Our grasp of sin and our grasp of forgiveness go hand in hand. Let's be honest: We are all prodigals. We all want our own way…or the highway…and left to ourselves, we'd probably end up not too far from the pigpen, filling our hearts with garbage, and wondering why we're not satisfied. Jesus' parable of the prodigal son is more than just a story in the Bible…it's our story.
In the Word
• Read Luke 15:11-32
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. Luke 15:18-20
The prodigal son felt completely justified by demanding his share of the inheritance (while his father was still living) and leaving home to go "live it up." In Jewish culture, this was equivalent to saying, "Dad, I wish you were dead." He couldn't have dishonored his father more by his attitude and behavior, but, in the moment, only one thing mattered.
Being happy. Having fun. At our worst moments, we, like the prodigal, care only about our own pleasure, popularity, and possessions, and we often don't think about others. But it never works. Leave God out of the picture, and eventually our plans and dreams will crash and burn. When this man was penniless, he got a job feeling pigs, a forbidden animal in the Jewish culture. He hit rock bottom. What about for you? Maybe it's confusion. Dissatisfaction. A loveless marriage. A job you hate. Or just an aching longing in your soul for something more. Finally, the young man "came to his senses" about his sins and decided to go back home. He didn't believe he deserved to be forgiven and reinstated by his father, so he planned to ask if he could simply be a servant on the family farm. When his father saw him coming down the road, however, he did the last thing the prodigal expected. What was that?
When the father caught sight of his son from a long way off, he abandoned all dignity…and ran. He threw his arms around him. Kissed him. Before the boy could even get his confession out, the father put new clothes in his hand and started the party planning to celebrate: "For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
But it all began in the stench of the pigpen with heartfelt honesty and confession.
Make it Real
If we're not aware of the depths of our sins, we won't appreciate God's forgiveness nearly as much. Does the fact that God knows everything—absolutely everything—about you comfort you or terrify you? Maybe both, depending on the circumstances. Being real in our relationship with God means that we respond when his Spirit taps us on the shoulder and says, "That attitude was wrong," or "The words you just said were meant to hurt instead of heal, and that's sin."
We sometimes think of forgiveness as a judicial act by God to declare us "not guilty." It's that, but it's also more. As Luke's illustration shows, forgiveness restores our relationship with God. God the righteous judge demanded the penalty be paid for our sins, but he accepted Jesus as our substitute instead.
In an incredible act of grace, he invites us to join his own family...not as a hired servant, but as a child. A daughter.
And here's the wild part: The more we become convinced that God's forgiveness is full, free, and refreshing…not a scam or an abstract idea…the more we can open our hearts and be a little more honest about the dark things we've locked inside. As we bring our secrets out bit by bit into the light of God's love and grace, we'll find him to be just like the prodigal's dad—not reluctant or slow to forgive—but thrilled to celebrate his forgiveness with us!
Read Psalm 139:1-4. Does the fact that God knows everything about you comfort you or terrify you? Explain your answer.
Is it hard for you to understand God as a loving, pursuing, forgiving father? Why?
As you've read today's lesson, have any long-buried sins come to mind that need to be confessed and forgiven? Take some time now to confess them to God and experience his forgiveness and healing.
Take a moment to read each one of these verses and think about how they apply to your life. Wherever you can do it, insert your name in the verses. Pray these passages over your heart.
• "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace." Ephesians 1:7
• "The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him." Daniel 9:9
• "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." Psalm 103:12
Heart to Heart
One of my favorite verses is from Colossians 1: "For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
This verse refers to a kingdom, too. The dominion of darkness. Not exactly my fairytale, but Paul describes how you and I…and every person on this earth was a slave to sin. Until our rescuer came.
Through his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus has brought us into the kingdom of his Father. And that's not all! He's also given us redemption. Forgiveness. And the privilege of being his daughter…his princess. Fairytale come true. That's worth celebrating about!
Lord, I'm overwhelmed by the fact that you know me completely…and still extend forgiveness to me every time. Thank you for running after and pursuing me, even when I sin and fail you. Shine the light of your truth into the dark places of my heart and show me how much I need you…