The Good Father
After my husband died, I was struggling to fall asleep at night and I was struggling to stay asleep. I had tried singing praise songs in my head while I was unwinding from a busy day, but these lovely melodies were creating brain worms in my mind that were keeping me awake. Thinking of what I could dwell on, that would help me slow my brain down and give me peaceful thoughts I wondered if quoting scripture would help me, and amazingly it did. Sometimes I would even repeat the scripture out loud because I was sleeping alone for the first time in over forty years. And, sometimes I fell asleep before I could finish quoting a passage. After a couple of weeks of success I decided to tackle memorizing some longer passages like Psalm 23 to help me find rest.
It was going well, but there was one line I consistently kept forgetting as I was reciting the passage. It was the phrase, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake,” in Psalm 23:3b. As I meditated on this I realized I have always want to pick the righteous acts I do for God and of course I pick activities that will make me look good. I began to wonder if this verse was so difficult for me to remember because my brain was deliberately rejecting it. As a new widow I knew God was leading me down a path that was going to make him look good, that was going to be for his name’s sake, but I wasn’t exactly happy about it. I knew I was right in the middle of God’s will, but I didn’t think I was looking good. I was crying, I was grieving, I was struggling, and this was the exact path of righteousness God wanted me to walk.
God’s perfect plans will often surprise us. When Jesus walked upon this earth he didn’t behave the way the religious leaders thought the Messiah would act. He hung out with sinners and even shared meals with them (Luke 15:1-2). When Jesus walked his righteous path his godly behavior attracted rebukes and complaints. So, in Luke 15 Jesus tells three parables that will explain his motives for spending time with sinners. In the first parable Jesus’ likens himself to a Good Shepherd who leaves his flock of ninety-nine sheep to search for his lost lamb, and in the second parable Jesus likens himself to a Good Woman who turns her house upside down to find a lost coin she has misplaced. It is this last parable I want us to consider now. In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus portrays himself as a Good Father whose two sons are initially, blinded to his goodness. Luke 15:11-32 reads,
11 He also said, “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So he distributed the assets to them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living. 14 After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing. 15 Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one would give him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. 19 I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.”’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. 21 The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father told his servants, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, 24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he summoned one of the servants, questioning what these things meant. 27 ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28 “Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’
31 “‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” CSB
If we want to imitate the Good Father, we will need to be filled with his compassion.
At the beginning of the story the youngest son comes to the father asking prematurely for his share of the legacy. The father chooses not to be offended by this request, even though the younger son’s attitude is basically, “Dad, if you would just die, I could get my part of the money.” In fact the father never reacts negatively in this story toward his younger son or his behavior. Why? The good father’s love for his son is unconditional. This father’s love has no strings attached. This parable is a picture of grace. The younger son never has to earn his father’s favor. This is how Jesus sees the lost. He compassionately loves them. This is not how the religious leaders looked at the undesirables, but to Jesus they were precious.
In Luke 15:31b when the father tries to talk the older brother into joining the welcome home party, we see this line, “…everything I have is yours” in the CSB, and the ESV translates this phrase “…all that is mine is yours.” Do we know this? Do we know the father’s wealth extends to his children? God’s resources are vast and as his children we have entered into a family relationship with Jesus. Everything he has, has generously been imparted to us too, and this is the only reason we can afford to be generous. Jesus is good. He is on our side, but he is also on the side of those who are lost. He is not stingy, never has been. He is a perfect God with a perfect agenda. Will we join his path of righteousness, the one he has designed to advance his namesake, or will we pursue our own selfish plans? Will we let him grow a compassionate heart within us? Remember, Jesus is teaching these religious leaders about God’s eternal plan of salvation. Have we ever truly envisioned God’s compassion toward the lost?
If we want to imitate the Good Father, we will need to embrace his mission.
This loving father had two sons. One who had wandered off and one who had stayed near. The Good Father desired for both sons to come home, and enjoy a relationship with him and with each other. Unfortunately, at first neither son actually knew their father was good. How is that possible?
In the imagery of this parable the younger son who traveled far away, represents the gentiles who are far from God and the one who stayed near represents the Jews. This phrase, “Those who are far off and those who are near” is often found in the scriptures. For example: In Isaiah 33:13 we find this wording, “You who are far off, hear what I have done; you who are near know my strength” CSB. And again in, Isaiah 57:19 the prophet Isaiah hints at this concept with these words, “…Peace, peace, to the far and to the near, says the Lord, and I will heal him” ESV. From these prophetic passages we see the coming Messiah’s perfect love will reach beyond the Jews. Paul picks up on this thought in Ephesians 2:11- 19,
11 So, then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. 12 At that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In his flesh, 15 he made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that he might create in himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. 16 He did this so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death. 17 He came and proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So, then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, CSB
It has always been God’s mission to bring his gift of salvation to the entire world. We see this foreshadowed in the Abrahamic Covenant found in Genesis 12. First, Abraham was blessed by God, and secondly, Abraham was blessed so that he could bless others. How were Abraham and the Jews going to bless every other ethnic groups in the world? By introducing them to the real God. From their earliest call, Abraham and his descendants were chosen by God to draw their near neighbors and their far off neighbors into a loving relationship with their creator.
Even the promise land’s location would prove to be advantageous to God’s mission. Caravans of different people groups were constantly traversing the ancient trade routes found in Israel’s narrow plot of geography. God literally planted Israel’s promise land at the crossroads of the ancient world, all because he wanted her to make his goodness known to the nations.
Unfortunately, throughout their Old Testament history the Jews were often reluctant evangelist. For example: remember when God sent Jonah to Nineveh? His is not a pretty story, but some Jews were faithful like Joseph and Daniel. In Luke 15, Jesus is appealing to the religious leaders of his day, to remember the privilege given to the Jews to be God’s ambassadors to the world.
Fortunately, Jesus’ very Jewish disciples came to embrace God’s compassionate mission. They will take the gospel to the known world of their age. For example: In Acts 8 we see Philip sharing the gospel with an Ethiopian eunuch and in Acts 10 we see God sending a vision to Peter so he will go and preach to the gentiles. Eventually, this early Jewish church will be transformed from one single ethnic group into a diverse and multicultural entity.
Every character in the Good Father story can understand the purity of the father’s desire for a celebration, except the jealous older brother. In Jesus’ three parables finding the lost will bring people together to express a communal joy. The Good Shepherd invites his friends and his neighbors to celebrate with him, the Good Woman calls on her friends and neighbors to share her joy. The Good Father instructs his servants and his family, “We must celebrate,” so they kill the fatted calf, crank up the music and start the dancing. Only one sinner has to repent to initiate these parties, but it will take a village of people to properly celebrate them. This kind of eternal joy is too good to keep to ourselves. Jealousy and judgement squash and kill evangelism. But, Jesus is committed to pursuing everyone. Are we? With the Good Father parable we see God was never that concerned about our behavior, he was always more passionate about establishing a good relationship with us.
If we want to imitate the Good Father, we will need to be filled with his compassion, and we will need to embrace his mission.