And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But 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. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. – Luke 15:21-24
It was 2 AM on a Saturday night. We had given up on the last game of the Stanley Cup finals in which the Dallas Stars were in a fierce battle with the Buffalo Sabers. After two full overtimes we had gone to bed. But at 2AM a shout went up from the living room where our son was still watching the game. “We won!”
I threw the light on and woke Diane. I turned on the TV and watched the replay. The win was somewhat controversial, but we won! We had a mini-celebration and then went back to sleep. An early morning awaited me. As a pastor I am seldom awake after 11 on a Saturday night. I’m up at 5 most Sunday mornings. But we had our 2AM moment of celebration. Then we went to sleep – happy and relieved. The celebration lasted but a few moments that night and after a week even the memory of the celebration was gone.
They say the Stanley Cup is the most difficult trophy to win in all of sports. But there has been an even more hard-fought and greater victory, the spoils of which belong to us who by faith acknowledge our former lostness and embrace our present blessedness through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.
The story Jesus tells of the prodigal son is a classic. It is the context of the above Bible verses. For years preachers had a standard outline for their message:
- His madness
- His sadness
- His gladness
The Prodigal’s madness is manifest in asking for his share of the family inheritance and going away in a profligate lifestyle. His sadness came as he hit bottom and lost all his money, his friends, and took a job feeding pigs. His gladness comes when he returns home to his father’s embrace. It is wrapped up in the fattened-calf celebration. It is tarnished by the older brother’s bitterness and resentment toward the now returned younger brother the erstwhile squanderer who is now restored. But the celebration continues nonetheless.
You might celebrate when your favorite sports team wins. You might rejoice and celebrate at the birth of a child or grandchild. You do well to celebrate significant anniversaries and important achievements of loved ones.
But our celebration of Jesus’ victory and our salvation is most worthy of all. Celebrating is a spiritual discipline if it is tied to the work of God, the glory of God, and the joy of salvation. Our earthly celebrations are but a dim reflection of the heavenly celebration that occurs every time a sinner repents. It is a foretaste of the celebration to come at the end of all days when we shall be gathered before the throne of the Lamb and celebrate the feast of victory for all eternity.