A Robe, A Ring, and A Room
Robert Wurtz II
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And he arose, and came to his father. But 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. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father 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 (Luke 15:20-22)
Our text is the closing scene of one of the most well-known narratives in the Bible. It is the final entry in a parabolic trilogy of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and now the lost son. The father is here representing God, and the prodigal son a wayward soul in desperate need of a new heart. Although he grew up in the father’s house, his heart was far from his father’s. They didn’t see eye to eye. That is a way of saying that the son did not agree with the father’s ways and was determined to chart his own course in life. The father understood this. He had done all he could do to see his son come into agreement with him. Nothing worked. Now he is asked to finance the son’s rebellion, which he wisely does. It seemed counterintuitive at first, but the father knew best.
The father understood that the day would come when the son would reach the end of his rope. He knew that all the lies that the Devil had been telling him, would some day be exposed for what they were. It would be wonderful if those whom we love could learn by simply being taught; nevertheless, some have to learn the hard way. The son, being in some sin induced delirium, left his father’s house on a reckless course of destruction. He had been trained up in the way he should go; however, that upbringing is fading in his mind with every single step. The father gave him roots; now he gave him wings.
Experience is a teacher who carries a rod. She has laid many stripes across the backs of her unsuspecting pupils. In the bitter school of real life, men and women are forced to learn lifes oldest lessons. As one writer put it, “Returning to sanity and morality for those who have cast off lifes conventional constraints comes as a consequence of disciplining times.” For the prodigal, his schoolmaster will overthrow the folly of moral anarchy, and steady in its place the time-tested wisdom of New Covenant living. The chastisement for the present will not be pleasant — but grievous. Nevertheless, it will produce in this young man the peaceable fruit of righteousness afterwards. For he will soon enough realize that the inheritance itself, that he so impatiently longed for, would be the rod of which he would want no more.
Famine in the Land
God has used famine as a means of effecting His purposes many times in scripture. It gets people on the move in a way few things can. The son had wasted all of his money. Our Greek word here for “wasted” (διεσκόρπισε), means the opposite of gathering together. It’s as if he tossed his money into the air to be scattered by the wind (winnowed). When the money ran out, and the food ran short, his sin-deranged mind started to sober up. He, as most people do, tried to save himself. He went and joined himself to a man in the country. Why not? He had effectively gathered up his things, left home, and was mentally burning all the bridges behind him. He apparently had no intention of returning. True, it was a far country, but a few steps can land us there if we are not careful. The root of all sin is the desire to live to one’s self, which began the prodigal’s evil course. “Many a lad in our great cities goes through the very stages of the parable, and, when a mother’s eye is no longer on him, plunges into filthy debauchery.” (Maclaren)
The Vomit of Sin
God uses highly repulsive descriptions of sin in order to teach us how He sees it. In 2 Peter 2:22, God describes sin as a dog returning to reconsume his own vomit. Imagine how horrendous and rank something would have to be for a dog’s stomach to reject it. Nevertheless, the very thing that made the dog nauseated to begin with, he turns and eats again. How awful! However, here is the prodigal son slopping the hogs for money. These were unclean animals to the Jews and were not to be handled this way. Now his nightmare reaches its crescendo as he realizes to his horror, he had stooped to a new low of eating swine husks. Talk about demoralizing! He looked “cool” back in town when the money was flying around; but now, what would his friends think to see him filthy and stinking? There is a true saying, sin will take you farther than you want to go and keep you longer than you plan to stay. Where was the clean bed he used to despise sleeping in? Where is the aroma of mom’s cooking — now that he’s caught in the throes of insanity?
Delirium and Madness
Here we read, But when he came to himself (εἰς ἑαυτὸν δὲ ἐλθὼν eis heauton de elthōn). As if he had been as far from himself as he was from home. As a matter of fact, he had been away, out of his head, and now began to see things as they really were. (A.T. Robertson) It is a striking expression, putting the state of rebellion against God as a kind of madness. It is a wonderful stroke of art, to represent the beginning of repentence as the return of a sound consciousness. (Vincent) We might say, he came to his senses. John Wesley once wrote, “he had come to himself, for until then he was beside himself, as all men are, so long as they are without God in the world.”
When the young man came to himself he wasted no time; he gathered himself and started back home. The situation he was in had made a profound effect on him. In the years to come he will look back and think about how horrific his actions were. He will have time to reflect even as the psalmist; When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. (Psalm 32:3-4) This is the plight of those that are running from God. Thy hand was heavy upon me!, said David. We ought to consider at any given moment how many means of grace God is employing to bring about our repentance.
If We Acknowledge Our Sin
Notice the thoughts of this young man’s heart, I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 1 John 1:9 tells us that if we confess (acknowledge) our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us. The payment was made at Calvary. God is faithful to appropriate what Christ has done us-ward if we will acknowledge our sin. He said it, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee. This is what God is looking for. His sorrow was God-wards. He wasn’t concerned that he had gotten caught, he was concerned about how he had sinned against God. He then turned from his sinful way and returned back to the father. He made no excuses. He didn’t blame his friends. He said the same thing about his sin that God said about it.
The Father’s Reaction
Deuteronomy 21:18-20 says he should be stoned to death. The father and mother could have taken him to the elders of the city and declared, this our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard (Deut. 21:20); but they (he) did not. Many people are fearful that if they repent and come back to the Lord, someone will treat them like the older brother treated the prodigal. However, the old brother was not in charge of the situation. What did Jesus say? But 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. If we look at this from a wrong perspective, we will totally miss the heart of God here. By implication, the father had been watching for his son to come home. Everyone else may have forgotten; some may have said, “good riddance.” Nevertheless, the father never forgot. Perhaps the song lyric catches the sense of what happened:
Almighty God, the great I am
Immovable rock, omnipotent, powerful, awesome Lord
Victorious warrior, commanding King of Kings
Mighty conqueror, and the only time
the only time I ever saw Him run
Was when He ran to me, He took me in His arms
Held my head to His chest, said My sons come home again
Lifted my face, wiped the tears from my eyes
With forgiveness in His voice He said,
Son do you know I still love you?
How About You?
Perhaps you have read this, and you are away from the Lord. Are you in a far country of your own? Do you want to come home? The Lord loves you, and desires that you come to repentance and faith. Jesus died for your sins. Just come home. The son came home probably expecting a lecture or derision. Nevertheless, when he finally returned he found a robe, a ring and a room. God is no respecter of persons. This story is proof positive that God desires to reconcile with even the most vile and unworthy sinners.