THE GIFTS OF THE FATHER
When the Father forgives, He gives as well. The forgiveness of the father in the parable for the wayward son is
dramatically presented in his running to meet the son, embracing him, and bestowing upon him the affectionate
kisses. These responses together picture the fullness and the glory of divine forgiveness. It is an unforgettable
experience to know that your sins have been forgiven, but the Father who forgives also gives.
In this wonderful parable Jesus brings us in touch with the Father’s giving which accompanied His forgiving by
describing the action of the father. He called for servants to come quickly and to put a bright new expensive
robe on his son, to put a ring on his finger, to put shoes on his feet, and to prepare a feast by the killing of the
fatted calf. These were the kinds of things that a father in that ancient world might have done in these
circumstances. Are we reading too much into the text if we see some spiritual significance in these gifts of the
Father? Some scholars draw back from such a use of the details of this parable, but many warm-hearted
interpreters of scripture have seen some significant spiritual lessons in the gifts. I want to join that company of
warm-hearted interpreters who have been blessed by seeing significance in the gifts. The gifts do more than
indicate the giving nature of the Father; they help us understand some of the gifts the Father gives when He
I. THE ROBE
When the wayward son was embraced by the father, the need for a new robe was obvious. The son was still
dressed in the soiled and tattered garments he had received in the far country. He still had the outward
appearance of a keeper of pigs. Such an appearance was not appropriate for a son who had been welcomed to
the father’s house. The language indicates that the father specifically called for an expensive and beautiful robe
to be put upon the son.
There would actually be two sides to this incident. If the servants are to clothe the son in a beautiful new
garment, they must obviously remove the old garments. It is only when the old has been stripped away that the
son is prepared to wear the new. What kind of lesson could we learn from this?
In that prophecy of Zechariah in the Old Testament, there is an incident that helps us understand this passage.
Joshua, the high priest, is seen standing before the angel of the Lord and Satan is standing to his right side
making accusation against Joshua. Under the Lord’s instructions the filthy garments in which Joshua is dressed
are taken away. In the taking away of the old garments the angel says to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your
sin and I will put rich garments on you” (Zechariah 3:4). While Zechariah watched, the angel called for a clean
turban to be put on Joshua’s head. He is also clothed in a clean robe and stands before God dressed in a white
and beautiful robe.
It is obvious that the Lord intended for Zechariah to understand that the taking off of the filthy garments
symbolized forgiveness. The Lord was ready to forgive all the sins of Joshua and to remove them. But the
putting on of the clean turban and the clean robe went beyond forgiveness. It symbolized God dressing the high
priest Joshua in the garments of righteousness which make it possible for him to stand in the presence of God
as the priest of the people.
This is what we are to see in this first gift of the father. It is not appropriate for the son to walk around the father’
s house dressed like a slave who has been keeping pigs in a far country. The taking off of his filthy old
garments is a reminder that God has graciously forgiven all our sins - removed them as far from us as the East
is from the West. But the putting on of the beautiful new robe is a reminder that God has given us a gift the robe
of perfect righteousness in the Lord Jesus Christ which makes it possible for us to stand in the presence of God
as a son, as one accepted by the Father.
When you come home to the Father in brokenness and repentance, He does more than forgive. He actually
gives you every thing that is required to make you acceptable in His presence. The Bible has a word for this and
the word is “justification.” In justification a holy God gives guilty sinners perfect righteousness as a gift. It is
given to them simply because God is gracious and they have been willing to receive it as a gift. Isn’t this a
II. THE RING
The second gift that the father instructed the servants to bring was a ring. It was not just any ring, but was
rather a signet ring. The signet ring had a special place in the life of a family in that day. It was more than just
an expensive piece of jewelry.
The signet ring was a sure sign of sonship. When the father instructed the servant to put the signet ring on his
finger, he was bestowing upon that son all of the rights of sonship. The boy is not to come back to the father’s
house as some kind of second class son in the family. Even though he has forfeited by his rebellion any right to
be considered a part of the family, because of his grace the father bestows upon him all of the rights and
privileges that go with sonship. They are given to him as a gift.
Involved in the wearing of the signet ring was the right of representation. It bestowed upon the son the privilege
of acting upon the father’s behalf. With the use of that signet ring he would be able to mark a document on
behalf of his father. He could be in those special circumstances the actual representative of his father.
The spiritual significance of this is mind boggling. It is one of the wonders of God’s grace that He takes those of
us who have been rebels against Him and forgives us all of our rebellion against Him, and then actually bestows
upon us the privilege of being His representative, of exercising His authority.
This is one of the gifts that caused Saul of Tarsus to live all of his days in a state of wonder. Even though he
had schemed to destroy the cause of Jesus and the people of Jesus, when Jesus forgave him, He actually made
Saul of Tarsus one of His official representatives on the earth. He gave to Saul of Tarsus a “signet ring,” the
privilege of representing Him and His cause. He does the same thing for every person He forgives. He not only
forgives us, He puts the ring on our finger which gives us the right to exercise authority on His behalf and in His
service. Thank God that He does more than forgive!
III. THE SHOES
There may be an implication in the command to bring the shoes that the young man came home barefooted.
This would not be surprising because customarily slaves went barefooted. We are probably to understand that
this son had slipped down to the level of a slave in the far country. All of the outward signs of sonship were
gone. So the command to put shoes on his feet would be related to his position of sonship in the family. It was
not appropriate that a son would walk around the house barefooted like a servant. You could tell the slaves
from the sons by the fact that the sons had shoes on their feet.
The shoes were the signs of a free man. Is this not what God gives us in Jesus Christ? Does He not bestow a
special freedom upon those that He forgives? It is a wonderful thing to be forgiven, but it is also a wonderful
thing to receive a pair of shoes - to be endowed with the freedom of sonship.
This explains something of the intensity with which Paul wrote the Galatian Letter. In his view the false teachers
who had come to Galatia were attempting to lead the sons to give up their shoes. They wanted the sons to
revert to the status of slaves, to begin to go barefooted. So when Paul writes this letter he admonishes the
people of Galatia, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be
burdened again by the yoke of slavery” (Galations 5:1). Did you realize that when the Father forgave you He
put shoes on your feet? Are you walking in the joyous freedom that is yours as a child of God? Would your walk
with the Lord be characterized as bondage or freedom? Those who understand the heart of the Father know
that it should be characterized by freedom. In Christ we have been set free. Don’t let anyone steal from you
IV. THE FATTED CALF
The last gift that the father called for was the fatted calf. The language would indicate that this was a calf that
had been penned and fed for just such a special occasion. This calf may have been selected, put in the pen,
and fed every day in anticipation of the day that the son would come back from the far country. This was not just
any well-fed calf. It was a calf kept for just such a special occasion. The son who had been lost is found so it is
time for a special joyful celebration.
Can you not imagine the feast that followed? The calf would be killed and would be roasted. The things that
would be appropriate for such a feast were loaded on to the table. All the family members would be reclining
around the table with servants standing behind them to respond to their every need. The son would doubtlessly
be positioned right beside the father. The father and the son would enjoy a special time of communion as they
feasted together on the fatted calf.
What is the spiritual significance of this gift? The obvious spiritual significance of this gift is the joy of
communion with the Father. The Father bestows upon those He forgives the privilege of sitting at the table of
fellowship and communing with Him. It is a privilege unspeakable and full of glory. It is a privilege indescribable
in its joy. There is no joy on earth like the joy of sitting at the Father’s table and enjoying the feast that His love
The significance of this gift is appreciated even more when you realize what the son gave up to enjoy this gift.
Not long before he was sitting beside the pen where the pigs were kept and was hungering for the pods, the field
provisions that were being fed to the pigs, just a bowl of pig food was the best he could hope for in those
circumstances, but now he is in the father’s house and the father is giving him the gift of the fatted calf. He is
giving him the gift of the joy of communion. The world has nothing to compare with such a gift.
Who receives these gifts? Those who receive these gifts are obviously not the deserving. The prodigal son
deserved none of these gifts. They came to him totally out of the generosity and the grace of the father. It is so
with every gift our heavenly Father bestows upon us.
Who receives these gifts? The son who has a broken and a contrite heart, who is ready to say, “I have sinned.”
Whenever we come seeking forgiveness we receive more than we sought. When it would be enough just to
know that the Father has said, “I forgive you,” we are surprised by receiving the robe, the ring, the shoes, and
the fatted calf. The Father is ready this morning to do more than forgive you. He is ready to enrich your life with
His special heavenly gifts.