowly start to realize that the world isn’t as satisfying as we’d thought. We remember how wonderful it was to be with God—and the memories make us cringe. Because how can we ever go back to Him? We who have openly rebelled against Him, we who were once His beloved children, now have no right to return. And yet, the longing to go back, to just be in His presence once again, is too great to ignore. So we go back, crushed by our sin and mourning our stupidity, hoping against hope that our Father will let us back in as a servant.
And then God comes running to meet us! It’s like He’s been waiting the whole time for us to come home, and though we don’t even deserve to have Him speak to us, He throws a celebration. Not once does He remind us of the mistakes we’ve made, not once does He look at us with disapproval. His child has come home, and His only emotion is joy.
It may be that you’re a lot like the prodigal son. Maybe you’ve run away from God, and now you’re afraid that He can never accept you again. Maybe you’re afraid that your sins are too great for Him to forgive, that He can never want a child as disobedient as you. But the incredible thing about God is that He never disdains us. He rebukes and disciplines us, yes, but for the purpose of bringing us to repentance. Once we truly repent and turn from our sin, He forgives us readily. He’ll never despise you for sinning; rather, He’ll be overjoyed that you’ve come to Him for forgiveness. So don’t stay away. No matter how far away you’ve gone, God is still waiting for you. He wants to welcome you back into the safety of His house, to throw a celebration to mark your return. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to come home.