During then 1992 Barcelona Olympics, British athlete Derek Redmond ran in the 400 metres semi-finals. This was the fulfillment of a dream. But, 100 meters into the race he fell, tearing a hamstring. His dream of running in a final was shattered. He got to his feet and started to limp towards the finish but in agony could barely move.
Then, someone leaped over the security fencing and ran towards the athlete pushing security forces out of the way. It was an older man who lifted Derek’s arm over his shoulder and started to walk with him towards the finishing line, supporting him all the way. The crowd started to notice this strange sight of two men struggling to finish. They roared their approval.
The crowd did not know until later that the man who helped Derek Redmond was his dad, Jim. His father, seeing his distress, ran to him and helped him finish the race. Now that is a great sporting moment!
While this is a stirring and inspirational moment, it is not as remarkable as the story we are looking at that Jesus told to tell us what His Father, God, is like. For several weeks, we have been looking at this story. The story is about a boy who disrespects his father asking for his inheritance early. He receives it, then goes off and wastes it all and ends up penniless and starving. He eventually decides to return home hoping to get hired as a servant. It’s the best he can hope for. This is where we pick up the story:
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him,
and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
Note the word ‘but’. Small word, big implication. In this word, we see the full glory of what we call the Gospel, the Good News. The son had done badly, BUT, the father still loved him, ran to him and welcomed him home. What a picture!
Amazing Race, Amazing Grace
There is a ton of meaning in the word, ‘ran’.
Culturally, it was radical. No patriarch would run in that culture. It was a shameful and dishonoring thing. He would have to show his undergarments. No father in such a patriarchal society would ever dream of doing such a thing. He had people who ran to him and for him.
Emotionally, he raced towards his boy. This was no jog. Why? His feet responded to his heart! When he saw his son, couldn’t help himself. Holding nothing back, he raced to greet his returning son. ‘My boy! My boy!
Spiritually, his son had done a terrible thing. The locals would have poured scorn of him. But father, anticipating that, runs to his son before he gets to the village. And the boy enters the village under the protection of his father.
That’s important. You may be feeling like you would like to return home too but are afraid of how you might be greeted by the church or Christians. I want you to see the father racing to his son to protect him from the scorn.
You may indeed face that scorn, but not from your Father. If you do, it is the church and those participating Christians that are wrong, not you.
An amazing race that points to amazing Father!
You may not have had a parent like Jim Redmond or the father in our story that loved you like that. Recent statistics suggest it is unlikely you had a dedicated dad who was/is physically and emotionally present. So many of us have never known such love. That’s bad news. But there is good news.
There is a Father in heaven who loves you with such a dedication.
Jesus is saying something immensely significant in this story. He is saying God is a Father who runs to people like us even though they have rejected or neglected Him. Another place in the Bible puts it this way:
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
At our worst, the Father decided to act. He showed His great love for us by sending His Son to die the death we deserved. Even though we had rejected and neglected Him. Therefore, we are reunited with Father.
Here is where the story is a little different. In the story, the boy had to make his way home. For us, Jesus has made the way home. Sent a car for us, if you will. You just have to get in.
Jesus told this story to give us a glimpse of our Father’s heart. When the father in the story runs to his child, he does so with only one emotion. He has a right to be angry but chooses love and forgiveness. He will do the same for you.
God is good indeed!
It’s time to come home.