Message of the Week: God's open arms
One of the more famous stories in the Bible is often referred to as the parable of the prodigal son. Jesus tells of a younger brother who asks for his share of the inheritance and gets it, and then leaves home and squanders his wealth in "wild living." In today's terms, we'd say he spent his money on drugs, sex and partying. For a while things were fun, but then the money ran out, his "friends" left and times got hard — really hard.
He ended up alone, destitute and practically starving. Jesus says that after a while this man "came to his senses." He remembered where he came from. So with a contrite and humble heart, he headed home, determined to apologize to his father and hoping he could at least get a job working for his dad so he could have food to eat.
The next part is my favorite part of the story. The Bible says that "while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." (Luke 15:20 NIV) I've always imagined that the father was looking down that road that led out of town, watching for his son. He probably did it every day, hoping one day he would see him coming back home. And on this day it happened. His younger son had returned!
I'm a dad. When your kids blow it, you want to lecture them. But this father didn't do that. He ran to his son, hugged him and welcomed him home. The Bible goes on to explain that he restored his son to his rightful place in the family, treating him with honor and dignity. And then this dad threw a party to celebrate that his son, who had been lost, was now found.
Jesus told this story to a group of religious leaders who thought they were better than everybody else. These pastors and theologians looked down on people who had failed morally or who had questionable reputations. Yet these were the kind of people that kept flocking to Jesus. Not "good" people, but struggling, hurting, broken ones. The very people that religion was turning away were coming to Jesus and being welcomed by him.
It's clear that Jesus told this parable to show the religious leaders that they were missing the heart of God. Look at what the Bible says in John 3:17. "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (NIV) God's heart is one of compassion and mercy.
As a pastor, I don't want to miss God's heart. I need to remember that I was the prodigal son. And when I stumbled down that road on my way home, God welcomed me with a loving embrace. He forgave me and restored me. And now I get to be his open arms to anyone who is beginning to turn around and head home. He's waiting for you; watching every day until he sees you coming down that road.
Rob Christian is pastor of The Rivers Foursquare Church, 1548 Poole Blvd., Suite C-E, Yuba City. Message of the Week appears on Saturdays.