Philip Yancey tells a modern-day version of the prodigal son, about a girl with a nose ring and an attitude. She rebels against her parents, runs away, and becomes a drug-addicted prostitute in Detroit.
The months go by. She sees her face on a milk carton but never bothers to tell her family she’s alive. Then, two years later, she gets sick and desperate. Her pimp throws her out on the street.
All other alternatives exhausted, she calls home. She leaves a message, gets on a Greyhound, and shows up at the bus station, figuring she’ll scrounge a ride to her old house.
As she steps off the bus she finds herself greeted by forty people—brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, and her parents—all wearing party hats, with a huge banner stretched out saying, “Welcome home.”
Before she can finish saying “I’m sorry” her father murmurs, “Hush, sweetheart, we’ll talk later. We’ve got to get you home to the party; there’s a banquet waiting for you!”
Such abundant grace almost makes the parent look foolish, doesn’t it? Looking foolish is a risk God willingly takes in extending us grace. We expect Him to extract His pound of flesh, to make us grovel and beg. But He doesn’t.
In Jesus’s parable, when the prodigal’s father runs across the field to greet his repentant son, commentators point out that it was undignified for men in the ancient Middle East to run. But in his overflowing happiness, the father, who represents God, disregards his dignity to shower grace upon his repentant son.
Just before He told of the prodigal son, Jesus said, “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Again, He said, “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” By putting on his own joyful party, this earthly father is mirroring the heavenly Father’s joyful party in Heaven over a beloved image bearer entering His family. Those in Heaven see and celebrate conversions on earth. Heaven throws a party for every sinner who repents. When God celebrates in Heaven, surely His people should celebrate on Earth!
Unfortunately, while living in the Father’s house (perhaps in Christian families and churches), we can dutifully go through the motions of exterior righteousness while resenting God’s extravagant grace in others’ lives and refusing to enter into His happiness over them. Instead, like the joy-filled, forgiving father who throws the party for his repentant son, we should celebrate God’s grace in the lives of our fellow prodigals.
Sinners embracing God’s grace means it’s party time in Heaven. And it should mean party time on earth.