When Jesus was being criticized by religious people for spending time with those that were far off from God, He told them a story to describe what God was really like:
11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons.12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20So he got up and went to his father (Luke 15:11-20).
Jesus told this story to illustrate how the Most-High God is in His essence—God is love (1 John 4:8), and very extravagant with His grace, mercy, and love for His children. The son went to a distant country (v.13); certainly, there was no need in Israel for pigs, so he was probably among Gentiles (non-Jews) outside of Israel. When the young son began to reflect on his wasted life and how he had grieved his father, verse 17 says that he came to his senses and started thinking of how to get it right between himself and his father. Rather than wanting to eat the pig food, he felt he would be much better off as one of his father’s servants if he could get his father to accept him as a servant. His sin, he felt, no longer made him worthy of being a son. This young man began practicing his words and "got up and went to his father" (v. 20).
“But 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. 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.’ (Luke 15:20-21).
This father, a picture of the God who loves each of us, was also a long way from home. He was looking and waiting for his son to turn. As soon as the father saw his son he ran to him. There was no anger within the father; his heart was full of compassion. What is compassion? Dictionary.com says that compassion is: Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. This father, a picture of God, had been in pain for his son while he had been away from home.
The father was so ready to forgive that he did not even give the young man a chance to speak his words. He is so in love with his son. After running to him, he is unrestrained in his kissing him. The original Greek language says that he threw his arms around him and kissed him again and again and again. The father expressed his kindness before the son expressed his repentance. This readiness to receive this lost son speaks of God's compassion and willingness to be reconciled to those who are apart from His love. Finally, the young man, in the midst of sobs, I'm sure, manages to get out part of his prepared speech. "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son." But the father cuts him off and speaks to his servants to bring some things.
22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate (Luke 15:22-24).
They were told to bring the “best robe.” There is a double emphasis here in the original Greek text. It speaks of the robe, that principal robe. We are not talking about a coat here; this robe speaks of the son being restored to a place of honor. It speaks to us of a robe of righteousness that covers over our pigsty of sin. The ring speaks of authority and power of attorney. In those days, rings were used to sign official documents. Often the ring had an impression on it that, when pushed into hot wax, was the official seal of the family (Genesis 41:42). We, too, are given authority by our God to do the works of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). The son was given shoes. No slave ever wore shoes, and the father would not let his son go barefoot. He was a son, not a slave. Our feet are shod with the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). We have been made sons of God. The servants were told to kill the calf that had been fattened ready for this day. This father had been slowly fattening the calf that he may celebrate when his son would come home. These were all gifts of grace lavished on the slave returning home to and restored to sonship. How gracious is the Father! He is ready to receive you as soon as you turn toward home. How about going home today? Keith Thomas
This meditation is shortened from the more in-depth study in the Gospel of John: The Parable of the Loving Father