The Father Love of God
True Father-Love is Seen in God
This world cries out for real men. It is in desperate need of those who are strong and able to protect the weak and defenseless against tyrants and things which can harm. Yet at the same time, within these same men, there is required a spirit of gentleness and love toward their wives, their children and those who are vulnerable, who must have their comfort and assurance. Or, as someone once aptly put it, we need men of steel and velvet.
In today's age that is trying to redefine manhood and womanhood, we need to go back to God's Word for our definitions of both. And it is interesting that of all the descriptions or titles that are given to God in Scripture such as creator, judge, rock, fortress, defender, hiding-place, refuge etc. one of the most loving and endearing is that of Father.
There is no doubt in looking at the God of the Bible that he has all of the characteristics that we traditionally look for in men, for men were created in his image. He has strength and power and the ability to take control of every situation. However, as a Father, he has a compassionate heart for his children so much so that he hurts when they hurt and his heart breaks when they are disobedient toward him. He cares deeply for them and will go to great lengths to save them from harm. It is in God that we see what true fatherhood is all about for he is the ultimate parent upon which all parenthood is based.
I. Astonishment at God's Father-Love
We, sadly, take it for granted but it was a big deal in Jesus' day to call God our Father. The Apostle John says it best when he states:
"Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us that we should be called the children of God" (I John 3:1).
The word "behold" here is both a word of command and exclamation. Frankly, God's great love should amaze us! It should never be considered commonplace that God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die for us that we might be called his children. And as a command, the Apostle is telling us to stop everything and contemplate this! It is worth our time to sit and meditate on it for a while!
The word for "what manner" can also mean "what kind" and in the Greek language originally meant "of what country?" This also implies the feeling of astonishment. The great theologian John Stott had this to say about this word:
"It’s as if John thinks about the Father’s great love and says, “Where does this come from? It must be from heaven because there’s nothing like it in this world!”
The truth is that all earthly love pails in comparison to our Father's love for us. And the love of every good father that has ever lived is but a dim reflection of our Father who is in Heaven. "We love because he first loved us!" (I John 4:19)
Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
II. The Lost Son and God's Father-Love
1. The Context of the Story
This parable is normally called the Parable of the Prodigal Son because of the son's lavish wasteful lifestyle but it could just as easily be called the Parable of the Lost Son because it was part of 3 stories told by Jesus in Luke 15 in reference to the Pharisees accusation that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them when they saw that the Lord was associating with tax collectors (1-2).
First, he tells the story of someone who went out to look for and save one sheep who went astray out of a hundred. After he found it he took the sheep home and then asked his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him because his sheep was found (15:3-7).
Immediately following he told the story of a woman who lost one of her ten silver coins and searches diligently until she finds it. She also asks friends and neighbors to rejoice with her at the finding of the one missing coin (8-10).
Following each parable, Jesus says something similar. But the first has a little jab at the unrepentant Pharisees. With the lost sheep he says:
"I tell you that in the same way there will be rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who do not need to repent" (7))
And after the lost coin story Jesus says this:
"In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (10).
The meaning of these parables is clear. God loves sinners. They matter to him deeply and are precious to him. Furthermore, he will go to any length to bring them back into fellowship with himself and will rejoice when sinners turn to him in repentance.
It is in this context that Jesus begins to tell the story of a loving father who waits patiently for a lost son to return (11-32).
2. The Son Departs (11-16)
As the story begins Jesus spoke of two sons, the youngest of which asked an unusual request. He requested that his father give him his share of the inheritance owed him. This was actually quite callous of the son because he wasn't supposed to get it until after the father had died. It is tantamount to wishing his dad to be dead.
However, the father granted his request and divided up the estate between him and his older brother. He got a third of the estate and his older brother, being the firstborn, got the other two-thirds.
Shortly after that, the younger son gathered everything and went out to a far country and squandered it all on wine, women, and song, or as the text tells us "loose living." Then there was a famine in the land and the son became hungry. In fact, he was so hungry that he hired himself out to a Gentile pig farmer. This was one of the lowest things a good Jew could do since pigs were unclean animals.
Things got so bad that he was willing to eat the pods that the swine were munching on. And of course, all of his so-called friends were unwilling to give him anything to eat.
3. The Son's Return (17-20)
Finally, the Scriptures teach us that the boy came to his senses. He realized how crazy it was to be eating with pigs and starving while his father's hired servants had plenty. He made a decision to return to his dad. He practiced a speech that he'd give to him. He'd say:
"Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired men" (18-19). So he got up and went home. However, he wasn't prepared for his dad's response.
4. The Father's Loving Response (20-24)
Even before the son could come near his father, dad had been looking out for him to return. It is apparent that he'd been looking over the horizon for days to get the first glimpse of his wayward child, hoping that today would be the day.
At last, he saw his emaciated son, who smelled oddly like a pig pen, and ran out to him while he was still far off. This was an undignified act for a nobleman of this century to run but he didn't care. After all, it was his beloved son returning to him.
The boy gave his speech but his dad wasn't listening. Without any rebuke, all the father could think about was a celebration! He told the slaves to bring out the best robe, reserved for a guest of honor. He gave him a ring which was a symbol of authority. He put sandals on his feet which were not usually worn by slaves. Slaves went barefoot. This symbolized his restoration to full sonship.
Finally, he had his servants kill the fatted calf. This was reserved only for the most special of occasions. It was a sacrifice or a feast of great celebration!
And then the son heard words from his father that he'd never thought he would ever hear. He said:
"For this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found!" (24).
Thomas Wolfe wrote a book a few years ago entitled "You Can't Go Home Again." Well with our loving God in Heaven we surely can. Whether it be a sinner who comes to him for the first time or a wayward Christian. God is there to bring us back to himself with the open arms of a lovesick father.
III. The Father-Love of God and the Older Son (25-32)
Though we sometimes neglect it, we need to finish the parable with the reaction of the older boy and the father's response to him. The older son represents the self-righteous Pharisees and any religious person that thinks that they don't need to repent of sin. They stay close to the Father's side but their heart is far from him. These people have no real love for the father and just want what they can get out of him.
The older son in the parable was in the field, doing his work. But when he got near the house he heard music and dancing and inquired of one of the servants what was going on. When he found out that the celebration was for his younger brother he got angry and refused to come to the party.
Notice what happens next. The Father, once again, goes out to his eldest son just as he'd done with the younger child since the boy wouldn't come to him, and pleaded with him to go to the feast (28). He obviously has a love for this young man as well, or he wouldn't have bothered to come out at all.
But the son continued to respond in anger, telling his father that he had served him for years and had never neglected any of his commands but he'd never even given him a young goat to celebrate with his friends. He then referred to his brother as "this son of yours" (30), which is a statement of contempt. He tells his father:
"But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!" (30).
Clearly, it was unlikely that he hadn't ever neglected any of his Father's commands since he seemed to have a great disrespect for him in this particular instance. He was dishonoring him by not joining in on the celebration. And it is also plain to see that he was doing the work for his dad for what he could get out of it and not because he cared for him.
But the father still responds with gentleness and love, even with this self-righteous hypocrite of a son. Jesus tells us:
'My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' (31-32).
Jesus is telling the Pharisees that they are invited to the celebration if they would but repent of their own sins and come under the love of a Father who hasn't given up on them though their hearts be hardened.
Our God truly is a loving Heavenly Father who gave the best he had by the death of his son Jesus Christ to bring us back to himself. The question now is: "How will you respond to that love?" Will you, like the older son, reject the father's offer to come to the feast and join Him in the eternal celebration that he has prepared for those who love him and have received the sacrifice of his son for their sins? If you do reject him, he will not force you to love him and accept his offer of salvation. You will end up separated eternally from a God who loves you everlastingly and is pleading with you to join him.
Or will you be like the formerly lost son by acknowledging your sin and accepting Jesus as your savior. If so, the Father wants to share his love and his heavenly home with you forever. He wants to open up his treasures to you and have you share in his riches.
The Father-love of God is one that is beyond our human comprehension. The songwriter Frederick Lehman has attempted to put it into words in his song which is simply entitled: "The Love of God." He writes:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky
Though we may never fully understand it, we can spend eternity enjoying that love and basking in the Father's care for us. Indeed, let us behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us that we, sinful creatures though we are, by faith may be called the Sons and daughters of the living God. May we always be astounded and grateful for that fact and spend our lives in faithful service to Him.
© 2018 Jeff Shirley