Back to Life

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“‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” – Luke 15:24

Not many places in Scripture describe us as being brought back to life. Scripture’s consistent testimony is that each of us is born in sin, born spiritually dead, and that God must bring us to life in salvation. To the church in Ephesus, Paul describes their former condition: “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world . . . and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1–3).

They were not first alive to God, then died in rebellion, and then resuscitated to God again. By nature, being sons and daughters of fallen Adam, they were children of wrath and lifeless toward God in their sin. But God saved them — as he does us — by bringing to life those who knew only sin and death and allegiance to Satan.

But Jesus does, in fact, tell a rare story of a beloved son coming back to life again in the parable of the prodigal son.

Traveling into Death

The story is well known.

A man has two sons, the younger of which greatly offends the father by asking for his inheritance now. He does not want to wait until the father dies; he wants his part of the wealth now so he can leave to start his own life. The father agrees and divides the inheritance between the two sons.

The young man takes the money into a far country and wastes it, gratifying his whims and lusts. Not good timing. As he squanders, a famine sweeps over the land. He soon finds himself working out in a field, feeding pigs, envying the swine their meal. Any Jew listening to the parable could not help but shudder at the debased position of this son now feeding unclean animals.

But Luke includes a curious detail at the hinge of the young man’s story: “But when he came to himself” — or, as other translations have it, “when he came to his senses” — “he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’” (Luke 15:17). His hunger pangs and lowly position awake his reason, his sense — and more than that, his awareness of his own sin toward God and his father. We hear more of his inner dialogue:

“I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’” – Luke 15:18–19

And with this plan, he heads home.

Returning to Life

While still a good distance away from home, something happens that the son does not expect. “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The sinful son returns with nothing but shame and disgrace, yet he is smothered with nothing but compassion and mercy.

His father doesn’t even seem to take notice of his confession. Before he knows it, a ring is on his hand, fresh sandals are on his feet, and an expensive robe is draped over his shoulders. “All of grace,” his startled heart must sing.

But while the father delivers orders to prepare a feast, notice how he explains the reason: “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:24). He was dead, but is “alive again” because he is back home again with his father. He was lost, but has been found in his return. His estrangement was overcome by returning and being met by the father’s remarkable kindness.

How about you? Do you know the bitter life of this prodigal son? Have you dishonored God with your deeds and lived distant from him in your thoughts and affections? Have you tired of feeding the swine of your lusts and come to your senses — seeing the poverty and vileness of your sin? And more, have you seen a God, a Father, welcoming you with open arms through faith in his crucified Son, who died for all who would trust him?

Go to life, go to grace, go to God, who brings dead sinners to life through faith.