Few of us would claim perfection, and most of us would admit to having experienced some period of rebellion or failure in our lives, albeit to varying extents. But can we recover from such periods of fallibility and reclaim a position of rightness? Can we move from forlorn to fantastic?
Last week I shared the story of Joey, who was suffering from alcoholism and addiction and finally came to a moment of clarity and was able to turn his life around. This week, to explore the question of our potential for restoration, I want to walk through a parallel story from the Bible and see if we can find the answers to our questions. So let’s see if we can relate.
First the story, from Luke 15:11-32 (NIV):
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
The first thing we might notice about this story is the overwhelming sense of entitlement the younger son displays. Think about verse 12 for a moment; this Young man has already made the assumption that he will get a share of his father’s estate and he doesn’t want to wait for it and he surely doesn’t show much interest in earning it. It is, actually, a fairly large assumption to think that his Father will even still have an estate to divide once he reaches the end of his life for many things could happen to leave him penniless, but his son shows no interest in any of that. He just wants a free ride now. Instant gratification. He might as well have wished his father dead.
Can you identify with this young man’s lust for immediate reward? Do you relate to his lack of concern for his father and his family in deference to his own desires? I sure can. For who among us has not wished for something more than we have now; for something we are not patient enough to earn for ourselves? Isn’t this why the lottery is so attractive to many of us? Who hasn’t searched for or thought about a get rich quick scheme? We can also guess that this father’s willingness to oblige his young son may speak of further family dysfunction, but we’ll leave that possibility for another time.
The younger son, having received his share of the estate, quickly abandons his generous father and family, shirking any sense of responsibility, and heads off to a “distant land” where he promptly begins a lifestyle of wild living. As is perhaps common to young people, he had little sense of concern for his future and held back nothing for emergency. And, of course, an emergency quickly arose, in the form of widespread famine. It wasn’t long before the young man was cold and hungry and desperation began to settle over him. So he hires on with a farmer and is assigned the task of feeding the pigs.
It is somewhat important to the story to recognize that this young man is Jewish, and in the Jewish tradition of the time pigs are the vilest of unclean animals. To have sunk so low as to have to feed a hated, non-kosher animal hints at the desperate nature of the situation this young man had fallen into. That he desires the very food these filthy pigs are eating only underscores the humiliation he was experiencing. We might equate this today to a father whose gambling problem has cost him everything he once held dear; or a young woman forced into prostitution to pay for the drugs she has become addicted to.
Perhaps because the famine was so widespread, or maybe because they knew his trials were of his own making, or possibly a little of each, but for whatever the reasons, no one gave the young man anything. He couldn’t even beg a living. And this brought him to rock bottom and it is in this state of deep despair that he finally has his “moment of clarity”, or as verse 17 puts it, he “came to his senses”. And here in the depths of his despondency the young man comes to a point of remorse and contrition.
Finally, in this state of penitence the young man realizes how good he had it at home and he returns to his father. “I have sinned against heaven and against you” are the words he practices in verse 18. And as he approaches his father’s home he is spotted in the distance and his father, who has obviously been waiting and hoping for his return, rather than being angry or judgmental, acts compassionately and runs to his son and greets him warmly and enthusiastically. In verse 23 the father proclaims: “My son was dead but now he is alive; he was lost and now he is found,” and a great celebration begins.
Those of you who are parents will no doubt understand the father’s reaction. As parents we all see our children make mistakes and we hope they learn from them, but when the mistakes are huge and life changing, how much more do we rejoice when they finally claim victory and begin to live well once again?
And this is exactly how God feels about each and every one of us. No matter what you have done or how far you have fallen, God longs for you to come to him. For you perhaps it has been just a few mistakes you’ve made along the way, or maybe like me you have made some rather large blunders, but whatever your situation you know you have sinned “against heaven” and against others, and probably against yourself. You know, instinctively, that you are not perfect. God knows, too. But rather than waiting in anger to judge you harshly, God seeks you and longs for you to come to Him with your regrets so He can extend His forgiveness and grace to you.
Will today be the day you accept the gracious forgiveness available through the shed blood of Jesus? For it is only in Christ that we are made perfect (in heaven).
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