A few years back I was asked to endure the painful duty of traveling to Hawaii on business. I recall the first night there walking with a co-worker of mine down Kalakaua Avenue, the "main street" of Waikiki. It was after dark, and the streets were teeming with people. Young and old, rich and poor were all there--individuals and families, locals and tourists alike--together representing every conceivable ethnic and social group. I wasn't paying much attention to the throngs of people all around me as we walked back toward the hotel that night. Most were smiling and laughing and seemed to be having the time of their life. The unending buzz of happiness seemed to lull my senses into a state of pleasant ease and complacency.
From a distance, I noticed a girl walking toward us amidst a crowd of people. She looked to be around my age, perhaps in her mid-20s. The first thing I noticed was that she didn't seem to be with anyone else in the crowd. I thought it strange given her age and also as I could see she was very attractive, even from a distance. As she came closer still, those in front of her stepped aside and I was finally able to understand why she was alone. Her appearance and dress made clear her occupation--she was a prostitute. As we approached each other, for an instant our eyes met--and I saw a look I'll never forget. Her face betrayed a haunting emptiness that words cannot fully describe. In her eyes I could see the fear, the desperation, and the sorrow. It was as if her soul was crying out for real love, but her heart was resigned to the fate of never finding it. As we passed by, there was the slightest pause in our steps--almost as if we both were about to say something to the other. But the crowds pressed us both in opposite directions and we headed our separate ways, saying nothing. I'll doubt I'll ever forget the look on her face. It must have been similar to the look on the face of another woman some 1,900 years ago:
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:3-11)
Jesus felt compassion for the woman caught in adultery. Seeing into her emptiness and sorrow, he showed love and respect in her time of need. While the people saw only a sinner worthy of death, Christ saw a lonely, hurting child that belonged to his Father.
Indeed, how the Father's heart must ache for those like the woman caught in adultery or the girl I passed by in Hawaii. Just as He must also weep for all those who yearn for the unconditional love He so wants to give them. How He must long to wrap his arms around them and wipe the tears from their eyes. We will never know or fully understand the depths of God's love for the lost. Jesus spoke of that love in his parable of the lost sheep (Matthew 18:10-14, Luke 15:1-7) and the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10). But it is in the parable of the prodigal son that we see God's love for the lost portrayed most vividly:
Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 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 that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. "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. "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.' "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. (Luke 15:11-24)
Indeed, the parable is powerful and convicting because we can so clearly see ourselves in it. We have scorned God's love for us and instead demanded his blessing so that we might live our own way, seeking after all the world has to offer. We squander our time, money, and energy on things that can only bring us the briefest moments of pleasure. And then, after we have given it all away, we may, like the lost son, "come to our senses" and turn back to the one who has loved us from the very beginning. From a distance, God sees us approaching--and his heart is filled with compassion. He runs to us, throws his arms around us, and kisses us. Though we have sinned greatly against him and are anything but worthy to be called his child, he immediately accepts us back and announces a feast to celebrate. For we, like the lost sheep and the lost coin, have been found!
Our lives are all lived somewhere within the parable of the prodigal son. It was Adam and Eve who first asked for their "share of the estate"--and the Father permitted them to have it. All of us now are spending what remains of that inheritance, most living a life that is empty--a life that will never fully satisfy because it consists of things that cannot satisfy. We stumble blindly from one thrill to another so as to numb the emptiness we feel ever so briefly when we let down our guard. And all too often it's not until we find ourselves starving that we think to turn back to the God we left in the Garden of Eden. Have you turned back? If not, know that God is waiting to welcome you into his arms--into a relationship with him. The parable of the lost son reminds us that God not only accepts back his lost children, but he does so with joy! If you are lost, know that God is right now patiently waiting--and hoping--for your return. So great is God's love for the lost that the Bible tells us He works in their lives to "draw" them unto Himself (John 6:44). How incredible to think that the creator of the universe is working in the lives of many to woo them unto himself. Perhaps God has been wooing you. But while He eagerly awaits your return, only you can choose to do so. Only you can decide to believe, and by doing so, receive the right to be called his child:
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)
God's heart is for the lost. Jesus made it clear:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." (John 3:16-18)
Like the lost son, you too can turn back to God. This is what it means to repent. When Jesus spoke about repentance in the parable of the lost sheep, the word translated "repent" can mean to change your mind or "to think differently," and carries with it a sense of regret or remorse. This is what happened in the heart of the prodigal son when he "came to his senses," and decided to return to his father. You can make that same decision. It's important to note that although the prodigal son was repentant, it was not his repentance that put him back into a right standing with his father. The lost son's repentance brought him into a position where he could receive the mercy and grace his father chose to extend to him. Likewise, we are put right with God, or "saved," not because of our repentance, but because of His love for us. When we choose to "think differently" about sin and about our need to be saved from the terrible consequences of it, we place ourselves in a position where we can receive God's grace and mercy. "For the wages of sin is death," the Bible tells us, "but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Through Jesus' death on the cross, the penalty for our sin was paid (1 Corinthians 15:3-5) so that we could be put right with God and be called his "children" (1 John 3:1). And as His children, God graciously gives back the inheritance lost to sin--the gift of eternal life. Have you received this gift? If not, can you think of any good reason why you shouldn't? Do it now! The Father is waiting to welcome you home!
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Prayer is a way of talking to God. There is no prayer or sequence of "magic words" that can save you--only God can. Words are meaningless if they do not reflect the intent of your heart. If you want to receive God's gift right now, simply tell Him that you understand your need for forgiveness from sin (Romans 6:23) and want to accept his free gift of salvation. Tell him you believe that Jesus is Lord and that He died for your sins. Trust in Him alone for your salvation.
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)For Further Study: (choose one or more)
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Copyright © 1998 Tim A. Krell. All rights reserved. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version (NIV), Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
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