Last Sunday I was baptised. It was wonderful, it was a truly special day. I was given the chance to share the good news of Jesus with some of those that I loved most and publicly proclaim my faith to my church. And more importantly unite myself with Jesus and acknowledge everything that my God has done for me, acknowledge that I have been saved by God from my sin and that I do truly believe and trust in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
I realise that what I say above is full of many things that I myself took a long time to understand. So here I just want to look at one simple story that had a very important impact on me.
One of my closest friends painted a card for me as part of a present after my baptism; on the front was written:
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and ran to him.
This is a verse from the bible, from the gospel of Luke, from a parable that Jesus tells. This parable, or symbolic story, has become very important to me, and I would like to share it with you:
There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
The first time that I read this parable, I read it simply for its face value, as a story of a son who prized possessions over his family and left his father in order to pursue his own will, but realised all that he had done wrong and on returning to his home, was lovingly accepted by his father. Over the past year, this story has come to mean so much more.
In the summer before I came to university, when I told my Christian friends that I was reading the bible and hinted that I wanted to find out more, we did a bible study that looked at this exact passage. The first time that I read the bible, I hadn’t realised that all these parables, all these stories that Jesus told were more than moral tales. I hadn’t realised, until I looked at this passage together with my friends, that when I read the 15th chapter of Luke that what I was reading was an image of God’s love for us.
I know that so many people have talked and preached about this passage, and I know that others will go into far more depth, represent the message more eloquently and give a far better understanding of this parable. But I simply want to pass on the simple and beautiful truth that this story has taught me. Because this truth in itself is life changing, and it has most definitely changed my life.
The younger son of the narrative is a representation of us. A representation of me. He pursues his own will and his own desires in his life, without considering the cost, just as I did. I turned away from my Father in heaven over and over again. I ignored His existence, ignored everything that He has done for me. I didn’t even given Him the chance, I rejected Him without even reading the bible and finding out what He wanted to offer, to give to me.
I took the life that my Father has given to me, just like the son took his inheritance, and I ran away with it. And just like the son did, you could say that I made a mess of it. I had been given so many wonderful gifts and yet I denied them. I didn’t like myself and I didn’t see how others could like me either. And just like the son, I found that I was in great need. I definitely had friends at school, but I made myself feel very lonely, not asking for help or confiding others when I really needed it, being too proud to accept that I couldn’t deal with things on my own. I needed my Father, not just because I couldn’t survive life on my own, but because I had done so much wrong and He offers us true forgiveness. He offers us eternal life with Him.
Because if we reject the life that our God gives us, then how can we expect eternal life? If we reject God’s gifts, isn’t it only right that we no longer deserve to receive them? And yet, for such a large part of my life I rejected God. And every day I turn away from Him too, every day I do things wrong. And yet God sent His son. Jesus came from His glory in heaven into this broken and messy world. He is the Son of Man, the fulfilment of the Old Testament and the centre of God’s plan for us. Because Jesus didn’t only come into this world to be amongst us, He came to die for us.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Mark 10:45
And when Jesus died on the cross, He took on the anger of God that we rightly deserve, He took on the punishment reserved for me. Which means I can truly be forgiven.
And this is where the parable of the lost son becomes so very beautiful. When the son realises the mess that he his made, and realises all that he has left behind him and rejected, he returns to his father, unable to see how his father would ever adopt and accept him again. He returns thinking that he will not find true forgiveness.
And yet his father’s compassion is far beyond what he could have expected. His father casts asides the shame of what his son has done and forgets the sin that his son has committed and overflows with love for him. And this is a beautiful picture of God’s love for us. Because when I turned to God and asked for His forgiveness, He was already calling me, He was already running to me and taking me in His arms. And just as the father of the parable so much celebrates the return of his son, so does our Father in heaven celebrate our return to Him.
For Your endless mercy follows meYour goodness will lead me home