1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” 11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”
When Sean called me about a week and a half ago asking me if I was interested in teaching this evening I hesitated only for a moment. I’ve been very busy lately yet I love to be able to share the Word of God.
When Sean told me I could teach on any topic I knew, almost immediately, what I desired to teach because this is one of my favorite parables in the Bible. The problem with teaching on this text is that it is so well known by many people who can probably recite the details by the mere mention of the title.
In a 1988 study, a sociologist named Marcia Whitten authored a work entitled All is Forgiven, wherein she analyzed hundreds of sermons on Luke 15 delivered by mainline Presbyterian and Southern Baptist Churches. The mainline Presbyterian Churches saw in the Parable a teaching about the need for social acceptance of the downcast. Southern Baptist preachers, however, emphasized the troubles that the Prodigal Son faced when he left the boundaries of a Godly home and got into “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” Many of you probably have received typical treatments but I hope to demonstrate the power of the Gospel herein.
It is vitally important, in understanding the parables in this Chapter that we begin with verses 1 and 2. Once again we encounter the Pharisees’ criticism of Christ. They complain that Christ receives sinners and even eats with them. No righteous man, in their thinking, would sully himself by spending time around sinners much less sharing a meal with them.
Christ, as was His habit in many teaching situations, responded with three Parables. In the first parable He recounted the great lengths that a good Shepherd will go through to seek out one lost sheep and the rejoicing that ensues when that lost sheep is recovered. The second parable noted the great lengths a woman will go through to find a lost coin in her household. She will literally tear the house apart in search of this wayward coin and rejoices with the entire town upon its discovery. Both of the first two parables would easily resonate with the culture of Christ’s day but to understand the impact of the third parable you’re going to need to take off your 21st Century glasses and journey with me back to the Jewish culture of Christ’s day.
Once upon a time there was a man who had two sons. One day, his younger son came up to him demanding his share in his inheritance.
Right away, jaws should drop. Jewish sons do not demand their inheritance of their father. The inheritance is to be received upon the death of the father with the firstborn son receiving a double portion. The younger son was basically saying: “Father, I wish you were dead. I want my inheritance now and your life is in my way!” The son showed utter disdain for his father. The proper response for a father in this culture would have been to slap his son across the face for disrespect and he had every right to disinherit such a scoundrel. The Pharisees would have been pleased to hear that this was the father’s response.
Incredibly, however, the father granted the son’s request. The inheritance, after all, would have been in the land of the estate. It’s not as if the father had a bank account or stocks he could simply sign over. He would have had to sell a portion of his estate to a buyer at a reduced price with the guarantee that the buyer would receive this land at the father’s death. Do you realize that the penalty for moving a boundary marker in the Law was death? A capital crime. Land was the family’s inheritance and generations had labored to pass the estate from father to son and to build wealth that would bless future generations. This father had, inexplicably, cashed generations of labor in to give cash to this worthless boy.
The boy left home where he squandered this money in reckless living. What had taken centuries to accumulate was blown quickly. What a scum bag. What a wretch! The parables are full of scorn and curses for the foolish who waste their money. Utter ruin will be their end! The Pharisees would have lectured the father that such was to be expected. What was he thinking after all?
And then a famine hit.
And the boy was in a faraway land having squandered his money.
And he began to be in want. His friends left him for such are the friends of folly.
Ah what delight to the heart of a Pharisee. The boy was reaping his just reward. Surely he would die of starvation and the Pharisees would wring their hands with glee about the destruction of the unrighteous.
But the boy managed to find employment feeding pigs.
Excuse me, did you say he was feeding pigs?
By pigs, do you mean the unclean animals that Jews were forbidden to eat or touch?
A Jewish boy feeding pigs?!
But this employment was not feeding him well to the point that the boy envied the pigs for their meal of corn husks.
We don’t know how long this went on but, one day, it dawned upon him: “Even my father’s servants have plenty to eat. I know I can’t go back as a son. I’ve blown any opportunity for that. I understand that, in this culture, I am shamed beyond measure. Perhaps if I return home I can be hired on as a slave and at least I’ll be treated well.”
At this point the Pharisees would have been pleased with the boy. Now we’re talking! That’s right you sinner! That’s right you unrighteous wretch! Return to your home town in shame.
The tradition had a proper process for reconciliation. The boy would be expected to go into his home town and wait at the town center for a few days. During this time the town people would have come and heaped shame upon the boy.
Don’t you realize what a wretch you are?!
Don’t you realize what you have done to your father?!
For shame! For shame you unrighteous one!
Then, after a period, the father would come and the boy would express his utter shame to his father and promise to perform reconciliation by working off what had been squandered. Surely, for such an offense the boy would have had to work his entire life to earn back even a portion of what he had squandered. Only after restitution by work, however, would this boy have truly earned the right to reconciliation. Reconciliation through restitution. Forgiveness and acceptance by works!
But, beloved, this is where the rage in the Pharisees would have begun to boil over. This is where the Gospel is so offensive to so many who see religious duty as a way to buy God’s affection.
‘BUT’, the text reads, ‘while the boy was far off, the father was moved with compassion.’
I used to wonder how parents could single out their childen in a large crowd by the sound of their cry. They all sounded the same. But now that I have four kids, I’ve come to recognize the walk of my children, their smell, the way they walk, their laughs, their cries of pain and sadness and fear – many details a parent who loves his children knows well.
The father had long been looking for his son and he saw a figure in the distance. ‘Yes, that’s the boy! That’s the walk of my son.’ Shoulders hunched over in grief. Gaunt. Weary. Worn out.
The son was heading for the town.
And the father RAN to him.
This is not the 21st century. Old men of Christ’s day did not run. It was undignified. It was shameful. In order to run in the long, flowing robes of that culture a man had to hike up his robe. The expression “gird up your loins” refers to the fact that men, in battle, had to hike up their robes and tuck them into their belt in order to run and move in battle. But, except in war, it was considered shameful to bear one’s legs so much so that Jewish tradition taught it was preferable for a priest to let his robe drag in the blood on the temple floor rather than lift the robe lest their legs be exposed.
But the father, in the most undignified manner, ran to his son.
Why the hurry? Was it simply a desire to hold him again.
He ran because the boy was approaching the town center. He was approaching the place of shame.
Oh yes, sin had occurred and shame was due but, beloved, the father ran to ensure that the shame would be his own. Shame would be borne by him and not the boy he loved with an everlasting love!
The father threw himself upon this boy that reeked of pig manure and kissed him.
Sinclair Ferguson once remarked about a longtime friend who had received great honor from the Crown of England for her ministries of mercy to the poor. She told everyone at this ceremony, however, that when it came to dealing with the poor, it was her husband who had the most amazing ability to deal with the incredible stench of feces and urine that the poor reek of. He could minister up close to such men without flinching. How, one wondered to him one day, was he able to do it? He answered: “It’s easy. I picture the filth of my own sin that Christ had to wade through to save me and all physical filth pales in comparison.”
The son found himself now in this loving embrace and the son spoke to his father what he had rehearsed: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But his words stopped.
What else had he planned to say?
He planned to ask to be made a slave in the household.
But he stopped.
I believe he stopped because the embrace of the father squeezed the very breath out of him. The second part about being made a slave was unacceptable. You see, beloved,
in the Kingdom of God, there are no slaves. There are no servants that earn affection from their father.
There are only sons!
‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet!’
Shoes for his feet?
Only sons wear these. This boy had squandered his inheritance. He had sinned away every right to be called a son in this house. The father, however, was granting him EVERYTHING based on NOTHING THAT THE SON DESERVED! The boy received every good thing and every privilege of sonship based on NOTHING THAT HE HAD DONE!
‘And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’
It’s not as if meat was easy to come by then and they didn’t have refrigerators to store leftovers. Killing a fatted calf was an extraordinary event, which meant a celebration for the entire community. It was a celebration not of the righteousness of a son earning a father’s love but the lavish love of a father who was granting sonship to a man saved alive!
And so the party ensued and the elder brother returned from the field, laboring into the evening. He wanted to know what was going on.
What?! That unrighteous scum bag has returned? My father is holding a party for him? He’s not only treating him like a son but he’s eating with him?
The elder son was so incensed that he refused to even go into his father.
A celebration was going on in the light while the “righteous” man, the elder brother, was standing outside gnashing his teeth at the redeemed son and the gracious father.
But the father came out to him pleading to come in to the light.
The son responded: ‘He might be your son but he’s not my brother. That scum is beneath me! HOW DARE YOU! Do you realize how much I’ve SLAVED for you all these years. Not once, in all that time, have you given ME so much as a goat so I can have a party with MY friends. Give me MY due for my labor. I’m not going in to celebrate with you and your house. I have MY friends and I want to earn the right for reward so I can celebrate with my own friends.’
And the story ended abruptly with a celebration going on in the light with the self-righteous elder brother in the darkness gnashing his teeth.
It’s been said that there are three kinds of people in this world:
The first kind are those that don’t care a thing about the things of God. The power of God is manifest all around them. Some even hear of the mighty works of God in Scripture to save me from their sin and they meet it with indifference. God is not magnificent. He is a bore.
The second variety are those who are religious slaves so they can put God in debt to them. I will perform acts of contrition. I will deny myself food and pleasure. I will strap a bomb onto my chest and yell “Allah Akbar!” to a glorious death. Quid pro quo. I do for God and He must do for me.
The grace of the father would be too much for the Pharisees and the story did have a conclusion. That elder brother, and all his Pharisee friends, took the Son of God, who is the father in this tale, and beat him and brought him to Pilate to have Him put to death. There is no room for the mercy of God among the elder brother’s friends. The offense of the Cross that all must bow before it to receive forgiveness and have their own shame placed upon the Son is too much to bear.
The third kind of person is he who recognizes he was once dead in sins and trespasses. But God found him and made him alive.
Beloved, open your eyes. Look around you. Do you see the filth of your sin?
God has appointed a day, calling it ‘Today’. Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.
The yoke of your sin is very great. Oh how you have sinned just this past week. Just today, in fact. How could anybody that belongs to the father sin like you have? Surely, you have told yourself, God could not accept this?!
Plod back to where you began and realize that you have no rights to enter the Father’s house.
But stop, for a moment, and look up.
Look up away from yourself. Look up!
What is that in the distance?
It’s the Son of God and He’s running. He’s flying to you.
Look to Him. See what He has done. He is taking your filthy clothes that reek of your sin and has worn them on the Cross. He died to take away your sins and satisfy the wrath of God that you deserve.
He embraces you and covers you with a clean robe. It is the robe of His perfect righteousness. He has risen from the dead with an indestructible life and lives that we live forever more in Him!
Full inheritance. Full sonship in Christ. God gives every blessing not for anything we have done and until you understand that amazing grace you have not rested in the arms of the Father’s embrace.
‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’
All heaven rejoices. Let those that love the Father because He has given them every inheritance crowd in. Today is the day of Salvation for all who hear the voice of the Father! Slay the fatted calf for tonight WE CELEBRATE!”