The First Step Home
We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus.(Hebrews 10:19)
God formed us for His pleasure, and so formed us that we as well as He can in divine communion enjoy the sweet and mysterious mingling of kindred personalities. He meant us to see Him and live withHim and draw our life from His smile. But we have been guilty of that “foul revolt” of which John Melton speaks when describing the rebellion of Satan and his hosts. We have broken with God. We have ceased to obey Him or love Him and I. Guilt and fear have fled as far as possible from His manifest Presence. We have fled, like Adam, to hide among the trees in the garden, or like Peter to shrink away crying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)
So the life of man upon the earth is a life away from the Presence, wrenched loose from that “ blissful center” which is our right and proper dwelling place, our first estate which we kept not, the loss of which is the cause of our unceasing restlessness.
The whole work of God in redemption is to undo the tragic effects of that foul revolt, and bring us back again into right and eternal relationship with Himself. This requires that our sins be disposed of satisfactorily, that full reconciliation be effected and the way be opened for us to return again into conscious communication with God and to live again in the Presence as before. Then by His prevenient working within us He moves us to return.
This first comes to our notice when our restless hearts feel a yearning for the Presence of God and we say within ourselves, “I will arise and go to my Father.” That is the first step, and as the Chinese sage Lao-tze has said, “The journey of thousand miles begins with a first step.”
A. W. Tozer
That great parable Jesus gave of The Prodigal paints such a clear and beautiful picture of the journey of returning fully to God. We sometimes focus on the son who left the physical presence of his father and forget that the son who remained home was separated from the father as well. In the story we read there was a father who had two sons. The youngest began to long for the pleasures of the world and riotous living. He comes to the father and demands his inheritance. Amazingly, the father grants his demand. Point one of the parable: all we may ever have has been given to us by a Heavenly Father who loves us. Let us never forget that the Genesis story tells us that God created all things including the Garden of Eden and placed Adam and Eve there. In that place they enjoyed every thing possible including the physical presence of God. Like the younger son, they began to long for that which was outside the provision of God. Like Satan, they were not content to dwell with a gracious God who provided the with incredible blessings, they wanted more, even the more that was destructive. Like a spoiled child, they demanded their way and their desire. This is what Jesus is saying in the parable. Here is a kind, generous,and loving father who willingly shares all he has with his sons, but it isn’t enough. I realize that human fathers may not have sufficient to give and so a son might feel they want more, but I’m amazed that we would ever perceive God as insufficient. But that’s the point the parable makes concerning the younger son. He demands his way and grasping his possessions, he leaves the father’s presence. I have no doubt that while in the house, all his needs were met and he lacked nothing. Choosing to be on his own, he enters a time of what Jesus called riotous living. He kept no restraint, he lived it up, partying and spending his inheritance as though there was no tomorrow. Point two of the parable: we have been given by a generous Father this precious gift of life but it has a limit and if we choose to spend it foolishly, it will eventually run out and we will find ourselves broken and helpless and abandoned by the very things we have given ourselves to. The story tells us that once the son had spent all and had nothing left, his “friends” abandoned him. Where once he was the life of the party, he was no longer invited. Where once he was surrounded by those “friends, he was left alone. Those who used to wait for him now didn’t have the time of day for him. Point three of the story: once Satan has his way with us and milked the very last thing he can from us, he has no time for us and discards us on the broken heap of humanity and walks away gleefully, glad that he has deceived and destroyed another of God’s creation. We read that this son began to starve and became so desperate that he took a job feeding pigs. The power of this picture must be seen with the backdrop of Jesus’ audience. He was speaking to Jews for whom pigs were considered “unclean” and no Jewish boy would ever take a job caring for them. The point Jesus is making is this, as someone has said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, cost you more than you want to pay, and take more than you want to give.” This son literally came to the end of himself, and was on the verge of eating pig food. How low he had came from where he was in the father’s house. This is what sin and separation does, it drags us down and down and down like quicksand with such a hold on us that it becomes impossible to break free. In the story of that moment of fully giving up, Jesus said that the “young man came to himself”. What a great moment, when we become aware of our state of being. I believe at that moment, that son saw the stark reality of his foolish decision to separate himself from his father and the pride and conceit that led him to believe he could make it on his own. O that God would help us to see the folly of trying to live apart from Him. Point four of the story: the son decided to give up his way and to go home to his father’s house. He would not be returning as the arrogant, demanding son but a a broken humble man who was hoping not to be a son but a servant. He understood his conduct had stripped him of any right of sonship and the best he could hope for was to be taken in as a servant. So he starts home. As he approaches, while he’s a long way off, he sees a running figure. An elderly dignified man has gathered up his robes and is running down Main Street. What a picture Jesus is painting. Dignified, wealthy and elderly men didn’t tear down the street in such a manner. This would be at best unseemly conduct. In the Jewish mind, the father would have stayed in the house and waited for this ragged boy to come crawling home. Point five of the story: Jesus is describing a Father who is willing to give up his dignity, who doesn’t wait for us to make the whole journey home but once He sees us start, He runs like a mad man toward his erring child who has come to himself and chooses to start the journey home. O what a Savior! Not only does this father run, but he embraces this dirty, smelly rag muffin in full embrace. No holding him at a distance, no waiting for him to prove himself. No waiting until he bathed and dressed an presentable. No private ceremony, but in full view of the community, this dignified father wraps this son in his arms. I imagine that his tears begin to wash away the accumulated grime as the prelude to the full bathing of this returning son. With his arms around this dirty boy, he begins to shout, “prepare a bath, bring our my best robe, kill the fatted calf, for this son who was lost is found and he who was dead is alive.” Let the celebration begin.
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Point six: there is a mighty celebration in heaven whenever a lost child comes home to the Father. I think it would be right to say that God lives for these moments.
4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. 8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The obvious story in this parable is the son who left the house returns home, it let’s not forget the son who stayed home but left his relationship with the father. Hear his words to the father:
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Once again we see the incredible love of the Father in this story. When the elder brother refuses to go in, the Father goes out and pleads with him. What sad words this son says. “All these years I’ve been slaving for you,” he says. I wonder if sometimes we feel this way. Jesus was speaking to Jews who year after year did the expected rituals and sacrifices from a sense of duty, obligation and to appease the demands of a God they viewed as a despot rather than a caring Father. This was expressed in the elder son’s words. O that we would follow God and serve Him from the sheer joy of being His child rather than from some sense of duty. I must confess there have been “elder brother” moments in my life when I’ve complained to God that here I am serving you to the best of my ability and it seems that it’s not noticed. O how foolish, I’ve been and how foolish we are if we think that. Point seven: all that the Father has, he shares willingly whether we have strayed or whether we have stayed. There’s no doubt the elder brother was loved as much as the younger for God does not have favorites. That’s a fallen human quality, not a Heavenly Father quality. Hear the Father’s words to the elder brother, “ my son you are always with me and everything I have is yours.”
To all the elder brothers who have stayed committed to God, who have been faithful in serving and working in the kingdom, there’s a fatted calf for you for the Father wishes to celebrate you as much as he celebrates the returning prodigal.
Again hear the words of the father, “We had to celebrate…..” The Father expects us to know of His love and acceptance if we’re with Him but those who have recently come home must have revealed to them sonship over servant hood. So God calls for a celebration. We “elder brothers” ought to celebrate our relationship every day and know all the Father has is ours for the asking.
“You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
Let’s come all the way home whether we’re in the pig pen or in the house.
Dr. John Thompson