Anyone that has raised a three-year-old knows this conversation or something like it:
Dad: Tommy, it’s time to go to bed.
Dad: because it’s 8:30
Tommy: why is it 8:30
Dad: because to clock says so
Tommy: why does the clock say so
Dad: because the big hand is on the six and the little hand is on the eight.
Dad: because I said so!
Sometimes our “why” questions are not answered but sometimes they are. In this last parable – the parable of the prodigal son – we learn why God feels and expresses joy when the lost is found. Instead of printing out the whole parable look up Luke 15:11-32 in your Bible or click on the Bible reference to read it at Biblia.com.
In the parable of the lost sheep, we are told there is joy in heaven when a sinner repents. The parable of the lost coin reveals that God’s joy is expressed before the company of angels. Neither of the parables explicitly explains why there is joy. Why does God feel and express joy when a sinner turns from their path and is found? The answer is revealed through the son’s story and the father’s reaction. The key verse is 32 – “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”(Luke 15:32, NASB95)
The son’s desire to be his own boss and separate from his family broke the relationship to the point where the family wondered if he was dead. Likewise, our sin separates us from God. Sure there is a kind of joy at being our own boss and choosing to go our own way. The son had a wonderful party for a time. But our own way quickly becomes stale, lifeless, and bitter. Needing to find new ways that satisfied like the old we become trapped in a cycle of excitement and boredom. Eventually, hopefully, sooner than later, we come to the end of ourselves.
While we struggle to build our own kingdom the Father anxiously hopes for our return. At this point, you have to take the three parables as a whole. The lost sheep and coin in the first two parables had no part in being found but in the third, the lost son returned of his own free will. So, we cannot save ourselves, it is 100% the grace of God made visible through Jesus. But the picture is not complete unless we choose to turn from our own way and return to God’s way. The son made a choice to go his own way, to be his own boss, the ruler of his own kingdom. When he came to the end of himself he also chooses to return to his father, not has a son but as a slave. The father welcomed him back, rejoicing at his return, and restored him as a son.
God rejoices whenever a person chooses to turn from going their own way and return to Him. But notice something – it was the father that defined the relationship, not the son. Too often folks try to make God a part of their own kingdom instead of coming to God as a slave and being restored as the Father sees fit. The son in the parable knew that he no longer deserved anything from his father. We too do not deserve anything from God. But God rejoices at our return and lavishes His love on us. Why? Because our relationship with Him is restored. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),” (Ephesians 2:4–5, NASB95)