This is the third and final post in my short series on three well-known parable of Jesus. If you missed them, you can check out Part 1
and Part 2
The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
Everything had to be lost to be found - a sheep, a coin, and a son. In that order we find three parables in Luke 15 all with one purpose - to demonstrate the glory and joy of God in salvation.
The first parable tells about a shepherd with one hundred sheep who, upon losing only one, goes and hunts down that sheep. Finding the lost sheep, he is overjoyed and gathers all of his neighbours and friends to celebrate.
The second parable tells about a woman with ten silver coins who, upon losing one, frantically sweeps and cleans and searches her house until she finds it. And when she does find it, she gathers all of her neighbours and friends to celebrate.
This brings us to the third parable, and if you've thought that the last two seemed alike, this one follows their pattern. But it's a little bit different.
Our cast of characters finds the Father, the Prodigal Son, and the Older Son, though we'll just focus mostly on the first two characters. And from the moment our story begins, we're thrust into a drama of sin and restoration. We begin with discontentment:
"There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living." (Luke 15:11-13)
This father was obviously wealthy, and though it was not customary for a son to have his inheritance before his father's death, this father (as we shall soon see more clearly) is not your average dad. He is deeply gracious and wise, and he gives his younger son the money. So off the young man goes, with stars in his eyes, adventure on the horizon, and his pockets lined with cash.
Such begins the "reckless living." Two words that attempt to convey such a hedonistic, selfish, sinful state wherein pleasure was the son's first priority. There was folly instead of wisdom, discontentment instead of gratitude, surface instead of substance, money and materialism, and a never-ending search for the next big thing.
And then the fun lurched to a rather abrupt stop.
And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
What a quick, desperate turn of events! What happened to the wealthy young adventurer? What happened to the money? What happened to the fun? Gone. All of it is gone (thanks to the reckless living), and in a great twist of events, the rich son of a rich father now feeds pigs for a living. And he can't even get someone to allow him to eat the pig slop! But once he gets a clear mind, he realizes there may be hope for him beyond starving with the pigs.
But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants."' And he arose and came to his father.
This does not seem in any way like a false repentance, like he thought it would be a good scheme to charm some more money from his dad's wallet. It's not like he was writing his repentance speech on his hand, memorizing it, and working on a convincing delivery. Overcome with his sinfulness, he realizes that he must come to his father with full and authentic humility and repentance. So he goes back home.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
The imagery here is spectacular. Before the repentance was even out of the son's mouth, there was compassion from the father. When most other fathers would turn away in disgust, this good, gracious father welcomes his wayward son with open arms, even running to him to embrace him. But the son still demonstrates true repentance. Then you have forgiveness. And finally you have joy. This is the imagery of salvation. The sinner who humbly, honestly, mournfully repents of his sin, abandons the old life, and comes to God, throwing himself at the mercy of the Father, will find forgiveness, compassion, and then joy. At the end of the first parable in Luke 15, Jesus said,
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:7)
The parable of the prodigal son shows the love of God for His children. It shows the necessity of true repentance, and also demonstrates the sin of pride. At the end of the parable, the Older Son (who never left home, never asked for his inheritance, and just worked for his dad all these years) grew proud and angry at the father for making such a big deal about the prodigal. The father replied,
"Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found."
There is joy and celebration to be found in humility and repentance, for in salvation God makes alive those dead. At the end of his lyrical poem
, "The Prodigal's Sister," John Piper gave just a taste of this joy:
The weeping son said, “Father, can
Image Credit: http://www.creationswap.com/artwork/4/5/27/4527/4527_4527_5.jpg
Perhaps, you make a slave of me,
For I have sinned and cannot be
Your son?” To which the great old man
Replied, “I have a different plan.”
And then, to servants gathered by,
He said, “Bring me the ring, and my
Best robe, and leather shoes. And take
The fire and fatted calf, and make
For us the finest feast that we
Have ever made. For this, you see,
My dead son is alive and sound;
He once was lost, but now is found.”
And so the common labor ceased,
And ev'ry hand prepared the feast.
The colors flew at ev'ry gate!
And they began to celebrate.