The Story Of The Lost Son
Let us read together the text of LUKE 15: 1-3, 11-32
The tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable. . . . Jesus continued, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a far country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and 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; make me like one of your hired men.’
“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” “The elder brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’“‘ My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke recounts that there were two groups of people who had come to listen to Jesus. First there were the “tax collectors and sinners.” These men and women correspond to the younger brother. They observed neither the moral laws of the Bible nor the rules for ceremonial purity followed by religious Jews. The second group of listeners was the “Pharisees and the teachers of the law,” who were represented by the elder brother. They held to the traditional morality of their upbringing. They studied and obeyed the Scripture.
So to whom is Jesus’ teaching in this parable directed? It is to the second group, the scribes and Pharisees. It is in response to their attitude that Jesus begins to tell the parable. His story reveals the destructive self-centeredness of the younger brother, but it also condemns the elder brother’s ‘moral high horsing’
He is on the side of neither the irreligious nor the religious, but he singles out religious moralism as a particularly deadly spiritual condition. Jesus’ teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. If the preaching of our pastors and the practice of our church members do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers in our churches today?
If a father had two heirs, the oldest would have gotten two-thirds of the estate and the younger would have received one-third. However, this division of the estate only occurred when the father died. Here the younger son asks for his inheritance now, which was a sign of deep disrespect. The younger son was saying, essentially, that he wants his father’s things, but not his father. His relationship to the father has been a means to the end of enjoying his wealth, and now he is weary of that relationship.
A traditional Middle Eastern father would be expected to respond to such a request by driving the son out of the family. The wealth of this father would have primarily been in real estate, and to get one-third of his net worth he would have had to sell a great deal of his land holdings. To lose part of your land was to lose part of yourself and a major share of your standing in the community. This younger brother, then, is asking his father to tear his life apart. And the father does so, for the love of his son.
Look at how the father responded when the prodigal son returned. He ran to him! Distinguished Middle Eastern patriarchs did not run. But this father does. He runs to his son and, showing his emotions openly, falls upon Him and kisses Him.
“Bring the best robe and put it on Him!” The best robe in the house would have been the father’s own robe, the unmistakable sign of restored standing in the family.
Jesus shows the father pouncing on his son in love not only before he has a chance to clean up his life and evidence a change of heart. The Father’s love and acceptance are absolutely free. It shows us the freeness of God’s grace. We will later be shown the costliness of that grace and the true climax of the story.
Now it is the elder brother’s turn to disgrace the father. He refuses to go in to what is perhaps the biggest feast and public event his father has ever put on. He remains outside the door, publicly casting a vote of no-confidence in his father’s actions. This forces the father to come out to speak to his older son, a demeaning thing to have to do when you are the lord of the manor and host of a great feast. He begins to plead with his eldest son to come in, but he continues to refuse.
By bringing the younger brother back into the family he has made him an heir again, with a claim to one-third of their (now very diminished) family wealth.
And so the elder brother’s fury leads Him to insult the father even further. He refuses even further. He refuses to address him in the elaborately respectful manner that inferiors owed superiors in that culture, particularly in public. He does not say “esteemed father” but simply, “Look!” – which is equivalent to “Look, you!” In a culture where respect and deference to elders was all important, such behavior is outrageous.
In short, Jesus is redefining everything we thought we knew about connecting to God. He is redefining sin, what it means to be lost, and what it means to be saved.
The father has to go out and invite each of them to come into the feast of his love. So there is not just one lost son in this parable – there are two.
But it comes to an unthinkable conclusion. Jesus deliberately leaves the elder brother in his alienated state. The bad son enters the father’s feast but the good son will not. We can almost hear the Pharisees gasp as the story ends. It was the complete reversal of everything they had ever been taught.
What did the younger son most want in life? He wanted to make his own decisions and have unfettered control of his portion of the wealth. He displayed a flagrant defiance of community standards, a declaration of complete independence.
What did the older son most want? He wanted the same thing as his brother. He was just as resentful of the father as was the younger son. He, too, wanted the father’s goods rather than the father himself. However, while the younger brother went far away, the elder brother stayed close. That was his way to get control.
The hearts of the two brothers were the same. Both were alienated from the father’s heart; both were lost sons.
Do you realize, then, what Jesus is teaching? Neither son loved the father for himself. They both were using the father for their own self centered ends rather than loving, enjoying, and serving him for his own sake. In disdainful language (This son of yours..) he won’t even own his brother as a brother anymore.
Another sign of those with an “elder brother” spirit is joyless, fear-based compliance. Ultimately, elder brothers live good lives out of fear, not out of joy and love as explained earlier.
This last plea from the father is particularly amazing when we remember Jesus’ audience. Yet in the story the elder brother gets not a harsh condemnation but a loving plea to turn from his anger and self-righteousness. Jesus is pleading in love with his deadliest enemies. He not only loves the wild-living, free-spirited people, but also hardened religious people!
The similarities among the three stories are obvious. In each parable something is lost-sheep, coin, and son. In each the one who loses something gets it back. And each of the narratives ends on a note of festive rejoicing and celebration when the lost one is returned.
In the first two someone “goes out” and searches diligently for that which is lost. By the time we get to the third story, and we hear about the plight of the lost son, we are fully prepared to expect that someone will set out to search for him. No one does.
It is starling, and Jesus meant it to be so. By pacing the three parables so closely together He is asking: “Well, who should have gone out and searched for the lost son? Jesus knew the Bible thoroughly, and He knew that at its very beginning it tells another story of an elder and younger brother – Cain and Abel. In that story, God tells the resentful and proud older brother: “You are your brother’s keeper.” This is what a true elder brother in the parable should have done.
Indeed, it is only at the elder brother’s expense that the younger brother can be brought back in. But forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness. The father could not reinstate Him except at the expense of the elder brother. There was no other way. But Jesus does not put a true elder brother in the story, one who is willing to pay any cost to seek and save that which is lost. It is heartbreaking. The younger son gets a Pharisee for a brother instead.
By putting a flawed elder brother in the story, Jesus is inviting us to imagine and yearn for a true one. And we have Him. Think of the kind of brother we need. We need one who does not just go to the next country to find us but who will come all the way from heaven to earth. We need one who is willing to pay not just a finite amount of money, but, at the infinite cost of His own life to bring us into God’s family, for our debt is so much greater. Either as elder brothers or as younger brothers we have rebelled against the father. We deserve alienation, isolation, and rejection. The point of the parable is that forgiveness always involves a price – someone has to pay. There was no way for the younger brother to return to the family unless the older brother bore the cost himself. Our true elder brother Lord Jesus Christ paid our debt, on the cross, in our place. There Jesus drank the cup of eternal justice so that we might have the cup of the Father’s joy. There was no other way for the heavenly Father to bring us in, except at the expense of our true elder brother, Lord Jesus.
When we see the beauty of what he has done for us. If the Lord of the Universe loves us this much to experience this for us, what are we to fear?
We will never stop being younger brothers or elder brothers until we acknowledge our need, rest by faith, and gaze in wonder at the work of our true elder brother, Jesus Christ.
In Jesus’ parable the younger brother goes off into a distant country expecting a better life but is disappointed. He begins to long for home, remembering the food in his father’s house. So do we all.
In the beginning of the book of Genesis we learn the reason why all people feel like exiles, like we aren’t really home. We are told there that we were created to live in the garden of God. That was the world we were built for, a place in which there was no parting from love. It was all these things because it was life before the face of God, in His presence. There we were to adore and serve His infinite majesty, and to know, enjoy, and reflect His infinite beauty. That was our original home we were made for.
We Are Spiritual Exiles
We wanted to live without God’s interference, and so we turned away. The result was exile.
The Bible says that we have been wandering as spiritual exiles ever since. That is, we have been living in a world that no longer fits our deepest longings. We may work hard to re-create the home that we have lost, but, says the Bible, it only exists in the presence of the heavenly father from which we have fled.
This theme is played out again and again in the Bible. After Adam and Eve’s exile from the ultimate home, their son Cain was forced to restlessly wander the earth because he murdered his brother Abel. Later Jacob cheated his father and brother and fled into exile for years. After that, Jacob’s son Joseph and his family were taken from their homeland into Egypt because of a famine. There the Israelites were enslaved until, under Moses, they returned to their ancestral home. Centuries after this, David, before he became king, lived as a hunted fugitive. Finally the whole nation of Israel was exiled again, taken captive to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar.
It is no coincidence that story after story contains the pattern of exile. The message of the Bible is that the human race is a band of exiles trying to come home. The parable of the prodigal son is about every one of us.
At the end of the story of the prodigal sons, there is a feast of homecoming. So too at the end of the book of Revelation, at the end of history, there is a feast, the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19). The Lamb is Jesus, who was sacrificed for the sins of the world so that we could be pardoned and brought home. This feast happens in the New Jerusalem, the City of God that comes down out of heaven to fill the earth (Revelation 21– 22).
We will come, and the father will meet us and embrace us, and we will be brought into the feast.
The Bible insists on using sensory language about salvation. It calls us to “taste and see” that the Lord is good, not only to agree and believe it. The difference between believing that God is gracious and tasting that God is gracious is as different as having a rational belief that honey is sweet and having the actual sense of its sweetness.
Rather than only believing that He is loving, we can come to sense the reality, the beauty, and the power of his love. His love can become more real to you than the love of anyone else. It can delight, galvanize, and console you. That will lift you up and free you from fear like nothing else.
How Glorious Our God?
We can begin to see by now Our God is truly glorious! But how glorious is our salvation? And how glorious is our Lord Jesus? Have we tasted His glory? Have you ever pondered on God’s “oxygen machine” the forests and the flowers?
How Glorious Our Salvation!
The climax of history is not a higher form of disembodied consciousness but a feast. God made the world with all its colors, tastes, lights, sounds, with all its life-forms living in interdependent systems. He says, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that thought he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Paul is taking them back to the gospel. He is saying, “Think on his costly grace!”
Feasting is communal by nature. No reunion, family gathering, wedding, or other significant social event is complete without a meal. You can’t live the Christians life without a band of Christians friends, without a family of believers like we are gathered here tonight.
How Glorious our Lord Jesus!
David Pawson taught us well about the wonders of Lord Jesus and how glorious He is. Philippians chapter 2 describes his choices as humble all the way. He was equal with God, and He chose to be a man. He was equal to men, but He chose to be a servant. Then the ultimate choice was that He chose to die at the age of thirty-three. Very few people die young deliberately.
Our Lord Jesus didn’t become a man for thirty-three years and then go back to being God. He became one of us for the rest of eternity.
We have a human being in heaven, at the right hand of God who is running the universe now and who is above all the angels. He is therefore described as our pioneer. He is the first human being ever to get that high and to get above the angels and sit at the right hand of God. He has only done that so that one day we can do the same. So He is called our pioneer, and the one who has gone ahead to prepare the way for us.
Our destiny is above the angels— that is where God has decided to place us, having redeemed us. We will sit with Christ in heavenly places and run the universe with Jesus.
Now one of the three persons of the godhead is human. Why was the Creator willing to become a creature? The twofold answer is very simple: to bring God to us and to bring us to God. He did it to bring God to us so that we would know that God was one of us, and to bring us to God, that we might be His adopted sons. Jesus is the only begotten Son, but we are adopted sons and daughters, adopted into His family forever.
We Are New Creations, How Glorious!
Do you realize that Easter Sunday was the beginning of the second week of creation? In the first week of creation God made the new heaven and the earth first and people last. In the new creation, He is making new people first and the new heaven and the new earth last. It is all in reverse order now, and the first bit of the old creation to be made into the new creation was His own Son’s body. God was going back to work, and beginning the new creation with his Son.
Jesus resurrection is the beginning of a whole new universe and what God has begun he will complete, but in reverse order to the first week of creation.
Jesus has gone as our pioneer. God’s order under Him in His old creation was: angels, humans, animals? In the new creation that is going to be changed. Under Him it is going to be: humans, angels, animals. God is actually taking redeemed human beings and setting them above the angels. So the angels will minister to us— that is our destiny in Christ. He has gone ahead of us as pioneer. What more glorious!
In fact He only made us because He so loved and enjoyed His only son that He wanted a bigger family, provided we turned out just like Him. (Romans 8: 29) So when His life becomes ours, God will be as pleased with us as He was with Him (Matthew 3: 17).
In the beginning God made the earth and then God made us in His image and told us to be fruitful and multiply and fill the vast space on the earth He created for us and in so doing reflect His glory. However filled the earth we did, with horrible slimy sin! Ever since sin filled the earth, God being immutable will not allow His glory to be diminished. He had a plan to restore His glory.
God described the earth He made in only two chapters of the bible but He took 50 chapters to describe the tabernacle He was to reside with us. Hidden in these 50 chapters were His plans to restore His glory through His one and only beloved son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Apostle John described God as the Word and the Word was made flesh and tabernacled amongst us.
The birth, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus restored God’s glory. As believers we are now new creations participating with Him, our spirit in heaven, our bodies still on earth, in the creation of a new heaven and new earth although in reverse order. God recreated us redeemed souls to participate with Him to build a new heaven and a new earth, our Lord Jesus being the pioneer. We are now on the first day of the second week of creation or on the eight day of creation. What could be more glorious!
God made the earth and through Old Adam’s sin we filled all the spaces of the earth and multiplied it with sin. Now God is asking us instead to do build a tabernacle in our heart for Him so that He can fill it with His glory. The real question for us redeemed children of God is how big is this space in the tabernacle of our hearts are we willingly allowing His Holy Spirit to fill it.
There could be many idols, counterfeit gods already taking up a huge space in the tabernacle of our hearts. This will prevent us from enjoying God’s glory and if we are after our Lord Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection not be able to taste His glory we will certainly not be able to reflect His glory, believers are we think we are. Then, this will be the biggest act of injustice and lack of love a human soul can heap upon himself. As in our Lord Jesus teaching of the lost son in Luke, He is the Eldest brother that truly sacrificed all He owns in the whole universe to be co-heirs with us, ungrateful sinful worms. He bids us all not to be prodigal anymore. He bids us to come home, the right joyful home! He bids us not squander the wealth He co-shares with us even worse, squandering the most valuable of all possessions: His love, His joy, His peace and His glory!
In Luke 22:42-44, we read Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
When Jesus was at the garden of Gethsemane he was in anguish about the cup He was going to have to drink on all the nations’ behalf. His anxiety has also been described by a sudden shocking awareness of the horror that this cup contains. This was the cup described in Jeremiah 25:15 The Cup of God’s Wrath! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. We remind ourselves again Jesus drank the cup of wrath so that we might have the cup of the Father’s joy.
When Jesus was at the garden of Gethsemane he was in anguish about the cup He was going to have to drink on all the nations' behalf. His anxiety has also been described by a sudden shocking awareness of the horror that this cup contains. This was the cup described in Jeremiah 25:15 The Cup of God's Wrath! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: "Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. We remind ourselves again Jesus drank the cup of wrath so that we might have the cup of the Father's joy.
He drank this horrible for us, the nations, so that we might be reconciled with our Righteous Father and that we become co-heirs with Him to share the Glory of this whole universe but most of all to share His own Glory, His Love, His Joy, His Peace. Are the things we are living for worth Christ dying for? Are we committing to Him to live a life of righteousness and in the process showing all nations His glory by vowing to Him, “Not my will, but you will be done”. When we do His glory will be reflected through us. Let us all earn this precious gift and be worthy of this great sacrifice, a sacrifice that only a truly Righteous God and a truly Loving God can deliver to reconcile us all back to Him. To Him be the Glory forever and ever,
• I am indebted to books by, David Pawson, John Piper, Timothy Keller, A.W. Tozer, Martin Lloyd Jones and many others whose writings and teachings have enriched me in understanding the glory of our God.