Parables of Jesus – THE PRODIGAL SON

What we see across the board when we look at Christianity is that there are people from all different backgrounds. People from wealth, people from poverty, people that have “partied,” people that have “followed the rules,” people from Christian homes, people from broken homes, and everywhere in between.

No matter the backstory, we know one thing. GOD SAVES.
His arms will reach, His ears will listen.

Have you forgotten this? Have you convinced yourself that there are types of people that God cannot save? Maybe you have been praying for them, inviting them, trying to start conversations with them about the goodness of Jesus but have given up after some time because nothing has changed and you’ve convinced yourself that they’re too far gone for God to save them.

CONTEXT

Luke 15:1-2“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.'”

  • Sinner = An OUTCAST, with some physical or mental disability (assumed that disability was caused by sin).

Jesus tells a parable made up of three stories. Today we will explore the third one in more detail, but it’s helpful to know what it is coming after:

  1. The story of the lost sheep: A shepherd leaves the 99 obedient sheep to go get the wandering sheep.
  2. The story of the lost coin: A woman drops one out of 10 coins, fires up a lamp and diligently seeks the one coin.

The main idea is the same in both of these stories: LOST…FOUND…CELEBRATION. Whether it was a sheep or a coin, a party is thrown to celebrate finding what was lost. What does this tell us about God’s heart for the lost?

THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON

The Characters:

Luke 15:11“There was a man who had two sons.”

  • This is important–the story is not only about the famous prodigal son, but also (and perhaps more importantly) about the less known older brother who was the rule follower.
  • Remember how this chapter started…The Pharisees saying that Jesus receives sinners and eats with them.
  • Perhaps a better title is: The Compassionate Father and His Two Lost Sons.
    • Younger Son represents the tax collectors/sinners.
    • Older Son represents the Pharisees/religious elite.
    • Father represents God.
  • The parable will teach three main points, one per character. As we continue, be thinking about which character you most IDENTIFY with…

The YOUNGER SON’S Story:

Luke 15:12-13“And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the young son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.”

  • “give me the share of property that is coming to me.” – This is a disgraceful request, it is equivalent to wishing his father were dead. Yet the father does as he asks.
    • Likewise, God often says yes to our requests, allowing us to reap the consequences.
  • SIN = Taking for myself the promises of God (inheritance) in my own timing.
    • It is not that God wants to keep anything good from us indefinitely, but that he wants us to trust his timing and his order of acquisition.
  • “into a far country” – The land of the Gentiles

Luke 15:14-16“And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.”

  • The young son was working for a Gentile, specifically with pigs, which to the Jews was considered the most unclean of animals.
  • Jesus’ Jewish audience likely reacted with a mixture of laughter and revulsion.

Luke 15:17-19 – “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.'”

  • “he came to himself” = He came to his senses.
  • Whether out a humble change of heart, or a selfish desire for food and warmth, the young son wants to return home.
  • Two important points:
    • The Gospel never teaches that we must restore ourselves in order to return, but the opposite–that only by returning to God can we begin our process of restoration.
    • Even though our motivation to return might begin with a sort of selfishness, as we encounter the GRACE of God, we are transformed. As long as our turning home is eventually met with an honest recognition of our sin and a true desire to turn from it, we are on the right path.
  • “I am no longer worthy” – He recognizes his lost inheritance and birthright, that he deserves no preferential treatment.

Luke 15:20-24 – “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 he is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”

  • The Son can’t even finish his speech of contrition–look how quick the Father is to forgive!
  • God’s mercy fears no dishonor. The Father’s response would be shocking to the audience.
    • However inwardly glad he may have been to see his son again, no older, self-respecting Middle Eastern man head of an estate would have disgraced himself by the undignified action of RUNNING to greet his son.
    • Nor would he have interrupted the Son’s speech before full display of repentance.
    • The father proves that true love fears no disgrace. 
  • “best robe…ring…shoes” – These symbolize the restoration of sonship privileges.

 

1. God’s grace IS WAITING FOR YOU.

“The father’s eagerness to welcome him home is clear. How would he have even seen his son ‘while he was still a long way off,’ if he had not been regularly looking for him down the road by which he had left? He likens his son’s return to a resurrection from the dead” (Blomberg).

2. God’s grace IS NOT MEASURED.

In stunning contrast from conventional Jewish practice, there is no purgatory, there is no weight on having to demonstrate genuine repentance over a probationary period. The father welcomes him home immediately. 

3. God’s grace TURNS SHAME INTO CELEBRATION.

“‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” — The son was dead in his shame, but by grace he is RESTORED and made alive again, and celebrated.


The OLDER SON’S Story:

Luke 15:25-27 – “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’

  • “was in the field” – He was working. The older son was a hard worker, a diligent worker, caring for the inheritance his father had given him.
  • “he called one of the servants” – Instead of asking his father himself, he called a servant. Although he was close in geographic proximity, does this represent a distance and disconnection from his family?

Luke 15:28-30 – “But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!'”

  • “But he was angry” – This was serious anger, he even refuses to acknowledge him as his brother.
  • The Father once again displays an unconventional kind of love by urging and pleading with his stubborn son to join them at the table.
  • For both sons, the Father came out and met them half way.
    • Though different kinds of lostness, they receive the same mercy and grace.
  • “Look, these many years I have served you” – Work that he feels has not been rewarded.
    • The older son has also lost his identity as a son, not by reckless living abroad, but by relentless and begrudging labor at home.

Luke 15: 31-32 – “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”


 

1. COMPARISON is the THIEF OF JOY.

The older brother is blind to all the treasures he has (and has always had) because of the comparison he makes to how the younger brother is treated.

2. We tend to BUILD A CASE AGAINST OTHERS.

He exaggerates his brother’s sin as well as his own obedience. “I never disobeyed your command” – Really? What about right now? When his father is asking him to join them at the table and celebrate?

We are never as righteous as we think we are, and others are never as relatively wicked as we imagine them to be.

3. By getting caught up in JUSTICE AND EQUALITY, we miss out on JOY.

The older brother’s problem is that he is too self-consumed with issues of justice and equality to get caught up in the joy and celebration of the moment.

  • v.7 (lost sheep) – “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine persons who need no repentance.”
  • v.10 (lost coin) – “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

May we not be so consumed with the sins of others that we miss out on the celebration of their repentance!

WE ALL NEED GRACE

At one point we were all the younger brother, the prodigal, and many of us have come home to find the grace of the Father through Jesus. But now that we’ve been home awhile, let us not forget about that moment of return. Let us not let our hearts harden, let us not become like the older brother. 

Don’t forget about GRACE. It was grace that saved you, so join the celebration when anyone repents and comes home! May we be like the compassionate Father and rejoice at the salvation of others.


NEXT STEPS…

1.  Look Up:

  • What are you reminded of about God’s character when reading this parable?
  • What has it looked like in your past for God to meet you halfway?

2. Look In:

  • Which son do you most identify with? Is your distance from God because of being in a “far country”? Or being far off in your own heart?
  • How does comparison rob you of fear in your daily life?
  • Is your community one that celebrates?

3. Look Out:

  • What does it look like to try to be like the compassionate Father when interacting with your family? Your neighbors? Your friends? Strangers?
  • How does understanding that we are ALL in need of grace change the way we view those around us?
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