The glory captured in this picture is the reality that God, because of Jesus will welcome all who return to Him no matter who you are, what you’ve done, or how far you’ve run. Because of what Jesus has done for us the Father will not let us define ourselves by our sin, nor require us to work our sin off before we receive His full welcome and eternal joy. The gospel opens up a new way to relate to God, by His grace! Though we have run and rebelled, the gospel is the good news of what Jesus has done for sinners like us to bring us back to God. That’s the glory of the gospel that shines through this painting.
The problem is their were two sons! I don’t think Rembrandt ever painted a picture of the Father entreating his obedient yet self-rigteous and angry older son, did he? However, the older son according to Jesus was just as lost. Why? Because he used the Father to get what he wanted as well. The difference is he saw his obedience as the way to get what he wanted from the Father. His obedience didn’t come from a place of love and gratitude and relationship; but as leverage. He didn’t see his Father as gracious and generous, but as a slave-master, so he would bide his time till he could get all that he wanted and deserved. His didn’t understand that as he despise a kind of grace that allowed the “outside” to become an “insider”; he the “insider” was on the outside of this party of grace and love. So, the Father went out to him as well. And his welcome would include laying aside his self-rightreousness and outward obedience and recognize and receive the full grace of the Father that he needed just as badly.
There are two ways to be lost. You can be far from God by your running and active rebellion and sin, of course. But did you realize that you can be far from God even in your obedience, rule keeping and outward morality? Because Jesus was addressing the Pharisees in Luke 15, we must realize the danger of using our obedience as a form of self-salvation. We already know that Jesus is our hope, is our Savior when we sin and repent and turn to him for forgiveness. But we also need the constant reminder that our obedience doesn’t save us when we are not sinning! In both, Jesus is your only hope. Salvation is a welcome into the Father’s grace and eternal joy only through faith in Jesus alone. Older sons (like me) and younger sons must renounce both our sin against God and any outward obedience we believe earns our reward and instead must cling to Jesus alone.
The Father’s welcome is a welcome into an eternal reward, an eternal party, an eternal celebration not because of what we have done or not done; but because of Jesus alone.
If you are interested, there are several outstanding treatments of this story:
1. Dr. Ed Clowney preached a sermon called Sharing the Father’s Welcome. A transcript is available if you click the title.
2. Dr. Clowney’s sermon deeply impacted another preacher named Tim Keller, who wrote a book called The Prodigal God; which is one of the finest books on the true nature of the gospel I’ve read.
3. You can also listen to last Sunday’s sermon, where standing on the shoulders of these two men, I preached about how the gospel results in Shattered Categories.