“The publicans and sinners drew near to hear Him; and the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, ‘This Man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.’” How wonderful it is to see publicans and sinners drawing near to listen to His words. How different the words that proceeded out of His mouth, from the words that were uttered in the ears of the people from Mount Sinai. There the mount burned with fire in the midst of blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more, for they could not endure that which was commanded. And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: and so terrible was the sight that Moses said, “I exceedingly fear and quake” (Heb. 12:18-21).
In the presence of “GOD MANIFEST IN FLESH” there was no fearing and quaking with any one; publicans and sinners drew near to Him. At this manifestation of the grace of a Saviour-God, self-righteous men were indignant. How blind to the goodness of God and to their own wretched condition they were! But of their foolish and unreasonable criticisms they were soon made thoroughly aware. However many sheep one of them might have possessed, if he lost one he would go after it till he found it. And if he would go after one of his sheep, may not the Creator go after one of His creatures? And when he has found it he layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing. And when he has brought it home, he calls his acquaintances together, saying to them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. “Likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” As to the woman who lost a piece of silver, when she found it, she called her friends and neighbours together to rejoice with her. “Likewise there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”
The lesson we have to learn here is that it is the joy of heaven to see sinners recovered for God. And the joy has its source in the heart of God. It does not say that the angels rejoice, but it does say that there is joy in their presence, and that joy coming from the heart of God not a being in heaven can be indifferent to it.
But to complete the picture we have the wilful son, and also the self-righteous legalist, the elder son. We are told that a certain man had two sons, and that the younger demanded from his father the portion of goods that fell to him. Therefore his father divided all he possessed to them both. Not many days after this the younger man gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country. The father’s house was irksome to him, and therefore was he determined to have his fling in this wide world. He would, as they say, see life. This is man, all men, without exception. Every man desires to have his own way. In this the self-righteous Pharisee is quite as determined as the sinner. The elder son disputes his father’s right to receive the repentant prodigal. God’s ways, whether in grace or in judgment, never please the natural man.
The son who went out to enjoy the world soon found that he had lost all his substance, and was reduced to the condition of a swineherd. That world that he had thought would yield him satisfaction he soon found would yield him nothing but shame and starvation. Whatever his need might be, hunger or nakedness or both together, no one had any compassion for him. Doubtless he might have found people willing to sell him all he needed but without money he could not buy.
But there was a moment when it is said he came to himself. He saw himself as he really was. He had made shipwreck of all he had which his father had given him, and the plenty that was in the father’s house became the attraction for his perishing soul. It is thus with the sinner when God in His mercy gives him to see that his wilful ways have been his ruin, and to the God he had abandoned he must return with sorrow of heart. The gospel comes to us and tells us of forgiveness, in order that we may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, to receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among all them that are sanctified by faith in Jesus. As this prodigal turned to his father, so the sinner turns to God.
And the way the father receives the returning son shows us the way in which God receives us. He had just a little sense of grace, and therefore thinks he can no more be received as a son. He is content to come in as a hired servant. But when he was yet a great way off his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell upon his neck, and covered him with kisses. But the son said, “I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” But the father will please himself, and so will our God please Himself, with regard to His ways with us. He has no intention of bringing His son into the house in his nakedness to have him ashamed of himself. He says, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him. The best robe is Christ. In heaven there is none to equal it. Put a ring on his hand. He is brought into new and eternal relationships with God. There never can be a break in these relationships. Put shoes on his feet. He is a son, not a servant. He is at home, and in perfect liberty. It is not said to him: “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5). He goes in with his shoes on.
Next we have, “Bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And they began to be merry.
Now we have a pattern of the supper spoken of in chapter 14. And what a joyous company it is. The elder son coming near to the house hears the music and dancing; and he is so little in the mind of the father that he has to ask one of the servants what it all means. The answer is, Thy brother is come, and thy father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound. But he would not go in; rather does he venture a rebuke to the father for the beggarly way in which he thinks he himself has been treated. He knows nothing of the joy the father has in the return of a penitent sinner
Now God will have His own joy in that which has been accomplished by the cross of Christ. In righteousness He can now receive the vilest, and His delight in doing this is His answer to the work accomplished on Golgotha, and to the glory of the Son of His love who did that work. For ever blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! What a God is our Gods GOD IS LOVE!