Do you ever wonder what God loves? It’s an interesting thought considering God created love and is the epitome of it. John describes it this way in 1 John 4:8 when he wrote, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Read that last part again. God. Is. Love. He is the exact representation of perfect love. So what does God love in regards to us, His creation?
In Luke 15, Jesus is in the heart of His earthly ministry, and his crowd of followers has altered slightly from the general population to some specific people. Chapter 15 starts off by telling us that “tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to Him.” In Jesus’ day, these were the worst of the worst. Tax collectors were essentially considered traitors because they were Jews who worked on behalf of the Romans to tax their own people, and they were considered thieves because of their partiality in levying taxes. Notice, they are the only group of people singled out next to “sinners”. But Jesus welcomed them, and the Pharisees noticed.
So Jesus, knowing the Pharisees were grumbling about Him hanging out with tax collectors and sinners, begins a three-parable diatribe to make sure the Pharisees, and us by extension, know what God loves most on this earth. He starts by telling a parable about a lost sheep whose owner drops everything to go find it, even risking all the other sheep in search of what was lost. He then tells a second parable about a lost coin in which a woman stops everything to find it. At the end of each of these first two parables, Jesus declares a profound truth, and it goes something like this.
God loves more than anything when sinful, “lost” people repent, turn to him and are found.
And then, to emphasize his point, He tells one of the most famous parables of all, the prodigal son.
I’ve read this parable many times before, as I’m sure you may have as well, but as I’m reading it this time, I felt even more compelled to put myself into the perspective of the younger brother. You see, this parable contrasts two sons, each of whom treated their father differently.
The older son did everything correctly. He worked hard for his dad, always doing as his dad instructed, never complaining. The younger son, on the other hand, did the exact opposite. He treated his dad with disregard, only caring about himself and what he wanted. He demanded his inheritance, and then he foolishly squandered it and ended up homeless, begging for food from pigs.
At some point, as he cleaning the pig troughs, so hungry he began wishing he could eat was the pigs were eating, he came to his senses. He realized that life with this father, even as a servant, would be better than what he was experiencing. He realized that everything he ever needed was given to his father’s servants, and if he would humble himself, return and ask to be a servant of his father’s life would be much better for him.
I wonder what he thought about on that long walk home. Did it seem like a short walk because of his excitement, or was it a long walk, filled with questions and fear of seeing his father again? Was he rehearsing what he would say, or was he so tired and malnourished he didn’t think about anything but the way home? I imagine it was a little bit of all of that, but the most important part of the story is that he kept walking.
And when he returned home, his father not only welcomed him back, but he stopped everything to plan the biggest party possible. He spared no expense, killing the fattened calf, the one that would bring them the most money in the market or feed them for the longest time. He adorned his son with the best robe, and they partied into the wee hours of the morning, I’m sure. I wonder how that must have felt for the son, seeing how happy his father was at his return.
Alas, we forget about his older brother, out working in the field, obeying his father as always. It’s faint, but he starts to hear music and people celebrating up by the house. When he finds out the celebration is for his brother – his younger, arrogant, disrespectful idiot of a brother – he becomes angry. Very angry. Can you imagine what that must have felt like for him? He was incredibly upset that his father would be so excited to welcome back such a foolish, disobedient son, especially when he’d been faithfully serving his dad for years, and he never got a party like this one.
And this is where Jesus solidifies for his audience, especially the Pharisees, what God loves most. The story ends with the father telling his oldest son that “it was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
Praise God for those who obey God, do all the right things and minimize the consequences of sin in their life and in the lives of others, as the older brother did. They are spared many of the sorrows and self-inflicted wounds of this life, and they are to be commended.
And praise God for those who humble themselves and turn back to God, for He welcomes them with open arms, celebrating their return with a party in Heaven, the likes we can’t even imagine. Just as this father did not wish his son to go through misery, God too does not desire that we feel the consequences of our sin. But even so, He loves more than anything when sinners turn back to Him in repentance, and we should too.
Maybe today it’s your time to turn back to Him, as the younger son did. Humble yourself, come back to Him and ask Him to forgive you, and He will celebrate your return with open arms.
Maybe today it’s your time to celebrate the return of one that was lost, not with bitterness and anger, but with true joy and celebration. Love what God loves.