• January 5th, 2014

The Prodigal Son

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Communicating with images and stories
Like the rabbis of his time, Jesus used simple word-pictures, called parables, to help people understand who God is and what his kingdom or reign is like. Jesus used images and characters taken from everyday life to create a miniature play or drama to illustrate his message. This was Jesus most common way of teaching. His stories appealed to the young and old, poor and rich, and to the learned and unlearned as well. Jesus loved to use illustrations to reach the heart of his listeners through their imagination. These word-pictures challenged the mind to discover anew what God is like and moved the heart to make a response to God’s love and truth. Like a skillful artist, Jesus painted lively pictures with short and simple words. A good picture can speak more loudly and clearly than many words. A parable is a word-picture which uses an image or story to illustrate a truth or lesson. It creates a mini-drama in picture language that describes the reality being illustrated. It shows a likeness between the image of an illustration and the object being portrayed. It defines the unknown by using the known. It helps the listener to discover the deeper meaning and underlying truth of the reality being portrayed. It can be a figure of speech or comparison, such as “the kingdom of God ..is like a mustard seed ..or like yeast” (Luke 13:19, 21). More commonly it is a short story told to bring out a lesson or moral. Jesus used simple stories or images to convey important truths about God and his kingdom, and lessons pertaining to the way of life and happiness which God has for us. They commonly feature examples or illustrations from daily life in ancient Palestine, such as mustard seeds and fig trees, wineskins and oil lamps, money and treasure, stewards, workers, judges, and homemakers, wedding parties and children’s games. Jesus’ audience would be very familiar with these illustrations from everyday life. Today we have to do some homework to understand the social customs described but understanding these customs adds helps us better understand how the people of Jesus’ time would react to his stories.

Today we look at the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32)

Let’s begin by asking the question, What is God really like?

What is God really like? Some people think the most important question of life is “Do you believe in God?” But a more important question is “What kind of God do you believe in?” There is something worse than being an atheist – it is believing in God, but having an erroneous concept of God. There are many religions in the world that present many differing pictures of God and they all may contain a little truth. A stopped clock is right twice a day, but actually a broken clock is worse than no clock at all because it gives you misleading information. You can believe in God, but if you have a false conception of God, you are no better off than an atheist. That’s a bold statement but if you take a look at the Pharisees and teachers of the law I think they prove the point; these folks who certainly believed in God were more strongly condemned by Jesus than any other people because in their pride and prejudice, in their bigotry and hypocrisy they not only misunderstood the nature of God and His Kingdom, not only did they reject the Kingdom, they tried to prevent others from entering it!

During a conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated, what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith.
The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room.
“What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions.
Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
The people at the conference had to agree.
The idea of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct we have.
The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law—all of these offer a way to earn approval.
Only Christianity shows us that God’s love is unconditional!

We live in a world of ungrace.

God’s grace is often hard for us to fathom, and so Jesus talked to us about it often.

Author Phillip Yancey puts it very well in his book: What’s So Amazing About Grace?:

“I have meditated enough on Jesus’ stories of grace to let their meaning filter through,” writes Yancey.
“Still each time I confront their astonishing message I realize how thickly the veil of ungrace obscures my view of God.
A housewife jumping up and down in glee over the discovery of a lost coin is not what naturally comes to mind when I think of God. Yet that is the image Jesus insisted upon.
The story of the Prodigal Son, after all, appears in a string of three stories by Jesus—the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son—all of which seem to make the same point. Each underscores the loser’s sense of loss, tells of the thrill of discovery, and ends with a scene of jubilation.
Jesus says in effect, ‘Do you want to know what it feels like to be God? When one of those two-legged humans pays attention to Me, it feels like I just reclaimed My most valuable possession, which I had given up for lost.’”

Jesus Christ came to planet earth to show us exactly what God is like. In Luke 15, He shares three beautiful stories that paint a portrait of the character and nature of God.

Jesus told these three stories to two groups of people; the tax collectors and “sinners” and the Pharisees and teachers of the law. How do you think each group would react to the stories? More importantly, with which group do you identify?

Chapter 15 begins with this: “Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
This is what prompts Jesus to tell three parables that highlight God’s extreme grace–the Pharisees’ extreme ungrace.
In essence, Jesus is saying, “You think you know God, but you do not. God doesn’t play by your rules. Here is what God is all about.”

In the parable, the father represents God the Father.
And this father had two sons.
One of these boys is called the ‘older’ and the other is called the ‘younger’.

The boys grow up living in a very nice home, a home in which there is everything in the world that the heart of humankind could want—love, joy, fellowship, comforts—but this younger boy does a strange thing.

He decides that he no longer wants to be a part of this home—he thinks the grass is greener somewhere else.
So the father allows him to exercise his freedom of choice/his freewill.
The father divides up his estate, and the boy leaves with his pockets full of money—which he did not earn.
Every bit of it came from his father.
And so the boy heads out for the far country.
And this boy found out what it was to have what the world calls a good time.
He went to all the nightclubs; he went to all the parties.

And when you have money, you can get fair-weather friends.

So, for a while he lived it up.
But there came a day when he reached in his pocket and there wasn’t anything left.
Not only was he broke, but he found that the country where he had thought the grass was greener…well…the grass was drying up.
“…there was a severe famine in that whole country…”

The young son doesn’t know what to do.
He shouldn’t have been afraid to go home, but he was.

In our parable we see that the younger son “began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.”

What had happened to his fair weather friends?

Fair weather friends tend to say to us: “I’m sorry. You say you’ve lost all your money? Well, I’m through with you. I’m not interested in you anymore.”

So the younger son quickly finds out that he has no real friends in this far country.

And as he worked feeding the pigs “He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”

And when Jesus says this, every Israelite, both Pharisees and tax collectors listening to Him that day had to wince because a Hebrew couldn’t go any lower than that.

Jewish persons weren’t supposed to have anything to do with pigs, and then to stoop to the place where he would go down and live with them and even envy them…was horrifying!

This kid had definitely hit rock bottom.

Starting in verse 17 we get to see a real turning point in this parable.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’
So he got up and went to his father.”

He came to his senses.

Temptation and sin does an awful thing to us.
It causes us to see the world incorrectly.
We lose our sense of reality.
We see ourselves and others in the wrong light.
We see the pleasures of the world in the wrong perspective.
We just can’t see clearly when we are entangled by sin.
But the son came to his senses!

So the boy returns to the house where he grew up, but he has been so blinded by the world of ungrace that he does not expect to be welcomed.

How does the father receive him?

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

What a beautiful picture of God!

This is the Love that God has for each and every one of us.

A GOD WHO RUNS WHEN YOU RETURN

Scholars have discovered a similar story to this existed among Jewish rabbis for many years before Jesus told it. In the earlier form, the younger son ran away and spent all his father’s money and when he came crawling home, the father rejected him. So, as Jesus was telling this story, the Pharisees and tax collectors were thinking, “Yeah, I’ve heard this one before.” His audience of Pharisees and tax collectors expected Him to say, “One day the father saw his son returning. He waited with his arms crossed. The broken-down son begged his father to take him back. But the father looked away from him and said, ‘Forget it! You had your chance. You’ve chosen to love like a pig, now go back to your pigs. You’ve made your bed, now lie in it!’” In the original story the father turned his son away and told him he was getting exactly what he deserved. It was a story reflecting the Old Testament idea of strict legalism. In fact the Old Testament prescribed that a father could have a rebellious son stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) That was the way the Pharisees expected the father in the story to treat his son. To reject the son.

That’s the normal ending of the story. But Jesus gives a surprise twist to the plot.

Now, picture the father in Jesus’ parable. His heart was broken when his son left. Every day while he was gone, the father thought of the son and wondered where he was and what he was doing. Each afternoon about sundown he would walk to the edge of his property, stand at his stone fence and look down the road that had taken his son away. He was looking, longing, hoping that one day his son would return. Then one afternoon, he sees a bent over figure dragging along the road. It can’t be his son, because his son always had a spring in his step and held his head high–and besides, this character was dressed in rags. His son always was dressed in fine clothing. But as he continued to look, there was something about the figure that looked familiar. In a flash, the father realized it was his son. Then he did an amazing thing. He jumped the stone fence and sprinted out to meet his son. Verse 20 says, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him.” Then it says, “he was filled with compassion and he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” The Greek verb there indicates he kept on kissing him. We would say he “smothered him with kisses.”

In the Jewish culture, men wore long robes. In order for a man to run, he had to lift the hem up and hold it high to keep from tripping over it. In doing so, he would bare his legs, which was considered highly undignified. Men of respect never ran; it would have been embarrassing. But can’t you see this father grabbing handfuls of robe and running toward his son? He didn’t wait for the son to reach him, he ran to meet the son. He hugged and kissed his rebellious son before the son said one word! Remember the son had been working in the pigpen. He looked and smelled awful, not exactly the kind of person you want to hug and kiss! The father could have said, “Oh, you’re back–good. Clean yourself up before you come into this house!” But instead, the father accepted him “just as he was.”

And God the Father, the Creator of the Universe will welcome you the same way–just as you are.

What does the father in the parable mean when he says, “this son of mine was dead…”?

Weren’t all of us dead at one time?
In this parable, death does not mean physical death.

Look at what Paul says to the Christians in Ephesians Chapter 2: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world…All of us also lived among them at one time…But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead…it is by grace you have been saved.”

Our God is like a Lovesick Father, Who does not hold our sins against us, but throws a party when we come to Him for salvation and forgiveness!

And while we are still a long way off, he runs to us!

Go back to Luke 15:1-3 “Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear [Jesus]. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So Jesus told them this parable in order to let them know what God is really about.

But did the Pharisees and the teachers of the law get it?

Do we get it?

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law are represented by the older son in this parable who “became angry and refused to go in” to the party.
They didn’t like the fact that God doesn’t play by their rules.

They didn’t like the fact that God rejoices and welcomes ‘sinners’.

The parable leaves the older brother fuming outside the party.
What will he do?
Well, the rest of the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides us with the ending of the parable.

Far from rejoicing at the return of Israel’s “lost sheep” who have gathered around Jesus, the Pharisees and teachers of the law conspired to have Jesus killed.

But, like the prodigal, Jesus Who was dead came to life again; and those He came to save have found new life in God’s loving presence.

So where are we in this parable?
Are we inside the party celebrating?
Or are we standing outside
with our arms folded, refusing to come in because God doesn’t play by our rules?

Who is the real prodigal in this parable?
It’s not the one with the shady past.
It’s the one who stays outside.
The one who couldn’t bring himself to forgive. The one who lives in a state of ungrace

The dead one, the lost one, is the one who stubbornly chooses to remain outside the Father’s party.

“…we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

I pray today you will let God run to you; that if you are lost that you will be found; that if we have been blind to our sin; if we have not given others the grace we so long for, that we will be honest and confess it so that we might be healed and receive grace and forgiveness without measure!

How to read the parables
Jesus told his disciples that not everyone would understand his parables. “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not hear” (Luke 8:10). Did Jesus mean to say that he was deliberately confusing his listeners? Very likely not. Jesus was speaking from experience. He was aware that some who heard his parables refused to understand them. It was not that they could not intellectually understand them, but rather, their hearts were closed to what Jesus was saying. They had already made up their minds to not believe. God can only reveal the secrets of his kingdom to the humble and trusting person who acknowledges the need for God and for his truth. The parables of Jesus will enlighten us if we approach them with an open mind and heart, ready to let them challenge us. If we approach them with the conviction that we already know the answer, then we, too, may look but not see, listen but not hear or understand.
When reading the parables it is important to not get bogged down in the details of the story. The main point is what counts. Very often the details are clear enough, but some are obscure (for example, why would a rich man allow his dishonest steward to take care of his inventory; see Luke 16:1-8). A storyteller doesn’t have to make every detail fit perfectly. Each parable will typically present a single point. Look for the main point and don’t get bogged down in the details. In addition, Jesus often throws in a surprise or unexpected twist. These challenge the hearer and invite us to reflect. Jesus meant for his parables to provoke a response. If we listen with faith and humility then each will understand as he or she is able to receive what Jesus wishes to speak to each of our hearts.

Parable #31 — Luke 15:11-32 — The Prodigal Son
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men [skilled craftsmen].’
20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with
compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I
am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on
him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”
New International Version (NIV)
Parable #31 — Luke 15:11-32 — The Prodigal Son 1. How do you feel when others get rewards greater than they deserve?
2. Who do the three major people in the parable represent (father, older son, younger son) in Jesus’ day? Who do they represent today?.
3. What share of the estate would the younger son be entitled to? (Deut 21:17) When would he receive this? By asking for his share early, what did the younger son show?
4. What are the differences and similarities between this parable and the two preceding ones? (All three were told at the same time to the same audience)
5. What causes us to show resentment when mercy is shown to someone else?
6. Who is the vilest person you know or know about? What would you do if that person said he (or she) wants to be forgiven?
7. How can you guard yourself from feeling resentful when God shows mercy to people you think don’t deserve it?
8. Is there a totally undeserving person to whom you can extend God’s love and forgiveness this week? How?
9. The older son was invited by the father to return to the feast. Did he?
10. What do the three parables in Luke 15 (lost sheep, lost coin, lost son) reveal about God’s love?
Courtesy of www.BibleStudyMen.com
Luke 15:11-32 — Notes to Leader (background from various web sites)
The three parables—The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Lost Sons (prodigal)—are told together by Jesus. When he tells these parables, Jesus is on his journey to Jerusalem where he knows he will be killed. He tells these parables about himself (as the good shepherd, the woman, and the father) to explain his purpose.
Luke 15: 11 – 12 The Prodigal Son
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
It’s important to know that Jesus is talking to an audience (the Pharisees) who thought of themselves as righteous because they followed the law very carefully, and they looked down on the “sinners,” the ordinary people of the land. In the Prodigal Son, the older son represents the Pharisees and the younger son represents the “sinners.” In these three parables, Jesus is answering the Pharisees’ question about why he eats with and accepts “sinners” at a deep level.
Notice that Jesus does not dwell on why the son wanted to leave. For some reason the younger son was not happy. Maybe he felt like he couldn’t be good enough because his big brother was always doing things better than him. Maybe he was tired of his father telling him what to do. Maybe he thought his father made him work too hard. Or maybe he thought that his father loved his brother more than him. The “why” of his leaving is not important to the story, but rather the way he decided to do it.
Verses 11 and 12 have a particular meaning in the Middle East. If a son were to ask for his inheritance before the father’s death, the son would be wishing his father dead. Ken Bailey lived in the Middle East and researched the culture—a culture that in some areas has not changed much since the time of Jesus. He said that in 40 years, he has never found one example of such a request.
But in this parable, Jesus is painting a picture in which we sinners wish God dead. He’s saying that we want to live our lives extravagantly with friends, not thinking of God. If we consider the son’s words, the son is careful not to use the word inheritance. In the Middle East, accepting the inheritance means accepting responsibility to carry on providing for the family. The son is not looking for responsibility but for the money and the easy road.
Middle Eastern parables are packed with emotion and to leave it out is to miss much of the rich content. Middle Easterners would anticipate that the father’s (God’s) response to the son’s request would be to explode with ANGER and refuse the request. His son is wishing him dead. He would have to sell much property because wealth was held in land, not a bank account. There would be shame because of the community’s reaction. However, the father’s (God’s) actual response is to grant this request. The father knows that punishing the son would only further alienate the son from himself. Basically, the father had two choices. He could protect himself by writing the son off no longer considering him a son and banishing him from his thoughts. But the father chooses the second way of suffering. The son had severed the relationship, and now the father can only hope for future reconciliation.
Luke 15:13-19 The Return of The Prodigal Son
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men [skilled craftsmen].’
When the son spent all his money and a famine strikes the distant land, he is forced to work for a foreigner feeding pigs (a detestable animal to Jews.)
The son is starving. He would gladly eat the bean pods and corn husks for the pigs but he cannot digest them. He thinks of the one place that there is bread. This next point that is being developed may seem subtle, but it highlights the difference between a God who is good and a God worth dying for…The son’s reason for going home is TO EAT, not to reconcile with his father. The son is not repentant. He crafts a speech that he feels might work to get him food and to save face. The Pharisees know the scriptures well and known that the speech is a speech crafted to manipulate, not to repent. This son’s wording is taken from what the Pharaoh said to Moses after several of the plagues in Egypt. Pharaoh said anything to placate Moses to stop the plagues. (Exodus 8:8, 8:25, 9:27-28, 10:16-17)
Moreover, the son is not planning to ask to become a slave, he wants to become a craftsman so he is free, has respect, and can pay his own way.
The father (God) understands that we don’t return to him with right motives but simply want to get something—to eat, to be healed, to be financially blessed. He understands that the only things that we can offer him are the dirty rags on our back and our dirty motives. It is in this situation that the son starts his journey back to the father—literally with only dirty rags and a contrived speech.
Luke 15:20-24 The father welcomes his son
20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for
him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer
worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring
on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
As the son comes closer to his home, he would likely be feeling fear and shame. He wished his father dead, left family and community, and now he has lost everything. He expects to face his
father’s and brother’s anger and rejection. Besides the family, the close knit community would also reject and banish him, as was the custom. Any Jew who loses his money among foreigners will face the Kezazah (literally “the cutting off”). The Kezazah would be performed by breaking a clay pot at the feet of the man as visual symbol that the community rejected him forever.
I would imagine that when the son saw his father (God) running to him at a distance, he would be struck with fear. In the Middle East, it was considered humiliating for men over age forty to run. As the father ran, he would have had to lift his robe—another humiliation. As the father drew closer, the son would see not anger—but joy. And when the father reached him, the father kissed him over and over.
After experiencing the father’s visible, costly love for him, the son’s manipulative speech was gone, and all he could say was that he is not worthy to be the father’s son. But the father restored the son: put shoes on the son (sons, not slaves, wore shoes); put his best robe on him; and put the ring on his finger (a signet ring would give him the power to transact business).
The imagery here is that of the son returning with dirty rags and a contrived speech. But it was the father’s costly outpouring of visible love that turns the son’s heart toward him–perhaps for the first time. The son’s work (repentance) is SIMPLY ACCEPTING BEING FOUND.
Told in conjunction with The Prodigal Son, The Lost Sheep provides vivid imagery of this as well. The lost sheep is lost in the wilderness. Once a sheep realizes that it is lost, it freezes, shakes, and can only bleat (cry out). For the shepherd, the act of finding and restoring the sheep often takes two or three days. The good shepherd (God) takes the responsibility to find and restore the sheep. He does this with joy. The shepherd must carry the sheep—50 to 70 lbs. for an adult sheep—because, even when the sheep hears the shepherd’s voice, it cannot move because it is too scared. Here too the sheep is not able restore (repent) itself. The only thing the sheep can do is accept being found and have the shepherd restore it.
God joyfully takes the responsibility to find us and restore us. We too simply need to accept being found. Throughout the bible, grace is proclaimed. In these parables, Jesus explains why God came to us in Jesus, and why he chose to die. We, like the prodigal, want to run our lives ourselves—even if we starve. On the prodigal’s return home: he didn’t want to be reconciled with the father: he wanted to get food and have a job. This is true for us as well. Even when we return to him with wrong motives, God wants to restore us as his sons and daughters.
Notice that the father’s suffering at the beginning of their estrangement has no effect on the prodigal son. He is not even aware of it. A demonstration of the father’s suffering for him must be witnessed by the son. Without this the son in his callousness will never discover the suffering of his father and will never understand that he is its cause. Without this visible demonstration the prodigal will return to the house as a hired hand. Without this visible demonstration of costly love, there can be no reconciliation. Isn’t this the story of the way of God as he deals with the sin of the world on Golgotha, where Jesus died on the cross?
How we personally define repentance in large part defines how we interact with God and others. When we feel responsible for our own repentance (like the Pharisees), there is tremendous pressure to be “good.” The problem is that, when we focus on being “good”, we forget the importance of the relationship with God and endlessly oscillate between self-righteousness and
guilt. We then project this thinking onto others. Yet, when we realize that God takes the responsibility (with joy) to find and restore us, we can release much of what controls us.
Luke 15:25-32 The Older Son
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “
Throughout this parable, Jesus is defending his position of accepting the “sinners” at a profound level. As noted earlier, the father represents God, the younger brother represents the “sinners,” and the older brother represents the Pharisees.
In the beginning of the story, when the younger son asks his father for his portion, it was the custom in the Middle East for the older son to mediate between the father and the younger son. Yet the older son remains quiet. Behind his quiet response lurks anger which does not become apparent until later in the story when the father accepts the younger son back and holds a celebration. The older son would normally greet and serve the guests so they would feel important. But in this case, he refused to go into the party at all.
Earlier that day, the father demonstrated costly, humiliating love by running to the younger son. The father shows costly love once again by leaving the banquet—a humiliating act in the Middle East—to find his older son. The older son points out how he has served the father as a slave never disobeying his commandments. Yet in fact, right then the older son is refusing to greet the guests. Anger blinded him.
There is no response to the father by the older son—the end of the story is missing. As in many other parables, the last section is missing—on purpose. The last missing section is to be written by the Pharisees who have been drawn into the parable. How would the Pharisees complete this story? The father (God) would wish that the two brothers would embrace and enter with joy into the celebration. However, just like the older son, the Pharisees felt seething anger toward Jesus throughout his ministry. And ultimately their answer was to crucify Jesus.
And just as The Prodigal Son talks about the father’s (God’s) costly, visible love for the younger and older son, so Jesus died in a costly, visible way so that we might see the heart of God.

Sermon:
What is God Really Like?
Luke 15:11-24
by David O. Dykes

INTRODUCTION

What is God really like? Some people think the most important question of life is “Do you believe in God?” But a more important question is “What kind of God do you believe in?” There is something worse than being an atheist – it is believing in God, but having an erroneous concept of God. There are many religions in the world that present many differing pictures of God and they all may contain a little truth. A stopped clock is right twice a day, but actually a broken clock is worse than no clock at all because it gives you misleading information. You can believe in God, but if you have a false conception of God, you are no better off than an atheist.

What is God really like? Is He the God of the Muslim terrorists? Is God really named Allah and does he reward murdering terrorists who highjack airplanes and kill innocent people? Does He want all the infidels killed, even if it means strapping a bomb to your body and killing yourself? Is God like the impersonal god of the Deists? Deism teaches God created the world like a watchmaker, and then he wound it up and started it. But now, he sits by uncaring or unable to get involved in what is happening in lives of individuals. Hinduism teaches there are a number of gods and goddesses, but the greatest god is Brahmin, the impersonal but all pervasive life force in every person. The New-Agers teach god is the life force in everything, that’s why they can worship trees, crystals, and even themselves. Is that what God is like? Is He Allah? Is He a watchmaker God? Is He Brahmin? Is the good side of the Force in the Star Wars movies?

Jesus Christ came to planet earth to show us exactly what God is like. In Luke 15, He shares three beautiful stories that paint a portrait of the character and nature of God. Last week we looked at the lost sheep and the lost coin. Today let’s look at the story of the lost son:

Jesus continued: “There was man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
When he came to his senses, he said, ‘how many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Although this is often called the parable of the Prodigal Son, the key figure in the parable is the Father. I prefer to call it the Parable of the Loving Father. Jesus is teaching us the God of the Universe is like the father in this story. It’s not enough to believe in God; you must understand the nature of the God Jesus came to introduce. The wonder and beauty of the character of God can been easily seen in this beautiful parable. We can learn three important things about God. We worship:

1. A GOD WHO REGRETS YOUR REBELLION

In the story, the younger son demanded to receive his inheritance although his father is still alive. According to Jewish law, a father who had two sons was to leave 2/3 of his estate to his older son and 1/3 to his younger son. This younger son came to his dad and said, “I know you’re gonna’ drop dead someday, but I don’t want to wait–give it to me now.” The Father was wounded by this harsh demand, but he granted it. He probably had to take some time to sell some of his land or livestock or liquidate other assets, but he eventually comes up with 1/3 of his net worth and hands it to his younger son.

Immediately the son takes the money and runs. He walks out of his father’s life and heads for the “far country.” Here is a perfect example of a rebellious, disrespectful child. We can tell from the way he welcomed him back that the Father’s heart was broken when his son left home. I think the father shed many tears over his son’s foolish behavior.

Clearly, the Father in this parable represents God. He is a loving Father who will let you walk away from fellowship with Him if you desire, but it breaks His Fatherly heart when you do. But whom does the prodigal son represent? Some people say he represents a person who has never been saved, but I think it’s obvious the younger son represents those of us who already have a relationship with God. He is our Father and we are His children. There’s a very important principle you must understand. You cannot sever your relationship with God–but you can certainly break fellowship with Him. The whole time the prodigal son was away, he was still a son, but He had left the presence and favor of his Father. Christians can do that, too.

Once you become a Christian, God establishes a love relationship with you. He is your Father and nothing can ever change that. But if you choose to rebel and disobey the Father, He’ll allow it. He will never leave you, but if walk out of fellowship with Him–He will let you go.

“I love you–so you’re free to go.”

The God of the Universe has a message for you today. He is saying to you, “I love you, so you are free to go.” God loves you so much He will never force you to stay in fellowship with Him. So, if you are bound and determined to do something as foolish as walking out on God, He won’t stop you. That’s how some of you have gotten into the mess you’re in right now. He doesn’t coerce obedience and loyalty from you; He wants you to freely love and serve Him.

I was talking to a man a few years ago who at one time was a deeply committed Christian, a servant of Jesus Christ. I have no doubt he is a child of God, but a few years ago, he got messed up in sexual sin and committed adultery and ended up leaving his family. He’s miserable today, even bitter toward God. He made a statement to me one time I thought was interesting. He spoke of when he first started getting involved with the “other woman.” He said, “If it was so wrong, why didn’t God stop it?” It was almost as if he was blaming God a little. Doesn’t God have all the power? Couldn’t he have shot a lightning bolt down and warned the guy? He could have–but He didn’t.

God didn’t stop that guy for the same reason He didn’t stop Adam and Eve from eating the fruit. God didn’t stop it for the same reason He didn’t stop King David from having sex with Bathsheba. God didn’t stop it for the same reason the father in this parable didn’t fling himself across the door and say, “Stop it son, I won’t let you leave!” That’s not the nature of God. He loves you so much He allows you to make you own choices, even though He knows what the consequences will be. Just as the father grieved because his son walked out, even so, God the Father grieves when one of His children walk out of fellowship with Him.

Some of you are parents of prodigals; I’ll have a word for you at the end of this message. Those of you who have prodigal children or grandchildren in your family know the kind of pain the Father feels. You know what it is to have grown children who are alienated from you and it hurts. When they were little you could discipline them, but now you only feel the pain. God hurts even more–why? Because the greater the capacity to love, the greater the capacity to be hurt. And God’s love is stronger than any human love, and that’s why His pain is greater, too.

Let’s learn a second truth about the nature of God. We worship:

2. A GOD WHO RUNS WHEN YOU RETURN

The wayward son didn’t fare so well in the far country. He lived high on the hog for a while, but pretty soon he was low with the hogs! Jesus uses six words in verse 13 to describe what happened: He “squandered his wealth in wild living.” There’s a lot that can be read into those words. With a pocketful of money, he headed straight for the casinos, the bars, and the strip joints, and blew all of his funds. Before he could turn around it was all gone. He ended up in a pigpen slopping hogs. Jesus said he “came to his senses” and realized a servant in his father’s house had it better than he did. All of his father’s farmhands got three meals a day, and he couldn’t even eat the corncobs the pigs were eating! He finally reached his P.O.T.D.–the Point of Total Desperation. So, he swallowed something more tasteless than corncobs–his pride–and started the long journey back home. How does the father receive him?

Scholars have discovered a similar story to this existed among Jewish rabbis for many years before Jesus told it. In the earlier form, the younger son ran away and spent all his father’s money and when he came crawling home, the father rejected him. So, as Jesus was telling this story, the Pharisees and tax collectors were thinking, “Yeah, I’ve heard this one before.” His audience of Pharisees and tax collectors expected Him to say, “One day the father saw his son returning. He waited with his arms crossed. The broken-down son begged his father to take him back. But the father looked away from him and said, ‘Forget it! You had your chance. You’ve chosen to love like a pig, now go back to your pigs. You’ve made your bed, now lie in it!’” In the original story the father turned his son away and told him he was getting exactly what he deserved. It was a story reflecting the Old Testament idea of strict legalism. In fact the Old Testament prescribed that a father could have a rebellious son stoned to death. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says, “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey…his father and mother shall bring him to the elders and say, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.’ Then all the men shall stone him to death.” Some of you who have rebellious teenage sons may think that’s a great verse! That was the way the Pharisees expected the father in the story to treat his son.

That’s the normal ending of the story. But Jesus gives a surprise twist to the plot. Now, picture the father in Jesus’ parable. His heart was broken when his son left. Every day while he was gone, the father thought of the son and wondered where he was and what he was doing. Each afternoon about sundown he would walk to the edge of his property, stand at his stone fence and look down the road that had taken his son away. He was looking, longing, hoping that one day his son would return. Then one afternoon, he sees a bent over figure dragging along the road. It can’t be his son, because his son always had a spring in his step and held his head high–and besides, this character was dressed in rags. His son always was dressed in fine clothing. But as he continued to look, there was something about the figure that looked familiar. In a flash, the father realized it was his son. Then he did an amazing thing. He jumped the stone fence and sprinted out to meet his son. Verse 20 says, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him.” Then it says, “he was filled with compassion and he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” The Greek verb there indicates he kept on kissing him. We would say he “smothered him with kisses.”

In the Jewish culture, men wore long robes. In order for a man to run, he had to lift the hem up and hold it high to keep from tripping over it. In doing so, he would bare his legs, which was considered highly undignified. Men of respect never ran; it would have been embarrassing. But can’t you see this father grabbing handfuls of robe and running toward his son? He didn’t wait for the son to reach him, he ran to meet the son. He hugged and kissed his rebellious son before the son said one word! Remember the son had been working in the pigpen. He looked and smelled awful, not exactly the kind of person you want to hug and kiss! The father could have said, “Oh, you’re back–good. Clean yourself up before you come into this house!” But instead, the father accepted him “just as he was.”

“When you start home, I’ll meet you more than halfway!”

And God the Father, the Creator of the Universe will welcome you the same way–just as you are. Now, this is a revolutionary portrayal of God. Jesus said God runs to meet us when we decided to return to Him. Some of you have drifted out of fellowship with God. You have walked away from the presence of your heavenly Father. You see, whenever you choose to sin and disobey God, you are leaving His holy presence. Right now, do you sense God is far away from you? God didn’t walk away from you; when you sinned, you walked away from him. But God is a loving heavenly Father who is longing for you to return. He is looking for you to return to Him. Wayward and backslidden child of God, He has a message for you today. With tender words of compassion He is saying to you: “When you start home, I’ll meet you more than halfway.” I love the song that says, “If you’ll take one step toward the Savior, my friend, you’ll find His arms open wide. Receive Him and all of your darkness will end; within your heart He’ll abide.”

What is God really like? Some people see Him as some mean ogre who sits on a mysterious throne watching you, just waiting you to make a mistake, so he can grab you and say, “Uh huh! I gotcha now!” That’s not the God Jesus described. Instead, He is a loving, compassionate God who deeply cares about you.

As I said, it’s not enough to simply believe in God, you must believe in the God of the Bible. But the good news is the God of the Bible is fully of love and mercy. I love the way the old British pastor Charles Spurgeon described this scene. He wrote:

It was not with icy eyes that the father looked on his returning son. Love filled his heart as he beheld him. There was no anger in his heart toward his son. It was true that it was all his own fault, but that did not come before his father’s mind. It was the state that he was in, his poverty, his degradation, that pale face of his so wan with hunger, that touched his father to the quick. We read that the father RAN! The compassion of God is followed by swift movements. He is slow to anger, but He is quick to bless. God comes flying in the greatness of His compassion to help every poor soul that returns to Him.”

That’s what God is really like. So, we worship a God who regrets our rebellion and runs to us when we return. And finally, we worship:

3. A GOD WHO RESTORES YOU WHEN YOU REPENT

When he finally came to his senses in the pigpen, the son rehearsed the speech he was going to give to his dad. He said three things in verse 21. Two of his statements were right and one of them was wrong. First he said, “I have sinned against heaven.” That was right. Primarily, all sin is against God, so he had confessed his sin to God. Second, he confessed to his father, “and I have sinned against you.” Right again. One of the hardest things for any of us to say is, “I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” That’s what he was saying. But look at the third statement. He said, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” That may sound good on the surface, but there is a mistake in his thinking. He never was worthy to be called a son of his father. Since he didn’t think he deserved to be a son, he was ready to ask his father to just make him like one of his servants. The point is, he never deserved to be a son–it was all by grace! And in the same way, none of us are ever worthy to be called child of God–it is all by grace.

The father refused to entertain the idea his son would be a servant. You see, even when the son was in the far country, the relationship was intact; it was the fellowship that was broken. Immediately the father commanded his servants to bring the best robe. He took that beautiful robe and lovingly placed it around his son, covering all the filth and dirt of his mistakes. That’s a lovely picture of how God covers our sin with a robe of righteousness.

Sons often wore family rings that had the family seal engraved upon it. Stamping the ring in wax was like a signature. The son probably left with a ring, but had pawned it off long ago. The father put a new ring on his finger symbolizing his full status in the family. Slaves didn’t wear shoes, but sons did. So the father had sandals put on his son’s feet. The old Negro spiritual “All God’s chillun got shoes” was based on this verse. The Father restored everything the son had lost!

And here’s the bonus! The father commanded the fattened calf to be killed, so they could have a real Texas Barbecue! The fact the Father had been fattening up the calf makes me think he anticipated the return of his son. Everything the son left looking for, he found back at his father’s house. He father’s love for his wayward son had never changed. But the son came back a changed man, and he would forever carry the scars and the regrets of his sinful behavior.

“I’ll treat you as if you never left!”

Have you wandered away from God? Are you willing to say, “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you?” Are you willing to return to Him? If you are, He has a message for you. He is saying, “I’ll treat you as if you never left!”

In his book, Capital of the World, Ernest Hemingway wrote about a father in Spain who had a son named Paco. Because of his son’s rebellion, Paco and his father were estranged. The father was bitter and angry with his son, and kicked him out of the home. After years of bitterness, the father’s anger ended and he realized his mistake. He began to look for Paco, with no results. Finally, in desperation, the father placed an ad in the Madrid newspaper. The ad read, “PACO, ALL IS FORGIVEN. MEET ME AT THE NEWSPAPER OFFICE AT 9AM TOMORROW. LOVE, YOUR FATHER.” Paco is a rather common name in Spain, and Hemingway wrote when the father arrived the next morning, there were 600 young men–all named Paco–waiting and hoping to receive the forgiveness of their fathers.”

My friend, if you need forgiveness today, Jesus offers it. Glance again at verse one in this chapter to see the audience to whom Jesus was speaking. Some were Pharisees who thought they were sinless–they didn’t need forgiveness. But there were tax collectors and other sinners there as well. Jesus was trying to tell them God is like a father who will welcome you and lovingly forgive you when you come to Him and repent of your sin.

Years ago, there was a bag lady in New York City who attended a preaching service at a Manhattan Rescue Mission. Afterwards in the line to receive soup, she mentioned to the preacher she was now ready to give her life to Jesus. She said, “I never knew until today that my name is in the Bible.” The preacher smiled and said, “What’s your name?” She said, “Edith. My name is Edith. And my name is in the Bible.” The preacher said, “I’m sorry ma’am but you must be mistaken. The name Edith never appears in the Bible.” She said, “Oh yes it does, you read it a few minutes ago!” He opened his Bible and she pointed her dirty finger to Luke 15:2. The preacher had been using the King James Version, and it says, “This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.” She said, “There it is! Jesus receiveth sinners and Edith with them!” And indeed, the good news is Jesus does receive sinners, and Edith, and David, and Jane, and Mary, and John and anyone else who comes to Him!

CONCLUSION

We’ve seen a wonderful picture of what God is like. He is a God who regrets your rebellion, who runs when you return, and who restores you when you repent. But there are some of you today who need a different word from this parable. You aren’t the wayward son; instead you feel the pain of the father. Some of you are parents and grandparents who have prodigals in your family. Your son or daughter may be distant from you because of rebellion, a disagreement, a sinful lifestyle, a bad relationship, or they may have just walked out of your life. Whatever the reason–you feel the pain of being out of fellowship with a child or grandchild. If you are in that condition, I have a word of comfort for you today. To parents of Prodigals, I would say: (1) God understands your pain. Sometimes you want to sing the old song that says, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” But that’s not true because God knows and He cares. He is the suffering father in this parable. (2) Don’t jump in the pigpen to rescue them. In this parable, the father didn’t go to the pigpen and try to pull his son out. That would have been tragic. The son had to realize his own mistake. God used the pigpen to bring him to that realization. Some of you have kids in the pigpen right now and you want to run and rescue them. They must come to their own Point of Total Desperation before the seek God. (3) Let them know the door is open. Don’t go to the pigpen, but never slam the door and tell your child they are never welcome back into your home. Let them know you’ll leave the light on for them, whenever they are ready to repent. (4) Receive them when they repent. True fellowship can never be restored until your prodigal child has repented. They may return, but if they don’t repent, your problem is not solved; it’s only aggravated.

So, parents of Prodigals, don’t give up!

“God Doesn’t Play by Our Rules”

Sermon shared by Kenneth Sauer

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
“God Doesn’t Play by Our Rules”
By: Kenneth Emerson Sauer,
Pastor of Parkview United Methodist Church
Newport News, VA
www.parkview-umc.org

During a conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated, what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith.
The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room.
“What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions.
Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
The people at the conference had to agree.
The idea of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct we have.
The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law—all of these offer a way to earn approval.
Only Christianity shows us that God’s love is unconditional!

We live in a world of ungrace.
God’s grace is often hard for us to fathom, and so Jesus talked to us about it often.

Author Phillip Yancey puts it very well in his book: What’s So Amazing About Grace?:

“I have meditated enough on Jesus’ stories of grace to let their meaning filter through,” writes Yancey.
“Still each time I confront their astonishing message I realize how thickly the veil of ungrace obscures my view of God.
A housewife jumping up and down in glee over the discovery of a lost coin is not what naturally comes to mind when I think of God. Yet that is the image Jesus insisted upon.
The story of the Prodigal Son, after all, appears in a string of three stories by Jesus—the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son—all of which seem to make the same point. Each underscores the loser’s sense of loss, tells of the thrill of discovery, and ends with a scene of jubilation.
Jesus says in effect, ‘Do you want to know what it feels like to be God? When one of those two-legged humans pays attention to Me, it feels like I just reclaimed My most valuable possession, which I had given up for lost.’”

In Luke, right before the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus says in verse 10: “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

And the church should be a place of rejoicing as well.
Let’s keep that in mind as we take a look at this parable this morning.

Chapter 15 begins with this: “Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
This is what prompts Jesus to tell three parables that highlight God’s extreme grace–the Pharisees’ extreme ungrace.
In essence, Jesus is saying, “You think you know God, but you do not. God doesn’t play by your rules. Here is what God is all about.”
In the parable, the father represents God the Father.
And this father had two sons.
One of these boys is called the ‘older’ and the other is called the ‘younger’.

The boys grow up living in a very nice home, a home in which there is everything in the world that the heart of humankind could want—love, joy, fellowship, comforts—but this younger boy does a strange thing.

He decides that he no longer wants to be a part of this home—he thinks the grass is greener somewhere else.
So the father allows him to exercise his freedom of choice/his freewill.
The father divides up his estate, and the boy leaves with his pockets full of money—which he did not earn.
Every bit of it came from his father.
And so the boy heads out for the far country.
And this boy found out what it was to have what the world calls a good time.
He went to all the nightclubs; he went to all the parties.

And when you have money, you can get fair-weather friends.

So, for a while he lived it up.
But there came a day when he reached in his pocket and there wasn’t anything left.
Not only was he broke, but he found that the country where he had thought the grass was greener…well…the grass was drying up.
“…there was a severe famine in that whole country…”

The young son doesn’t know what to do.
He shouldn’t have been afraid to go home, but he was.

Was he embarrassed?
Did he think that his father would not accept him?
Was he so steeped in the world of ungrace that he could not imagine any alternative?

Remember, God doesn’t play by our rules.

Who do we know who might feel too embarrassed to come back home…to return to church?

We, the Church, are the Body of Christ on this earth.
We are to represent God to the world.
We are to play by God’s rules, not our own.

The church should be the place where people aren’t afraid to come back.
We should be the place of celebration.
Are we?

A colleague of mine told me of an incident that happened at a church that he once served.

And in this church there was a very strong Christian, someone we might call a ‘pillar of the church’.
She was someone who the rest of the congregation strived to imitate.
She knew her Bible.
She lived an exemplary life.

A member of the church, a young man, contracted AIDS.
He was able to hide it from his fellow church members for quite a while until, one day, he had to go to the hospital.

In the hospital he fell into a coma.

When he awoke, this woman, this ‘pillar of the church’ was holding his hand.

“I can’t go back to church,” the young man told the woman.
“I’m too embarrassed, they wouldn’t accept me.”

The woman just smiled and said, “Oh yes you can come back, and when you come back you sit right next to me.”

One writer has said: “God has an ongoing love affair with sinners. He throws a party of rich food and drink to get their attention.
He invites the undeserving.
Dances with the never-do-wells.
and Slips a ring on their finger.”

In our parable we see that the younger son “began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.”

What had happened to his fair weather friends?

Fair weather friends tend to say to us: “I’m sorry. You say you’ve lost all your money? Well, I’m through with you. I’m not interested in you anymore.”

So the younger son quickly finds out that he has no real friends in this far country.

And as he worked feeding the pigs “He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”

And when Jesus says this, every Israelite, both Pharisees and tax collectors listening to Him that day had to wince because a Hebrew couldn’t go any lower than that.

Jewish persons weren’t supposed to have anything to do with pigs, and then to stoop to the place where he would go down and live with them and even envy them…was horrifying!

This kid had definitely hit rock bottom!

Starting in verse 17 we get to see a real turning point in this parable.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’
So he got up and went to his father.”

He came to his senses.
Temptation and sin does an awful thing to us.
It causes us to see the world incorrectly.
We lose our sense of reality.
We see ourselves and others in the wrong light.
We see the pleasures of the world in the wrong perspective.
We just can’t see clearly when we are entangled by sin.
But the son came to his senses!

So the boy returns to the house where he grew up, but he has been so blinded by the world of ungrace that he does not expect to be welcomed.

In verse 20 we see a beautiful picture of God.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

“…this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

This is the Love that God has for each and every one of us.

What does the father in the parable mean when he says, “this son of mine was dead…”?

Weren’t all of us dead at one time?
In this parable, death does not mean physical death.

Look at what Paul says to the Christians in Ephesians Chapter 2: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world…All of us also lived among them at one time…But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead…it is by grace you have been saved.”

Our God is like a Lovesick Father, Who does not hold our sins against us, but throws a party when we come to Him for salvation and forgiveness!

And while we are still a long way off, he runs to us!
“Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear [Jesus]. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So Jesus told them this parable in order to let them know what God is really about.

But did the Pharisees and the teachers of the law get it?

Do we get it?

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law are represented by the older son in this parable who “became angry and refused to go in” to the party.
They didn’t like the fact that God doesn’t play by their rules.

They didn’t like the fact that God rejoices and welcomes ‘sinners’.

The parable leaves the older brother fuming outside the party.
What will he do?
Well, the rest of the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides us with the ending of the parable.

Far from rejoicing at the return of Israel’s “lost sheep” who have gathered around Jesus, the Pharisees and teachers of the law conspired to have Jesus killed.

But, like the prodigal, Jesus Who was dead came to life again; and those He came to save have found new life in God’s loving presence.

So where are we in this parable?
Are we inside the party celebrating?
Or are we standing outside
with our arms folded, refusing to come in because God doesn’t play by our rules?

Who is the real prodigal in this parable?
It’s not the one with the shady past.
It’s the one who stays outside.
The one who couldn’t bring himself to forgive.
The dead one, the lost one, is the one who stubbornly chooses to remain outside the Father’s party.

“…we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”