The army of an evil duke storms the castle gates of an ancient kingdom. With murderous zeal the raiders pillage and torch the city. Amidst the mayhem, the infant son of the kind and noble king is captured and transported to the duke’s castle where the boy is enslaved to the sadistic warden of the dungeon.
From his earliest memories the captive prince is abused. As time passes he knows only the life of a tortured slave whose days are spent toiling in the dank confines of the dungeon. He is denied proper food, shelter and clothing. He is never permitted to bathe. He sleeps on a thin pile of vermin-infested straw, his ankle shackled to a post.
The prisoners he attends verbally abuse him. The warden routinely flogs him and with sadistic glee poisons the boy’s mind to believe that all his troubles are directly traceable to the dominion of the king. Under these horrific conditions the prince’s soul shrivels and becomes a dark haunt breeding many vices.
Early one winter morning, the boy is startled awake by shouts of panic. The king has mounted a successful attack against the traitorous duke’s castle. After the duke’s army is subdued, all the boys of a certain age-range are lined up against a castle wall. The prince, with no idea who he really is, stands in the frigid air shaking, virtually naked, and filled with loathing for the conquering king. The boy is covered from head to toe in grime. His long hair is matted and snarled. His nails are grotesquely long, his lips cracked, his feet bleeding. He nurses infected wounds. He is emaciated and unspeakably repulsive.
Working his way down the line of boys, an armored knight eventually arrives at the prince. The knight grabs the boy’s grimy wrist and carefully inspects his forearm where is revealed a distinctive birth mark. With thunderous voice, the knight turns and announces: “Here he is, your Highness!” To the boy’s utter astonishment, the king’s soldiers immediately drop to one knee, bowing their heads toward him in homage. The regal king who watches the proceedings intently from atop his steed dismounts and swiftly approaches. The boy cowers against the wall, instinctively bracing for the worst. But to his further bewilderment, the king he so despises does not raise his hand to strike, but stands before him with open arms. Tears fill the strong man’s searching eyes. A look of tender compassion graces his rugged face such as the boy has never witnessed. Suddenly, the king embraces the boy and with a strong hand pulls the prince’s head to his chest and speaks lovingly into his ear: “I have at last found you, my dear lost son. Welcome home.”
Covering the shivering boy with his cloak, the king drops to one knee and looks deeply into the boy’s troubled eyes, explaining to his bewildered son who he really is. As the truth dawns upon him, an inexplicable love for the king he once hated bursts freely from the princes’ soul. Begging his father’s forgiveness, his reeling mind struggles to grasp what is happening while fully realizing nothing in his life will ever be the same again.
As the prince rides away with his father to the safety of their castle, the king’s mind fills not only with the joy of recovering his son, but with thoughts of the difficult task that lies ahead to train the young man for life as a prince. Some matters will be accomplished quickly: a long bath, fresh clothing, a haircut, wounds treated and dressed, balm applied to cracked lips, hands and feet. But the greater part of the work will take much more time: a healthy diet, proper sleep, physical exercise; learning to read, ride a horse, wield a sword, and master a whole litany of social graces and chivalrous manners befitting a prince.
The boy has been liberated from bondage through no effort of his own and returned to the security and provision of his father’s realm. He has been reconciled to his father, transformed by the truth of who his father truly is. A love for the king now replaces the hatred that once poisoned his heart. He is the crown prince by legal right, yet a prince with an immense amount of physical recovery, learning, retraining, and spiritual healing that must take place as his bearing and skills are brought into worthy conformity to his high calling.
In standing, he is heir of his father’s kingdom. He has died to the person he was in the dungeon. His newfound relationship to his father has transformed everything. Yet in practice, the prince has much progress to make. Under the painstaking discipline and faithful tutelage of his loving father, bad habits and twisted ways of thinking learned in the shadowy recesses of the dungeon must be abandoned and painstakingly replaced for the ways of the palace.
There will be future days when the prince will wish to escape his calling. A dark temptation will occasionally haunt his soul, luring him to return to the debauched way of life he found so natural in the duke’s dungeon. Little along the forward journey will prove easy. Yet under his father’s persistent encouragement, and as his love and respect for his father deepen with maturity, the prince will intuitively realize that liberation from bondage is a glorious calling for a slave and that dungeon habits are incompatible with the calling of royal heirs.
And so it is with those the heavenly Father has rescued through the conquest of the gospel—liberated, reconciled, and progressively transformed, learning to walk worthy of our calling as heirs of our Father’s kingdom and leaving our old world in the dust of our Father’s conquest (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 4:8-9; 5:1; Ephesians 2:11-18; 4:1; 1 Peter 2:10).