THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON
A Tale of Two Sons. John MacArthur. I’ll Be Honest YouTube Channel, 2009: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATqJ1azhr_A
Ep 2: The Prodigal Son. Archbishop Mark Coleridge. Archdiocese of Brisbane YouTube Channel, 2019: https://youtu.be/IAn_pFHDoFI
Parable of The Prodigal Son Episode 1. Pastor John Macarthur. Depraved TV YouTube Channel, 2022: https://youtu.be/iZm8O80oevk
The Prodigal God Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. Timothy Keller. Penguin Publishing Group, 2008.
The Prodigal Son (what you NEED to know about this shocking story). Jeffery Curtis Poor. Rethink, 2021: https://www.rethinknow.org/the_prodigal_son
Inheritance Laws in Ancient Israel. Bruce Wells. Bible Odyssey, https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/related-articles/inheritance-laws-in-ancient-israel
Keẓaẓah. Encyclopedia.com, https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kezazah
Christ Life Church. Father’s Shame. Bible.com, https://www.bible.com/events/53484
The Prodigal Son’s Father Shouldn’t Have Run! Matthew Williams. Biola University, 2010: https://www.biola.edu/blogs/biola-magazine/2010/the-prodigal-sons-father-shouldnt-have-run
Lexicon : Strong's G3776 – ousia. Blue Letter Bible, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g3776/nasb20/mgnt/0-1
Lexicon : Strong's G2817 – klēronomia. Blue Letter Bible, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g2817/nasb20/mgnt/0-1
Lexicon : Strong's G2853 – kollaō. Blue Letter Bible, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g2853/nasb20/mgnt/0-1
Lexicon : Strong's G3409 – misthoō. Blue Letter Bible, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g3409/nasb20/mgnt/0-1
Lexicon : Strong's G3411 – misthōtos. Blue Letter Bible, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g3411/nasb20/mgnt/0-1
Lexicon : Strong's G2705 – kataphileō. Blue Letter Bible, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g2705/nasb20/mgnt/0-1
THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is probably the most famous parable Jesus ever told. Charles Dickens referred to it as the “finest short story ever written.”
Found in Luke chapter 15, the context is that Jesus is speaking to a crowd and the religious leaders are complaining that he was associating and eating with sinners. This is what prompted him to tell three parables in a row: The Parable of the Lost Sheep, The Parable of the Lost Coin, and The Parable of the Prodigal Son.
In the first two parables we learn three important truths: that God diligently seeks after the lost, that He rejoices when the lost are found, and that all of heaven celebrates every time even just one sinner repents. Through these parables Jesus invited all of the sinners to repentance while at the same time, he artfully revealed to the religious leaders—who claimed to know God better than everyone else—that they don’t have a clue what makes God happy or causes all of heaven to rejoice.
Before we get to the parable, today’s video is sponsored by Hundredfold Marketing LLC, helping local churches be successful online. If your church has a YouTube channel and is not reaching a global audience many times the size of your congregation, please visit HundredfoldMarketing.com.
And now, it is my honor to present to you The Parable of the Prodigal Son:
There was a man who had two sons. One day, the younger son said to his father, “Father, I want my inheritance now. Give me my share of the estate before you die.”
In essence, this is what the younger son is saying to his father: “I wish you were dead. I don’t want anything to do with you. I don’t want any part in the family legacy. I just want my stuff. Give me my share of the goods now, as if you were already dead.”
The father agreed and divided his wealth between his two sons. Not many days later, the younger son packed all of his possessions and moved away to a distant land, where he squandered his wealth in wild living.
Notice the younger son didn’t waste any time. He quickly put as much distance between himself and his father as possible and moved away to a distant land. He had no relationship with his dad and no appreciation for what he had been given, which he completely wasted on wild living. The word “prodigal” means “wastefully extravagant.” Later on in the parable, the older brother claims he wasted his wealth on prostitutes.
When he ran out of money, a severe famine came upon the land where he was living and for the first time in his life, he was in poverty. He joined with a local farmer who sent him into his fields to feed his pigs. The young man was so hungry that he longed to eat the pigs’ food, but no one gave him anything.
Penniless, hopeless, and starving, he is so hungry that the pig slop actually looks appetizing to him. And then Jesus adds, “but no one gave him anything.” He was alone, and this place that he thought would bring him lasting satisfaction and fulfillment turned out to be a complete disappointment, leaving him isolated, empty, and on the brink of death.
Finally, he came to his senses, and said to himself, “Back at my father’s house, even the servants have plenty to eat, and here I am starving to death! I will 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. Please take me as one of your hired servants.’”
So he got up and journeyed home. When he was still far off in the distance, his father saw him coming and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. The son began his speech, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But his father cried to the servants, “Quick! Bring the finest robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and get sandals for his feet. And prepare the fattened calf. We must celebrate with a feast, for my son was dead but now is alive. He was lost, but now is found. And so the celebration began.
It’s important to note Jewish men did not run in public. It was considered undignified and shameful. So what does the father do? He all-out sprints to his son, taking the shame off of his son and placing it on himself. The father hugs him and kisses him and literally keeps on kissing him. The son begins his speech but the father interrupts before he gets to the part about being a hired servant and yells for three things: First, the finest robe, which signifies dignity. The son’s former shameful behavior is completely covered and not to be mentioned again. Second, a ring, probably a signet ring used to authenticate important documents on behalf of the family. The ring signifies full family membership and authority. And third, sandals for his feet. Only servants and slaves went barefoot. The sandals represent his worth as a son, not a slave. He would not have to earn his keep or pay back his debt in any way. He was completely forgiven.
In a situation like this, when a Jewish son leaves the family in such a disgraceful way, many fathers in that culture would observe the seven days of funeral mourning. Jesus doesn’t give us these details, but the point is that his son really was dead to him, but now he’s alive. He was lost, but now he’s found. And the father wants to commemorate this miraculous gift of reconciliation and redemption with a spectacular party to share his joy with his family and friends.
Up to this point, the tax collectors and sinners in the crowd would probably be cut to the heart at the parable’s implications for them. What a glorious hope that they, too, can be reconciled to God. But this is where the story takes an unexpected turn. In a loving attempt to reveal to the Pharisees and scribes the true condition of their hearts, Jesus interjects the religious leaders into the parable.
Meanwhile, the older son was working in the field and when he returned home, he heard music and dancing, so he asked one of the servants what was going on. “Your brother has come home,” the servant replied. “Your father has asked us to prepare the fattened calf for a great feast in celebration of his safe return.”
The older brother was angry and refused to enter. His father went out and tried to persuade him. But he said to his father, “Look! All these years I’ve slaved for you. I’ve never once disobeyed you. And yet, you never gave me even just one young goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returns after devouring your wealth on prostitutes, you throw him a party and kill the fattened calf?
The older son never left the property, but he did not have a close relationship with his father. Notice his disrespectful tone from the very start: “Look!” he says. The older son then compares his relationship with his father to that of a slave and his master. Isn’t this interesting? This is precisely what the younger son believed he deserved and yet this is the perceived reality for his self-righteous older brother.
He then has the audacity to claim he has never once disobeyed his father. Really? He must be delusional because in this very moment he is refusing to do what his father is asking of him—practically begging of him—to join the celebration and share in his joy.
The older son is the epitome of self-righteousness and pride. He believes he is morally superior to his brother, and he refuses to celebrate this life-changing moment because the fattened calf is being prepared in honor of his brother, not him.
“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. Don’t you see, we had to celebrate this special occasion, for your brother was dead but now is alive; he was lost but now is found.”
The older son worked in the fields every single day. But at the end of the parable, he is outside the house and outside the celebration. If this is synonymous with heaven, think about those implications.
Now, the father pursues him just as he did his younger son. The father then repeats what he said to the servants about the need to celebrate because his brother was dead, but now he’s alive. He was lost, but now he’s found. And then, just like that, the parable ends.
The Prodigal Son is a profound masterpiece in which our Lord reveals numerous truths about God, the kingdom of heaven, and eternal life:
Just like the father in the parable, God allows us to reject Him. He doesn’t force anyone to love Him, obey Him, or be in relationship with Him.
Anyone who rejects God, lives an immoral lifestyle, or wastes their gifts and resources, is like the younger son in the parable.
Sometimes we need to hit rock bottom before we come to our senses. And sometimes we need to allow others to hit rock bottom also, rather than saving them from the consequences that could lead to their repentance.
God is closer than you think, even if you feel like you’re a million miles away. When you, like the younger son in the parable, come to your senses, and change the way you think and the direction of your life back towards God, He runs to you and showers you with affection and numerous gifts.
We have all broken God’s laws, and like the younger son, we all owe a debt we can never repay. Jesus Christ, like the father in the parable, took our sin and shame, no matter how great, and placed it on Himself, where He paid the penalty for it on the cross.
When you place your faith in Jesus, your relationship with God is instantaneously restored! You are given a dignified robe of righteousness, you are adopted into God’s family and you are promised an eternal inheritance.
We call this The Parable of the Prodigal Son and as such, we typically focus on God’s extravagant grace to the younger brother as the main point of the parable. Even though this is undeniably important, we need to remember this is a tale of two sons, and it was told in response to the religious leaders’ disdain.
The older son represents anyone who lives what we would consider to be a good life on the outside but on the inside compares themselves to others, believes they are more deserving than others, or is jealous of other’s blessings.
This type of life is in a constant state of performance, comparison, and competition. It provides no rest, has no peace, and always end in slavery because no amount of good works are ever good enough.
The younger son rejected God. The older son rejected His free gift of grace. Self-righteousness and pride will always prevent us from entering the Celebration.
Some of you may not be religious, but deep down, you believe that if there is a God, He will let you into heaven because you are generally a good person.
Some of you are very religious and you believe that your obedience to the laws and doctrines of your faith have earned your salvation.
But the profound truth of this parable is that on our own, our worst moral performance and our best moral performance both end up in the same place, apart from the Father.
At the end of the parable, the only son that entered the celebration is the one who recognized his unworthiness and need for forgiveness and mercy.
No matter where you stand, God wants you to share in His joy and enter the Celebration. May we all come to our senses, accept God’s extravagant grace, and not try to earn it ourselves. And like the Father, may we diligently seek the lost and rejoice when they are found.