I hope you are enjoying this new series of messages called “The Parables of Jesus”. More importantly, I hope that you are being challenged by the Lord’s words and are becoming more closely conformed to His image through the teaching of these parables. My prayer is that we all grow spiritually as a result of this series.
On a particular occasion while speaking in Judea, Jesus delivered 3 successive parables each dealing with the topic of redemption. These are documented in Luke 15. This trio of stories emphasized the incredible joy that takes place in Heaven whenever a person is redeemed. In last week’s sermon, we examined the first 2 of these parables - namely “The Parable of the Lost Sheep” and “The Parable of the Lost Coin”. We read of a good shepherd and of a thrifty housekeeper, respectively, who both searched diligently for something that had been lost and celebrated merrily once it had been found.
Today we will briefly study the third and final parable in this chain of illustrations about redemption.It is called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” and is found only in the book of Luke. Over the centuries, this story has become one of the most beloved and well-known teachings of Jesus. Depictions of it have appeared in numerous works of art, drama, music, and literature. This familiar story is ingrained in the hearts and minds of most Christians, who have likely heard it numerous times since their childhood.
The parable tells of a young man who asks his father for his share of the inheritance. Upon receiving it, the young man ventures off to a far country where he proceeds to squander all of the wealth on wasteful and indulgent living. Once the money is completely gone, a famine breaks out and he suddenly finds himself in poverty. Starving and desperate, he takes a menial and deplorable job feeding pigs. Still he is hungry and is even envious of the pig’s slop. Eventually the young man decides to return home, hoping that perhaps he might become a servant for his father.
As he travels, the wayward son prepares and rehearses a formal apology for his father. But as he approaches his home, the father sees him and runs to greet him. The father cheerfully embraces his younger son, lovingly forgives him, and even tells his servants to prepare a celebration. Later that evening, when the older brother hears the sounds of the festivities rising from the house and discovers what is going on, he becomes exceedingly angry. The sanctimonious brother complains that his younger sibling is not deserving of such gracious treatment, but the kindly father explains that he must celebrate because that which was lost has been found.
The sermon today is focused upon the 3 major characters in this story - the prodigal son, his father, and his older brother. Each of these characters teach us important lessons about ourselves, about redemption, and about the nature of God.
I. THE LOST SON
The prodigal son saw his father merely as someone who could provide him with the wealth that he desired. His perspective was entirely self-centered, concerned only with what his dad could do for him. As such, the young man had no reservations about asking his father for his share of the inheritance even though doing so was highly insulting. The request was tantamount to wishing that his father was dead, and was grossly disrespectful and defiant to the authority of his dad.
Sadly, there are many Christians who treat their heavenly Father in a similar way. They are more interested in receiving God’s material blessings for themselves than upon living in an authentic relationship with Him. They feel no shame in asking God for things that they fully intend to use for their own selfish benefit or pleasure. They readily squander the LORD’s goodness and indulge gleefully in sinful behavior. They are always taking from God, and never giving back
Furthermore, the prodigal son fled from the presence of his father by traveling to a far country. There he committed all sorts of sinful deeds. In like fashion, many people foolishly think that they can escape the watchful eye of the Father and commit their sins in secret. Still others distance themselves from God in deliberate rejection of His lordship. Their separation from His fellowship and subsequent sin inevitably lead to painful loss and heartache.
After losing everything he’d once had and now finding himself reduced to tending pigs, the wayward son finally hit rock bottom. There in that filthy sty, the broken young man finally came to his senses. This moment was the critical turning point in his life. He heard the voice of God, finally acknowledged his own foolishness, and decided that - as difficult as it might be - he needed to return home. He needed to sincerely apologize to his father, repent of his sin, and accept whatever consequences might befall him.
Most of us can probably identify with the lost son. At some point in our lives, we have abandoned God our Father, run from His house, disgraced Him with sinful living, and ultimately found ourselves struggling with the repercussions of our sin. How long will we choose to wallow in the mud of our own stupidity? How long will we hunger and starve for the grace only our Father can give? When will we finally swallow our pride and come to our senses?
II. THE LOVING FATHER
Although his son’s request was inappropriate and rude, the father humbly gave the young man all that he’d asked for. He abundantly blessed his son even when it was not deserved. Many would see such an act of grace as a sign of weakness. They would suggest that the father was naive and allowed himself to be taken advantage of. On the contrary, surely the father suspected his son’s ill intentions yet still loved him enough to honor the young man’s choice. So also, God blesses us beyond what we deserve knowing full well that we will often abuse His kindness by our own sinful actions. The Father’s patience and longsuffering are not signs of weakness, but rather of great strength.
This parable never states that the father actively searched for his rebellious son, but there is no question that he worried about him every day. The fact that the father was watching and waiting for his son to come home, and that he rushed out to meet him, indicates the depth of his concern for the boy. The son may have been gone for a only few months or perhaps several years, but no matter how long it was his dad prayerfully waited, never giving up hope that he’d return. In the same way, God patiently waits for sinners to come home.
The young man expected his father to be angry and disappointed when he arrived, but instead his dad was overjoyed. Rather than condemning his son’s sinful behavior, the loving father embraced him with open arms, readily forgave his foolishness, and celebrated his homecoming. This is a picture of our heavenly Father. God does not condemn repentant sinners. He receives them cheerfully and rejoices in their redemption.
If you have wandered from God and gone your own way, please know this - God has not given up on you. He is patiently waiting for you to come home and His heart aches in your continued absence. He is not angry with or ashamed of you. He stands ready to forgive your sin, shower you in His love, and give you a new and eternal life. What a wonderful Father He is!
III. THE LIVID BROTHER
During this entire time, the older brother never left home. He never callously asked for his share of the inheritance. He did not abandon his family in order to go live an extravagant and sinful lifestyle. Instead, he faithfully served his father day after day. He appreciated his dad and sought to contribute to the household. By his own estimation, he was the more righteous and dependable son. He considered himself to be “better” than his younger brother. Sadly, his opinion of himself was highly inflated.
When his younger brother returned home, the older son became terribly upset. He could not believe that his father would so easily forgive his brother and not hold him accountable for all that he’d done. Whatsmore, how could his father go so far as to celebrate the young man’s arrival? The older brother was livid; for he expected his father to completely reject or at least punish the prodigal son severely for his heinous sin. After all, this is what his little brother deserved!
When the father threw a party for his younger son, the older brother’s angry turned to jealousy. He complained that his father had never thrown a party for him. He insinuated that the father loved his younger brother more than him. The father answered that all he had was available to the older brother, implying that he could have had a party at any time if he’d truly wanted one. The truth is, the older brother didn’t want a party… he was just bitter and spiteful.
Unfortunately, many of us can identify with the older brother also. Maybe we too have become smug and self-righteous. Because we have gone to church for years and have served faithfully in the Lord’s house, some of us may have mistakenly begun to believe that we are somehow more worthy and more righteous than our brothers. We look down our noses at them and cast cruel judgments. But the fact is that there are none righteous - no not one. We are just as guilty as everyone else. Perhaps today we need to repent of our haughty, better-than-thou attitudes.
When Jesus originally told “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”, he was speaking to a mixed crowd of of people which included sinners, tax collectors, scribes, and Pharisees. In the original telling of the story, the wayward son represented the sinners and tax collectors while the older brother portrayed the scribes and Pharisees. For us today, the prodigal son represents any one who is separated from God who is living in wanton sin or facing the dire consequences of it, and the older brother stands for any self-righteous and arrogant religious elitists in our modern culture.
Some have called this story “The Parable of the Loving Father”, because the father - not the prodigal son - is actually the main character in it. The father represents God Almighty. Like the 2 previous parables in this chapter, the major purpose of this illustration is to highlight the incredible joy that God expresses any time someone is redeemed. He is an amazing Father, and we are fortunate and blessed to be called His children.