Do you see your sin the way God sees it?
Do you understand the way you offend your heavenly Father—on a daily basis—through your pride, selfishness, and greed? We’re too familiar with sin to appreciate the depth of our own wretchedness. And even as believers, we can grow complacent when it comes to God’s grace. Only when we see our sin the way God sees it can we truly appreciate the mercy and love He pours out on us.
As the prodigal son returned home, he was keenly aware of his wretchedness. He fully understood the implications of his rebellion, and the retribution he was likely to face. Knowing the depth of his offense, he gladly would have received any crumbs of mercy from his aggrieved father.
And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:21–24)
When the father reached his wayward son, he didn’t contain his affection, and he didn’t hesitate in granting forgiveness. This was even more shocking to Christ’s audience of Pharisees than the imagery of a grown man sprinting down a dusty road to greet a derelict son.
The father immediately embraced the prodigal. Jesus said the father “saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The verb tense indicates that he kissed him repeatedly. He collapsed on his boy in a massive hug, buried his head in the neck of his son—stinking and dirty and unpresentable as he was—and welcomed him with a display of unbridled emotion.
It is evident that the father had been suffering in quiet grief the entire time the boy was gone. His deep love for the youth had never once wavered. The yearning to see him wise up and come home must have been a painful burning in the father’s heart. It filled his thoughts every day. And now that he saw the bedraggled figure of his son, alone on the horizon, it mattered little to the father what people thought of him; he was determined to welcome home the boy as personally and publicly as possible.
Furthermore, the father would spare the boy from any more of the reproach of his sin—by becoming a reproach himself. In essence, he took the boy’s disgrace completely upon himself, emptying himself of all pride, renouncing his fatherly rights, not caring at all about his own honor—even in that culture, where honor seemed paramount. And in an amazing display of selfless love, despising the shame of it all (cf. Hebrews 12:2), he opened his arms to the returning sinner and hugged him tightly in an embrace designed partly to shield him from any further humiliation. By the time the boy walked into the village, he was already fully reconciled to his father.
The prodigal had come home prepared to kiss his father’s feet. Instead, the father was kissing the prodigal’s pig-stinking head (Luke 15:15–16). Such an embrace with repeated kisses was a gesture that signified not only the father’s delirious joy but also his full acceptance, love, forgiveness, restoration, and total reconciliation. It was a deliberate and demonstrative way of signaling to the whole village that the father had fully forgiven his son, without any qualms or hesitancy.
What a beautiful picture this is of the forgiveness offered in the gospel! When, as unbelievers, we yearn to escape sin’s mastery, our first instinct is usually to devise a penance plan to work off our guilt and reform our behavior. But such a plan is doomed to failure. The debt of sin is infinite, and we are helpless to change our nature. Our depravity is total—sin contaminates our entire being. But our compassionate Savior intercepts us in our wretched state. Christ has already run the gauntlet, taken the shame upon Himself, suffered the rebukes, borne the cruel taunts, and paid the price of our guilt in full. He embraces penitent sinners, pours out His great love upon them, grants complete forgiveness, and reconciles them to Himself.