Prodigals IX: Welcoming Prodigals Home

How do we welcome prodigals home? What’s the right response? The answer that God gives is that we should celebrate and be glad. God has worked a miracle: He’s brought the dead back to life! When that happens, everything else fades into the background. The heart and soul of welcoming prodigals home is glad celebration of God’s glorious work of grace.

In Luke 15:20-24, the prodigal son’s father does eight things to welcome his wayward son home:

First, from verse 20: look for your prodigal. The father saw his son from a long way off, which usually happens because you’re looking. Looking for a prodigal means maintaining hope in their return, based on the kindness and love of God. Hopelessness forgets God and stops looking, but love hopes all things and keeps expecting God to work.

Second, also from verse 20, feel compassion for your prodigal. A prodigal is both a sinner and a sufferer, and even when their suffering is the direct result of sin, your love for them will move you to have compassion towards their suffering. Practice compassion in your prayers now, so that when you see them coming home, you will show them compassion in your response.

Third, verse 20 again, run to your prodigal. How different this story would be if the father stood proudly at the door of his home, staring at his son the whole way up the driveway! Instead of a running welcome, it would be a walk of shame. But God doesn’t just tolerate us in our repentance, He welcomes us, and we should treat prodigals the same way. Practically, running toward your prodigal can take the form of a card, an email, a phone call, just to communicate this message: “I love you. I miss you. I want you to come home.”

Fourth, the last action in verse 20: when your prodigal comes home, embrace and kiss your prodigal. Display obvious affection for them. Don’t be hesitant, don’t be stand-offish. Now is not the time for subtle nods and somber faces. Now is the time for over-the-top embarrassing love to be shown in such a way that it can’t possibly be misunderstood. No matter what comes next, make sure that they know that they are loved. What comes next in verse 21 is repentance, and welcoming a prodigal home means receiving their repentance. Don’t brush them off, don’t downplay the reality of their sin, don’t say it’s no big deal. It’s the biggest deal in the world, so take it seriously, and allow them to unburden themselves to you. The father blessed his son by accepting his brutal self-assessment as real and true, but welcoming him anyway. The sixth lesson: welcoming prodigals home means restoring their place. The father refuses to leave the prodigal son in the place of a servant, and he restores him to the place of son. Now, this restoration is not the same thing as erasing the past or eliminating all consequences, but the big idea is that the prodigal is not constantly reminded of his sin by being identified and treated as a sinner. Forgiveness restores dignity and humanity to sinners, so they have the right to be called children of God. Seventh, from verse 23 – welcoming prodigals home means preparing for the feast. The father was prepared to celebrate with extravagant joy. He’d been waiting for this for a long time, and it showed in the way that he could drop everything and throw a massive party the moment his son came back. When it comes to your prodigal, you may not be able to schedule the party right now, but you sure can go ahead and plan it. It’s amazing how far that decision will go in battling bitterness, softening your heart, and giving you hope for your prodigal.

The eighth action also comes from verse 23: welcome prodigals home by eating and celebrating. God’s picture of welcome is not payback or doing penance. It’s not a long sober conversations in the living room. It’s not a gradual process of slowly winning your way back into favor. It’s not a picture of longstanding arguments resolved and accounts settled. God’s picture of broken fellowship gloriously restored is a joyful feast. When a prodigal comes home, eat, drink, and be merry!

All of these different actions flow out of the conviction found in v.24 and repeated in v. 32 – it is fitting to celebrate and be glad when God raises dead prodigals to life. Because God Himself rejoices in repentance, we should too. Welcoming prodigals home means celebrating the grace of God, and that celebration will never end. So hear these hope-giving words from your God, and prepare your hearts to celebrate and be glad.
Posted on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 by CJ Bowen