The Prodigal Son

For the next three weeks, we are going to study the parable of the prodigal son. We call it the prodigal son, but it’s more than just a story about a wayward son. It’s one of the richest illustrations ever told. It’s about a son whose life was changed by the love of his father, and a brother who didn’t understand grace.

We are going to study this story from all three perspectives, that of the son, the father, and the brother. Let’s begin by reading the entire illustration from Luke 15:11-32

11 Then He said: "A certain man had two sons.
12 "And the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.
13 "And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.
14 "But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.
15 "Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 "And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 "But when he came to himself, he said, `How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18 `I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you,
19 "and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants."’
20 "And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.
21 "And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 "But the father said to his servants, `Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.
23 `And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry;
24 `for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
25 "Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 "So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.
27 "And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
28 "But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.
29 "So he answered and said to his father, `Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.
30 `But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
31 "And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.
32 `It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’"

Prodigal Son

You and I are either the prodigal, or the brother. Keep in mind that Jesus told this parable in response to those who criticized him for showing acceptance of prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors, and other sinful people that the religious community shunned as unworthy of God’s acceptance.

In the ancient Jewish culture, to dine with someone is a declaration of acceptance. No Jew would ever dine with someone they didn’t consider respectable and acceptable. Do you remember the story of Jesus and the woman at the well? When Jesus asked her to draw out water for Him, she was shocked. No Jew would dare speak to a Samaritan. They were considered polluted people. They would not even acknowledge their presence, and certainly wouldn’t stoop so low as to ask one for help. Jesus not only spoke to this woman, but He spent two days with the Samaritans, dining with them and teaching them.

If you want to understand the heart of the Father, look at Jesus. We like to separate the Father and the Son as though the Father is angry and the Son appeases Him. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Father sent the Son and the Spirit empowered Him to perform miracles, teach, and fulfill the mission He came to accomplish. The Bible says that Jesus, though He existed in the form of God, veiled His glory and took upon Himself the form of a bondservant, and came in the likeness of sinful flesh.

The power of Christ was veiled for His earthly ministry, and His power on earth was the same power we have on earth – the ministry of the Spirit. This is why the Bible speaks of Christ this way in Luke 4:18-19

18 "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD."

This is also why Jesus said in John 14:12-13

12 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.
13 "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

God is not a seething angry judge. Wrath is against sin, not against you. When Jesus took upon Himself the wrath of God, judgment was satisfied and we now have absolute confidence in the Father’s love toward us. Look at 1 John 4:17-19

17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
19 We love Him because He first loved us.

You are not of fear, but of confidence. Your confidence should not be in yourself, or you will never have confidence. In Christ, the Bible says we have been given the adoption of God as sons. Until we became children of God, we could not have confidence. If a servant rebels, what happens? He will not be treated as a son, but as an offender. Yet we are not servants, but sons. Both men and women are sons of God.

Have you ever noticed how the Bible always talks about us as sons of God? We are sons of the inheritance? In the ancient culture when the Bible was written, women didn’t inherited the possessions of their father. They married into the inheritance of their husbands, but unless there were no sons, they did not inherit the estate of their family.

Though men and women have different gifts and callings in scripture, they both have the same inheritance, for the Bible says that in Christ there is neither male nor female, bond or free, Jew or Gentile. We are all one in Christ. When it comes to our lives in the flesh, we are male and female, but when it comes to the inheritance, we are all counted as sons. All who are of faith are counted as sons – there is no difference. There aren’t kings and queens in God’s kingdom. There are kings and priests – and we are blessed through faith and not gender.

Also absent from the kingdom is slave verses master. In the biblical culture, slavery was not a racial ideology as we think of in light of the 17-1800s. Slavery was the solution to bankruptcy. When someone borrowed money, but were unable to pay it back, they paid the debt through servitude. When borrowing money, the servitude would have been agreed upon before a loan was made.

In God’s kingdom, we are not slaves, for the debt has been paid through Christ. A son can never become a slave, even if he squanders his inheritance. Do you think the prodigal son understood his father’s love?

This immature young man had no concept of the value of his father’s love. Jesus uses this illustration to shock the hearers who didn’t understand God’s love. So he used a rebellious man’s love for money to drive the point hard. A son could not inherit the father’s wealth until after his death. Therefore, this young man is saying, “I wish you were dead. But since you don’t look like you are dying, I want you to just get out of the way and give me what I’ll get if you were dead.”

All the father had to say was, “No.” The young man would have had to stay, but this father understood that forced obedience was not valuable. He divided the inheritance and gave all he had to both his sons. The younger son probably sold off the cattle and goods, then took the money and said, “I’m out of here.” He left without caring how much his father loved him.

It was probably years that he was gone. He partied hard, and everyone is a friend to the big spender. Once the money was gone, the lad had to begin earning his keep. But life threw him a curve. A famine hit the land. In order to create a famine, there would have to be several years with no rain. No crops in the field meant no one was hiring laborers. The only job this man could find was helping a pig farmer.

You need to understand how low this job would have been to a Jewish man. The most vile creature on earth was a pig. Jews would never eat or even touch a pig. Not only that, but they considered themselves unclean if they touched anything or anyone who had come in contact with a pig. In an act of pure desperation, this man took the worst job imaginable.

The famine continued, and the young man grew so desperate that he not only worked in the pig sty, he also began eating the refuse thrown to the pigs. The food not fit for human consumption was the only thing he had available.

While choking down this vile slop, he finally realized he was as low as anyone could go. No friends. No money. No shelter. No food. Even the slaves back home had food, clothing, and shelter. He then rehearsed a speech that he would give to his father and headed home.

Do you think this young man had perfect love? Did he trust in his father’s love? Did he have any comprehension of how much his father loved him? No to all of the above. When he was at home, he wasn’t looking at his father. He was looking at the desire of temptation. After pursuing what he thought would bring fulfillment, he inherited the consequences of his life’s choices.

Do you think he was focused on the father’s love when he came to himself? No. He was still thinking about himself and his desperate situation. He didn’t think his father could love him. He looked at his sins, life’s choices, and the consequences of his own actions. He was certain that his sin had driven him away from his father. He would beg to become a slave just to survive.

How many sins did the father make his son recount before forgiving him? None. Did the father withhold love from the son? No. He loved him even while he was living in debauchery. The father knew the son could never understand his love until his son came to the end of himself. The love of the father never changed. The only thing that changed was that his son could never understand how much dad loved him until he had nothing in his life worthy of love.

Many of you are the prodigal son, or have been there. I have been there. In the past, I thought my sins were driving me away from God, but I discovered they were driving me to Him.

It was not until I had nothing to offer God but sin that I discovered God doesn’t love me because of who I am, but because of who He is. It isn’t until we understand that all we have to give to God is our sin that we can then understand that everything is about His love and not our efforts.

The prodigal son illustration was given because the people who thought of themselves as good were looking at Jesus and saying, “Why are you accepting these people who are bad?”

It isn’t until we understand that we have nothing good to give God that we can begin to comprehend the depth of God’s love.

The son practiced his rehearsed speech, and when he came to his father, something unexpected happened. While he was a long way off, the father ran to meet him. Before he could say a word, the father embraced him and began kissing him. A little is lost in translation here. There are two words used for ‘kiss’ in the New Testament. One means a fraternal kiss, or the common kiss on the cheek used in many cultures. The other means to kiss repeatedly. A good example of both usages is found when a woman known for her sinful lifestyle came when Jesus was dining at a Pharisee’s house. People were amazed that Jesus allowed this sinful woman to wash His feet with her tears. It was vile to be touched by such a woman.

Jesus explained how that someone with little sin doesn’t recognize the love of God, but a person who is hopelessly in debt to sin loves much because they are loved much. When they recognize the depth of the love of God, they recognize how much of a treasure they have been given. In this interaction, Jesus says the following in Luke 7:45

You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in.

The first usage of the word ‘kiss’ is ‘philema’, which is a sign of respect and acceptance. It’s a fraternal kiss on each cheek. The second usage of the word kiss is the Greek word ‘kataphileo’, which is the act of continually kissing someone. It is to kiss again, and again, and again, and again.

I once saw a mother whose child was rescued from a well. The rescue was televised. She didn’t know if her son was alive or dead until a rescuer went down the shaft and came up with the child, safe and sound. She embraced him and kissed him over and over. This is what kataphileo is communicating, and it’s the word used in the prodigal son.

Before the son could say a word, the father embraced him with a bear hug and kissed him again, and again, and again, and again. Then they wept together until the son could speak. Then while the son is saying, “I have sinned,” the father is commanding the servants to put good sandals on his feet. While the son is saying, “I am not worthy to be called your son,” the father is crying out, “Bring the best robe for my son. Put the family ring on his finger.”

Was the son worthy? No. And that’s the point. It wasn’t about his worthiness, but about the father’s love.

Your faith is not about your worthiness. It isn’t about your sin, or ability to not sin. It’s not about your righteousness or works. It is about the father’s love for you. If you could be worthy, you miss the greatness of God’s love. It is when you have blown it to the point where you know you smell like you’ve been in a pig sty, you’ve been driven to despair by your sins, that is when you can understand the love of God.

God loves you because God is love. Your sins, failures, and weaknesses do not drive you away from God. They drive you to the reality of His love for you. It is only then that you are able to understand how much God loves you. When you understand that all you have to give God is filthy rags, that is when you will see God joyfully take away your rags and give you the robe of righteousness.

The sad reality is that we rarely can grasp how much we are loved until we have failed so miserably that we can no longer deceive ourselves into thinking we can please God by anything other than faith. Let’s wrap up this portion of study with Hebrews 11:6

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

It’s not works, righteousness, moral excellence, or religious activities that pleases God. It is faith. Faith says, “I know and believe in the love God has for me.” Faith says, “I am righteous because I am receive the righteousness of Christ.” Faith understands that all I can give God is my sins and failures, and He gladly gives me His goodness and righteousness. Faith is to believe in God’s grace, not our abilities or lack thereof. Faith reveals that my sin is not God’s barrier, and it isn’t sin that overthrows grace, but grace that overthrows sin.

Faith says, “It’s not about me, but it’s about Christ. It’s about His work given to me as a gift of God’s love.”

God transforms you through His power and gifts of love. You don’t make yourself acceptable to God. You are accepted in Christ, and it’s God’s job to transform you into His likeness. The more you learn to trust in God’s love, the more His love forces out of your life the things that hinder you.

Eddie Snipes 2014
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