We’re all prodigals at some level – reckless, selfish and rebellious. There’s a good news gospel thread in the popular Bible story of a wayward child that gives hope and assurance to all of us whether a son, a daughter, sibling, or parent. ♦
Most people are familiar with the Biblical story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) – that compelling tale of a young son who asks and receives an early inheritance, squanders it and returns home in expected shame, only to be welcomed with open arms by his forgiving father.
The story is not so much about a wayward young man whose escapades are sad and riveting. The real central figure is the father, a symbol of God the Father, looking out and waiting for the return of the lost.
But there’s an application lesson for all of us, no matter the role as child, son, daughter, sibling or parent.
First: Lost Sheep and Coins
Incidentally, Prodigal refers to reckless and foolish spending. Translators later added the title “Prodigal Son” as a section heading. Jesus never referred to that title. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells this parable of the Lost Son as the third story in a package of parables about grace – about lost things that are found and celebrated. These stories are told in the context of Pharisees murmuring that Jesus “receives sinners and eats with them.” – Luke 15:2.
First, there’s the shepherd seeking the one Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7) out of a hundred that goes astray. The good shepherd proactively seeks the lost one until he finds it. Second is the parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10) where a coin lost by a woman is found and is cause for celebration among her friends and neighbors.
Simple stories, simple lessons. The third story is rich in detail, profundity, and a surprise ending and intriguing epilogue.
Man Really Lost – Man Really Found
In the third parable, the sheep and the coin are now replaced by a human being. The shepherd and the woman now become our Father in heaven. The wayward son leaves his father’s house with disastrous results. When he comes to his senses, he returns to his father in repentance and is joyfully received.
Here are 8 major points in the flow of the story and related key object lessons for us all:
1. The Son was Audacious in his Rebellion – the youngest son rebelled with abandon. His request for an advance on his inheritance was an insult to his father, particularly in the Jewish culture.
– We are equally bold and offensive in our rebellion against God.
2. The Father Grants the Son’s Request – the father does not object to the request but grants his son the freedom and resources he desires.
– God indulges our selfish separation and self-seeking freedom. He takes our abuse and rejection out of love and respect for the freedom and choice He has granted us.
3. The Son Leaves and Lives a Sinful Lifestyle – the son retreats to a foreign land (far country) away from his homeland and the criticism that would come of his corrupt lifestyle.
– We seek escape from exposure of our sinful lifestyle, believing we can hide from God.
4. The Son is Humiliated – to survive after the money is gone, the son depends on pagans for work, even feeding pigs, stooping so low to wish for the slop while realizing how far he has fallen (“my father’s hired servants have bread to spare.”)
– We sometimes degrade and hit rock bottom in humiliation and separation from God before realizing how far we’ve gone.
5. The Turning Begins – the Son Repents – the son decides with bold new resolve to go back home and ask for his father’s forgiveness.
– In disgust with ourselves, we agree to repent (“I have sinned”) and return to God and the faith of our youth.
6. The Son Expects Repercussions – the son prepares a repentance speech and anticipates appropriate treatment due to his degenerate behavior and unworthy status now back home in defeat and shame.
– We can feel unworthy and unloved and expect the due rejection and punishment of God, who we believe must really hate us now too.
7. The Father Lovingly Welcomes Home the Son – to his great surprise, the son is welcomed home by a patiently loving and waiting father who celebrates the homecoming with lavish gifts and a party.
– Likewise God welcomes us back with no condemnation but rather with rejoicing celebration of our “coming home”.
8. The Other Son’s Lament – the elder son, the obedient one who never wavered, is angry with his father at the injustice of the attention his wayward brother is receiving and questions his own standing. God assures him of his good standing and reward.
– Those who walk in obedience with God can often feel ignored and unappreciated. God’s love is assured for all: those lost and found, and those who never dramatically strayed.
Regardless of Our Past, God Welcomes Us Back
Be we young or old, a child or parent, we can reject God and be very, very lost. Our own sin and choices can destroy us. But God is a loving Father, beyond our own expectations and imagination. We can return and be restored to a new life and standing with Him without condemnation or rebuke. We can start anew. And we need not begrudge God’s love and blessings on others around us. As we are secure in our relationship with Him, His promises and love, we can rejoice in His lavish grace and mercy for others, as has been given to us.
Have you basked in the love of the forgiving Father?
And he said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'” – Luke 15:31-32