The Prodigal Son – The Sacrifice for the Repentant Man
20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.”
The parable of the prodigal son is one that is very well-known, and consequently is used very often by those standing at the pulpit today to warn against the perils of greed and selfishness. It speaks very clearly about what happens to those that turn away from a loving and generous Father, and seek to buy up for themselves all that this fallen world has to offer; essentially, that they will eventually find themselves bereft of all the things that they once sought after (friends, prestige, money, power, etc.), end up on the bottom of the heap, and have absolutely no-one else to blame but themselves and their own self-interest.
However, this is not the true meaning of this passage; at least, it isn’t the entire story. True, we will face the consequences of our actions should we be foolish enough to want to pursue the lusts of the flesh over residing under the care, protection, provision and blessing of our Heavenly Father, who knows our needs before we even know ourselves. And yes, we also eventually come to the conclusion that we are far better off with our Father than without, and we are all welcomed back into out Father’s embrace with joy and celebration by the heavenlies when we repent and ask for forgiveness for our stupidity. But this isn’t all Jesus’ parable has to offer in terms of teaching.
If you look closely at Scripture, you will find constant references to the penalty for sin: death. You will also find that, because the people in Scripture were unable to pay this penalty themselves, they had to have another way of atoning for the sin that God is unable to bear in His holy Presence. God provided them with a solution; the sacrifices of old, the burnt offerings presented to God for the remission of the sins of the people. This was so all throughout the Old Testament, right up until Jesus came into the world. In fact, these sacrifices persisted until the Final Sacrifice was made to atone for all sin; past present, and until the Last Day. Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross paid the price of blood that was simply too much for us puny humans to be able to pay and still remain pure before a Holy God.
The shedding of blood is a very solemn thing throughout the Bible. It demonstrates the debt that all men must pay to answer for sin, and yet were unable to. It is also cause for celebration, just as it was in the parable. It shows that God has forgotten our sins; that we have been washed anew by the shedding of blood and have been welcomed back into the centre of God’s holy Presence – pure, cleansed, and redeemed.
This is what is revealed in the parable of the Prodigal. The image of the overjoyed father running to meet his son (which no rich, self-respecting landowner would have been caught dead doing in those times), heedless of the filthy, stinking vagabond his child had become because of his sin, is one of our Beloved Father welcoming us back into His house after having asked for forgiveness. The robe, ring and sandals all signify the return of the son to his place as a son, and demonstrate the all-encompassing compassion and forgiveness of our Father in Heaven accepting us as His children after we repent and turn away from our wrongdoing.
Make no mistake; the son had to realise that he was the cause of his own misery, and that he had sinned in walking away from his father, and be willing to ask for forgiveness without any expectation of receiving anything in return, to have any chance of being welcomed back into his father’s house. We cannot simply roll around in the muck of the world and then just expect to be able to waltz right back into God’s house without any consequences.
The symbol of the killing of the fatted calf is the most important. It signifies the shedding of blood for the sins of the son, and in so doing cleansing him of his error and allowing him to be able to stand in his father’s presence without shame or guilt of his previous mistakes. And so it is for us and the shedding of Jesus’ blood, the Blood of the Spotless Lamb of God, as payment for our sins. There was great celebration in the father’s house when his son returned to him, once dead, now alive; once lost, now found. Again, this is the same for us also. Because the blood of the Lamb was spilt on our behalf, we can now turn away from our sins and repent, be cleansed by Jesus’ blood, and return to the Presence of the LORD our God with great joy and happiness.
We have had our fleshly selves put to death with all sin, and have been brought alive, new creations, into the embrace of the Lord. We were once lost, swallowed up by the darkness of this fallen world, and are now found by the Light of the World, who was offered up on our behalf so that we might live.
Praise be to our Almighty Lord in Heaven!