Long ago, there was a king. He was wise, powerful, benevolent and kind. One day, he had a son and there was great rejoicing throughout the kingdom. As expected, the king proved to be a wonderful father.

His favorite thing to do during the day was to take a break from all the demands of being king to spend time with his son in the royal gardens.

One day, the king’s duties kept him late. The king’s son waited in the garden for his father. Time passed. After a while, the boy did a very natural thing. He decided to explore. There were trails that he had never been down before and trees he had never seen. He walked deeper and deeper into the forest. Finally, he decided to get back to the royal gardens. He turned around and nothing looked familiar. He started to run, sadly, in the wrong direction. Deeper and deeper into the forest he ran. The sun went down. He spent that first night lost and scared. He had never been away from his father and had never been so frightened.

The next morning, the boy started down the trail again, looking for something familiar. Finally, he walked out of the forest and into a little village. He saw an old man and told him, “Sir, I’m lost. I am the king’s son.” The old man laughed, “And, I am the queen!” The boy ran to another and told the same story. They also laughed and turned away. No one believed the little boy and no one helped him. Days past. Weeks past. The boy stayed alive by begging for, and occasionally stealing, food.

Meanwhile, back at the castle, the king spent that first night sleepless. He searched all night for the boy. He sent his entire army to search the forest and all throughout the kingdom. There was no word. Time past.

The king finally convinced himself that the boy had been kidnapped. However, money was never requested. Months went by. Eventually the king accepted the fact that his son was lost and dead.

Meanwhile, the boy grew up on the streets and became street-wise and tough. The fact that he was the son of a king began to fade into memory. Years passed and he forgot what his father’s face looked like. He decided that this idea that he was a prince had all been a childhood dream.

As the years passed, he became a thief … and a pretty good one. He eventually became the leader of a gang of thieves who were notorious and feared throughout the land. The young man became the kingdom’s number one enemy.

One day, he was arrested, tried, sentenced to hang and put into a dungeon under the king’s palace to await the hour of his death.

The next day, one of the king’s guards approached the king and told him there was reason to believe that this criminal just might be his long, lost son.

On the night before the boy was to be executed, the king made a visit to the dungeon. The king approached the criminal. It was as if he were looking into a mirror of himself when he was a younger man.

The king began to cry. “Young man,” he finally said, “do you know that you are my son?” He explained the details of the day the boy was first lost so many years ago. The criminal’s memory finally linked and he began to cry.

The king stood up and, to the absolute surprise of the boy, said, “I have decided to set you free” and left the dungeon.

The young man tested the door. It was true. The door was unlocked. He walked out and there were no guards to be found. He ran up the stairs, through the royal garden, into the forest, and fled into the night.

Three days later, the young man discovered the price at which his freedom had been given. On the morning he was to be executed, the guards went into the dungeon and found, sitting alone on the bed, the king.

That day, the king was hanged. For he proclaimed, “The law must be honored.” That day, the king died on the gallows built for his son.

The end. Or, if you so choose, the beginning.

You may ask, “Whatever happened to the boy?” “Did he go back to his old ways or did he change and embrace the fact that he was the son of a king?”

The answer depends on you, because the boy represents every one of us.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly … God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." (Romans 5:6-11)

Russ Whitten now preaches every Sunday at the 9:30 a.m. Harbor Worship Service at Brotula’s Restaurant, 210 US 98 in Destin and then at the 11:30 a.m. service at The Downtown Church, meeting at Enlightened Studios, 144 Miracle Strip Parkway SE in Fort Walton Beach. He can be reached at russwhitten@gmail.com.