The season of Lent invites us to return to God with our whole heart. It’s a theme that runs throughout Scripture and God’s relationship with his people. Throughout this Bible study, which you can read on your own or in a group setting, you’ll find links to Bible Gateway with notes that open automatically on your screen to the right of the Bible text in the Study sidebar.
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Our Merciful, Reconciling God
The focus of last week’s study was the invitation to wholeheartedly seek the Lord and call on him for mercy, forgiveness, and restoration. This week, we focus on God’s mercy to those who seek him, and how he initiates and sustains the work of reconciliation in our lives.
1. The story of the prodigal son is perhaps the most well known of all Jesus’ parables. The word “prodigal” means to be extravagant or excessive. In connection with the rebellious son in the story, it connotes recklessness, self-indulgence, and debauchery. However, the word prodigal could also be used to characterize the extravagance of the father in the parable. As you read the story in Luke 15:1-3, 11b–32 (ESV), pay particular attention to the words, actions, and demeanor of the father.
For deeper insights into significant elements of the story, see the corresponding verse-by-verse notes for the parable in the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible.
- What does the father say and do—and not say and do—that could be described as extravagant or prodigal?
- If the prodigal son is reckless, self-indulgent, and debauched, what three words or phrases would you use to characterize the prodigal father?
- How is the father’s extravagance also evident in the way he relates to his older son?
- In what ways do the older son’s words, actions, and demeanor embody the opposite of prodigality? What three words or phrases would you use to characterize him?
- How is the father’s mercy evident in the way he relates to both of his sons? How does he attempt to reconcile his sons, not only to himself but also to one another?
2. The apostle Paul stresses the reconciling work of God in his second letter to the church at Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 5:16–21 (NIV), he writes:
- For insights on Paul’s reference to a “new creation,” read the corresponding note in the NIV Application Commentary. Based on what you read, how would you describe the scope of the “new creation”? What does it include?
- Reconciliation refers to “a change of relation from enmity to peace” (“2Co 5:18” NKJV Study Bible), and Paul makes it clear that “All this is from God.” In other words, God is the initiator and sustainer of reconciliation. What parallels do you observe between God’s work in reconciliation as Paul describes it here, and the way Jesus describes the father in the parable of the prodigal son?
- Once we are reconciled to God, God appoints us to be reconcilers (vv. 19–20). Paul describes our role as that of “ambassadors.” “Ambassadors are more than messengers. They are representatives of the sovereign who sent them” (see the note “2Co 5:20” in the NKJV Study Bible). How do you understand the difference between a messenger and a representative? What might be required of an ambassador of reconciliation that wouldn’t be required of a messenger?
Questions for Reflection
- In the parable, the father pursues reconciliation with both sons. Which son’s experience comes closest to expressing your own experience of being reconciled to God? How did God demonstrate the extravagance of his love to you in salvation? In what small or large ways have you experienced God’s initiating love for you recently?
- In what ways, if any, do you relate to the older brother, resentful of God’s extravagance with others who seem less than deserving or who haven’t been as faithful or obedient as you have?
- The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines reconciliation as “the act of restoring harmony, bringing again into unity or agreement what has been alienated.” In what relationships—with God, self, or others—are you most aware of alienation or a lack of unity right now? How might you be “prodigal” or extravagant in seeking reconciliation?
- To whom might you be an ambassador of Christ’s reconciling love and grace this day?
A Prayer for the Week Ahead
When I refused to admit my wrongs, I was miserable,
moaning and complaining all day long
so that even my bones felt brittle.
Day and night, Your hand kept pressing on me.
My strength dried up like water in the summer heat;
You wore me down.
When I finally saw my own lies,
I owned up to my sins before You,
and I did not try to hide my evil deeds from You.
I said to myself, “I’ll admit all my sins to the Eternal,”
and You lifted and carried away the guilt of my sin. . . .
Tormented and empty are wicked and destructive people,
but the one who trusts in the Eternal is wrapped tightly in His gracious love.
Express your joy; be happy in Him, you who are good and true.
Go ahead, shout and rejoice aloud, you whose hearts are honest and straightforward.
(Psalm 32:3–5, 10–11 VOICE)
For Additional Study
- The Pharisees were shocked and disgusted by Jesus’ association with those they considered sinners and outcasts. To better understand the Pharisees’ disdain and Jesus’ love for all who are lost, go to Luke 15 and see the corresponding note, “Why Did Jesus Associate with the Lowest People of Society?” in the Case for Christ Study Bible. For additional background on these religious leaders, see the corresponding note for this passage titled, “Pharisees,” in the New International Encyclopedia of Bible Characters.
- For a comprehensive, verse-by-verse study of Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:11–32, see the corresponding note, “The Prodigal Son,” in Zondervan Bible Commentary (One Volume).
- In 2 Corinthians 5:16–21, the apostle Paul stresses God’s reconciling work. For deeper insights into the meaning of the root Greek word Paul uses for reconcile/reconciliation in this passage, see “G2904 καταλλάσσω” in the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. For a comprehensive overview of reconciliation in the Bible, see the corresponding note for this passage titled “Reconciliation” in the Encyclopedia of the Bible.
- For a comprehensive overview of the life and ministry of the apostle Paul, go to 2 Corinthians 5 and see the corresponding note, “Paul,” in the New International Encyclopedia of Bible Characters.
Check in next week for Week 5 of Walking with Christ to the Cross: Waiting and Persevering for God’s Promise.
If you missed previous weeks, they can be found on our Walking with Christ page here.