I doubt there is a parable of Jesus that has evinced more emotion from its hearers than the last parable of Luke 15. It is generally referred to as the parable of the prodigal son (prodigal = wasteful), or the parable of the lost son. But it certainly could be called the parable of the loving Father. And of course, one of the primary lessons of the story is found in the character of the elder son who stayed at home.
I. 3 Characters: Luke 15:11 – “A certain man had 3 sons…” Jesus’ culminating story has 3 main characters. Each one teaches us an important lesson about salvation. One way to study this parable is to look at e the three characters and the lessons we learn from each one. We will begin where the story begins; with the younger son.
A. The Younger Son: This son is not satisfied in His Father’s house. He makes a request:
1. Luke 15:12 – ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ In a Jewish family of 2 sons, they younger was entitled to 1/3 of the inheritance (the firstborn received a double share). The younger son demands his portion. Although the narrative does not describe it for us, this was no doubt, a confrontational time. This was not how it was supposed to work. The Father had made provisions for the son to receive what was his, but at the proper time. His decision to leave early was clearly dishonorable rebellion.
2. “journeyed to a far country”: (v. 13) He wants to be as far away as possible, perhaps enticed by the thought of freedom and unseen pleasure.
3. “wasted his possessions”: the word “wasted” is a powerful word. It means to scatter aboard, denotes the loss of intended purpose. His inheritance had purpose (the Father’s purpose) but he used it for something else, so it was wasted. He squandered it.
- “Prodigal living” – the word here is asotia– which literally means excess, or unsavedness (lostness), riotous, reckless. He lived an completely undisciplined life, just as he desired. It devoured his possessions and was a complete waste.
- To complicate thing, after he had spent it all (saved nothing) a famine arrived, and he was in want.
- Notice what is forced to do – “joined himself to another” (v. 15) glued to one who did not want him. This is precisely what he wanted to avoid. He wanted to be unattached from everyone – be free. But now he was attached again, but not as a son, but a servant of a Gentile. He was sent into the fields to feed the pigs.
- Nothing could have been more humiliating and degrading. He was being forced to do things he never imagined he would do. Prov 13:15 – But the way of the transgressor is hard.
- He wanted to eat the food intended for the pigs, and “no one gave him anything” (v. 16) That is a powerful description of the fruits of sin. He was far away from the house of the Father where he was given all that he needed. That was what it was like for this boy to be lost.
- “But when he came to himself” – His circumstances produce an introspection that brings him to his senses. His words reveal what it meant for him to come to himself. It was not a resurgence of self-confidence, or a strong determination to try harder. It was not a self – appraisal that placed responsibility on his parent’s mistakes, or society’s injustice.
- Luke 15:17 – How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! He accurately remembers what he left behind, and confesses the graciousness and generosity of the Father. He resolves to turn around (repent).
- Luke 15:18-19 – I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”‘ This is true repentance. There are no excuses or rationalizations. Repentance is a deep sense of how horribly offensive our actions have been toward God, and that we have no rights before him at all. He faced all of the consequences of his sin. We have seen others who came to themselves: David, at the words of Nathan – you are the man; Peter at the look of Jesus; Saul on the road to Damascus. They were all prodigals.
- He made an unreserved confession – not “I’ve been a little wild, but every one sins,” or “I just got in the wrong crowd for a while, but I’m doing better now” I have sinned!
- With the words of his confession in hand he returns home.
B. The Father: As the father of the household he is in charge, and both of his sons are called to honor and obey him. Who is accepted as member of the family is entirely his decision. It seems that this father is not a poor man – he has several servants, an inheritance for his children, and sufficient resources to prepare a feast. This father’s house is a place of comfort and security. But it has not been the same since the younger son left.
1. Luke 15:20 – When he was still a great way off, his father saw him. The point I want to make here takes all the way back to the complaint of the Pharisees that prompted these parables. This man receives sinners (v. 2). Luke uses this word “receive” (prosdechomai) six other times in his writings and every time it means “eagerly await or expect and look for.” In Luke 2:25 Simeon was “eagerly awaiting” the consolation of Israel. In Luke 2:38 Anna the prophetess spoke to those in the temple who were “eagerly awaiting” the redemption of Israel. In Luke 12:36 Jesus says, Be like men who are “eagerly awaiting” the return of the master from the wedding feast. That is the picture of the Father here. He is eagerly awaiting the return of his lost son. He is receiving the sinner. The word “receive” sounds passive. But Jesus is not passive. He is seeking sinners.
2. He had compassion – this is unexpected in view of all that had taken place. This Father’s compassion runs deep. In fact, your rebellion and sin cannot wear His compassion and love out. Ps 145:8 – The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, Slow to anger and great in mercy.
3. “He ran to him” – His eagerness is displayed. He is not a reluctant father, who must be coerced or persuaded to meet with his son. He is not afraid to appear undignified to others.
4. He kissed him – The kiss was a family greeting of affection. It was a public display of acceptance.
5. “Bring the best robe” – The “robe” or stola, was not a common piece of clothing. It was worn by the scribes and others to show a position of honor or prestige. This signified that the son was accepted back not as a servant, but a son. (vs. 19)
6. “Put a ring on his finger” (v. 22) The ring symbolized authority, and was called a signet ring. The ring (or cylinder worn about the neck) bore an inscription or design that was pressed into soft clay or wax – used as a signature. This son who had wasted his inheritance was given the family checkbook. Must have brought shock to those who watched. The mercy of Jesus shocks us.
7. “Put sandals on his feet..” ( vs. 22) Not everyone wore shoes. In fact shoes were a luxury item that servants did not wear. It was symbolic of reproach or punishment (Isa. 20:2) When the father placed sandals on his feet he recognized him as free, not a slave; as rich, not poor.
8. ” Bring out the fatted calf..” (vs. 23-24) This feast was a celebration of the Father’s joy. Killing the fatted calf was not a daily occasion. Usually restricted to just a few circumstances such as a wedding, or celebration of great joy – wanted to share it with others. A feast was also common at the reconciliation of two enemies or to finalize a covenant or agreement. All three of these circumstances could be involved here. Heaven rejoices at the repentance of sinners, and God seeks to establish a new relationship through forgiveness.
9. “My son was dead and is alive..” (vs. 23,24) This may simply mean that the Father considered him dead because he had not heard from him in a long time. But more likely it reflects the social implications of the son’s rebellion. He was “dead” because he was cut off from the inheritance, and his name was not to be spoken in the house again. (actually held a funeral). But forgiveness had brought him to life again. You can’t shame God too much to be forgiven (unlike us).
C. The Older Son: This would be a good place to end the story. Everybody loves a happy ending. But Jesus has a point to make here. There are two boys in this family. The older son stayed home. He was never lost. When we meet him he is in the field working like he should. He inquires about the party going on and is told of his brother’s return, and invited to join in.
1. Luke 15:28 – 8 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. Think this trough with the oldfer brother. Have you ever been sympathetic to his viewpoint?
2. His Complaint: Luke 15:29-30 – Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ For many years he had served his father and had never transgressed his father’s will. Yet he never had a party like this. But this son who squandered everything returns home and you kill the fatted calf. It does not seem fair, does it?
3. The father’s response: Note first how tenderly the father treats THIS son (addressing him as “child” in the Greek). He recognizes the elder son’s faithfulness (“you are always with me”), and He reassures the son that the remaining inheritance is his (“all that I have is yours”).
- But the father maintains that it is right to celebrate. He will not allow the older son’s jealousy and hatred interfere with the joy of the occasion.
- In his response the father emphasized what the older brother was unwilling to accept. He called the prodigal “your brother” was dead and is alive. In the older brother’s complaint he addressed his brother as “this son of yours”. It was right to be joyful because they sahed the same father and if the father was joyful (and the angels in heaven rejoice), then it was right to all in the family to rejoice.
Conclusion: Do you see yourself in this story? What part of this challenges you?
- Are you the younger brother who has left the house in search of freedom and pleasure? Are you feeling the effects of the far country, and need to return. Your Father is eagerly awaiting.
- Are you the older brother who has never squandered away what God has given you? But do you have difficulty having compassion on those who have? Do you receive sinners in the same attitude as your father?
- Do you understand your father? In a sense neither boy understood his father, and that was a problem for him. So we need to understand who our Father is. He seeks the Lost.
- The father’s house is a place of great blessing.