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March 1, 2011 – Luke 15

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As we’ve said before, one of the chief dangers of a long Christian walk is that sense of familiarity. On one hand, it’s a good thing to be familiar with the Word, and to see it as familiar part of our life. On the other, some of the passages can become so over-read that we hardly even see them anymore. The Prodigal Son is one of those passage for many of us, and it’s easy to skip over some of the details because we’ve read or heard it so many times. For today, let’s look at one small aspect of this story, namely the three gifts the father gives to the son on his return.

First off, notice what he does NOT give him: rebuke. There is no sense of “I told you so,” or “come crawling back, did ya?” If anyone ever deserved it, surely this son did. But the father doesn’t even let the boy finish talking before running to him and giving him a robe, a ring, and sandals. Why those three? Why not a new camel?


As for the robe, in ancient times a long robe was considered a mark of royalty. The most famous robe in the Bible, Joseph’s coat of many colors, was more likely a “long cloak,” which the rich wore to show that they didn’t need to work hard (it’s difficult to do manual labor in a ankle-length robe. Try it next time you’re shoveling the sidewalk). The father was elevating the son back to a position of royalty immediately, and in fact he literally asks for “robe the first,” which means the numero uno robe in the house.


Rings in that time were used as symbols of authority. Today, when a politician gives a speech or issues a policy, he puts his signature on it, regardless of whether he actually wrote the speech or policy himself. In some cases, leaders will make a little rubber stamp of their signature and give it to an assistant, effectively saying “you can sign for me.” The assistant then has the power that normally belongs to the one in authority.

A signet ring was much the same thing in the ancient world. A king or ruler had a ring that he always wore, and when he wrote a letter or decree, he would press that ring into melted wax and make his mark on the paper. When the father gave the son his ring, he was essentially saying “you can speak for me to the world.”


The sandals are a sign that the son was not to be a servant in the household. Only high-ranking members of the house wore shoes; slaves and servants went barefoot.  Once again, the father is immediately elevating the son to a position of authority and comfort, despite the son’s pleas to be merely a servant in the home.

These three gifts show that the Father was immediately re-instating the son; no periods of mourning or reproach.

The Father is interested in restoration, not in condemnation.