You know the story. A young man took his portion of his father’s inheritance and squandered it on riotous living. He ended up broken, ruined in health and spirit, and at his lowest point he decided to return to his father. Scripture tells us, “He arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
Note that nothing hindered this father’s forgiveness of the young man. There was nothing this boy had to do—not even confess his sins—because the father had already made provision for reconciliation. Indeed, it happened all by the father’s initiative; he ran to his son and embraced him as soon as he saw the boy coming up the road. The truth is, forgiveness is never a problem for any loving father. Likewise, it’s never a problem with our heavenly Father when he sees a repentant child.
So forgiveness simply is not the issue in this parable. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that it wasn’t enough for this prodigal merely to be forgiven. The father didn’t embrace his son just to forgive him and let him go his way. No, that father yearned for more than just his son’s restoration. He wanted his child’s company, his presence, communion.
Even though the prodigal was forgiven and in favor once more, he still wasn’t settled in his father’s house. Only then would the father be satisfied, his joy fulfilled when his son was brought into his company. That is the issue in this parable.
Here the story gets very interesting. The son clearly was not at ease with his father’s forgiveness. That’s why he hesitated to enter his father’s house. He told him, in essence, “If you only knew what I’ve done, all the filthy, ungodly things. I’ve sinned against God and against your love and grace. I just don’t deserve your love. You have every right to cut me off.”
Note how the father responds to his son. He utters not a single word of reproof. There is no reference to what the prodigal had done, no mention of his rebellion, his foolishness, his profligate living, his spiritual bankruptcy. In fact, the father didn’t even acknowledge his son’s attempts to stay outside, unworthy. He ignored them! Why?
In the father’s eyes, the old boy was dead. That son was out of his thoughts completely. Now, in the father’s eyes, this son who had returned home was a new man. And his past would never be brought up again. The father was saying, “As far as I’m concerned, the old you is dead. Now, walk with me as a new man. No need for you to live under guilt. The sin problem is settled. Now, come boldly into my presence and partake of my mercy and grace.”