But let us continue in the parable! The son came to a decision; it was a necessary decision! He will arise and return, and confess before the Father: "I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and I am no longer worthy to be called thy Son; make me one of thy day labourers!"
Yes, the son came to, woke up, woke up! That was the prerequisite for coming out of his forlornness; he no longer fought for himself, no longer held accusations against God or against other people or even against circumstances; no, he went into himself, accused himself. A healing moment!
And he makes the decision to return: not to a hard Lord, nor to a church or organization, but to the Father – or we can also say: to Christ, for no one comes to the Father but through him (John 14:6).
This is not about converting people to certain views or to certain moral teachings; it is about converting to the Lord! The Son wants to return from the pigs to the Father's house – from sin to sonship with God, from darkness to the sunshine of God, from hopelessness to hope, from the realm of the »God of this world« to the Kingdom of the Son!
However, many also remain at this stage of development; they recognize their situation, but – for a variety of reasons – do not reverse it after all. They remain far from God, despite their insight, and do not put their knowledge into practice.
It is interesting to note that until then – from verse 11 to verse 19 – the Father remains silent. We also see this in life; God grants man freedom of choice and action. He does not force! He hopes for return, looks out, invites through Christ and his Word, but man is free to choose; at any time in the course of events man can decide anew; but he is also responsible for the consequences of his actions.
God waits; one can renounce him, one can transgress his commandments, one can live without him; but Jeremiah 2:19 says: "So you must become aware and experience what misery and heartache it brings to leave the Lord your God..." (Luther).
In the parable the Son has not only made the decision to repent – which is actually the exact meaning of the word repentance – he also realizes it! He returns, immediately as he is, from the pigs, starved, dirty, ragged! And he already confessed before himself: "I have sinned!"
Many admit that they made mistakes or made mistakes; but such confessions do not mean much in life and are worth nothing before God. Nor does the prodigal son say, "We are all sinners. No, he confesses that he, having sinned himself, is a sinner! This is very important, because true repentance presupposes a judgement about oneself! He must break down the walls of his self-love, of his self-conceit; to overthrow the pleasure of himself. This truly requires the help of the Spirit of God.
But without this conversion to the Lord, to Jesus Christ, without this conversion it does not work! The Son could have remained religious even in the distance, attending meetings and devotions with the pigs: without conversion to the Lord, to the Father, it would not have done any good.
Therefore, it is also important to see how God's Word speaks to us through the Holy Spirit; many people have knowledge; knowledge is good, but if that is all, it only leads them to mind Christianity; others emphasize feeling; they feel elevated by impressive sermons and rituals; but in everyday life, feeling does not do anything. Then there are Christians who rely on their will, who want to serve God, performance Christians. But in the end they resign, tired, exhausted, burnt out.
But God's word does not first address the mind, mind or will, but goes deep, aims at our conscience. Then one learns to see how God sees us. This also happened to the prodigal son.
And so he set out for the return, a return, by grace. He could only return to God through Christ as a supplicant! He had no claims! He had trampled on the Father's love, disregarded his words, felt them to be compulsion and had therefore thrown them behind him. He had lived his life without the Father; he no longer had any rights over him; the Father did not have to rejoice in his return!
And he returned as he was; he took his rags with him; he was not first made beautiful, he was prepared! But he was allowed to do this, because whoever dares to do it by the grace of God is allowed to do it completely, with all faults, infirmities, doubts, sins! He may throw himself into the arms of the Saviour and the Father! And so it is with all of us; it is a return by grace! We may return home as God's creatures.
Meanwhile the father was already waiting and saw him coming from afar. God had already waited with regard to the people of Israel: "All day long have I stretched out my hands ... " (Romans 10:21); God desires the return of men to him; therefore he has given his son as a ransom: "... He who gave him up for our transgressions and was raised up for our justification" (Romans 4:25). And the Lord sees the Son coming. So what is the next step in the return?