“In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)
The Not-So-Whole Story
We’re all familiar with the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. It’s the one Jesus told about the son who couldn’t wait to get out on his own. So he decides to ask his father for an advance on his inheritance, which is basically another way of saying, “Listen dad, I can’t sit around forever and wait for you to die so I can get what’s coming to me. I want it now.”
Despite the unthinkably dishonoring nature of this request, the father grants it. And the son takes off, putting as much distance between himself and his father as he possibly can.
With moneybags in tow, the son then wanders to a faraway city to live out his own version of the good life. He arrives good and ready to spend his inheritance on booze, prostitutes, and any other self-destructive activity he can think of. But the thing is, such a lifestyle can only last for so long. Eventually his money runs out.
With nothing left in the bank, the son gets the only job he can find: taking care of pigs. Now this is an important detail. In the minds of the first-century Jewish audience to which this story was being told, the very idea of taking care of pigs would have been offensive. After all, swine were unclean according to the Law of Moses (Lev. 11:7).
But remember, the offensiveness of this detail had a very specific purpose. Jesus was wanting to convey just how far this son had fallen. In fact, He includes one more detail to make matters even worse: the son is so poor and so hungry that he seriously begins to consider eating pig slop. Pig slop! This would have been more than enough to get any self-respecting Israelite thinking, “Okay, now this guy is officially scum.”
But here’s where the parable gets really interesting. As the son considers taking a bite of the slop, a lightbulb suddenly comes on. He gets to thinking, “Hey, I’ll go back home and see if dad will hire me. I mean, his servants eat pretty well and have a decent place to live. Maybe he’ll give me a job.” So the son heads home, practicing what he’s going to say to his father, “Dad, I’m not worthy to be your son, so make me your employee instead.”
Wait, the end?!
Getting Past The Middle
Here’s the thing. Even though we know the rest of the story, we tend to live as if it ends right there.
If our lives were any indication of how things turn out for the prodigal son, the credits would roll as he heads home with his fingers crossed, hoping his dad will treat him as a hireling. We tend to approach our relationship with our heavenly Father like that, as if we were His employees trying to pay Him back for the debts we owe. Thus in some way or another, we tend to remain stuck in the middle of the parable. One writer puts it this way,
“Despite assumptions to the contrary, the reality of the love of God for us is often the last thing in the world to dawn upon us. As we fix our eyes upon ourselves, our past failures, our present guilt, it seems impossible to us that the Father could love us. Many Christians go through much of their life with [this] suspicion. Their concentration is upon their sin and failure; all their thoughts are introspective.” (Sinclair B. Ferguson, Children of the Living God, p. 27)
That “version” of the Christian life sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? We can be so discouraged by our sin and failure that the Gospel isn’t even on our radar. And thus we end up not being able to move past the son-seeking-employment part of the story.
However, as we take this moment to look toward the Lord’s Day, that is precisely what our Father is inviting us to do—to go past that part of the story and into His loving embrace.
But for that to happen, we need a good dose of Gospel sanity.
Here’s what it really comes down to. In eternity past, our Father chose us to be His sons and daughters. Long before we ever did anything right or wrong, He claimed us to belong in His family. Why? Because He loves us. It’s really as simple as that. In fact, the Bible couldn’t be clearer about it, “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:4-5).
Our Father has destined us for sonship and nothing can change that. It was done “in love.” Which means, though we’ve sinned in more ways than we can count, He won’t banish us to eek out the Christian life in the servant’s quarters until we can get our act together. No, we always have a place at the family dinner table. Ours is the seat in between our doting Father (Ps. 18:19) and Jesus our loving elder Brother (Heb. 2:11-12). His predestining love has guaranteed that seat for us.
Therefore, as we gather this Sunday, let’s go beyond the middle of the parable so we can fully experience the best part—the father running wildly down the road toward his son, the son being enfolded in dad’s loving embrace, the fattened calf on the table, and the rambunctious celebration filling the corridors of the father’s household. That’s God’s heart for us.
So for once, let’s allow His astonishing grace to interrupt our lame speeches about making up for our sins. Let’s silence all our self-focused introspection long enough for this life-changing reality to land upon our hearts: our Father doesn’t need us to be His employees; He wants us as His own dear children. Isn’t that wonderful?
Songs for Sunday, September 04, 2016:
As performed by Austin Stone Worship
As performed by Sojourn Music
Speak O Lord
As performed by Keith & Kristyn Getty
For The Sake Of The World
As performed by Bethel Live
Man Of Sorrows
As performed by Hillsong Worship