Speaking through His chosen prophet Jeremiah, the Lord called out to the people of Judah to turn away from the false gods and idols they had been worshipping and to turn back to the God who had brought them out of slavery in Egypt into their good land.
6 The Lord said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: “Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? Jeremiah 3:6a NKJV
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines backsliding as lapsing morally and spiritually and reverting to a worse condition than before. This was the condition of the people of Judah despite the best efforts of their king.
King Josiah had done everything he could to help turn the hearts of his people back to their God. That faithful servant pleased the Lord very much, but in the end, the choice of whether to follow God or not lies only within the heart of each individual.
The Lord pleaded through His mouthpiece, Jeremiah, for the people to return to Him.
12 … ‘Return, backsliding Israel,’ says the Lord;
‘I will not cause My anger to fall on you.
For I am merciful,’ says the Lord;
‘I will not remain angry forever.
13 Only acknowledge your iniquity,
That you have transgressed against the Lord your God… Jeremiah 3:12b-13a NKJV
If we do find ourselves at the end of a long road of disobedience, far from the sensible presence of the Lord, how can we ever get back to that warm and peaceful place of His mercy and favor? Jesus answers this question using the parable of the Lost Son (sometimes referred to as the parable of the Prodigal, or lavishly wasteful, Son), found in Luke 15.
Speaking to a crowd of both humble sinners and scoffing religious leaders, Jesus told a story about a man with two sons. The younger son asked for and received his full inheritance from his father, which he took to a far land and wasted on wild living.
When all his money was gone, this young Jewish man needed something to live on, so he joined himself to a citizen in that country and was given the job of feeding swine, an unclean animal under Jewish law.
16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’ Luke 15:16-19 NKJV
This is where mercy and grace come in. The father had longed for his son’s return and kept frequent vigil in hopes that he would come home. Then one day, the father saw the son coming a long way off, and with compassion, ran out to meet him. He hugged his young son and kissed him and restored him to a position of honor in the family. The father brought out the prized fatted calf as the centerpiece of a feast to celebrate his young son’s return.
There is more to this story in regard to how the older brother responds to the situation, but here Jesus is referring to the joy in heaven whenever anyone who is far from the Lord decides in their heart to turn to or return to Him. God is overflowing with grace and forgiveness for anyone willing to turn to Him in humble repentance. This is true for anyone, whether in the free world or in the jail house. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the dead makes it all possible, whatever situation we may find ourselves in.
Are you feeling far away from the Lord? Perhaps you have never known Jesus and His great love for you, or maybe it has been a very long time since you have sought out that relationship. When Jesus told the story of the Lost Son, He was speaking about each one of us – we have all gone astray and greatly need His grace and mercy. It is there in abundance if we will ask Him for it.
Lord, speak to my heart and show me my need for You in my life. I humbly turn (or return) to You and seek to live in the light of Your presence. Forgive all of my sins which I acknowledge to You and surround me with the warm presence of Your Spirit. Restore to me the blessings of grace, peace, and joy. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.