I love stories and movies with good endings. The parable (short story) that Jesus gave about a son leaving and returning home has both a warm, happy ending and one that is sad (Luke 15:11-32).
When the rebellious son finally decided to return home he looked very different than when he left. The last time his father had seen him the young man was clean, well-dressed, had a lot of money and an angry, arrogant spirit. When he came home he was filthy, dressed in tattered clothes, weak, thin and had a broken, humble spirit.
He knew he had done wrong and was wondering what kind of reception he would receive from his father. The last thing he needed was a lecture about the consequences of sin or an “I told you so” speech. When a person comes home broken, we are to receive them with joy and full forgiveness.
The great British preacher, G. Campbell Morgan, called Luke 15, “The Parable of the Father’s Heart”. In other words, the key figure in the story is the father as he seeks and loves that which was lost. The earthly father is a picture of the Heavenly Father. The same heart of the Heavenly Father receiving a wayward person is to be our heart, too.
Two simple lessons are given to us in this story for those that are on the receiving end of one that has left and wants to come home. First, expect them to come home. The father had believed his son was coming home evidenced by the fact that he was looking for him and saw him when he was “a great way off” (:20).
Also, there was a “fatted calf” mentioned (15:23). This was a calf that had been set aside purposefully for a celebration when the son returned. The father was going to have a party “when” his boy came home, not “if” he came home.
I’m sure the father got discouraged at times and felt that he would never see his son again. Believe God and ask Him to work in the heart of your friend or loved one. I often tell parents that are burdened about their wayward children, “Remember that the prodigal came home. He had some scars and regrets, but he did come home”.
I have seen God work miracles in the hearts of the most hardened after wasting their lives. This past week I saw a man that had some very strained relationships within his family. He rarely conversed with his family and never laughed. If anyone mentioned anything about spiritual matters he became antagonistic.
He became very ill, so much that he had to go into intensive care in the hospital. The situation became dire and his life was in the balance. His brother attended our church and was burdened for his soul. Because of past unpleasant experiences he was reluctant to speak to his brother about his spiritual needs, but urgency compelled him to do so.
My friend in our church approached me after a service and asked me to pray for him as he went to speak with his brother. A few days later I got a text message from my friend that informed me that his brother had accepted Christ as his Savior the very day he went to visit with him.
A few days later he told me that his brother had been totally transformed. Not only did he have peace in his heart, but he was warm and friendly, and even laughed now. I was looking forward to meeting his brother and I did.
Weeks after he was released from the hospital he began to attend our church. We became friends because he always sat right behind me and I talked to him each week. I had the joy of baptizing him and he continues to walk with the Lord. When I spoke to him this past week I could still see peace in his countenance. He smiled and we laughed about some things. When it was time to leave I told him that I loved him and the told me the same.
Yes, people still can still “come home” even after many years of being away. There is hope. God can do what you cannot do. Expect Him to work in their lives.
A second lesson is almost too obvious to mention, but it is in the story in Luke 15 – enjoy them when they come home (:23-24, 32). There was great joy in that home when the son returned. The father threw a big party for him.
One of the greatest joys in your life is when a close friend or family member is restored to fellowship with you. This is not a fairytale ending that never happens. It is true! This is the story of how the gospel works in the lives of people. It is not a time of rehashing old hurts, but of celebrating a new life and the forgiveness found in Christ.
Perhaps you are away from God and feel that the Lord will not receive you again. Maybe you have drifted away from your family because of foolish choices. Take heart. God is rich in mercy and compassion. Like the prodigal son, return home with humility, brokenness and seek forgiveness from those whom you have hurt.
Is there someone that has been away that you long for things to be made right? A son or daughter, a spouse, a brother or sister? Ask God to give you the heart of the father in the story. That is the same heart of God Himself. He can repair relationships and restore hope and love to a life and home that is filled with strife and pain.
If you need to come home, take the first step today. If someone you love is coming home, take the first step to receive them and love them. This is what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. It will work for you – on both sides.
(This is the story of one of my dear friends, John Bramlett. I first heard of him when his son was my brother’s roommate in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Bucs. We have had him at our church many times. He has an incredible story of how God changed his life. His book is called “Taming the Bull” and can be bought on amazon.com).