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When a Prodigal Returns

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the LORD…” Acts 3:19

The setting of these words spoken by Peter in Acts comes just after the healing of a lame man who had been that way from birth…over 40 years.  A man who was now walking, leaping, and praising God! A crowd had gathered at Soloman’s Colonnade in awe of what had happened. Peter addressed the crowd, saying in effect, “Why are you so amazed? Why are you looking at us as if we were the ones who made this man walk by our own power or godliness? NO. This man was healed by the power of Jesus” the very one they had rejected as their Messiah. Peter calls for them to repent of their sins, even and especially their corporate sin of Jesus’ crucifixion. 

Peter was talking to Jews, God's chosen people who had strayed so far from God's heart that they did not recognize Him when He came in the flesh as Jesus Christ, God incarnate. It was time to return to the Father's heart. Because if they had, oh, what joy! But so many missed it.

In a way, they were like prodigals, living a life they had crafted—a life of strict rule-keeping, judgment, and looking down on those who were not like them. They burdened God's people with a heavy yoke, one that no one could bear, not even themselves. And it grieved the Father's heart.

Repent—turn to God. 'Repent' comes from the Greek word 'metanoeō.' It's more than just saying you're sorry; it involves a profound change. It means acknowledging that your way is wrong, and God's way is right. Thayer's lexicon defines 'metanoeō' as 'to change one's mind, i.e., to repent... to change one's mind for the better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins.' Peter was calling them to repentance, an inside-out change of heart and mind, so that their sins could be wiped out, blotted out, and no longer inscribed on God's ledger.

In Luke Chapter 15, we witness a scene where "all the tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to listen" to Jesus. However, the Pharisees and scribes complained that Jesus "welcomes sinners and eats with them."  They were so intent on keeping their own rules and traditional prejudices that they missed their heavenly Father’s heart, even as He spoke directly to them. 

In response,  Jesus tells them three parables…one right after the other. In the first two parables (verses 1-10), the owner goes out to look for something that was lost. He goes looking for that which was lost. And when it is found there is great rejoicing. Jesus underscores the idea that there is great rejoicing when that which was lost is found. 

In the case of the lost sheep, Jesus explains that “...there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need repentance.”  Whoa! I’m pretty sure that was a direct hit on the conscience of the Pharisees and scribes…they got the hint. 

In the case of the lost coin, Jesus adds that “there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”  You see…the Father went after them and they turned to Him and received Jesus as their savior.  Again, one sinner who repents. This seems to me to imply an intimate connection between the repentant sinner and the heart of the Father. 

Moving on to the third parable, known as The Parable of the Lost Son or the Prodigal Son. We discover that the Father is not going out to search for His lost son; the son isn’t lost. 

The son decided to take his inheritance early, skipped town, and squandered it on a life of extravagance and reckless living. He pursued his own path to live life on his own terms, but it didn’t work out as he expected.  He found himself destitute, out in a field with pigs, even contemplating eating the pig’s scraps. For a Jewish man, living with pigs and finding their food appetizing was the lowest point.  Humiliating. He was broken and ready to go back, willing to grovel like a servant at his father’s feet, understanding that he didn’t even deserve a seat at his father’s table. 

I find it interesting that the father does not actively go after the son who chose to walk his own path, but he is watching and waiting. We know this because the text tells us that while the son was still a long way from home, his father saw him and was overwhelmed with compassion. He ran to his son and welcomed him with open arms and joyful kisses. He put his own best robe on his son, placed a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet.  It was time to kill the fatted calf and celebrate! 

There’s another son in this parable, the older son, who understandably feels upset that his younger brother, the one who took off, shows back up and is now treated like he is all that and a bag of chips. He, in contrast, had faithfully adhered to his father's rules, never straying and wasting his inheritance. Where was his reward?  His sense of entitlement to recognition and reward is palpable. Sounds a bit like the Pharisees, don’t you think? 

Before we pass too harsh a judgment on the Pharisees, let’s revisit another scene from scripture. Let’s go back to the beginning, to the Garden of Eden. Why? Perhaps to make the case that, at some point, we all become prodigals. 

You see Adam and Eve had it pretty good in the beginning. They had a beautiful garden and walked with God in the cool of the evening. There was no sin, nothing like weeds to make their job of cultivating the garden more difficult. Their labor was pure joy. No predators lurked, ready to devour them. They had named the animals and held dominion over the entire earth. Created in God’s image, they were fellow regents with their heavenly Father, living and reigning over His Kingdom. And it was all good! 

But then, Satan enters the scene,  and Adam and Eve, swayed by his lies, decide to follow their own path. I don't believe this was necessarily a deliberate act of defiance against God's wishes, but rather an attempt to become more like God. After all, God had ordained them as His image bearers, but they wanted to do it their way. So, instead of choosing to listen to God and do it His way, they listened to the enemy of their souls. Perhaps they thought this was a better way? Well, it wasn’t God’s way. But isn’t that often how it goes? Sometimes we doubt God’s way and trust that little voice in our heads, and it changes everything. 

Ever since that fateful day, God has been calling His beloved children back to his arms and back into His good favor. Not so that we can straighten ourselves out and earn that favor. No, it’s so that He can drape us in His own robe of righteousness, covering the sin of our rebellion. When we kneel humbly at His feet He places that Robe on us and raises us up. He returns to us the ring of His authority, the authority we have in Christ Jesus, as well as the promise that restores our identity as His beloved. He brings us shoes, signifying that we are no longer slaves but children of God, reaping all the benefits bestowed upon us by our good good Father. 

There is a  profound change that takes place in us when we choose His ways over our ways and turn from our sins to embrace His love. Our sins are blotted out, and refreshing moments flow from the LORD. He takes delight in His sons and daughters when we turn to Him and return to His loving presence.

I crave more of those times of refreshing! How about you?


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