A Robe, A Ring, and A Room

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.” 

Moving Out

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. 

Getting Past Your Past

Getting Past Your Past
Robert Wurtz II

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. (1 Timothy 1:12-16)

The Foremost Sinner

Early on in Paul’s writings to young Timothy he acknowledges a terrible truth, this is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. For those that know Paul’s past they can understand why he would make such a statement. He was a feared man. Only after he could raise his shirt and declare, From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus (Galatians 6:17) could the people trust that Paul’s violent days were in the past. He was scarred up from persecutions and beatings (2 Corinthians 11:23). It was probably a terrible sight.* Yet Paul calls himself the chief (prōtos) of sinners. Notice he did not say ‘ēn’ (I was), but ‘eimi’ (I am) the chief. His statement is in the first person present. In 1 Corinthians 15:9 he had called himself “the least of the apostles” (elachistos tōn apostolōn). In Ephesians 3:8 he refers to himself as “the less than the least of all saints” (tōi elachistoterōi pantōn hagiōn). This did not mean that he was ‘less’ in the sense of education, revelation, authority, spirituality, etc., but that he was the least worthy to be called. (compare Galatians 2:6-10, 2 Corinthians 11:5.; 2 Corinthians 12:11). He made havoc of the churches of God, even compelling people to blaspheme (Acts 8:3, Galatians 1:13), of men and even women (Acts 7:58, Acts 22:4; Acts 26:11). This sin was exceedingly serious and yet God saw fit to install Paul into his service. The question would become, how will men respond to Paul? Will they forgive as did God? Will they allow him to rise above the past to answer the call?

But For Grace    

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Cor. 15:10) Grace is more than unmerited favor, it is God’s divine enabling. The grace of God is what Paul ascribes the credit to for making the chief of sinners into a chief apostle. This is more than just a great success story. This is God demonstrating His longsuffering and mercy coupled with His willingness to completely change a sinner’s identity. No man would have called Paul. He was the least likely candidate for the job. Understand that Paul’s repentance was as notorious as his crime and even though he knew God had forgiven him of such terrible sins, he still acknowledged that he had done them before the people. He wanted the people to know how full of grace God is. He did not boast of his sins. He viewed his sin with repulsion and sorrow. He said, grace has been given to me who am less than the least of all saints. (Ephesians 3:8) This is not a false humility. He really had a handle on what God had done by grace, and he wants us to understand it. Why? That in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. (1 Timothy 1:16) Paul throughout the centuries has proven to be ‘the pattern’ of how God’s grace can radically change a person and install them in their destiny. This is not man’s domain. It is God’s. Sometimes it is necessary to return to God’s word to regain an appreciation for just how low God will reach.   

From the Womb

God’s plan for Paul was not an afterthought. He writes, But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood. (Galatians 1:15-16b) The concept is common in the Old Testament that God’s call is from before we were born. This is an amazing fact. God calls men and women to service and equips them in the work. This is God’s divine prerogative. Those that are the heirs to the righteousness of God that is by faith are moving in justification by faith. This is a tough thing to consider, but we have to decide if we are going to believe God or not. If God called Paul from the womb there was no point in all of his blasphemous acts did He change His mind. He was called and that was that. His actions had a lot of serious consequences, but his life prior to his true conversion had no bearing on the calling whatsoever. Grace made it possible. Man may not have been able to get past Paul’s past, but God knew what He would do all along. Thanks be to God it was His decision alone.

The Reactions of Men

And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
(Acts 10:11-15)

Our passage is one that we ought to really allow to sink down into our ears. Why? There is something about many people that they cannot let go of their’s and other people’s past. Peter was one of these people. They have biases and prejudices and they simply cannot get past them. It is no light thing that Peter actually argued with God about His ability to cleanse something that was once considered common or unclean. God’s response? And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. (Acts 10:15) The AV does not rightly capture the seriousness of what God said. The thought goes deeper than merely “styling something as common.” It means literally, do not thou defile. That is to say, do not profane it by regarding and calling it common. Rev., “make not thou common.” (Vincent)

Peter was profaning that which God had made holy by calling it common and unclean. The word profane means to treat something as ordinary and commonplace that God has separated for a special purpose. God regarded the Gentiles as having been cleansed and made Holy by grace through faith, but Peter was used to looking down on them as second-class citizens. He had done it all his life. Everyone did it. Non-Jews expected to be treated as dogs by the Jews. Gentiles were not allowed beyond a certain point on the Temple mount. This constant treatment gave the non-Jews a complex (as it were). This means they had a stigma in the own minds that tried to strip them of what God had done. Something marvelous had changed the status of all believing non-Jews and believing sinners alike. Peter still struggled though as we learn in the Galatian letter. Old prejudices die hard. They died hard for Peter, but Paul understood. Why? Perhaps it was because he understood the depth from which God had cleansed him.

Entertaining Prejudices 

I have sometimes wondered why Peter would not take hold of what God had told him and simply obey what God had said. He was a man that had denied Christ before men and was worthy of being denied before the Heavenly Father. That was serious business. I don’t know. We will never really know perhaps. I think men sometimes tend to show mercy in areas where they have failed and non-mercy in areas where they have not failed. Some show no mercy because they simply did not get caught. They have forgotten that getting caught did not make the person more guilty, the act of sinning made them guilty long before they were caught. Getting caught just means that now there are additional consequences. To those that did not get caught be not high-minded but walk mercifully and reverently even as God has not seen fit to expose your sins, but has likewise forgiven you. To behave otherwise is sin.

Called to Service

Paul writes, And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into His service. This is God’s doings. The basis on which it happened was that God counted Paul faithful, that is, trustworthy. God knew that Paul would be faithful to carry out his divine commission and that he would be faithful to the truth of the Gospel. This is an important consideration. We can easily get hung up on what qualifies or disqualifies a person from serving the Lord, but the question above all is faithfulness.

We have this pattern in the Revelation, These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. (Revelation 17:4) God is looking for individuals that will answer the call and be faithful to Him and the thing that He places in their trust. What is your past? You cannot possibly be the chief of sinners as Paul already has that title. Do you believe that if Paul could be saved and used of God that He can likewise use you? Not because of your own strength, but because of His grace. The Bible is loaded with individuals that were the most unlikely candidates and yet God used them. You say, “But I’m not worthy.” The question is, “Who is worthy?” We are made worthy because it pleased God, to by cleansing elevate even the chiefest of sinners from the common and unclean to His divine service.

*footnote The marks of Jesus (ta stigmata tou Iēsou). Old word from stizō, to prick, to stick, to sting. Slaves had the names or stamp of their owners on their bodies. It was sometimes done for soldiers also. There were devotees also who stamped upon their bodies the names of the gods whom they worshipped. Today in a round-up cattle are given the owner’s mark. Paul gloried in being the slave of Jesus Christ. This is probably the image in Paul’s mind since he bore in his body brandmarks of suffering for Christ received in many places (2 Cor. 6:4-6; 11:23ff.), probably actual scars from the scourgings (thirty-nine lashes at a time). (A.T. Robertson)    

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