11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 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! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20 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.
21 The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 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. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 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. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 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.’”
Since most of you are familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son, I thought I would read a different version of it it’s called the “Prodigal Son in the Key of F.”
Feeling footloose and frisky, a feather-brained fellow forced his father to fork over his farthings. Fast he flew to foreign fields and frittered his family’s fortune.
Fleeced by his fellows in folly, facing famine, and feeling faintly fuzzy, he found himself a feed-flinger in a filthy foreign farmyard. Feeling frail and fairly famished, he filled his frame with foraged food from the fodder fragments.
“Fooey,” he figured, “my father’s flunkies fare far fancier,” the frazzled fugitive fumed feverishly, facing the facts. Finally, frustrated from failure and filled with foreboding, he fled.
Faraway, the father focused on the fretful familiar form in the field and flew to him and fondly flung his forearms around the fatigued fugitive. Falling at his father’s feet, the fugitive floundered forlornly, “Father, I have flunked and fruitlessly forfeited family favour.”
Finally, the faithful Father, forbidding and forestalling further flinching, frantically flagged the flunkies to fetch forth the finest fatling and fix a feast.
Faithfully, the father’s first-born was in a fertile field fixing fences while father and fugitive were feeling festive. Frowning and finding fault, he found father and fumed, “He frittered family funds and you fix a feast for the fugitive?”
Frankly, the father felt the frigid first-born’s frugality of forgiveness was formidable and frightful. But, the father’s former faithful fortitude and fearless forbearance to forgive both fugitive and first-born flourished. Unfurl the flags and finery, let fun and frolic freely flow. Former failure is forgotten, folly is forsaken.
Jesus tells a story about a young man who made some bad decisions and what happened to him as a result. We call it the parable of the prodigal son, and it is probably the best-known parable in the whole Bible.
It has been called the greatest short story ever written because it speaks so truthfully about the human condition. It’s really the story of a father with two sons. One sinned when he left the other sinned while staying home.
This morning we’ll be taking a look at the first son. Next Sunday, before Holy Communion, we will be watching Tim Keller’s DVD entitled the ‘Prodigal God.’ In many ways, the older brother in this parable reflects the lives of many Christians more accurately than the younger brother, and this will be our theme next week.
In order to better understand the parable, we actually need to start with the first 2 verses of Luke 15: “Now 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.’”
You can almost feel the tension here. Jesus often spent time with the worst kind of people and it bothered the self-righteous religious people. They wanted Him to spend His time with good people.
Jesus then tells three parables that are aimed directly at the self-righteous.
In the first one, a farmer has 100 sheep and one gets lost. Jesus tells how the farmer leaves the 99 and goes on a search and rescue mission for the one that is lost. In the second story, a widow loses one of her 10 coins and searches until she finds it.
And in the third story, a son is lost and eventually returns home.
“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.”
This young man was not happy living under the authority of his father, and was probably put down by his obedient older brother as well.
So he demands his inheritance while his father is still alive and in good health. In traditional Middle Eastern culture, this was the equivalent of saying, “I wish you were dead.”
Normally, a father in this situation would kick his son out of the house for making such an unthinkable request. In fact, the father is expected to refuse a request like this, but he doesn’t.
So this young man takes the money, leaves home and travels to a place the Bible calls “a distant country.” There he spends every cent he has on riotous living.
When a famine comes, being broke and far away from home, he goes to a local farmer begging for a job who says, “The only work I have is feeding the pigs.”
He who had eaten fillet steak just a few weeks earlier now eats with pigs.
Before going any further, we need to stop and look at what happened to this young man. How did he end up in such a mess?
Firstly, he was selfish. His fall began with a selfish act, a disregard for his father. He said, “I want my money and I want it now.”
He said, “Forget you and forget my family.”
He acted hastily. The Bible says that when he got his money he took off to a distant country. When we hear that phrase, we always picture him travelling thousands of miles away, but we need to look at this parable from a spiritual perspective.
Do you know where the distant country is? It’s one step outside of God’s will. It’s not a matter of geography, but a broken relationship with God.
When he left, he never intended to come back home. After all, he took all the money with him. If he had planned to return, he would have left something to come back to, but he didn’t do that.
He separated himself from every relationship that was important to him. By leaving, he broke his relationship with his father and his brother.
He also left his family and his friends. He rejected everything that was good and right and holy. All of that went out the window.
He made a long string of bad decisions. Sin always works that way. One bad decision leads to another.
First you tell a lie, and then you have to tell another one to cover up the first one. Sin always leads to more sin. Once you start making bad decisions, it’s easier to make even more as you go along.
But before you know it, you are about 15 bad decisions down the road, and it actually seems easier to keep on going in the wrong direction, rather than to stop.
Verse 14 tells us that there was a famine in the distant country.
Whenever you leave God, there will always be a famine. The grass might look greener on the other side of the fence, but it never lasts.
In the distant country you enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. But after a while the money runs out, the music stops, the beautiful people get bored with you, and you are broke and penniless.
In the end he lost everything. He who had it all lost it all. He who came from a good family now sleeps with the pigs. The wasteful son has hit rock bottom.
God often lets that happen. Why does He do that?
Because we are so stubborn sometimes, that we refuse to look up until we start to eat with the pigs. When we finally reach the end of our rope, then and only then do we begin to think about returning home again.
So the lost son comes face to face with the pigs, and he begins to change.
First, there was an awakening. Verse 17 says that, “he came to his senses.” Sin is senseless it’s a form of temporary spiritual insanity.
It’s turning away from living water in order to drink out of a sewer.
What was it that brought him to his senses? He was hungry. His stomach made him come back to his father.
This is a point we often miss in this parable.
There is nothing to suggest that he turned back because he realised what a terrible thing he had done. He hasn’t repented yet or come to grips with the enormity of his sin. That’s still in the future. For now he is just hungry.
The truth is that people often turn to the Lord simply because they’re desperate and they have nowhere else to go. Their motives may be no better than the need to find a hot meal and a place to stay on a cold night. But that’s okay, because at least they’re turning to Him.
Do you desperately want someone you love to turn to Christ?
Understand that you can’t change their hearts – only God can do that, so keep it simple – pray that God will make them hungry, and allow Him to do the rest.
Pray that they will realise that even though they think life is just wonderful, they’re actually eating in the pigpen.
Repentance for the lost son comes in verse 18: “I will go back to my father.” Repentance is what happens when you realise you’ve been going the wrong direction and you finally say, “I’ve gone this way long enough. I’m going to turn around, and I’m going to go back in the other direction.” Repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change of life.
In this case, the first step back home was driven by a personal need, but now he starts to grapple with the root problem. He realises that his fundamental need is not for food, but for a restored relationship with his father.
He’s hungry because many months ago he was greedy and left home. He’s sleeping with the pigs because in his pig-headedness he demanded his own way. He’s living alone because he chose to go his own way.
But at last he realises the mistakes he’s made, and that it’s all his own fault, and that’s important.
Repentance means admitting that you are solely responsible for the mess you are in. You can’t go back home until you admit that you were the one who left in the first place.
Look at his honesty in verse 18, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”
You will know that you are really serious about changing your life when you stop making excuses for your behaviour.
The younger brother could’ve found a thousand excuses. But he didn’t. He simply said, “I have sinned.” These words marked the beginning of a new life for this young man.
When you stop making excuses for your failures, you are not far from a brand-new life.
With his honesty came humility. While he was still in the pigpen, he mentally rehearsed what he would say to his father in verse 19: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” What a tremendous statement that is. He came back home with no pre-conditions.
He didn’t say, “These are my conditions before I come back.” That’s not real repentance.
This man was so deeply hurt over the way he had lived that he said, “Father, I’m not worthy to be called your son. I’ve disgraced you. If you will take me back, I will work like a labourer.”
Real repentance doesn’t make deals with God.
We can only imagine what he must have been thinking as he shuffled home with his tail between his legs.
“What is my father going to say? Will he take me back?” With his head down, he walked along that dirt road, embarrassed and humiliated.
And his fears were well founded.
We don’t often think about the father’s pain when we read this story. But it couldn’t have been easy for him.
First of all, he lost part of the fortune he had worked hard for. In those days the older son received a double portion of the inheritance, so simple maths tells us that he gave one third of his wealth to his younger son. That’s a substantial amount of money he lost.
Second, he lost his reputation in the community. When a son leaves home in such anger, there’s no way to keep it hidden.
But the worst pain was the simple fact that the father had lost his son. After all these years, after all those prayers, after holding him in his arms when he was a baby, after watching, protecting and teaching as he grew up, after pouring out an ocean of love, suddenly the dream is shattered, and the father is left with a huge hole in his heart.
Words cannot express the pain, the sadness and the loss the father feels.
His son has left home, and he was heart-broken.
So who can blame him if he refused to take his son back?
It’s no wonder the son was worried as he slowly plodded his way home.
Verse 20 says that while he was still a long way off, his father saw him. This is a great moment. His father saw him and was moved with compassion.
Day after day the father watched for his son. Night after night he waited for his return.
And then it happened. One day he saw a figure walking hesitantly towards him.
Throwing all dignity aside, he ran to meet his son, embraced him without saying a word, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The word Jesus used means he smothered him with kisses.
In that one moment all the questions were answered. The son’s fear melted away in the tears and hugs. No words passed between them but one broken heart spoke to another.
Then the sobbed confession he was so overwhelmed that he could only utter the first part of his prepared speech in verse 21: “I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But the father stopped him in mid-sentence, and they began to celebrate.
We’re all the younger son. At one stage or another in our past we’ve left the father and squandered our lives just like he did.
And we have also felt and know the forgiveness of a loving father.
But this is only half of the story. There’s another brother in this parable, and the truth is that we are just like him too.
Next Sunday we come to the Table of Grace, but before we do that we need to see the self-righteousness of the older brother within ourselves, and that God offers us His grace and forgiveness from those sins too.
Both sons were only concerned about money and material things, but the father in this story and our Heavenly Father cares about relationships.
Without God there will always be something missing.
A life lived without God is empty and meaningless, because you are living it without the God who created you.
On a human level, we all know and understand that family and friends are more important than things. Unfortunately though, we’re often distracted by things, very often to the detriment of human love. That’s what sin has done to us. It has warped our God-given perspective of life. We see all things through sin-tainted spectacles, and that is why the world is in such a mess. It’s in a mess because people want to live their lives without God.
But if we go right back to the beginning, before sin entered the world, what did God say? “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
That is a profound statement, which speaks loudly and clearly of our need to live in relationship with each other, and more importantly with our Father.
It is how He created us, it is our ‘default setting’, and any life lived without Him is a lie.
And when you mess up, and realise your mistakes, and swallow your pride and decide to turn back to your Father, you will find Him running down the road to meet you.
You might be in a distant country right now, but remember – you are only one step outside of God’s will. He is that close to you.
Read the parable of the lost son in Luke 15.
Most people find it easier to see themselves in the younger son, rather than in the self-righteous attitudes of his older brother. The older brother will be the focus of next week, but in which ways can you identify with the bad choices made by the younger son?
Have you ever been in a “distant country?”
What were the circumstances, and how did you decide to “return to your Father?”
How did you experience the grace of God during this time in your life?
Were there any ‘older brothers’ in the Church, and did you sense any self-righteousness from them? How did this affect your faith?
The central character of this parable is actually the forgiving father.
In which ways do we see the character of God reflected in the father in this story?
We would all agree that relationships (both inter-personal and with God) are more important than money and possessions.
But if we look at the world around us, and also in our own lives, we can see how easily our love of material things has hurt our personal relationships. Why is that?
If you are able, share with your group how materialism has affected your relationships with the people you love.
Close by praying for each other.
Ask the Lord to heal broken relationships, and in particular pray for those who are far from God and in a “distant country.”