God doesn’t always give us what we deserve. And that’s staggeringly good news for every sinner He has graciously pardoned. Sadly, this world is mostly blinded to that reality—our therapeutic culture of entitlement and professional victimhood works overtime to keep us in the dark. We are now overrun with people who seem to think the world—maybe even God—owes them something.
The only people who see clearly in this dark world are those who are broken over their sin—those who accurately perceive their lostness and their desperate need for a savior. Though they are lost, God always finds His repentant people: “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2). Moreover, God comes to them full of mercy and compassion. That is the glorious reality Christ alluded to in His parable of the prodigal son.
As the prodigal journeyed home destitute, humiliated, and broken by his sinful rebellion, he braced himself for the just retribution he knew he deserved. His greatest hope was a life of slavery in his father’s house in return for the food and shelter he needed (Luke 15:17–19). That was the best-case scenario in the mind of this humbled young man. But those faint hopes were about to be exponentially exceeded—before he even reached the threshold.
“But while [the prodigal] was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). There was absolutely no restraint in the father’s response. No cynicism, cautious greeting, or tempered affection. Here was a father not merely willing to grant a measure of mercy in return for the promise of a lifetime of meritorious service—but eager to forgive freely, completely, at the very first sign of repentance.
It is evident that the father was looking diligently for the prodigal’s return. How else could he have seen him while he was still a long way off? We can safely imagine that the father had been looking steadily, scanning the horizon daily, repeatedly, for signs of the boy’s return. He had been at it a long time too—probably since long before the initial shock of the boy’s departure had even worn off.
Obviously, the heartache had not yet worn off, because the father was still watching. And he kept watching daily, heartbroken but hopeful, privately bearing the unspeakable pain of suffering love for his son. He surely knew that the kind of life his son was headed for would eventually end up the way it did. He desperately hoped the boy would survive and come back home. So he filled his spare time watching expectantly. He must have gone to the highest point on his property—perhaps on a tower or rooftop—and spent his idle moments scanning the horizon, praying for the boy’s safe return and thinking about what it would be like when and if the prodigal returned. A man such as this father would probably have turned that scenario over in his own mind countless times.
It was daylight when the father finally spotted the wayward boy. (We know that detail because it’s the only way he could have seen him “a long way off.”) That meant the village center was full of people. The markets were busy with merchants selling, people buying, women with children, and older people sitting in the public square while they watched the bustling activity. The moment the son approached the village, someone would no doubt recognize him and shout the news of his return. Someone else would likely run to tell the father about it.
So why was the father watching? And why did he run to the son rather than waiting for the son to come to him? First, and most obviously, the father was truly eager to initiate forgiveness and reconciliation with his son. This imagery of the father running to meet his prodigal son fills in the details of the big picture even more: It illustrates the truth that God is slow to anger and swift to forgive. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked but is eager, willing, even delighted to save sinners.
That aspect of this parable echoes Christ’s two earlier parables in Luke 15 where the shepherd diligently sought his lost sheep (Luke 15:1–7) and the woman feverishly searched for her lost coin (Luke 15:8–10). Christ is the faithful Seeker—He is the architect and the initiator of our salvation. He seeks and draws sinners to Himself before they ever would think of seeking Him (John 6:44). He always makes the first overture. He Himself pays the redemption price. He calls, justifies, sanctifies, and finally glorifies each believing sinner (Romans 8:30). Every aspect of our salvation is His gracious work. God’s welcome of sinners into His family is exponentially more lavish than anything the prodigal experienced! And there is nothing in this world that can steal that away from His children.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? . . . Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31–32, 35, 37–39)
(Adapted from The Prodigal Son)