Key verse: 20
"So he got up and went to his father. "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."
Alexander Pope, a poet said "To err is human; to forgive is divine." He is right. It is natural for us to hurt others; but to forgive is one of the hardest, if not the most impossible virtue to put into practice. It requires divine power to do so. In today's passage we will think about forgiveness and the divine power to forgive. Through today's message I want to cover four points about forgiveness that is found in this parable. May God open our hearts and minds as we study about God's forgiveness.
First, Forgiveness is assertive.
The dictionary defines forgiveness as 'to grant a free pardon and to give up all claim on account of an offence or debt'. Look at verse 20b "So he got up and went to his father..." If you are a father and you see your adult son coming back after spending all your money and ruining your reputation, what are you going to assume about his motive in coming back? You might assume is he is going to ask for more money. Is this what the father assumes? No!
What does the father do when he sees his son? Look at verse 20b "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."
The father doesn't know the real motive for his son's return. He doesn't know whether or not he had a change of heart. The father runs to his son, throws his arms around him and kisses him. He doesn't set conditions for forgiveness. He doesn't say, "Well, he if wants my forgiveness, he should come on his hands and knees." The father’s forgiveness is assertive. Assertive means to "be bold", "take initiative" or "take the first move."
The lack of assertiveness is the problem with the world. We don't move but justify our inaction by saying, "They started it, and they are to blame. Let them make the first move." The interesting thing is that they are also saying the same thing about you! That is how our minds and hearts work. The whole world is sinking into hell because of this way of thinking. We are on our porch waiting for the other person to make the first move. Many social problems such as wars, violence, divorce, lawsuits can be attributed to this lack of assertiveness. What did our Lord Jesus teach? Jesus taught us to be assertive. Matthew 5:23"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Basically, Jesus wants our forgiveness to be assertive by saying “First go and be reconciled!” To Jesus, it doesn't matter who starts it, it doesn't matter who is to blame. We have to go! A friend of mine was going through some marital problem. His pastor gave him one advice to say to say to his wife, “I’m sorry, you are right, please forgive me.” At first, it was like dying to say these few words. But soon, Jesus gave him the strength to do so. As a result of his assertiveness, God restored their marriage. Jesus wants us to practice forgiveness that is assertive and takes initiative.
Second, Forgiveness is sacrificial.
We can see two ways the youngest son wronged his father. First, he wronged him financially. The youngest son took one third of the estate. This meant the father had to sell a portion of his land or livestock. The youngest son took the money, not to invest it, but to spend it on wild living and prostitutes. Now all his money is gone. As a result, he has permanently lowered the economic status of the family. Secondly, he shamed his father. All fathers want their sons to be successful. Archie Manning, is so proud that his sons Peyton and Eli Manning are two of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, each with a super bowl ring. But this father, was shamed by his irresponsible and rebellious son. In those days, sense of honor was in high regard. Because of the son’s actions, his father was shamed in the community. The son knows he wronged him in both ways. He wants to pay back financially by being one of hired men. He knows he shamed his father by saying "I'm no longer worthy to be called your son." He wants to restore his father's good name by working from the bottom up.
What does the father do? Look at verse 20b. The father runs to the son. The father “runs” is a demeaning thing for any Middle Eastern father to do. They never bear their legs to run. Inferior or the one in trouble always approaches the superior, never other way round. Father acted like the inferior! He doesn’t stand on his pride or anger. He doesn't set the condition to pay back the debt or the restore his good name. He doesn't even let him apologize. Instead, he puts a robe on him and a signet ring on his finger. A signet ring signifies he restored him as a son. Signet rings are used for signing contracts. This basically means he is restoring him as his son. This is what it means to forgive! When someone has wronged you, they have robbed you of something. It can be money, happiness or opportunities. There is always a debt when we wrong God or our fellow man. Jesus understood this problem of debt and how it lays a heavy burden on humanity. It was such a serious problem Jesus added it in the Lord's Prayer Matthew 6:12 "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." What can you do with a debt? You either pay it back or you absorb the lost yourself. This means you don’t expect the person to pay it back. You take the lost yourself. So here is a most important truth: Forgiveness is sacrificial in that it sacrifices the desire to inflict pain but absorb the debt.
When someone wrongs us, we want to inflict pain! We want them to pay and more painful the better! If they make us unhappy, we want them to be unhappy. At least, we get some a little sadistic satisfaction. In our mind, pay them back by punching and tearing up that person in our mind. We conjure up a voodoo doll of that person and prick him with all painful instruments of torture. Is this what the father was thinking while the son was gone? He didn’t have a voodoo doll of his son; instead he was kissing his lost son in his heart. So when he actually showed up, he kissed him instead of beating him up.
When the father accepts his son unconditionally, the father shows he is ready to absorb the debt. The father was deeply hurt financially, spiritually and socially. But he decides not to inflict pain on the son. Rather, he decides to take all negative responses upon himself. He decides to take the mockery of the community because of his son. He decides to pay back any gambling debts the son owes.
The father’s love is also an example of God’s love for us. We have wronged God in so many ways. We have wronged God by setting up idols in our hearts. We have wronged God by our rebellion like the youngest son and our self-righteous lifestyle like the oldest son. Our debt to God is as high as the heavens. Our sins deserve death. God should have inflicted great pain upon us. But what does God do? He absorbs the debt what we owe upon himself. Paul understood Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Forgiveness is sacrificial because God took the debt that we owed on the cross. Jesus absorbed the humiliation, shame and condemnation that we deserve upon himself.
At this time, let us examine our hearts. Are we clobbering people in our hearts? When you see those who owe you, do you give the cold shoulder, give them a plastic smile or leave the room? Forgiveness means you run to them and kiss them from our hearts. You turn away from the anger and you pray for those who owe you. When they show up you kiss them instead of clobbering them. The father absorbed the debt and paid the price. To practice absorbing pain, is not very easy. Tim Keller said forgiveness is a form of suffering and very dangerous to teach. We can forgive someone who disappoints us, but how do you forgive someone who commits an unspeakable crime of sexual abuse, murders a loved one? It is impossible for anyone to do this spiritually and emotionally. This brings me to my third point.
Third, forgiveness is powered from inside.
What powered the father to show forgiveness that is assertive and sacrificial? Look at verse 20, "...his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him." The power to forgive came from his compassion for his son. The word compassion comes from the Latin word meaning "a deep awareness of and sympathy for another's suffering." If someone you really loved has hurt you, you never want to make yourself vulnerable to that person ever again. You don’t want to bear your soul to that person ever again. There might be a good chance the son would reject his love, be abused again. But the father was willing to risk being hurt again because of his compassionate heart. He had deep awareness of his youngest son’s suffering. Sometimes we see those who hurt us as one dimension in our anger we curse them. We call them “jerks”, “liar”, “idiots”, etc. But we don’t realize, they are also struggling with their unresolved wounds and pain. Because of their unresolved wounds, they hurt others. It takes a compassionate heart to understand others and pray for them.
According to B.B. Warfield's book, "The Emotional Life of Our Lord", Jesus' ministry was marked by one key word: compassion. Jesus was often "moved to compassion." Jesus was ready to be rejected and hurt by us. John 1:11, "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him." Jesus was rejected by the religious leaders and even his own disciples. Jesus "ran" from heaven to earth to embrace us. Instead, we violently flung his arms away and nailed them to a cross. Even on the cross, his compassion did not diminish. Jesus said in Luke 23:34 "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Jesus had compassion on us because he knew it sin that was destroying us. Jesus was willing to go any length to save us from sin. How do we make ourselves vulnerable to those who hurt us again and again?
Forgiveness requires divine power. Our will is too weak to forgive. In Matt 18:21-23, Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" In essence Peter was asking if there is a limit to forgiveness. He thought after the seventh time the option will be to ignore him or just beat him up. How did Jesus answer? Jesus answered in verse 22, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. In other works, forgiveness should be limitless. How can this be possible? Only the gospel can give you this power. It is work of the Holy Spirit. We can only forgive to the degree we deeply understand how much God forgave us. Understanding this truth makes you spiritually rich. Suppose someone owes you 100 dollars, you're reaction will be different based on what you have in the bank. If you have 100 billion dollars in the bank, then you it is no big deal if they can't pay it back. But if have nothing in the bank, then you expect that person to pay it back or else. This is true with our spiritual life. If Jesus is your banker, then you have over 1 trillion dollars in your spiritual bank account. We don’t have to worry about the account balance. Paul said in Philippians 4:19 "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." We are rich and God meets all our needs. What could that person possibly take from you? If they try to take your happiness, they try to cheat you? That is nothing, if Christ is in your heart. Christ will meet your needs to forgive others. Your joy and happiness is dependant on the degree you are aware how rich you are in Christ!
Fourth, Forgiveness leads to resurrection.
Look at 15:32 “this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." Personally, forgiveness restores our dead souls that have been ravaged by deep seated resentment, bitterness and anger. Lewis Smedes, a Christian author says, "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” He also mentions “Nothing can release us from grip of our painful past, except for forgiveness. Vengeance is having painful scene playing over and over; can’t be turned of; constant instant replay. Forgiveness turns off the video.” God’s forgiveness sets us free. We are set free from our broken past and hold on to what Christ did for us.
Within a Christian community, we can't deny we hold grudges because we sometime rub each other the wrong way. Some get offended if our brothers and sisters do not greet us properly or say something insensitive. We are hurt when they question our loyalty. Sometimes we say “Sure, I forgive. But I don’t want have anything to do with that person.” As a result, we create a wall between Christian brothers and sisters. Within a forgiving community, Christians will not use confrontation to punish, but use the power of the gospel to get rid of the feelings of resentment. When we are rich in Christ, we can resolve conflicts in a kind and loving way. In 2006, a terrible tragedy occurred in an Amish Christian community. A gunman, enters a classroom and killed five young girls and then himself. But this community decided to forgive the gunmen remembering God’s forgiveness. They attended his funeral and comforted his mother. The Amish community even donates money to the killer's widow and her three young children. They can do this because they are rich in Christ.
In this passage, we learn forgiveness requires us to be assertive. Forgiveness is sacrificial; it doesn’t inflict pain, but absorbs pain. Forgiveness is powered from inside. It can’t be an act of will power, but an act of the holy spirit. Finally, forgiveness leads to resurrection. May God bless us to resolve our debts with one another in Christ.