The Perfect Son And The Prodigal
“Come!” There’s a good chance a toddler’s chubby little legs will take off in the opposite direction. Mary and I have some grandkids, so we get hands on experience chasing little ones who want to run away. It’s one thing when they disobey and run at two and three. It’s another thing when they’re still doing it in their twenties.
Hosea, the Old Testament prophet, describes this kind of prodigal behavior in an adult son. He presents a dad who was right there when his boy learned to walk. When he was sick, this loving father tenderly held his son in his arms, but from the beginning the son ran away. He mocked, rebelled, and became his father’s enemy. Hosea is not telling the story of an imperfect human father.
In Hosea 11 God, himself, tells us about Ephraim, the dominant tribe in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, God’s son who constantly ran away. By the late 8th century BC this Northern Kingdom had become totally committed to idolatry, immorality, and murder. So in 722 B.C., God allowed the Assyrian Empire to conquer and destroy His people. But then right when it looked like they would be annihilated God said,
“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboyim (These are two small towns completely annihilated when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) My heart is changed within me; all my parental compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God and not man—the Holy One in your midst.” Hosea 11:8-9a
After the devastating judgment of the Assyrian invasion, God predicted that there would be a new day—a day when God would pour out his fatherly compassion again upon his people, forgive them, and bring them back home, but how can God justly do this? His people have committed capital offenses against him. How can he simply let them off?
The prophet Hosea never answers this question, but Matthew in the New Testament will tell us the story of another Son who like Ephraim will be called out of Egypt.
“And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” (Matthew 2:15 quoting Hosea 11:1)
Matthew is well aware that Hosea 11 tells of prodigal Israel who, after coming up out of Egypt in the Exodus, wrote a history of idolatrous rebellion. But Matthew is going to tell the story of another Son, and this Son will come up out of Egypt and live a life of perfect devotion and obedience to his heavenly Father.
The amazing twist at the climax of Matthew’s story is that the perfect Son will take the penalty that the prodigal son deserves so that his Father’s love and restoration of his wandering child can be totally consistent with his holy justice.
And the greatest wonder of all is that, not only does God forgive his own prodigal people, he offers forgiveness to all of us prodigals if we will only depend upon what the Perfect Son did on Calvary.
LORD, thanks that even when we run away your grace keeps on coming. Use Truth Encounter even more in this New Year to move some rebellious sons to come home to the forgiveness that only Jesus can give.
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