In Luke 15:11-32 Jesus told a story about a young man who felt an urge to leave his father’s house. It’s a familiar story, one that has happened in almost every family. This young man asked for his portion of the family estate and left for a distant land. There he squandered his money on wild living. Days passed, then weeks, then months. At last the day came when the young man had spent all his money. Now broke and destitute, he found himself in a desperate place, far from family and friends. Although he was ashamed, he hired on with a farmer who put him to work slopping the hogs. He was so hungry that he found himself ready to eat with the pigs. At that precise moment the light turned on in his brain. In a blinding flash, he saw himself and he saw what he had become. Most of all, he saw that it was his own stupidity that had gotten him in such a mess. No longer would he blame his father or criticize his older brother. No longer would he pretend to be something he wasn’t. In that moment of self-revelation, he saw what he had become. He knew that there was only one way back.
The strange irony of his situation hit him like a ton of bricks. His father’s servants were eating their fill back at home, while he, the master’s son, was living with the pigs. Then he thought to himself, “I’m going to get up and go back home. When I get there, I’m going to say, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.’”
With that, the young man got up, brushed himself off, gathered his things and began making the long journey back home. He was still a long way off when his father spotted him trudging up the dusty road. Before the young man knew what was happening, his father ran to him, threw his arms around him, kissed him and said, “Welcome home, son.”
The son said what he had memorized in the pig pen. “Father, I have sinned against you and against heaven. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But the father cut him off. He would hear no more of it. The cry went out, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Find the fattened calf and kill it. Call the neighbors and spread the good news. Tell everyone you see. This son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found.”
I make one observation and one only. This young man, whom we call the Prodigal Son, turned his whole life around by saying three simple words: “I have sinned.”
He said it while he was still living with the pigs.
He said it while he was still far away from home.
He said it while he was still broke and hungry.
But those three words turned his life around.
It is a parable of your life and of mine. When we have sinned, we are so ashamed to find ourselves in the pig pen that we dare not tell anyone where we are. So, we try to clean ourselves up, we try to be presentable, we brush our teeth and comb our hair, but we still have pig slop under our fingernails. Everybody knows we’ve been with the pigs.
This story is for everyone who is tired of eating with the pigs. If you are ready to go home, I’ve got good news for you. The Father is standing in the road waiting for you. His arms are open wide. He knows where you’ve been, and he is still waiting for you. The only thing that matters is for you to come home.
That’s what the grace of God is all about. You can come home. You can start over. You can be forgiven. The slate can be wiped clean. You don’t have to live the rest of your life in hiding. You don’t have to live in fear that someone will find you out. You don’t have to eat with the pigs forever.
It is possible, and it depends on one thing. You have to do what the Prodigal Son did. You have to come to your senses and say, “Father, I have sinned.” When you do, you will find the mercy that Proverbs 28:13 talks about. When you do, you will discover 1 John 1:9 is true. He is faithful. He is just. He will forgive your sin and will cleanse you from all unrighteousness.