The Prodigal Son

Lesson 14

by Jackie Alston

Today I'm going to talk to you about a very familiar story of the Bible. This story is so familiar that almost anybody in the congregation can come up and say something about it. It's the story of a lost possession. Before I get into the story, I'll remind you that Jesus never did or said anything that wasn't significant. Everything He did or said had special meaning. Sometimes the meaning was quite obvious, but other times it was not so obvious because Jesus often spoke in parables. As we know, a parable can be defined as a short worldly story with a spiritual meaning.

The Parable of the Lost Possessions is one parable with three different aspects depicting the love of each person of the Trinity. The Parable of the Lost Sheep depicts the love of the Son; the Parable of the Lost Coin depicts the love of the Holy Spirit; and the Parable of the Lost Son, which is the one I'll be concentrating on, depicts the love of the Father. Each part of the parable deals with something lost and the joy of recovering it. Back in those days, it was bad to lose a sheep; it was worse to lose money; and it was the worst to lose a son. But the ultimate point of the parable is, that which was once lost has now been found and it is always God who receives the greatest joy and satisfaction when the lost is found.

The Parable of the Lost Son, or The Prodigal Son, as we know it, has been described as "one of the most tender and most humanly touching stories ever told" because it symbolizes God's love and compassion for lost sinners. I have to admit, that if I had to describe the Prodigal Son a few weeks ago, I never would have said it was the "most tender and most touching story ever told." And the reason is, every time I have ever heard the story, it begins at a certain point and ends at a certain point. The son asks his father for his share of the inheritance, he goes off, squanders it, and ends up in a hog pen, but then he comes to himself and returns home to his father where they live happily ever after. Although that is the gist of the story, there's so much more to it, especially when you look at the spiritual meaning. In the parable, the prodigal son represents any repentant sinner: man, woman, boy, or girl; and the father represents our heavenly Father, Almighty God.

As I say in most of my lessons, The Scribes and Pharisees had a problem with Jesus from day one. They opposed Him, His teachings, and everything He did. So when Jesus started emphasizing His ministry to the poor and outcasts of Jewish society, their opposition grew. They resented the fact that Jesus fraternized with sinners. So they hurled charges at Jesus saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them. This man called Matthew, a tax collector, as one of His disciples. This man let a prostitute anoint His feet at Simon's house, this man wouldn't even stone a woman caught in the very act of adultery. This man is wrong! Now, what was so amazing is that the Scribes and Pharisees didn't know who Jesus was, so naturally, they wouldn't know or even care that He was fulfilling the very purpose for which He had come into the world: To seek and save those that were lost! So their charges really didn't bother Jesus, in fact, later Jesus would even call Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, down from a tree to go have lunch at his house. Jesus really didn't care about the charges, simply because, the charges were true. But, He did answer the charges because He wanted the Scribes and Pharisees to know that they were more lost than any publican or sinner could ever be, although they would never admit it. So Jesus aimed this parable directly at the Scribes and Pharisees because He knew they would recognize themselves in the story as the older son.

The Scripture says, And He spake this parable unto them saying: "A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me."
On the surface, that seems like a simple respectable request, but actually it wasn't. Back in those days, according to the law, the older son was entitled to double portions of a father's possessions and the rest was divided between the other sons. In this case, the father had only two sons so the younger son was entitled to a third of his father's possessions. But in his request, the younger son was being very selfish. In so many words he said, "Look, I can't wait for you to die. I'm sick of home; give me my portion now, I'm ready to get up out of here! Although the law stated that he was entitled to his portion, it didn't state he was entitled to it at that particular time, because the father wasn't on his death bed nor was he sick. So it was strictly up to the father to decide if he wanted to grant the son's request; which the father did.

Then the Scripture says, "Not many days after, the young son packed up and left his father." The prodigal son did what sinners have done and will continue to do throughout history: he accepted the blessings from the father and then he turned his back on him. There's no mention that the father made any attempt to try to stop him. Revelation 3:20 says, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him." The father, like God, was not going to force himself on the young son. So the father watched as his son headed off to what was called a far country. The far country could have actually been a country hundreds of miles away, or it could have represented how alienated the young son would be from the father. Whatever the meaning, we are to learn that when there's separation between man and God, it's always man who moves, never God.

The parable goes on to say, "The young man wasted his substance with riotous living." Before the son left home, he was just a son, now he becomes the prodigal son. A prodigal is one who is recklessly extravagant and spends money wastefully; someone who is just downright foolish. I imagine the prodigal son had the attitude of "eat, drink, and be merry." He probably filled his belly with whatever food he wanted no matter how much it cost; probably went into bars saying, "drinks are on me", and the merry part came in fulfilling his sexual desires with prostitutes. That made the prodigal son a very popular man at that time. He became the "favorite son" among strangers and he had friends constantly around him, until his money ran out. The Scripture says, "And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want." The prodigal son lost everything he had. Even his so-called friends forsook him and went away. At first the young son was in want, then he became in need, dire need. He was starving and no one would give him a thing to eat.

So the prodigal son was reduced to poverty and began to seek work. The Scripture says, "And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his field to feed swine." The prodigal son became so desperate that he started hanging around a heathen citizen until the man felt sorry for him and gave him a job feeding his pigs. I'm sure some of the Scribes and Pharisees shuddered when they heard that. Not only was the pig a filthy animal, it was also considered unclean and forbidden in the Mosaic law. To them it was dispicable how low the prodigal son had sunk. But, the prodigal son sank lower than that; his hunger became so great that he considered filling his belly with the husks he was feeding the pigs. The detestable pigs were eating better than the prodigal son! But that's how God works, sometimes He will allow us to hit rock bottom in order to get us to look up.

The Scripture doesn't say how long the prodigal son wallowed in the hog pen before he "came to himself." When I read the words, came to himself, I naturally thought of someone who had lost it for a while; temporary insanity. Then I wondered when exactly did the prodigal son lose it? Was it when he got so wrapped up in spending and couldn't stop; or when he ended up in the hog pen, or when the hog's food started looking good enough for him to eat? I thought about it and then it came to me, that the prodigal son lost it before he got to any of those points. He lost it the very second he was foolish enough to believe he no longer needed his father.

The prodigal son left his father because he was sick of home, but being in that hog pen made him homesick. And when he got to thinking about how much better off his father's hired servants were, he was homebound. The Scripture says, "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee. And am no more worthy to be called thy son, make me as one of thy hired servants." In this, the prodigal son made his first steps to repentance. He realized how hopelessly lost he was without the father, he acknowledged his sin, and he headed home to beg his father's forgiveness, not knowing what to expect. But our God is an awesome God! No matter how low we sink, we're never too low that He won't reach down and pull us up right into His bosom.

I can imagine the prodigal son rehearsing the things he would say to his father until he walked right up to him. But the Scripture says, "But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." Just look at all the things the father did in that one sentence. He saw him. The father was able to see his wayward son from way off because he had been patiently waiting and watching for his return. Someone suggested that this parable could have been called the Bereaved Father because the father grieved for his lost son day and night. But at the sight of his son, all ragged and hungry and muddy, and stinking and almost barefoot, the father had compassion. His heart leaped with love for his son and he ran and fell on his neck, and kissed him. The prodigal son was so weary, he could hardly walk, but the father ran to meet his son, going more than half the way. This lets us know that if we make one step toward the Father, He'll certainly make two toward us.

At this point, the prodigal son began to go into his rehearsed speech, but he only got as far as "no more worthy to be called thy son" before the father started smothering him with kisses. He didn't even get the chance to say, "make me as one of your hired servants." The father cut him off and told the servants, "Put my son in a fine robe, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet, and kill the fatted calf because we have reason to celebrate. My son who was once lost has now been found." Those things weren't done because the son was looking like a hobo, all dressed in rags and barefoot. They were done as outward signs to show that the prodigal had been fully restored to the status of son. Back in those days, sandals were a luxury for members of the household only, slaves were barefoot so the son had to have some shoes. The robe signified the repentant son was forgiven and clothed in the righteousness of God, and the signet ring signified authority, meaning the prodigal son could again act in the name of his father; and the fatted calf was an animal carefully fed for slaughter on a very special occasion. And this was a very special occasion. The father was delirious with joy over the return of his younger son, and I can imagine he could hardly wait to share the news with his older son................but.

The Scripture says, "Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing." The older son became curious about the celebration going on inside the house. And when a servant told him the party was because of his younger brother's return, he became angry and jealous. The older son represented the Scribes and Pharisees so he was filled with self-righteousness; and where God's happiness is, self-righteousness can not be. The older son refused to even go into the house because he wanted no part in celebrating his brother's return. So the father went out and begged the son to come join the party, but the son snapped back an answer filled with bitterness. In so many words he said, "Man, I have been obedient to you and slaved for you all these many years, and you have never even killed a small goat for me to have a party; but this harlot-loving son of yours returns and you kill the fatted calf."

The older son was so mad he wouldn't even call the younger son brother. And just imagine, all this rage came out, and the servant had only told him about the fatted calf. I can't begin to imagine what would have happened had he known about the sandals, the robe, and the signet ring. He probably would have attacked his father. But the father still pleaded with his son, the Scripture says, "And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine." The father assured his older son that he loved him and he even reminded him that he stood to inherit all of his possessions since the younger son had already received his. The father's heart was breaking because he wanted his older son to receive the prodigal back as a brother, just as he had received him as a son.

The parable ends without letting us know if the father's plea brought about brotherly love or not, but it really doesn't matter because Jesus had made His point. He condemned the attitude of the Scribes and Pharisees who found His love toward sinners unacceptable. They had no right to be selfish when it came to the love and blessings of the Father. The Scribes and Pharisees had to realize that loving and serving God, which they claim they did, included loving and serving their fellowman.

The Parable of the Lost Son was not just a lesson for ancient times. Today, many Christians have that same "older brother attitude." We look with disgust upon the sin of the world and often we let that disgust extend to the sinner. In the parable, we see a loving father eager to forgive and restore the sinner. The Father hates sin, but He loves the sinner. In fact, He loved the sinner so much that He sent His only Begotten Son to be crucified with outstretched arms, arms that welcome the lost sheep back into the fold, arms that welcome the lost son back into His household, and arms that welcome the repentant sinner back into His fellowship.

Now that I know the full story of the Prodigal Son, I can understand why someone called it one of the most tender and most humanly touching stories ever told. The story exemplifies the divine grace and matchless love of God. A love that assures us that no matter how far we stray from the Father, He's always waiting with open loving arms for our return.

Providence Family Ministries

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