“1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Dejected, lonely, desperate. Longing to eat the pig slop. This was rock bottom. As the younger son turns to his father, his self-esteem couldn’t get much lower. With a prepared speech and a heavy heart, he sets out on the journey home envisioning the look of pain and discouragement that would meet him. We’ve all been there. If we’re honest, we’ve all felt this on some level. Perhaps we haven’t squandered everything and hit rock bottom like the younger son, but we’ve messed up, needed forgiveness, and feared looking on the face of the person we’ve hurt. Some of us have even imagined our Heavenly Father looking down with great discouragement in his eyes.
In these moments, often our focus centers on what we can do to earn our way into favor again. In this sense, forgiveness becomes transactional. Take the younger son’s planned speech, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:18-19). Yet, the story takes a twist because the Father sees his son. He’s been looking for him, waiting expectantly – not awaiting his confession but his presence. When the father sees the son off in the distance, he’s overwhelmed with love and compassion. Where the son expected disappointment, he was greeted with joy because the father’s perspective was entirely different. You see, the father had already forgiven his son. He wasn’t looking for his son to make things right, just for his son to come home. He was looking for life, and he was ready to celebrate his return. For the father, forgiveness is relational. He was overjoyed at a relationship restored.
As we consider our own lives, this parable shakes our notions of our Heavenly Father. He loves us, he feels compassion for us, and he pursues us. He doesn’t give up on us, but instead extends transforming grace. We were once far away and dead in our sins, but God, in his great mercy and love, “made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:1-5). We’re saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). God doesn’t stand in heaven shaking his head, but rather passionately pursues us. We may know this in our heads, but when we humbly “come home,” we experience this in our hearts. Do you believe that your Heavenly Father feels compassion for you? He sees us as we truly are and loves us the same. Today, take some time to make some observations about Rembrandt’s painting called “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” Especially examine the face and tender gestures of the father toward the humbled prodigal son as you consider the incredible love and compassion of our Heavenly Father for you.
By Billy Berglund