And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 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.” 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. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15.20-24).
The story of the return of the prodigal son is probably the best-loved of all the parables that Jesus told, and I do it no service if I make an allegory out of it and obscure its central message of the unquenchable, gracious, merciful love of God. That said, however, Jesus, by describing what the father did for the returning son, surely intends me to see in the robe, the ring, the shoes and so on, truths about the nature of the Father’s love and how it works towards me. And it is the robe that is full of meaning for me this morning.
From the very start, God has been a God who clothes his people. When Adam and Eve sinned they tried to clothe themselves — “they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3.7) — but their best efforts were not good enough. “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3.21). And it seems to me this morning that, starting there, the whole pattern of salvation can be seen in the ongoing “clothing activity” of God.
Before God, whatever I am wearing of my own making, I will always be naked. He will always “see through” whatever garments I might use to try and cover my fallenness and sin. Isaiah tells me that “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64.6 … “filthy rags” in the KJV); but then he goes on to say: “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” (Isaiah 61.10).
There is a robe that will cover me, that will hide my nakedness, but it is one that God himself supplies. No other robe will do. And I have no part in the kingdom without that robe. In another of his parables, Jesus told the story of a king who gave a wedding feast for his son and who “saw there a man who had no wedding garment.” “Friend,” he says to him, “how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” The man is speechless — and so he must be for he has no excuse; the king himself provides the wedding garments — and he is thrown out of the feast (Matthew 22.1-14).
How dangerous to think I can ever do without the best robe that the Father would put on me. And even Christians can slip back into thinking that that is so. To the Christians in Laodicea Jesus says: “you say I am rich … I need nothing, not realizing that you are … naked. I counsel you to buy from me … white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen …” (Revelation 3.17-18). “Buy” not because the white robe of righteousness is for sale but because the Laodiceans think they are so spiritually wealthy that they can “buy” anything that God has on offer.
Do I want to be “clothed in white garments” (Revelation 3.4-5)? Then I must again, this morning, “put on Christ” (Romans 13.14). He is the Righteousness One (Acts 3.14) and he is the one in whom the Father would clothe me as I return to him today. For he is “the best robe” and, dressed in that robe … “found in Him” as Paul puts it (Philippians 3.9) … I need fear for nothing.
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach the eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ, my own.