Since the Easter weekend is upon us, I would like to focus on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus from a somewhat different point of view. To illustrate this perspective, we are going to examine the first part of the Parable of the Lost Son found in Luke 15:11-24.
Jesus tells this story to a mixed crowd consisting of both religious and non-religious people.
“…There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father give me my share of the estate.’…” [verses 11-12]
The younger son wants his inheritance and wants it now. Wanting his inheritance means that inwardly, he is valuing material wealth over his father’s life. After all, an inheritance comes after the parent’s death! Why would he wish his father dead? There’s no indication here that his father was mistreating him or was involved in some criminal act. So how does the father respond?
“So he divided his property between them.” [verse 12]
The father merely grants his younger son’s request. Now that the younger son has received what he asked for, what’s he going to do with it?
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all that he had, set off for a distant country, and squandered his wealth on wild living.” [verse 13]
So the younger son wanted his inheritance because he wanted out of his father’s home. But why? Why leave familiar and secure surroundings where he had everything he needed to live an abundant life to go out into the unknown world at large? He must have acquired the belief that he was lacking in some knowledge or experience that could make him a more complete person. He somehow got the idea that his father was holding back something good and exciting from him. This is the same sort of thinking that got Adam and Eve into trouble (see Genesis 3:1-8).
So the younger son goes out and spends his entire inheritance in a country far from his father’s house seeking to find the fulfillment that he believes he lacks. Jesus continues the story,
“After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.” [verse 14]
Up until this point, the younger son never knew what it meant to truly be in want. Now he had no money and there was little in the way of nourishment to keep him alive. The younger son’s belief that he was lacking something had now come to pass in his life’s circumstances. How does the young man respond?
“So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” [verses 15-16]
He finds work but is treated mercilessly and continues to starve. What the younger son is now experiencing is a slow and agonizing death, the type of death found in crucifixion. So as death looms nearer, what happens next to the younger son?
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.” [verses 17-20]
This coming to his senses, this awakening of his mind, is a metaphor for resurrection. The son’s father, his original source of life, had become dead to him but was now alive again. Recognizing this and in view of his past behavior, the son does not feel worthy of sonship any longer. He feels he is of less value to his father and that he has fallen from sonship. In order to justify his feelings of lack and to receive the benefits of returning to his father’s home, he plans to confess his sins and settle for servanthood. With this plan in mind, he sets out on the road home. Jesus tells us what happens along the way.
“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 son said to him, ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'” [verses 20-21]
The father’s reaction is completely natural for any loving parent whose child they believed to be dead was suddenly found and returned to them alive. The father somehow knew his son was returning home so he was watching for him. When he saw him in the distance, he was so overwhelmed with joy that he ran to greet his long-lost son with an exuberant reception.
The son, however, doesn’t seem to notice his father’s reaction in being reunited with him. Instead, his focus is on his own unworthiness, and he thus goes forward with his pre-planned confession. How does the father react to his confession?
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” [verses 22-24]
The father never acknowledges the confession. There was no need to. The father never rejected his son. All of the rejection, perceived lack, and unworthiness were strictly in the mind of the younger son. The father instead, recognizing his son’s self-doubt, reassures his son that his sonship has never been lost and outwardly demonstrates that by clothing him in the family garments and by celebrating his return home with a joyous feast.
So what message is Jesus attempting to convey to his audience
through this portion of the story? He is essentially likening the
experience of the younger son to that of the human race. As the
younger son chose to leave his father’s presence to go live in a
distant place where his joy was temporary and he suffered much, so humanity has chosen to live far from the presence of God and to live in a world where joy is fleeting, no one is exempt from suffering, and judgement is merciless. What the younger son experienced in that environment is the same thing we experience in our world – a slow but steady march toward death.
But as the younger son came to his senses in the midst of great
suffering, we often do so as well. As in the story, we tend to look to our Father or help professionals for assistance only when we get in trouble or have great needs. When we seek help, we often do so out of a sense of unworthiness and guilt because we have been conditioned to believe, as the younger son was, that previous mistakes devalue us.
However, as the father demonstrates to his younger son upon his
return home, that just isn’t so. The father is overcome with joy that his son has returned home and makes every effort to assure him that his sonship was not lost. The son was lost. But what was lost had been found. The son, who was thought to be dead, was now alive and well.
Notice that this story also encapsulates the central meaning of the message we memorialize on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Jesus, as the Son of Man, represents the entire human race. He leaves His Father’s side to go take up temporary residence in a place far different from his Heavenly home. In that place he experiences some fleeting joy but ends up being falsely charged and treated like a criminal sentenced to suffering the slow and agonizing death of crucifixion. The written charge against him? ”This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” [Matthew 27:37]. This title, the King of the Jews, is a reference to Jesus’s identity as the Son of God.
Jesus is both the Son of Man and the Son of God. He represents both humanity and God, the Father. His crucifixion represents the slow and steady march toward death that this distant country we call the world inflicts upon humanity, also symbolized by the younger son in the story. But on Easter Sunday, Jesus awakens from the death he suffered and rises to life, proving that He is the Son of God and that death held no power over him. He, like God, lives eternally. Unlike the younger son in the story, he never doubted his sonship. It is only when the younger son accepts the truth about himself and his eternal sonship that he truly begins to live again after being in essence dead.
The lesson behind Easter Sunday is that we are to think and believe as Jesus. When we fully believe and do not doubt our status as God’s children, made in his likeness, our world will be transformed. It will pass from death to life. Everything will be made new!
Once the younger son found his life and accepted his true identity
back, “…they began to celebrate.” Notice, they began to celebrate.
The Easter message is that this celebration has begun and will never end.
Happy Easter to all!!