He did it every day.
Usually it was late in the afternoon, around sunset.
He would gaze at the fence gate.
It was here he had fastened his hope and his faithful prayers.
It was here where his heart had been broken and where now it mourned. Through this gate he had watched the determined silhouette of his younger son disappear over the horizon.
This father never stopped looking. He never stopped loving.
He held deep in his broken heart a quiet confidence that in time – if nothing had happened to him – his son would again walk through that gate at the end of the road.
Some of you know this man’s feelings. You’ve had them yourself. Perhaps you still do.
Jesus says simply of the young man, “And he arose and came to his father” (Luke 15:20, KJV).
He wasted no time once his mind was made up. The road back was slow and painful. He was hungry, tattered and torn; exhausted by lack of sleep. He was unshaven, unclean and smelly.
He’d lost 20 pounds. His bare feet burned with blisters.
He rehearsed his speech to himself.
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you … I am not worthy …make me a hired hand”.
On this day, the father looked across the horizon. His eyes stopped at the gate. He sat for a few minutes staring at it, lost in thought, and then rose to leave.
He’d walked just a few steps when one his servants cried out excitedly.
“Look!” he exclaimed, pointing at the gate.
Could it be? Yes, it he was him! The father’s heart leaped. Though it was at a distance in the setting sun, his dad recognized the undeniable gait and form of his boy.
How does Jesus describe this father’s reaction to seeing his wayward son? Did the father hesitate? Did he indicate any reluctance or foreboding at this unexpected sight?
“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him …
… and had compassion …” (Luke 15:20, NKJV, emphasis added).
Not anger or bitterness or condemnation or dread – compassion.
He loved his son – at this very moment maybe more than ever. This was what he immediately felt when he first saw him, thin as a reed, slowly walking through the open gate. Sadness mixed with regret at the frail shadow he witnessed, but love more than anything else.
Jesus tells us that this dignified man of prominence and wealth – respected by all as one of town’s leading lights – ran down the road toward his son.
“Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him” (verse 20, NLT, emphasis added).
Surprised by joy, the dad engulfed his son in love.
The father took pity on the son’s obviously wretched condition. The boy was ready with his well-practiced speech. The father listened – at first.
“Father,” the son slowly and deliberately began, “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son” (verse 21, NKJV).
The father had heard the most important part of this.
“I have sinned … and am no longer worthy …”
He gently raised his hand. The father had heard enough.
There was no time to spare. What must now be done must be done quickly – without a moment’s hesitation or doubt.
The whole town would know. Good!
The father turned to his servants, out of breath after running behind their master.
“Quick! Bring forth the best robe!” The son’s soiled rags would be exchanged for the robe of honor.
“Put a ring on his hand!” Nothing has changed the fact that this is still his son.
“Put sandals on his feet!” He may be willing to be a hired farm hand but they don’t wear shoes.
“Now quick, take this lad and clean him up! He smells like a pigpen!”
The son looked at his father in stupefied disbelief. The father smiled broadly. Both men had tears.
“Oh, and that fatted calf we’ve been keeping for a very special occasion? Kill him! We’re having a big party tonight!” (Luke 15: 21-23).
He grabbed his son with a strong hand on each shoulder and looked at the boy’s harrowed and scruffy face with tenderness. Tears streamed down the dad’s cheeks.
“For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found”.
Here is the climax of Jesus’ story. This is why we love it more than any other.
It’s about us.
This is God our Father, seeing us in the distance of our sinful alienation, running to tenderly embrace us as his own children. He takes away the filthy rags of our self-reliance and clothes us with the robe of his righteousness. He gives us the ring of divine possession and places on our feet the sandals of peace.
Then God invites us to his banquet celebration and raises over our heads his banner of unconditional love (Song of Solomon 2:4).
And the angels rejoice.
What is our story? This is our story.
Once you and I were dead and we are alive again. We were lost and now in Jesus Christ we are found.
That calls for a celebration of eternal praise.