In preparing a Father’s Day message, I was somewhat sickened, shocked, and appalled as I discovered that the majority of my church congregation do not, or did not, have a godly example of fatherhood in their lives.
For most people the word father represents that which is selfish, hurtful, and detestable at best. Angry, abusive, selfish, and sinful fathers have blurred the vision of fatherhood as God originally intended, and have left behind the wreckage of so many who were never able to please, or gain approval, from their earthly fathers.
Fathers play such a primary and vital role in the development of a child’s identity and security as they experience either a loving acceptance and approval, or a cold, distant disapproval from their fathers. Where do we go to gain a correct view of fatherhood in times like these? I found myself reading Luke 15:11-24 with a new focus on the Father-heart of God.
In this parable we discover five qualities that are true of the Father-heart of God so that we might regain what our society has lost.
The first quality of the Father’s heart is that…
I. He is a Giver Providing Mankind’s Needs
(vv. 12,17), So he divided his wealth between them …”How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!”
First, in v.12 we see the father’s provision as he divided his inheritance to both sons. This inheritance was not based on what the sons did or would do with it – he simply gave it because that is his nature. As this planet spins around on its axis, God gives and provides for mankind every day. Like the son in this story, mankind has taken the inheritance of life all right, and we have squandered it for our own selfish ends.
The tragedy is that the human race in general lives with the expectation that we deserve this world and all its many blessings, and when something goes wrong we curse God at best and at worst live with the notion that there is no God.
I am sure that the father in our story was deeply hurt by his son’s shocking request and morally depraved lifestyle. You must understand that when the son asked for his inheritance, he was in effect saying, “Dad, I want to live as though you were already dead.” He demonstrated no love to the father at all, yet the father still gave!
Second, the father provided not only for his own offspring, but in v. 17 we see him providing for the needs of his hired men. The son who was starving in a distant land cried out, “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!” It is the knowledge of his father’s generous provisions for day laborers that stimulated the rebellious son to rethink his position in life.
The Father in Heaven is the great provider, and although He will not force you to come home from eating the unsatisfying husks of this world, He wants you to be wooed by His abundant provisions for you. God alone can satisfy the human heart. God alone can meet your soul’s deepest needs.
The second quality of the Father’s heart is that…
II. He is a Seeker of the Spiritually Lost
(v.20a) But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him…
This indicates he was constantly scanning the horizon, straining his eyes, looking for his son. This father had a seeking heart; he was not bitter and angry at his son who tarnished his good name. He was not sitting at home waiting for the door to open and his son to come on in. No! He was out at the city gate looking down the road in the direction that the son had left. His seeking wasn’t private; it was in a public gathering place. His heart was longing and aching for the return of his son.
The seeking call of God the Father goes out every day as the gospel is preached and Jesus Christ is proclaimed. The Father seeks us, even in our rebellion. John tells us thatthe Father seeks after true worshippers (John 4:23).
Fathers, do you seek the hearts of your children? Do you parent for convenience, or do you parent for relationship? Men, we live in a self centered society where life is – all about us. This is reflected in our parenting as so often we see our children as nothing but an inconvenience to our selfish agendas. This is nothing new! In Luke 1:17 speaking of John the Baptist, it says, “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
The third quality of the Father’s heart is that…
III. He Overflows with Compassion to Those Who Return
(v. 20b) and felt compassionfor him and ran and embraced him and kissed him.…
Firstly, the father’s compassion is seen in the fact that he ran: Middle Eastern noblemen don’t run. It was undignified. The word running here is the Greek word that is a technical word for racing in a stadium. This father literally sprinted down the road to his son. Now, to do this he would have had to lift up his long flowing garments and expose his legs, which was a social “no-no!”
Secondly, the father’s compassion is seen in that he embraced and kissed his son: In a situation where the son had shamed the family name, it would have been unthinkable for the father to embrace or kiss the son. Instead, the son would receive a rather cool reception, and he would be required to bow low and kiss the father’s feet. He would then be told what he would have to do and for how long. After reparation and restitution was made, then he could be reconciled.
But the father in the story kissed his son repeatedly. This is truly incredible! God will embrace the sinner with all His strength and plant kisses all over the sinner’s head. God is not a reluctant Savior. His kisses are kisses of affection flowing from a heart of compassion. The embrace and kisses were a gesture in the culture of acceptance, friendship, love, forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation.
This is the picture of God’s compassion to us. The moment you turn from your sin, God will run toward you. Compassion wells up within Him, [and] He sprints toward the sinner. Exodus 34:6 …the Lord passed by in front of [Moses] and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.”
Fathers, we need to show compassion to our children when they return to us and say sorry. We must avoid exasperating our children. Our children must know we love them; they must feel we love them and would sacrifice ourselves for them.
The fourth quality of the Father’s heart is that…
IV. He Desires Reconciliation and Restoration of the Broken Relationship
(v.22) But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet;”
The father’s heart was not to isolate and distance himself from the son, but rather to reconcile and restore him. “The father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe, put it on him, put a ring on his hand, sandals on his feet’,”
The father showed no shame. The best robe in the closet represented dignity and honor being bestowed on the son. In effect, the father was saying in this act alone that everything I have belongs to you. The ring would have been a signet ring, and it would have on the ring the family crest or seal. This was used in wax as anauthentication for sending documentation; it represented the family authority. More than that, the servants were to put sandals on his feet! The hired men went barefoot and servants went barefoot. Only masters and sons wore sandals. What happened here was the father was restoring the son to the full honor of sonship.
This is our Heavenly Father’s greatest honor: to reconcile men to Himself by His grace, and restore the broken relationships of those who have gotten lost and who have died spiritually.
Fathers, the greatest blessing you can ever leave to your children is a knowledge of the grace of God in your lives. Salvation, to God, is by grace alone. It is the gift of God. God doesn’t want you coming to Him in any different way than this prodigal son. You must come to the Father in the stench of your sin, in the rags of your sinful lifestyle, with empty hands, nothing to offer the Father but a repentant heart. That’s how you are to come because God justifies the ungodly.
Romans 5:6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
Finally, the fifth quality of the Father’s heart is that…
V. He Celebrates Saving Faith
(vv. 23-24) ‘…and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.
The father had only one response, and that was that this reconciliation deserved to be celebrated. Why? Because this was a glorious moment of grace. That which was dead was now alive, and that which was lost was now found. That’s why there is joy in the house of God…
You have to understand that the basis of the celebration was that the son came to his senses, recognized his foolishness to live as if the father didn’t exist, saw that his sin was against heaven as well as his father, and then repents from his self-seeking, sinful lifestyle. With a broken, contrite, and humble, scattered heart, he goes back to the father in faith, believing he will have his needs met.
A lesser father would have waited for his son to arrive; a lesser father would have outlined the conditions of his son’s return; a lesser father would have wanted explanations; but our Father in Heaven has embraced us and kissed us, has brought us into the full rights of sonship, and has called us to His joyous celebration of grace.