|Return of the Prodigal, Kunsthistorisches Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 15:11-32 to teach the Lord’s love for sinners, His great effort to find them, and His joy when the lost are redeemed.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about His love for the lost.
Key verse: Luke 15:20 God is waiting eagerly.
Pray and Read: Luke 15:11-32
There are 14 parables found only in the Gospel of Luke. The first seven are parables of divine mercy. In chapter 15, Jesus tells the last three parables of that set in response to the criticisms of the Pharisees for Jesus’ association with “tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 18:1-2). The Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin teach heaven’s joy over the repentance of a single sinner (Luke 18:3-10). In both there is rejoicing on earth and in heaven. The Parable of the Prodigal Son teaches the Father’s joy and mercy for one who repents (Luke 15:11-35). In a picture of the Trinity, we see the God the Son, the Great Shepherd, God the Holy Spirit, the diligently seeking the lost, and God the Father anxiously yearning for the return of the Prodigal.
Let’s pay attention to these three parables, because they depict the central theme of Luke’s Gospel, God’s love for the lost and the joy He has when they walk in faith and return. The Lord’s great love for sinners (Luke 15:1-2) in the Son’s great joy for redemption (Luke 15:3-7), the Spirit’s great search for the lost (Luke 15:8-10), and the Father’s great love for the rebellious (Luke 15:11-32).
1. The Father’s great love for the rebellious (Luke 15:11-24)
2. The older brother’s great resentment for lavish grace (Luke 15:25-32)
Exposition: Note well,
1. THE FATHER’S GREAT LOVE FOR THE REBELLIOUS (Luke 15:11-32)
a. The parable of the Prodigal, or Lost Son brings the three stories to a climax. In this most famous of Jesus’ parables, the story focuses on three persons. The younger son, representing sinners, who repents after wild living leads to despair and disaster. The father, who represents God, whose unchanged love and compassion forces him to welcome his sinning son home with eagerness. In fact, the focus is so clearly on the father (mentioned 12 times), that it should be entitled the Parable of the Searching Father. Third is the elder brother, who represents the critical Pharisees, who have no love for their fellowman and thus are unable to celebrate repentance in others.
b. Luke 15:11-24 – The father had two sons. Throughout their lives his home and provision had been available to them. The younger son no longer desired to be under his father’s authority and demanded the inheritance that would come to him eventually. His demand was insulting, as if to say, “I wish you were dead.” Still, the father divided his property between the two sons, despite the great disrespect and shock that a father would allow himself to be treated in such a way. With his inheritance (he apparently sold it off – synago, turned it into cash, liquidated it), the younger son went to a distant place, separating himself from his relationship with his father and from a son’s obligation to submit to his father’s authority. Without his father’s restraining influence, he squandered what evidently was great wealth in wild living. Then a famine came to the land, and the man with so much was reduced to abject poverty. He took a job feeding pigs, an unclean animal (Lev 11:7; Deut 14:8), signifying he was in a place where he did not want to be with God’s people. (The Jewish Talmud says, “Cursed is the man who raises swine and cursed is the man who teaches his son Greek philosophy.”) The pigs had a greater provision than the servants who fed them. The son hungered for the feed with which he slopped the hogs, but he was not allowed to eat from their troughs.
c. Jesus’ story graphically pictured Israel’s history. The nation had a sweet and comfortable place under the authority of their Father, but they refused to submit to the oversight of His Law. Oh, they wanted the material blessings (Deut 28:1-14), but they forsook the law that brought the blessings to them. Consequently they were expelled from their land and served Gentiles in foreign countries.
d. The question arises: What is God’s attitude toward those who have departed from Him? The answer comes in the end of the parable. Remembering his privileges as a son, the young man determines to return to his father. He resolves to confess and repent (Luke 15:18), then offer to his father to let him be his servant (Luke 15:19). But his father was looking for him, waiting for his return, and with compassion he ran to him and kissed him (Luke 15:20), even though a father in robes would be humiliated and degraded to run for any reason. No hatred, no rebuke, no reproach. Only compassion. The son was loved even when separated from the father. In the middle of his confession (Luke 15:21), the father cut him off (Isaiah 65:24). The son’s relationship with his father, not his worthiness or actions, secured his position as a son. He could not work himself back into his father’s good graces because he had never fallen out of his grace. He had separated from his father’s fellowship, but he couldn’t separate from his love. Then came a robe, the father’s own, a sign of birthright inheritance and honor (Esther 6:6-11; Rev 6:11; 7:9, 13). Then a ring, a sign of authority (Gen 41:42; Est 3:10; 8:2; Haggai 2:23). Then sandals, a sign of sonship since servants did not wear them. Then a pre-fattened calf, waiting for his return, a sign of the father’s joy because “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found (Luke 15:24).
e. APPLICATION: Jesus shows us that joy results when something (or someone) lost is returned. Jesus teaches us that God loves sinners and searches for them. All heaven rejoices with God at the return of the lost. Human beings are not passive in salvation. The first two parables focus on God’s active search for the lost, but the story of the prodigal reminds us that sinners must make a choice to turn to God from their empty lives. One of the most appealing vignettes of Scripture is of the eager father, eyes stayed on the road, looking for the return of His wayward son. There is no need to hesitate about repenting. We need never fear that we will be rejected by our God of “Father-love.” The first two parables emphasize the searching of God for the lost. The last parable emphasizes the Father’s compassion. The sheep was valuable to his owner. The coin was
2. THE OLDER BROTHER’S GREAT RESENTMENT FOR LAVISH GRACE (LUKE 15:25-32)
a. The story now turns against the Pharisees, who like the older brother, have no grasp of grace. Instead of rejoicing at the restoration of a brother, they are filled with resentment (Luke 15:2). They do not appreciate what they have, and they do not want anyone else to share it either.
b. In Middle Eastern society, the oldest son should have been the key reconciler between father and son. The elder brother was exemplary in his moral life, correct in conduct, respectable in society, industrious, clean cut, but he had the spirit of a hireling. But he operated on a “You owe me” basis.
c. APPLICATION: What do you think God owes you?
d. Born into privilege and fellowship, he was more like a servant than a son (Luke 15:29). The elder son was mercenary, jealous, resentful, haughty, self-complacent, complaining about the speck in another’s eye while ignoring the plank in his own (Luke 18:11-12). He publicly insults his father at his refusal to participate, making it worse by arguing in front of the guests, and even abused him by his failure to use an honoring title like “my father,” or “sir.”
e. The father was exuberant and joyful at the younger brother’s repentance. The older brother could only hold his brother’s past against him, “This son of yours,” connecting him to the rebellious son of Deut. 21:18-21 who by law should be stoned. Jesus loved sinners deeply, while the Pharisees were filled with the cold pride of virtue. The father dealt gently and patiently even with the older brother, and he explains for us the reason for Christ’s coming into the world to save the lost.
f. Note the bracketing at the end of verses 24 and 32, “he was lost and is found, so they celebrated.” That is the point of these three parables. It also highlights that Jesus’ point is his religious accusers. Note that the final response of the older brother is not stated, leaving the Pharisees the opportunity to repent if they are willing.
g. APPLICATION: How we need to guard against a resentful attitude in our own relationship with God and others. Grace must make us gracious. The younger brother revealed his rebelliousness through wild living. The older brother acted out his rebellious nature quietly, through pride and intolerance. Society would call the younger one a wild child. It would call the older one responsible and respectable. Still, to God they are both sinners, rebels, lost. The younger brother was found. We don’t know what happened to the older one.
For every rebel Jesus has a lesson. First, wild child rebels must face the painful reality of their “insanity” before they can repent. They have to come to their senses (Luke 15:17). It takes great patience to wait for a prodigal to sink to that point. And it takes God’s grace to receive them back with open arms.
Second, those respectable, responsible rebels must face the awful ugliness of their pride before they can repent. That is why it is so hard for the Pharisees to repent. Their arrogance prevents their admitting their egotism! It takes courage to confront an older brother, and it takes a lot of tender love to forgive them when they finally shed their pride and join the celebration.
Which one are you?
F.F. Bruce, gen. ed. The International Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 1213.
Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1993), 232-234.
David W. Pao and Eckhard J. Schnabel, “Luke,” G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, gen. eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 342-343.
Dwight J. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 335-338.
Lawrence O. Richards, The Victor Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Wheaton: Victor, 1994), 191-192.
Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Reader’s Companion (Wheaton: Victor, 1991), 666.
David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996), 132-133.
Mark Strauss. “Luke.” Clinton E. Arnold, gen. ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 1:446-448.
Charles R. Swindoll and Bryce Klabunde, The Declaration of Something Mysterious: A Study of Luke 10:38-16:18 (Anaheim, CA: Insight for Living, 1995), 129-134.
Harold L. Wilmington, The Outline Bible (Nashville: Tyndale House, 1999), 543.
6pm Sunday, November 4, 2012, at Union Missionary Baptist Church, Rocky Mount, NC
 Some have seen these three parables as Luke’s allusion to Jer 31:10-20 in a shepherd gathering his flock (Jer 31:10-14), Rachel weeping for her children (Jer 31:15-17), and Ephraim the son of Joseph who repents and receives God’s mercy (Jer 31:18-20).
 b. B. Qam. 82b. Str-B 1:492-493, found in ZIBBC, 4:447.
 Probably carob pods (ceratonia siliqua), eaten only by the poorest of the poor. A rabbinic saying reads, “When the Israelites are reduced to carob pods, then they repent.” Rabbi Acha (c. A.D. 320) in Lev. Rab. 35.6 on 26.3, found in ZIBBC, 4:447.