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 servants 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 servants.’ 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.”
Along with the parable of the Good Samaritan, this particular parable of Jesus is one of the most well-known of the teachings of Jesus. Many non-Christians are familiar with it and can appreciate the wonderful flow of the story. You don’t need to be a Christian to understand the basics of what Jesus is teaching here. If you’ve been a teenager, you can understand the yearning to break away from home and become independent, only to realise that life out there in the big, bad world is not all you’d hoped it would be, and of course, all parents of children older than their teens who have watched them grow up and seen them leaving the nest can relate to the anguish of the father in this parable.
As we continue to work our way through this four-part parable in Luke 15, we need to look back at the introduction in the first 2 verses, as this will help us to remember the context of the chapter. In order to correctly grasp the spiritual message of what Jesus is teaching, we need to look at the bigger picture, and see.
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:1-2)
The enemies of Jesus were criticising Him because He received sinners. They were astounded that someone like Him would spend His time with such riff-raff, so in response, Jesus tells them four stories all related to each other. All of these stories are designed to teach the same great truth: Every soul is precious to God.
As Jesus progresses through these illustrations, He places greater and greater emphasis upon the value of what was lost.
In the illustration of the lost sheep, there was one sheep out of one hundred missing, just 1%. The lost coin was one out of ten - 10%. When we reach the lost son in part 3, one out of two sons is missing, or 50 %. In the first two stories, the objects missing were animal and material. Today, the object missing is a human. Each time, the object lost grows in value and importance. Again, this is why it is important to see the four parables in Luke 15 as the same story, but with four distinct episodes, each pointing to the same truth: Every soul is precious to God.
The request of the younger son was for his share of the inheritance. According to the law in Deuteronomy 21, he was entitled to one-third of his father’s estate. His request was legal, because a man was able to divide his estate among his sons while he was still alive, but this was certainly the exception, rather than the norm.
In fact, it was a shocking thing to ask. When he asked for his father to divide the estate now, rather than wait until his father died, he was in effect saying, “I wish you were dead. I am tired of you and I want to be free from you and your control in my life.”
The lost sinner lives his life with that same attitude. He might as well say to God, “I wish you were dead!” Because people who live in rebellion against God live their lives as if He were dead.
The son in this parable was selfish. “Give me!” His focus is on himself. His life is all wrapped up within himself and he cares for no one else, especially his father. But his father is gracious. Back in Deuteronomy 21 again, it says, “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death.” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
Of course, such an instruction shocks and even offends us. But what these words are really doing is pointing us to the righteous wrath of God against rebellious sinners. We deserve punishment, not grace.
In our parable, if the father didn’t want to go to such extremes, he at the very least was quite entitled to refuse and kick his son out, but he doesn’t. He merely does what his son asks him to do and gives him what he asks for.
He has worked his entire adult life to build his estate so that he might have something to hand down to his sons.
The younger son wanted what the father could give him, but he did not want the father. This is another picture of the lost sinner. The lost don’t give God a second thought. Their attitude toward God is “Give me.” They want His air, His food, His water, His time, His world, but they don’t want Him involved in their lives.
Genesis 2:7 says, “The LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
When God created us, He literally poured His life into us.
Every day that we live, we live on the gifts and resources God has blessed us with, yet so many want nothing to do with God. They want what He can give them, but they don’t want Him. And in order to justify this rebellious attitude, they come up with this ridiculous notion that God doesn’t exist, because if we can fool ourselves with that lie, we are free to live however we want. Just look at our world today and the way it is heading.
Romans 1:18-20 responds to that insanity. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
As Psalms 14 and 53 both say, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
If you want to live your life like there is no God, then He will allow to do exactly that. If you want to take all that He can give you without acknowledging Him, He will let you do that too, but you need to know what the reward of that kind of life will be: A Christ-less eternity.
And so, the son in the parable gets what he wants, but he soon finds out that all that glitters is not gold. He takes his father’s grace and he squanders it by living a wicked, self-indulgent life of sin and wickedness.
He became totally consumed by his desire to live a sinful life. Hebrews 11:25 talks about the “fleeting pleasures of sin.” The problem is that sin always leads to death.
Let me give you an example of how our lust for sin can consume us if we’re not careful. Wolves are enemies of the Eskimos, because they compete for the same food, and the Eskimos also had a use for the fur of wolves, so they would hunt them, but that was very risky. Their traditional way of killing a wolf, was very clever, if gruesome, but it does give us an insight into the consuming, self-destructive nature of sin. First, the Eskimo would coat the blade of a knife with animal blood and allow it to freeze. Then he added another layer of blood and allowed that to freeze, and another, and another, until the blade was completely concealed by frozen blood. Then he would fix the handle of the knife into the ground with the blade pointing up and leave it. A wolf would pick up the scent and discovering the bait, he would lick it, tasting the fresh frozen blood.
The wolf then begins to lick faster, more and more vigorously, lapping the knife until the sharp blade is bare. By now there would normally be a number of wolves, frantically licking the blade. The craving for blood though, becomes so overwhelming, that the wolves don’t notice the sting of the blade on their tongues, nor do they understand that once the frozen blood is gone, their insatiable thirst is being satisfied by their own blood. We’ve all seen films of sharks in a feeding frenzy – they even end up biting and feeding on themselves, and the same thing happens with the wolves. The next day the Eskimos arrive and help themselves to whatever wolf skins they need.
Just like those wolves, we are consumed by our own lusts. James 1:14-15 warns us, “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
In our parable, eventually the money ran out as well as the friends who helped him spend it. The far country, a land of wine, women and song had become a land of weeping, worry and sorrow.
The first lesson he learned was that sin brings separation. He is broke, alone and miles away from a father who had done nothing but love him.
This is what sin does. It separates us from our loving Father.
Ravi Zaccharias wrote in one of his books, “Sin will take you further than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay and cost you more than you want to pay.”
This is where the younger son found himself. Because of his foolish decisions, his life was a mess.
And then comes the shame.
Here is this young Jewish man who finds himself feeding pigs. For a Jewish man to stoop to this level would mean that he had reached the very bottom of the barrel. You can only imagine the reaction of the Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking. He had already told them to imagine they were shepherds, something a Jewish man of means would never do. Now He suggests that a Jew had resorted to not only feeding pigs, but he even wanted to eat the swill he was feeding to them.
That is how far his sin had taken him. He has no home, no help and no hope. No one cares for him, he is starving and would have eaten the pigs’ food if he could. He is suffering because of the choices he has made.
Sin has not changed, because it always brings suffering in the end. Proverbs 13:15 says, “The way of the unfaithful leads to their destruction.”
No one cares whether he lives or dies. He is alone, he is hungry, and he is broken.
But this is when the story begins to turn.
Brokenness, and facing the consequences of his bad choices were the first steps in getting him home. Someone said that no-one ever wandered off into sin and came back glad they did. They all returned broken, defeated and humbled, but at least they came home.
The first step in getting out of sin is to realise that you are in sin in the first place. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That is the first step, the first realisation we have to reach on the path to repentance, forgiveness and restoration.
The son makes up his mind to go home. He misses home. He misses his father, and he wants to return to where he can be loved and cared for.
But of course, he is full of remorse because of the way he’s made a mess of his life.
There is such a contrast between “give me my money” and “make me a servant.”
Before, he didn’t want to be under the father’s authority, but now he is willing to be a slave, if that is what it takes to go back home.
Here is someone who is willing to confess his sins, repent of them and return to his father. This is the point every lost sinner has to reach before they will ever be saved. The biblical term for this is conviction. God sends His Holy Spirit to show us our sins and reveal the consequences of our sin.
Jesus says in John 16:7-11, “Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”
The Spirit shows us where we are. He takes the blinkers off and lets us see our true condition, while at the same time pointing us to Jesus and the hope He offers us. The Spirit reveals both the problem and the solution. The problem is sin, and the solution is Christ.
And so the son returns home. He doesn’t know what awaits him. He may be rejected, he may be humiliated, he may even be put to death, but he has reached the point where he has nowhere else to turn.
He just wants to go home. That is what the Spirit of God will do when we reach the end of our tether. The Spirit will make the blackness and end of sin so real and the salvation Jesus offers so glorious that we will do anything to get to Him. A truly repentant sinner will do whatever it takes to be saved. As you feel that awful burden of sin almost crushing the life out of you, and you see the Cross of Calvary and what Jesus did for you there, you experience the most wonderful sense of peace. Only Jesus can do that for you.
The Philippian jailer said to Paul and Silas in Acts 16, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Their answer was, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” It’s all about Christ. It’s about leaving the far country and coming home.
As this young man headed home, he didn’t know what to expect, but what he did find was incredible.
Vernon McGee, in his commentary says he can imagine the Pharisees listening to Jesus at this point. He writes, “Under the Mosaic Law a father had a perfect right to bring a disobedient son before the elders and have him stoned to death. This father had a perfect right to say, ‘This boy took my name and my money, and he squandered it. He disgraced my name. I’ll whip him within an inch of his life.’ He had a right to do this. But this father, rather, did something amazing. And when our Lord got to this part of the parable, it caused all those that were present to blink their eyes. They said, ‘We can’t believe that. It’s bad enough to see him hit the bottom and go down yonder with the pigs, but it’s worse for the father to take him back home without doing something. He ought to punish him. That’s the thing that we don’t like. He ought to be punished.’”
Instead, He found a father who had been waiting and longing for his return. He found a father filled with love, compassion and grace who received him and loved him back into his family. He didn’t even let his son finish his little speech. He just loved him back into a right relationship.
In those days, especially with the long, flowing robes that men wore, it was considered undignified for a man to run, so why did the father in the parable run to the son and embrace him?
This is such an important detail in the story. It is because God runs to meet the sinner to quickly extend mercy and prevent any further danger. Remember that the neighbours, who were fully aware of what had happened, would have been not only within their rights, but bound by the law to stone this young man as soon as they realised just who this was shuffling along the road, so the father gathered up his robes and ran towards him and embraced him. If they had thrown stones, they would have hit the father first.
What happened at Calvary? Jesus puts Himself between us and the wrath of the Father. He comes to us and protects us, while at the same time He is our atoning sacrifice. At the cross the rocks were still thrown, but they were thrown at Him, not us. That is what the Gospel and the doctrine of justification is all about. As Jesus faces the full fury of God’s righteous anger at our sin, He protects us from that wrath, while at the same time He clothes us with His righteousness.
Because of that we are given a right standing with God. This is what Paul was writing about in Romans 8:33-34. “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
We were created sinless, but we lost that purity when we sinned. God created us as His own children, but that birthright was destroyed by sin.
This young man came home, and he had everything he threw away restored by the good grace of his father.
He stands in the rags of his sins. He doesn’t look like a child of the father, but his father orders the best of his robes to be brought and to be put on him.
This robe covered the stains and dirt of the pigsty. It made him look like his father once more. The robe he had been given erased all the visible signs of his sinful past.
As Jesus bore your sins on the cross and clothed you in His own righteousness, the signs of your sins were erased.
When a lost sinner comes home, they receive a robe from the heavenly Father.
The apostle John is given this wonderful vision in Revelation 7:9-12. “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!’”
This righteousness we receive is not the righteousness of good works or our own goodness. It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to those who receive Him by faith.
When we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, all the pain and the stain of our past is washed away forever.
After the robe came the ring. The ring was a symbol of sonship and authority. The one with the ring could speak for the father. The one wearing the ring had access to all that belonged to the father.
When lost sinners repent of their sins and come home to the Father, they are given the great privilege of being recognised as His sons. They are given the privilege of speaking on behalf of the Father, and they are given access to all that belongs to the Father. When we come to the Father, He opens the storehouses of His grace and gives us everything He has.
Then the father calls for shoes to be brought for his son. Only the slaves went barefoot. Sons wore shoes.
This young man was prepared to be made a slave, but the father recognised his position as a son.
When you are saved by grace, you became a child of God. If you have believed, repented and accepted salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, then you need to know this: You are a son or a daughter of the King! If you have yet to put your faith in Christ, what is keeping you? You have a loving Father who is waiting for you to come home.
This is why Heaven rejoices as Jesus finds and restores the lost.
The fattened calf was kept for special occasions. It was the father’s way of sharing his joy. Instead of a wasted life, the father was celebrating a life redeemed and restored.
Look at Jesus’ words in verse 24: “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
Don’t underestimate the power of sin. It not only makes a mess of your life, but it destroys you and eventually it brings spiritual death. But the Gospel brings life.
Don’t underestimate the power of the Gospel of Christ. If you are lost, Jesus has come to seek and to save you.
Vernon McGee again says, “Christ right now is at God’s right hand, still girded with the towel of service for one of His who gets soiled feet or soiled hands by being in the far country. When we confess to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We have to come like the Prodigal Son came. ‘Father, I have sinned, and I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me a hired servant.’ And the Father will say, “I will never make you a hired servant. You’re my son. I’ll cleanse you, I’ll forgive you, I’ll bring you back into my family as my son.’”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Luke 15:11-24
This parable can stir some rather unpleasant memories, because it is easy to see our own story in the account of the lost son.
If you feel able, share some of your experiences in the “distant country” with your group.
How did you sense the Spirit of God calling you home?
Discuss the significance of the father giving his son a) his robe, b) his ring and c) his shoes.
What do each of these teach us about what God does for us when we turn to Him in repentance and faith?
How does this parable relate to the previous two parables in Luke 15?
What does the parable of the lost son teach us about what happened at Calvary, and how does it relate to some of the core principles of the doctrines of justification and sanctification?
Make a commitment to pray throughout this week for someone (without naming them of course!) who may still be wandering in the distant country who needs to know there is a loving Father waiting for their return.