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Home arrow Daniel arrow Luke 15:11-32: The Prodigal Family
Luke 15:11-32: The Prodigal Family Print E-mail
Sunday, 04 August 2013

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The Kingdom of God is not always what we expecct.  When we think of Kingdoms, we normally imagine some fairy-tale Kingdom with large castles and the King seated on a throne surrounded by loyal servants.  But the Kingdom of God is not like that.  Perhaps we think about earthly Kingdoms, where men have political control over a large area through their military might.  Yet, the Kingdom of God is not like that either.  In fact, no other Kingdom can compare to Godís Kingdom.  Because of this, people often miss the Kingdom.

If I were you to ask you to tell me one parable in the Bible, many of you would tell me the story of the prodigal son.  It is the most well-known and well-beloved of Jesusí parables.  We love the mercy and grace that is shown to this undeserving son.  Yet, the parable is not just about one son for there is an older brother as well.  And it is actually the fatherís actions that grip us and move us.  In fact, this is not just a parable of a prodigal son, but a parable of a whole prodigal family. 1  What do I mean by that?  To explain, we must consider what the word Ďprodigalí actually means.  I could not find a copy of Websterís (not sure what that says about me), so I looked up the word on dictionary.com and what did it reveal?  The word definitely carries the negative connotations: ďwastefully or recklessly extravagant.Ē 2 Yet, it is not all negative, it is also defined as ďlavishly abundant.Ē   It one sense, the term prodigal can be applied to all of the characters in this story.  So then, what do these characters, this prodigal family, teach us?

Our rebellion is real and ugly (v. 11-16)

The lesson we learn from the younger son is not a pretty one.  It grows progressively worse as Jesus tells the parable.  It begins with his disregard for his father.  Look at verses 11-12.  He could not wait any longer for his inheritance.  He was tired of waiting for his father to die.  And even though this was technically legal, it was about as disrespectful as it could be.  He was essentially saying to his father: ďI just wish you were dead so I could have my money.Ē  But it gets worse.  Look at verse 13.  Why did he want his fatherís money?  What was so urgent?  He wanted to leave his father and family behind and pursue some reckless living.  He wanted a good time.  He wanted to laugh and party and play.  He didnít want his old man telling him what to do and what not to do.  He thought he knew where to find pleasure in this life and went after it with everything that he had.  He gave himself to self-indulgence and didnít look back.

Yet, pursuing pleasure in the stuff of earth does not always turn out like we might expect.  Look what happens to him in verses 14-16.  If you want to know where sin can lead you, then here is a good picture.  His pursuits left him broke and starving.  The only work he could find was feeding pigs, which to a Jew would have been as low as a person could go.  And he actually found himself jealous of the pigs and what they had to eat.  It does not get much worse than this.

We might be tempted to skip past this part of the story.  We know what is coming, so no need to dwell on the ugly part of the story.  Yet, we need to ponder what Jesus is teaching us here.  Jesus has not grown lax on sin in Luke 15.  His message to the sinners and tax collectors is not: ĎHey, your sin is no big deal, donít worry about it.í  No, he wants them and us to see just how real and ugly our sin is.  It is spitting in the face of God.  It is demanding what we want and demanding that we get it now.  It is reckless self-indulgence.  And it will cost us more than we can ever imagine.  It will leave us broken and hungry and desperate.  But the story is not overÖ

Godís love is gracious and extravagant (v. 17-24)

The younger son realizes his mistake in verses 17-20a.  Look at those with me.  Some might see this as the son simply continuing to manipulate the situation to get what he wants, which is food and shelter at this point.  Yet, it seems to me that Jesus is giving us a picture of repentance with these verses.  The son was broken and desperate because of his sin.  He was not going back to the father to demand help, but to beg for help.  He knew that there was nowhere else to go.  He knew that even his fatherís servants had it better than him at this point.  So, he humbled himself, walked away from his self-indulgence, and made his way back to his fatherís house.

If we did not know the story, we might expect a serious groveling scene.  You know, the son comes home and does all he can to convince his father that he really is sorry and really will do better while the father reluctantly listens to his pleas.  But this is not what we see.  Look at verses 20b-24.  Even though we know the story, it is still amazing isnít it?  To get a sense of just how extravagant the love of this father is, notice some of the details.  First, Jesus tells us that he runs to meet the son.  He was watching the road expectantly.  He was looking for his son.  And when he saw him, he didnít wait to see how things turned out or how sorry he was, he ran to him.  In those days it was not honorable for a man such as this to run, but he didnít care about cultural traditions, he wanted to get to his son.  And when he reached him, he did not hold back with his display of affection.  He embraced him and kissed him.  Can you see it?  This man loved his son and he wanted him to know it, so he ran to him and hugged him and kissed him.

But it doesnít stop there.  Next, he throws him a party.  Even while the son is telling that he is no longer worthy to be considered his son, the father is planning a celebration.  He gives him the best robe so that he can change out of his pig-feeding rags.  He puts a ring on his hand and shoes on his feel to make it plain that he will be no servant, for servants did not wear shoes.  Then he has them prepare the fattened calf for a great feast.  This would have been the finest of foods and would have meant a great celebration.  And what is it that they are celebrating?  The father tells us: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.  The shepherd celebrated finding his lost sheep.  The woman celebrated the finding of her lost coin.  And the father celebrates the finding of his lost son. 

What a picture of Godís love for His people.  His love is not plain or boring or begrudging.  It is free and fierce and exuberant.  It is Ďrecklessly extravagantí and Ďlavishly abundant.í  Our God is extravagant in His love for us.  How do we know this?  What has God done for us?  God sent His only Son to become flesh and suffer and die on a cross.  He poured out His own wrath upon His Son, the wrath that we deserved for our sin and rebellion.  Our ugly self-indulgence was met with His gruesome self-sacrifice at Calvary.  And His prodigal love has secured forgiveness for my prodigal heart.  How do I know?  Because three days later, Jesus got up out of the grave victorious.  Jus like the shepherd and the woman and the father, our God rejoices in repentance.  He celebrates the return of prodigals like you and me.  We will never be able to comprehend such love.  Even after 10,000 years in glory, it will still be new and amazing and glorious.  If the love of God has become plain to you, then I encourage you again to spend some time meditating on Luke 15.  Three different pictures of God seeking the sinner and rejoicing over their repentance.  Three stories about Godís fierce love for sinners.  Three parables to make it plain: our Godís love is gracious and extravagant.  It is without a doubt, everything you will ever need.

Our hearts can be selfish and envious (v. 25-32)

The story does not end with the extravagant love of the father.  We must remember the context.  Luke noted that sinners and tax-collectors were coming to hear Jesus teach and the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling about this.  Jesus told this parable in response to their continued frustration with His ministry to such sinners. 

He addresses them directly with the character of the older son.  Look at verses 25-28a.  The older son gets the news of his brotherís return while he is out in the field.  He asks about the celebration going on at the house and one of the servants tells him that the brother has returned and that the father is celebrating.  Such news makes the older brother angry.  Instead of going in and celebrating with the others, he refuses to go in.  He is not happy about the situation.  His anger is serious, perhaps even exuberant.  So what happens?  The father comes to him and begs him to come in.  But he still refuses. 

Look at verses 28b-30.  Here we see the true character of the older son.  Yes, he had not run off with his fatherís inheritance and squandered it with wild living, but that did not mean that he was innocent.  He viewed himself as the obedient one, the good son, so much so that he was appalled at the fatherís willingness to receive his brother back.  He does not want forgiveness.  He wants vengeance and justice.  He thinks he deserves to be treated better than the brother.  He has spent this whole time in his fatherís house, but instead of being thankful and appreciative, he has grown bitter and selfish.  While his brother was feeding his self-indulgence, he was feeding his own self-righteousness.  One of my commentatorís sums him up well: ďThe prodigal sonís elder brother is one of the most spiritually unattractive people in the entire Bible.  He is stingy, self-pitying, resentful, proud, bitter, unrepentant, unforgiving, and unwilling to show grace to other sinners.  The only thing he knew how to celebrate was his own accomplishments.Ē 3

Even so, the father shows him grace as well.  Look at verses 31-32.  The older son could not see the blessing of being with the father.  He just saw it as burdensome.  Heíd rather have a young goat with his friends than enjoy the presence of his father.  The father makes it clear to him that he is wrong for refusing to celebrate, but he leaves the option open.  All he has to do is swallow his pride and self-righteousness and join the party.  Jesus does not tell us what he chooses, but leaves it open to challenge the Pharisees.  They could continue to grumble at God receiving sinners or they could join the celebration.  It was up to them. 

The beauty of this parable is that we are all in it somewhere.  Maybe you are like the younger son this morning.  Maybe you have gone your own way.  Maybe you have enjoyed your sin.  Maybe you have repeatedly put off repentance and faith.  Let me give you great news this morning: the Father is ready to receive you.  Jesus has paid for your sins at the cross and if you will turn from them and trust in Him, then you can know love like you have never known.  Perhaps you are like the older son.  Once we start thinking that our sins are not as bad as others, then we are on our way to being like him and like the Pharisees.  Maybe we have become like them as a Church.  Who would feel more welcome at our services: the younger son or the older one?  May we learn to love like our Heavenly Father.  His extravagant love has brought us into His family through faith in Jesus, may we always be a people who seek sinners like Him and rejoice in their repentance.  May we be prodigal like Him.  Amen.

1 A good explanation of this concept can be found in Tim Kellerís book Prodigal God.
2 See:
3 Philip Graham Ryken, Luke, Vol. 2 REC (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), p. 159-60.

 ~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 15 August 2013 )

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