He slammed the door on his way out of the house: his own angry shouting ringing in his ears. This was it. He was tired of living in this house with that person! He shoved his hand into his jeans pocket to drag out the set of car keys. Jamming the key into the ignition, he turned it and roared down the street. First stop was to the bank to pull out all of the money in his name—which included the large college fund of $50,000 his father had set up. He’d show him! Filling his car up using his dad’s credit card, he roared West out of town and out of his father’s life.
It’s a pretty extreme scenario, I have to admit. But the story has been played out in varying degrees for centuries, hasn’t it? Generational conflict, rage against rules, rebellion, and escape. But in most every case hearts are broken and left strewn behind littering the road to “freedom.” And usually in each case, more than one heart is crushed and broken.
It isn’t just the story of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters: it is the story of our own lives. Paul has recounted the story for us in Romans 1-3. We have all run away, we’ve all fallen. Humanity is without excuse. But the story does not end with man’s condemnation, because God planned from the beginning to find us out, to rescue us, to bring us back and to restore the relationship once again.
But as in the case of all stories of reconciliation—a hand must be extended and a hand must be taken. The hand extended does the prodigal no good, if the prodigal does not reach to grasp it. But look what happens when the offer of reconciliation is accepted!
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. [Romans 5:1-5]
Our rebellion and pride closed off all access to God—but now access has been opened up. And not just a hole in the wall to stick our hand through to grasp the sleeve of God. The door has been thrown wide open—the exterior wall has been toppled—that which separates us from God has been broken down. We have full access to the Father, to embrace him and stand in his presence.
And what kind of response naturally flows from such reconciliation? Joy—pure, undiluted joy! It is a joy born in hope: that incredible desire and sincere expectation of God's presence in our lives through his Spirit. Joy that even gives new perspective to pain and suffering. If the suffering makes us more like God, helps us trust and hope in him more—then so be it! All that matters is reconciliation with the one who loves us.
And how was all of this accomplished? Paul has been weaving the story throughout the letter. He comes back to it again in verses 6-8
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Paul wants us to make no mistake about who initiated the restoration. We were not in position to respond to God. In fact, we were still enemies of God, not even interested in the relationship—and yet, God sought us out and paid the ultimate sacrifice to rescue us. But God doesn’t want just some individuals rescued—he did this for all humanity—anyone who would accept the gift.
It seems so ludicrous doesn’t it? Crazy and insane. People are so self-centered, you rarely hear of anyone taking the bullet for someone else. Maybe for the president or maybe for some wonderful and great person like Mother Teresa someone might be willing to give his or her life. But for your enemy? For someone who hates you? There it is, though: the incredible truth—God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
So this dad allows his son to leave. He isn’t going to force him to stay if he really wants to leave. But he knows the boy is heading for trouble. He stays in touch—he keeps listening for news of his son. It breaks his heart as he hears how his boy is going from bad to worse. Finally the day comes when the boy is at rock bottom. He’s spent everything he had. His car is gone. His money is gone. His friends are gone and now he’s sitting in a jail cell for selling drugs to an undercover narcotics officer.
The son doesn’t call. Doesn’t want to call. He’s bitter and angry still. But the father drives to the distant city, hires the lawyer, goes to the judge and pays the penalties and the bail. He looks at his son and says, “You don’t have to accept any of this. You can stay here and live the way you want. But I’d like for you to come home. You’re old room is still ready for your return. There is still a place at the family table. I’d even like to invite you to take your place as part of the family business. I have so much for you. Please come home.”
And what would the son come home to: a suspicious father who monitored his every move just waiting for him to make a mistake so he can throw him out on his ear? Is that the kind of father we see here? Your heart knows the answer. If he were this kind of tyrant--if he just wanted to catch the son doing something bad so he could get rid of him, then why in the world would he bother with all of this effort? He had already been rid of the boy!
Paul continues in verses 9-11:
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
This seems too good to be true. Religion has often been depicted as hard and harsh. One suspected that once you signed on you were always in danger of even greater torment if you slipped up in any way! Some preachers taught not only was it possible to fall away from God’s grace, but it was probable ! Paul says: “No! If God loved you enough to die for you and rescue you when you were spitting in his face—how much more will he save you now you are trying to live for him—now you want to live for him!"
Paul then explains how all of this panned out. How sin and death came into the world through Adam and how God sent Jesus to counteract Adam’s sin. This was part of a plan begun through Abraham and through Israel. Part of God’s agreement with Israel involved the giving of the Law of Moses. But the Law was misunderstood. It was not to be used as some way of separating the world from God’s designs—nor was it to be used as a means for receiving approval from God. In such a scenario all it can do is make us more aware of our failures. It was added to demonstrate the need for God’s graciousness and intervention. The law is filled up by God’s grace and freedom. The more we find ourselves incapable of meeting the law’s demand for justice, the more we recognize our need for God’s grace. The more grace comes in to play.
The son looks behind him at the cell out of where he has just walked. He now has a choice before him. He can choose the way of law and punishment or he can accept the gracious offer of his father. He can choose to be restored to his father and to accept his offer to take his place in the family business—working with his father instead of against him; learning to love his dad instead of hating him. Or he can choose life on his own terms, which will eventually put him back in a cell. What will he choose?
And what will we choose?
May you recognize the incredible choice you have before you—to love your father! May you recognize how much he has loved you—enough to seek you out, even when you were his enemy—enough to die for you even when you didn’t care. May you embrace his love and be reconciled. And may you rejoice that he loves you so much, he has given you full access to his presence. And may you rejoice in the knowledge he will never let you go now that you are trying to please him!