2-4 Killing The Fatted Calf
" The fatted calf" of Christ is 'killed' by God on our repentance
in the sense that He is aware once again of the death of Christ whenever
we are granted forgiveness. The spirit of Christ groans for us when we
sin, as he did on the cross and in Gethsemane (Rom.8:26). Thus God looks
on the travail of Christ's soul when He bears our sins away from us (Is.53:11).
To crucify Christ afresh as it were puts Christ through the process of
death on behalf of sin once again, but because the believer does not 'resurrect'
to newness of life in forsaking the sin, neither does God 'visualize'
the Lord's triumph over the sufferings of sin in the resurrection. Such
a person has left Christ suffering, travailing in soul, groaning with
tears, without any triumph or resurrection.
The son admitted that he had sinned " in thy sight" (Lk.15:21),
exactly as David confessed after his sin with Bathsheba (Ps.51:4). In
the same way as David openly recognized that he deserved to die, so the
prodigal wanted to be made a hireling. Yet in reality, God did not take
David's life, the prodigal was not allowed to even get round to saying
he wanted to be made a slave (Lk.15:21 cp. 19), shoes being immediately
placed on his feet (Lk.15:22) to distinguish him from the barefoot slaves.
As God took His repentant wife back to her former status, speaking of
her once again as a virgin, so the Father emphasizes: " This my
son was dead..." (Lk.15:24). The prodigal was dead, but then
became alive (Lk.15:32), in the same way as baptism marks both a one-off
coming alive with Christ, and also the start of a newness of life in which
we are constantly dying to sin and coming alive to God's righteousness
(Rom.6:13). Our repentance and subsequent acceptability with God at our
baptisms should therefore be on a similar level to our confessions of
sinfulness to God after specific sins in our daily lives, and also related
to our doing this at the day of judgment.
Yet in the daily round of sin and failure, it is sometimes difficult
to sense the degree to which God is actively seeking our return, and willing
to slay the fatted calf. The earlier parables of the lost sheep and coin
show God actively working to find us; whilst that of the prodigal implies
that He is not doing anything physical. Yet the clear connections with
the preceding parables show that the woman zealously turning the house
upside down must therefore be a figure of the mental energy expended by
the Almighty in seeking out our repentance. In our semi-aware spiritual
days and hours, before we 'come to ourselves', the Father's active mind
is urgently seeking us. Surely this should motivate us in our stronger
moments to be aware of the need not to sleep into the sleepy
madness of spiritual indifference and sin. This indifference is effectively
spending our substance with whores and riotous living. We have mentioned
that Prov. 29:3 is one of the root passages for the prodigal parable:
" Whoso loveth wisdom rejoiceth his father: but he that
keepeth company with harlots spendeth his substance" . There
is a parallel here between wisdom and the Father's substance; continuing
a popular Biblical theme that God's spiritual riches are to be found in
His words of wisdom. An indifference to the spiritual riches which we
have been given in the word of Christ is therefore being likened to the
prodigal squandering the Father's substance with whores.
It is hard to appreciate that this parable really is intended to be read
as having some reference to our daily turning back from our sins- such
is the emotional intensity of the story. Yet such is the seriousness of
sin that we must see in it an ideal standard to aim for in this regard.
The parable alludes to a passage in Job which helps us better appreciate
this. The prodigal's confession " I have sinned...in thy sight"
, and his returning from spiritual death to life (Lk. 15:21,32) connect
well with Job 33:24-30: " His flesh (of the forgiven sinner) shall
be fresher than a child's: he shall return to the days of his youth (cp.
the prodigal): he shall pray unto God, and He will be favourable unto
him: and he shall see his face with joy...if any say (like the prodigal),
I have sinned...and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from
the pit, and his life shall see the light. Lo, all these things worketh
God oftentimes with man" . The prodigal's experience will
often be worked out in our lives, the fatted calf slain time and again,
and as such we will come to know and appreciate the Father's love even
The joyous feast around the fatted calf can therefore speak of the full
fellowship with God which we enjoy each time we come to repentance. We
saw that the return of Israel in Hos.2 was one of the source passages
for the parable. The feast at their return is there described as a betrothal
feast. This is obviously a one-off act. Yet such is the constant newness
of life which we can experience through continued repentance, that the
feasts of joy which we experience can all have the intensity of a betrothal
feast. In like manner our relation with Christ in the Kingdom is likened
to a consummation which lasts eternally.