His was a riches to rags story. Having demanded his inheritance early, he blew through his inheritance quickly. Not with investing it for future profit, but instead wasting it on foolhardy pleasures. Soon, rather than living high on the hog as he thought he could, he had to move in with the hogs–something he never imagined he would.
So, I’m guessing that on that day when, in humiliation, he walked back onto the family homestead, there may have been a certain air about him. I’m thinking that feeding pigs–maybe even eating with pigs, will, after awhile, rub off on you . . . literally! That eventually, the longer you serve the sty and live in the sty, the more likely you are to smell like the sty.
What’s more, I’m guessing he wasn’t much to look at. No community YMCA for him to take a shower in before he came home. No Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift shops to find some decent clothing to replace the rags he had grown accustomed to wearing. Not much he could do to clean himself up, or cover himself up. Instead, he returned to his father “just as I am.”
And in that condition:
. . . his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. . . . the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.”
(Luke 15:20, 22-23 ESV)
The father would have been justified to stand there and watch as his son crawled toward him on his knees. Instead, the father ran to him.
He could have crossed his arms, leaned back, and determined to wait and see if this apparent show of repentance was real or not. Instead, the father chose to throw his arms around the neck of the prodigal and kiss him.
And then, after receiving back the delinquent, the first thing the father did was something no one expected him to do. He clothed him.
“Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him.”
The first thing the father did was dress his wayward child in the finest garment found in the house. The item in the father’s closet worn by kings, priests, and people of the highest rank. It replaced the rags. It covered the stench. And it commanded the celebration.
After clothing his son in the garment, what followed just made sense. The ring placed on his hand, the family signet of wealth and dignity. The shoes put on his feet, evidence of the freedom that is due sonship, for only slaves went barefoot. And a feast and celebration second to none! Because that’s what putting on your Sunday Best is for.
It all began with the father’s determination to clothe his returning child with the best robe. Not because the son deserved it, but because the father delighted in it.
And isn’t that also the story of this prodigal? Clothed in the best robe?
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
(Isaiah 61:10 ESV)
When by faith I first came to Him reeking of sin’s stench and wearing the filthy rags of my own “righteous deeds” (Isa. 64:6), after receiving me with compassion, open arms, and heaven’s kiss, the Father clothed me in the best robe, the robe of righteousness. Not my own righteousness, but His Son’s.
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
(Romans 8:3-4 ESV)
For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2Corinthians 5:21 ESV)
In Christ we are clothed with the robe of righteousness. His righteousness. The righteousness of God.
And every time I go rogue, as often as I find myself slipping and tripping my way into prodigal propensities, when I come to my senses and return to my Father, without fail He sees still the robe He put on me. He sees me clothed in Christ, His beloved Son. He sees me washed forever in the blood of the Lamb. The stench is gone. The rags replaced. Behold, all things are still new (2Cor. 5:17), and new eternally.
The best robe was the first thing. It is the preeminent thing. The blessing from which all other blessings flow. The undeserved favor upon which all other undeserved favors are given.
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness . . .
By His grace alone. For His glory alone.