The Prodigal Son

Luk 15:11 And he said, A certain man had two sons: Luk 15:12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. Luk 15:13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. Luk 15:14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. Luk 15:15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. Luk 15:16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. Luk 15:17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! Luk 15:18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, Luk 15:19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. Luk 15:20 And he arose, and came to his father. 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. Luk 15:21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. Luk 15:22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: Luk 15:23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: Luk 15:24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Luk 15:25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. Luk 15:26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. Luk 15:27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 15:28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. 15:29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 15:30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 15:31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 15:32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

THE LOST SON

Everyone calls this story the Prodigal Son, although prodigal is never used in the gospels, and people often misunderstand the word “prodigal,” which does not mean rebellious or lost. Prodigal means “wasteful” or “extravagant.” Webster’s 1828: “Given to extravagant expenditures; expending money or other things without necessity; profuse, lavish; wasteful; not frugal or economical; as a prodigal man; the prodigal son. A man may be prodigal of his strength, of his health, of his life or blood, as well as of his money.”

The story opens in vs. 12 – When the prodigal son asked for his inheritance. “And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.” So you only have two sons. The younger son would receive 1/3 of the estate and the older son 2/3 because he gets the “double portion.” (Deut 21:17) Notice that he didn’t just give the young son his inheritance. It says “he divided unto them his living,” but yet in vs. 31, the father said “all that I have is thine.” So it just seems that all parties had agreed upon what would be the current value of the younger son’s 1/3 inheritance of the estate. The value was paid out, and the older son would inherit everything upon his father’s death. Considering that upon the son’s return, the father was able to say, “bring the best robe,” put a ring on his hand, give him shoes, kill the fatted calf, the many servants referenced in vs. 17, this father probably had the means to pay out the value of his younger son’s inheritance without resorting to selling a third of the land. But the younger son telling his father that he’s leaving and wants his inheritance is on a par with saying, “you’re already dead to me, and so I just want my money.”

In vs. 13, we see the younger son falling into riotous living, and we’d learn later from his brother in vs. 30 that he also “devoured thy living with harlots.” When he lost all his money, he was left with no alternative but to feed unclean animals and eat their food. “Husks” might be a reference to the fruit pods of Carob trees, which is still around, still used to feed animals, but they’re also used for cakes and Carob powder is sometimes used in lieu of cocoa powder to make chocolate. Sinners never fall up but rather they fall down.

When he hit bottom, notice the speech he rehearses in his mind that he’s going to give to his father upon his return home. READ vs. 18-22. The father loved him so much, he never gave him a chance to finish his speech!

We get our first real portrait of the father in vs. 20. “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.” His father never let him go in his heart. His father daily looked for him, watched for him, and hoped against hope that his son would return home. And when he finally saw him, he RAN to him, which is beautiful. “The Prodigal Son” story could have just as easily been called “The Running Father.”

A lot has been made of the father running. One Jewish scholar said, “If a Jewish son lost his inheritance among Gentiles, and then returned home, the community would perform a ceremony, called the kezazah. They would break a large pot in front of him and yell, ‘You are now cut off from your people!’ The community would totally reject him. “So, why did the father run? He probably ran in order to get to his son before he entered the village.” I can’t help but dismiss this notion. Kezazah doesn’t exist in the Bible but rather the Talmud, which might have been an indicator of Jewish tradition, but I dug into the Talmud and the Kezazah was not suddenly performed by the community but rather done at the behest of the family. Likewise, there are verses in Deut. 18 in which the parents could take a rebellious son to the elders of the city to be stoned to death, which was a decision made by the parents. The father did not run to his son to save him from the community. The father ran because he loved his son and wanted him home.

Then (v. 22) the father showers on his son the finest robe, ring, and sandals which signified more than sonship; the robe was a ceremonial one such as a guest of honor would be given, the ring signified authority, and the sandals were those only a free man would wear, which answered the son’s question about becoming a servant before he ever got the chance to ask it.

The self-righteous older son, who was clearly an illustration of a Pharisee, found grace shown to a lost brother to be disgusting because he thought he was entitled to all the praise for obeying the rules all his li. Both of the sons lived with their father all their lives and neither one of them knew him at all. It was the younger son who came to the end of himself and humbly returned to the father who learned first who his father really was. In this story, the lost son rises while the self-righteous elder brother falls in terms of moral state. Like the Pharisees, he spoke to his father with such disdain just as they spoke to Jesus. Like the Pharisees, he refused to acknowledge his lost brother as a brother. He said in vs. 30, “But as soon as this thy son was come” just as the Pharisees refused to have anything to do with their own brethren whom they called “sinners.” Like the Pharisees, he rejected what God celebrated. Like the Pharisees, he had to be taught the principle of being spiritually dead and reborn, spiritually lost and found again, just as Jesus had to explain to the Pharisees through this parable. And like the Pharisees, the elder son was unwilling to acknowledge his own shortcomings within the laws of his father’s household, his own need for spiritual rebirth, whereas the younger son was ever so willing to do so.

A few words about law and grace.

What’s fascinating to me is that everyone in this chapter is still under the law, and yet the Lord is teaching them the principles of grace. This whole chapter is about the grace of the Lord toward His own lost sheep of the house of Israel, whom He loves. The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin illustrates the grace that seeks out the sinner, and the Lost Son illustrates the grace that receives the sinner. You can’t help but think of what John wrote, Joh_1:16-17 “And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Yet, law and grace are so diametrically opposed to each other. Why is Christ teaching them grace while they’re all under the law?

Christ wasn’t just showing them who HE is, which is to be reflected in their spiritual lives, which rises far above the law. HE is a God of all grace and love who wants His lost sheep brought back into the fold in order to accomplish His purpose in them to be that nation of priests who would bless the whole world about Christ and establish His kingdom. It took grace on His part to not only seek them out but also receive them as sinners. He doesn’t overlook their sins but He knows how those sins will be dealt with, and so He reaches out to them to obtain their faith knowing their sins would later be cleansed by His blood under the new covenant by their faith. The Pharisees were still looking to the past and the life they had under the old covenant. Christ was looking forward to the future and the life they will have under the new covenant. The Pharisees were still looking to the past and the condemnation that sinners deserved under the law. Christ was looking forward to the cross and the deliverance from sin He’ll be giving all His people under the new covenant who came to Him by faith. The Pharisees were looking at themselves as perfectly righteous under the law and unwilling to accept their need for a spiritual rebirth. Christ was looking at them perfectly condemned under the law and yet still willing to embrace them like prodigal sons because of His grace and love. Christ illustrates so beautifully here that His ways of grace are higher than their ways under the law, that His example of grace to a lost prodigal son proves the timeless principle that His love would be the fulfilling of the law. His three parables condemn their self-righteous attitudes as much as they beg them to come to Him in faith and be accepted of the Father.

Israel never did and never will deserve anything they’ll receive under the new covenant just as we never deserved the gift of salvation by grace through faith. Like the story of the prodigal son who deserved nothing, Christ was likewise showing them that they deserved nothing and all they’ll be given under the new covenant would be purely by His grace alone because He is a God of all love and grace.

The law would look at the prodigal son and say, “Lay hold on him” whereas His grace would say, “Embrace him.” The law would say, “Cast him out,” whereas His grace would say, “Take him in.” The law would say, “Stone him to death” whereas His grace would say, “Give him eternal life.” How is all of that possible while everyone is under the law during the gospel period? How is it that the incarnation of the Son of God could embrace a poor sinner? By the cross. The same God who gave us the law gave us deliverance from our condemnation by His grace. The same God who gave us the law, which was like a mirror let down from heaven to show us we were everything the law condemned, is the same God who gave us His Son to show us through His death that we are also the objects of His eternal love. God proved, by the crucifixion of His beloved Son on the cross, that His hatred of sin was only to be equaled by His love for all of us. A crucified Christ declares God’s hatred of sin whereas a risen Christ, declares the triumph of His love for every believer.

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