But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son threw his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 15: 20b).
Most of us have heard the parable that Jesus told his disciples about the lost (or prodigal) son. It is so deeply touching in so many ways. Just to envision this father running toward his son and embracing him is overwhelming. There is a tune called: When God Ran, that is an absolutely amazing song that uses this passage so beautifully. To hear it and not be deeply moved would be hard to imagine.
This is how Jesus begins this parable :
…There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate’. So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set out for a distant country… (Luke 15: 11-13a). The parable goes on telling of all that took place as the son took his inheritance and squandered it on wild living (from vs. 13), but we hear nothing else about the father until the son returns home.
We are not told how the father felt when his son asked for his part of the estate, we just know he gave it to him. We are not told how he felt seeing his son get together all he owned and left their family home~ seemingly not knowing if he would see him again. But we do know how he responded when he saw his son coming toward him when he did return home. He was filled with compassion for him~ and he ran to him threw his arms around him and kissed him. This was before his son said a word. He didn’t wait for an explanation or an apology~ his joyous welcome of his son had to do with what was in his heart, there were no conditions.
This parable is one of the most amazing portrayals of a father’s love and forgiveness for his son in the Word of God. It is hard for most of us to fathom this kind of unconditional acceptance. The father made it so very clear that he held nothing against his son, and whatever had taken place in the past was not even brought up. He simply embraced him as his beloved son, so very grateful to see him and to welcome him with open arms.
Many fathers would have been offended, hurt, angry, resentful, or any number of other responses to this kind of treatment. Many would have felt justified under these circumstances to reject the son on his return, to punish him, or at least give him the cold shoulder. Of course, none of this took place.
Taking this example a step further, we don’ know if the father really had a need to forgive. The Word says nothing about him struggling through a forgiveness process. What if this father was so rooted in God’s love himself, that he completely understood his son. He didn't fight his son on giving the inheritance. Was this weakness or wisdom? It seems that as the story unfolds the father has great wisdom. He seems to be completely free from focusing on what was done to him, but rather on the welfare of his son. How even more profound if the father lived in such freedom and security from God’s forgiveness for him, that he could say as Jesus did on the cross: forgive him father for he knows not what he does (from Luke 23:34).
This is the kind of forgiveness for others that the Lord has available for us. The forgiveness God has given to us in our lives can be so very powerful in our witness and relationship with others. It is forgiveness that comes only through the redeeming and transforming power of God&#;s love and forgiveness~ embedded deep in our hearts. This is seen in such a profound way in the life of Stephen in the Bible.
The book of Acts tells us of the life of Stephen. We hear of Stephen after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the forty days He spent with His apostles speaking to them about the kingdom of God. After Jesus was taken up to heaven, the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles as promised by God. This is where the early fellowship of believers began in Jerusalem. There were thousands of people who repented and were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and whom received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Stephen was one of the men in the early church. He was
a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5), thus was chosen by the leaders to be a servant of widows by dispersing food to them. It was also said of him that
he was a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people(Acts 6: 8). Great opposition arose against Stephen by people who were there from many lands,
but they could not stand up against his wisdom and the spirit by whom he spoke(Acts 6: 10). These men secretly got false witnesses and
they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin(Acts 6: 12).
As Stephen appeared before the Sanhedrin, the false witnesses presented their accusations.
All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and saw that his face was like the face of an angel (Acts 6:15). The High Priest asked Stephen if the charges were true. At this point, Stephen addressed all present as his brothers and fathers. He urged them to listen. Stephen then gave an amazing account of God’s plan for their people beginning with Abraham to the present day.
Stephen then spoke passionately from his heart directly to the Sanhedrin:
You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: you always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And you have betrayed and murdered him- you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it (Acts 7: 51-53).
When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look’, he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’ (Acts 7: 54-56).
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul (vs. 57-58).
While they were stoning him Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus receive my spirit’. Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7: 59-60).
What an amazing heart of forgiveness Stephen had. Being set up, falsely accused, drug out of the city, and having people throw stones at him to the point of death- it is difficult to imagine how painful that had to be. And of all the things he could have said in his final breath~ it was to ask the Lord not to hold their sin against them. Oh Lord, it is only You who has this kind of heart.
Stephen’s life was all about God and His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In this account of his time as a servant of God, he spoke nothing but the truth of the Word of God. It is clear from all that is said about him, that he loved God with all of his heart, and had profound gratitude for all He had done for him and his people. He had His Word deep in his heart. Stephen obviously had a sincere passion for all to know of the saving Grace of Jesus.
So when pressure came upon him, and the persecution escalated, Stephen focused fully on God, not on himself or the lies of the enemy. In fact, Stephen obviously took it as an opportunity from the Lord to boldly tell of God and all he had done for their people, and to give them another chance to see the truth. And when they didn’t listen, and Stephen knew they were going to kill him, he was not deterred. His focus was still on the things of God. And it was God he turned to and got his strength from. It was God in him that cried out the loving words of forgiveness in the midst of being stoned.
Little did Stephen know how the Lord would use his humble life, and relatively brief time as a Christian here on earth in such an overwhelmingly profound way. That the words he spoke from his heart for the forgiveness of others would be a witness to all who would read the Word of God until the end of the age. God will use us in the same way. Stephen was not a special man, he was a man utterly and completely dependent upon the Lord. Stephen could love because God first loved him (from 1 John 4: 10). He had the power of God’s Word and forgiveness in his heart, thus had a selfless love for others.
If you seek to have this kind of heart that loves and forgives this way, and as the father in the prodigal son parable~ just ask the Lord and He will be faithful to bring this kind of transformation to your life. As you seek God with all of your heart through His Word and prayer, who He is will flow more and more deeply through you. He will shine through you so brightly that His glory will be there for all to see! To Him be the Glory forever and ever, Amen.