The Parable Of 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.’ Luke 15:11-12

Most people know ‘The Parable Of The Prodigal Son’ or as some people call the ‘The Lost Son’ pretty well but before we make some applications with this parable, let’s see if we can understand the background to it first. Under Jewish Law, the terms by which a father assigned his inheritance were quite specific.

The law clearly stated that the first-born son was to receive a double portion, Deuteronomy 21:17. In other words, two-thirds of the father’s property went to his firstborn son, and so the son who went away in the parable only owned one-third of it.

And very often during Biblical times, a person didn’t have to wait until their father died to get their inheritance, the father just gave them their share of his possessions before he died.

The younger son demanded his share of the inheritance from his father, he couldn’t wait, he wanted his inheritance right there and then.

The younger son in the parable didn’t speak to anyone about his decision and make no mistake about it, his request was callous and heartless.

Because basically what he’s saying to his father is, “give me now the part of my estate that I’m going get when you’re dead anyway.” He’s saying, “give it to me now, so that I can get out of here.”

Most children go through a rebellious stage at some point in their lives. Most of them when they’re in their teens and that’s possibly what’s happening here. The younger son feels he’s been the baby of the family for long enough and now it’s time for him to strike out and go it alone.

Now if that were you or I, I’m sure most of us who have kids would certainly strike back. We wouldn’t let them go without a moral lecture, but I want you to notice how the father deals with the situation. He didn’t argue with him, he didn’t try to persuade his son otherwise, he simply let him go.

But why? Why didn’t he give him a moral lecture like so many of us would do? Why did he simply let him go?

Well, he let him go simply because he knew his son sell well enough to know that if his son was ever going to learn anything, he was going to have to learn the hard way. That’s why he gave in to his request, and some people are like that, they will never learn until they learn the hard way.

“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 a 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.” Luke 15:13-15

He squandered all his money, he was starving and he was desperate, and desperate times call for desperate measures. We might be thinking, well at least when times were hard for him he got a job working with pigs. Well, let me tell you, what you think of a pig is totally opposite to what the Jews thoughts about pigs.

In Leviticus 11:1-8 when God is speaking to Moses about unclean animals, he gives a list of animals they cannot eat, and a pig is one of them, it is an unclean animal, Leviticus 11:7.

To you and I, working with a pig is no big deal but to a Jew, a pig was an unclean animal, this was lower than low. To this guy, this was the most degrading and humiliating task possible. But despite his job, he’s still starving and lonely and nobody would help.

“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!” Luke 15:16-17

He knew he was better off at home because his father would take care of his needs. When things weren’t going to plan, he ended up in a pigpen and then he realised what was happening.

And there’s a great lesson for the church here, isn’t there?

We can’t force people to stay faithful, we can’t make Christians go to worship and attend all the Bible studies. Sometimes, we need to let people go and learn from their mistakes so that they can come to their senses, and see what they had when they were in fellowship and let them see that they have made a mistake.

The younger brother realised he was better off at home, he knew that there would be food at home. He even knew that his father’s servants would have food left over. He already had it all worked out what he would say to his father when he got back home.

“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.’ I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.” Luke 15:18-20

Now, this took courage, this was true humility that the younger brother showed here. Because he intended to ask his father to take him back as a hired servant, not as a son. And you need to realise that there’s a difference between a hired servant and an ordinary servant.

The ordinary servant was in some sense a member of the family, but the hired servant could be dismissed at a day’s notice. He wasn’t part of the family at all because a hired servant only worked one day at a time. He had no guarantee of employment and as we know, he lived on the edge of starvation.

Think about what he’s done and doing? He left home as a prince and he’s willing to return as a lowly labourer. He didn’t just get a few things like an inheritance, his father was rich.

He had full-time servants and part-time servants and that was a sign of wealth back then. It was time for humility, time for submission, time for swallowing his pride.

Let’s take a closer look at what he did.

1. “He came to his senses.” Luke 15:17.

In other words, he was out of his mind when he left his home, and it’s only now that he truly sees himself for the first time. It’s never easy taking a close look at yourself because sometimes what you see is some very scary facts about your life.

But when he comes to his senses, that’s the point at which he is starting his return to his father.

2. “He will set out and go.” Luke 15:18.

That was the decision that he had pushed furthest to the back of his mind, but now that he saw himself more clearly, he saw his father in a different light.

And let me tell you when you look at yourself clearly, your opinions of the people around you change too, don’t they?

3. “He got up and went.” Luke 15:20.

He didn’t hesitate, he just got up and went. There was no thinking time between the saying and doing. Nothing was going to change his mind, nothing was going to tempt him to stay away.

And when you think about it there are many people in the world today who aren’t Christians who are caught between the saying and the doing.

4. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Luke 15:21.

Here’s his confession, in other words when he reached a decision to return to his father, he already had his confession prepared. But notice his confession, there’s no messing around with his words, there are no excuses for what he had done.

He speaks the truth, “’Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”

“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.” Luke 15:20-24

Notice the Father’s reactions to His returning son. That’s the example the church has to follow. No moral lectures, no making them people feel inferior when they return, just pure joy.

In the parables of “The lost sheep, The lost coin and The lost son”, Jesus teaches us a great deal about mankind. Jesus is teaching us that men are lost.

And it’s interesting that Jesus very seldom called men “sinners”, but rather he spoke of them as being lost.

When Jesus is sending out the twelve, He tells them not to go to the Gentiles or any Samaritan towns, but He tells them in Matthew 10:6 “Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.”

When Jesus’ disciples were being harassed by a woman who had a demon-possessed girl, Jesus said in Matthew 15:24 “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

Jesus isn’t saying that He counted them as moral wretches or outlaws in headstrong rebellion against God. But it was simply that men were misguided and disillusioned and needed to get back on the right road.

And people are still like that today, aren’t they?

They are lost like “the sheep” described in Luke 15:3-7. They don’t revolt against God, they don’t fight against His church, they simply slip away from Him step by step, Hebrews 2:1. Many people do drift away, they slip away with the tide of the world and become spiritually numb.

People are also like “the coin” described in Luke 15:8-10. Although there’s a difference between coins and people, the coin was lost through no fault of its own.

But with men there’s always the responsibility of choice that governs their destiny, so the coin was lost in a sense that man could never be.

But many people’s lives are wrecked and it’s true that this may not always be because of their own fault, but because of the faults of other men.

And finally, men are like “the lost son,” which we’re studying. We all know that “self” is the root of sin and it’s the downfall of many a soul. Many people deliberately, with their eyes wide open forsake the Lord and go off on their own.

This is the essence of sin, the desire to please “self” in spite of its consequences, to do what one wants to do, regardless of the feelings of others. Instead of pursuing the will of God, they pursue the will of “self”.

Let’s take another look at the younger son, he was lost but he also lost some other things.

1. He lost the fellowship of his father and the comfort of his home.

Think about it, he had lived in the best house, with the best servants to wait on him, he had the best father a son could ever have. But all of these things meant nothing to him until he was left friendless in a strange land.

And although he knew what his father was like, when he was in a far off country in a pigpen, they were out of reach.

2. He lost something else too, he lost his self-esteem.

He left home full of self-esteem and confidence and ended up working in a field with some pigs. He threw away his family because of his pride and ended up sleeping with pigs.

Have you ever been to a strange country or place where you don’t know anyone? Well, that’s what he felt like, unknown and unheeded and unwanted in a far off country.

3. He also lost everything he had, Luke 15:14.

It’s amazing how the inheritance that he received so easily, was so easily squandered. Easy come, easy go as some may say. He lost it all, he lost everything. He had no real friends, no real pleasures, no real freedom, no real independence and no real pride, he lost everything.

Now he’s in a mess and I wonder how the church would deal with someone who went off and lived like this and then came to their senses and came back home?

The shepherd with the sheep, the woman with the coin, and the father with the son, were filled with an uncontrollable joy when they gained again what had been lost.

And that’s because God is kind and He’s more understanding than we are. And He feels deep in His heart the joy of joys when one wanderer returns home.

And then we come to the part of the parable that I don’t like. I wished I could just leave it there in Luke 15:24 because that’s a happy ending.

But sadly I’m not the author and thank God for that because I think there are some serious lessons we can learn from this older brother’s reactions, the older son was saved but lost.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in.” Luke 15:25-28

You see, the older brother was a self-righteous kind of man and he could find nothing good in the life of his brother, everything his brother had done was bad. But as for him, he was proud of himself and proud of his life.

He was very proud and he was very much like the Pharisees who started Jesus off with these parables by accusing Him of receiving sinners, Luke 15:1-2.

But the older brother was so jealous, that he wouldn’t even go inside and greet his brother but decided to stay outside the house and sulk. But most of all, the older brother was just pure heartless.

He’s so heartless that he would probably die and have the words, ‘what are you looking at?’ on his gravestone.

He wasn’t happy at all that his brother had come home, he would probably be happier if he had been beaten up and forgotten about. And that was the attitude of the older brother, “who wants him back!” He was jealous and heartless and all he cared about was about himself.

And let me ask you, how did he know his brother was with prostitutes? Because there’s no mention of prostitutes until he mentions them.

Maybe he suspected that’s what he did and maybe he accused his brother of those sins because he himself would have liked to commit those sins.

Even when his father says to him “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” In other words, your brother has squandered all he had, but you’ve still got your inheritance.

In fact, it’s twice as much as your brother had. But he still didn’t want to listen, he was hurting himself without realising it.

Now he’s not thinking straight, he needs to come to his senses. Even when his father tells him, “that they had to celebrate and be glad because his brother was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

Even then, his anger took hold of him. He just couldn’t see that if his father had gained a son, he had gained a brother. His whole attitude shows us that his years of obedience to his father had been years of grim duty and not loving service. There’s not a sympathetic bone in his body.

And notice that he refers to his brother, not as “My brother” but as “Your son.”. This man would have no problems kicking you down under the gutter when you’re already lying on top of it.

The lesson from this parable is severe. You don’t necessarily have to go on a long journey in order to leave God. You can stay at home and not know your father and not know your father’s heart. And so you can be lost at home, just as you can be lost anywhere else in the world.

God’s attitude is seen in the diligent search of the shepherd and of the woman in the other two parables I mentioned earlier. Because it’s one thing to accept a sinner but it’s another thing to go out and look for them.

It’s one thing to go out and look for them but it’s another thing to know that they’re diseased with sin and they would probably let you down anyway.

Once again Jesus is revealing an amazing truth here, and the truth is that it is easier to confess to God than it is to many a man. The truth is that God is far more merciful in His judgements than we will ever be with our fellow man.

The truth is that the love of God is far broader than the love we have for each other. The truth is that God can forgive people even when people refuse to forgive each other.

And when you’re faced with a love like that, then you too will be lost in wonder, lost in love and lost in praise.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who started Jesus off with these parables would have said, “who cares it’s just one lost sheep.” Jesus would say, “rejoice with me, I have found my lost sheep.”

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law would have said, “what’s a coin, it’s worthless anyway.” Jesus would say, “rejoice with me I have found my lost coin.” The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law would have said, “cancel the party, my brother’s home.”

Jesus would say and still says today, “we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'”

That’s love, that’s forgiveness, that’s worth rejoicing.