The Prodigal Son: The Reception (Part I)

It was a normal day in the Frazier household. I was stumbling through my attempt at fatherhood trying to be the best version of Jack Pearson, Coach Taylor, Charles Ingall and, let’s be honest, a little bit of Phil Dunphy all rolled into one. While Chelsea was off walking on water somewhere basically being the Mother Teresa of motherhood. Just kidding, she was sitting right next to me, but the sentiment is still true.

Davy girl was reading a book that we only let her read in the living room because she has the tendency to go all Dead Poet’s Society on them, apparently believing every page to be an introduction to poetry by Mr. J. Evan Pritchard. So we keep books that we desire to have all the pages still within the binding in one room where we can keep an eye on her.

Well, as she was turning one of the pages it accidentally ripped and, unfortunately, I reacted a little too sternly. (People, don’t judge me…I already told you I wasn’t the saint in the Frazier family). It was one of those moments that I wished I could have had back because the second the words came out of my mouth, Davy looked at me with one of the saddest faces you could ever imagine. Seriously, the crocodile tears were flowing, her lips curled into a literal upside down “u” and she could have started a non-profit with her emotional story. It was truly heartbreaking.

It wasn’t heartbreaking because I didn’t parent well though that was an element. It was heartbreaking because in Davy’s mind, she had disappointed her dad, lost the trust she had earned and falsely believed she wouldn’t be received the same way she had always been.

I immediately tried to absolve those fears with hugs, apologies and trying to buy her love with as many Bougie’s donuts she wanted, yet nothing really worked. Sometimes  as a parent you have the magic touch and everything goes back to normal. Other times you live in this unresolved tension where you know it’s not resolved, but your not sure how to get it there. So we just all went back to reading together in the living room.

As Davy was reading, with every turn of the page, she would look up at me and say, “Daddy, see I’m not ripping the page.” At first, I was just encouraging her and not thinking much about it. However, she kept saying it after every single page. Then it hit me with the full devastating force of revelation that Davy was saying that every time because she felt like she had to earn back my love. It just hurt my heart.

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The Prodigal Son

We’ve been exploring the story of the Prodigal Son (you can catch up here) and isn’t Davy’s reaction the same reaction of the younger brother? After failing and coming to his senses he said:

I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ – Luke 15:18

He didn’t think he was worthy of being a son anymore, but he could work like a hired servant to try to maybe one day earn back his father’s love. In verse 21 he tries to get to say that very thing to his father.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (v. 21)

Isn’t this how many of us respond? Walking back to God not knowing how He will receive us, but knowing that we don’t have really anywhere else to go? We come back to God in prayer/repentance believing that he will be angry with us and that maybe we can “work” our way back into His good graces over time. We might not have a seat at the family table anymore, but maybe we can just settle for a small room in the servants quarters.

How does the Father respond to the younger brother? Does he chastise him? Does he tell him “I told you so”? Does he reject him? Does he tell him that he will bring him back, but not as a son?

How does the Father respond to you and your sin?

[20] And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

[21] And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ [22] But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. [23] And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. [24] For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

The father doesn’t respond with anger, harshness or frustration, but with love, excitement and celebration. In the Father’s response, we see three ways God reacts to the lost who are finding their way home.

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The Initiation of the Father

The Father doesn’t wait! While the younger son was “still a long way off” his father catches a glimpse of him. After the father sees him, his heart is overwhelmed with compassion and he sprints to him, so that he can embrace and kiss his son. The Father initiates with love, compassion and mercy. I love how Tim Keller describes this passage:

First, we need the father to come out to us. Even the younger brother gets the father’s kiss before he repents (v. 20). The father’s kiss is not a response to our repentance but the action that brings it about….We all need God’s grace to come to us first. We need him to seek us or we will never seek him. – Tim Keller

That quote stirs my soul in a profound way. It’s not our repentance that brings about the Father’s kiss, but the action that brings it about. So good! We must remember that we love because he first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). You want to know how God’s going to react to you walking back in his direction? It won’t be with coldness, shame or a harsh word. It will be with love, a kiss and a strong embrace.

The Proclamation of the Father

Before the son could even get all of his rehearsed speech out of his mouth, the father was already cutting him off. His father proclaims to his servants and anyone who would listen to his excitement that his son had returned. What was it that he was proclaiming? “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” The gospel gives us new identity. We should not let the world tell us who were are because it wasn’t the world that shaped us in the womb. We should not listen to the proclamation of certain people in our life because they didn’t create our inmost being. Nor should we listen to the father of lies who wants to steal, kill and destroy.

Instead, we should listen to the One who formed us fearfully and wonderfully from the clay with his own hands, gives us our very life and breath, and desires us to have life abundant in Him. What does the father proclaim over you when you return? He reminds you that are loved, accepted, cherished, forgiven, washed clean, made new, son, daughter, co-heir with Christ and a masterpiece for whom God has good works in store.

The Celebration of the Father

Not only does the Father initiate and proclaim over the lost son who has returned home, but he celebrates!

[22] But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. [23] And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.

Do you falsely think God begrudgingly accepts you back? Or do you believe that he pulls out the stops? The younger son doesn’t just get accepted back, but he gets a party thrown in his honor! The best robe, a ring on his hand, shoes on his feet and a filet mignon from the best steak house in town! This is how God accepts you back friend. Not with hesitation, but with celebration.

If you come home you aren’t going to find an angry, judgmental father, but a compassionate one ready to celebrate your return.

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In regards to Davy girl, I stopped what I was doing and went to her. I gently held her face and had her hold mine. Her eyes kept darting away in shame, but I encouraged her to look into my eyes. As her small, infantile hands hesitantly held my face and our eyes locked, I reminded her that she was my daughter with whom I was well pleased and that nothing she ever does could stop me from loving her. Then I told her over and over again to make sure it sank deep. A big smile slowly crept across her face, then I gave her some “daddy tickles” and kisses galore to let her know that I celebrate her presence and life in our family.

I will have to pursue and affirm Davy girl a million more times as she gets older and God will have to do the same for me.

Let us run to God in repentance knowing that He’s already running to us and ready to receive us in his arms. Then, let us enjoy the celebration of the reunion, not as hired hands, but as beloved children.

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