Luke 15:11-32 – The Parable of the Prodigal Son

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Luke 15:11-16

  1. This amazing symbolic story is an educational illustration of God’s relationship with a rebellious man who leaves God for sin. In the story, the “father” symbolizes God, the “son” the rebellious sinner, and the “brother” the faithful parishioner.
  2. Asking his father for his share of the inheritance while he was still alive was like saying: “Father, I wish you were dead!” Such a rebellious approach to one’s father was very serious in biblical times, and could even result in stoning (Deut 21:18-21).
    1. According to custom, the eldest son would receive two-thirds (a double lot) of the inheritance, and the younger son would receive one-third (Deut 21:17).
    1. According to Jewish law and tradition, a father could decide while he was still alive which of his sons would receive which part of the inheritance, for example which piece of land would belong to whom. But the father still retained ownership of the land and income until his death.
  3. Since the younger son is unmarried, he was probably 18 years old or younger.
  4. The father in this story shows God’s love for man. The father allows the son to rebel against his father, he allows the son to go his own way even though the father knows that this means a life of sin. God respects human free will.
  5. The prodigal son goes to a foreign land far away and lives a debauched life, wasting all his money on anything that gives him temporary pleasure. Most likely he bought alcohol and prostitutes with the money until it ran out.
    1. The fact that the son “packed up his things” shows that he had no intention of returning.
    1. “A strange land far away” symbolizes that the prodigal son’s life is far away from God.
  6. The son was himself guilty of his profligate and sinful life, but he could not help a severe famine coming. Perhaps he could have lived decently if it had not been for the famine, but now he had both spent all his money while society suffered an economic disaster.
    1. It’s not uncommon for non-religious people to suddenly start praying to God when you’re in a life crisis. If you had made a habit of praying to God and living a righteous life, you might never have gotten into that life crisis.
    1. Driven by hunger, the son accepts work that no self-respecting Jew could have imagined. According to the Mosaic Law, pigs are unclean animals (Leviticus 11:7).
    1. Although the famine was not a positive and welcome thing, it cannot be denied that it was the famine that finally made the son rethink. Had it not been for the famine, he might have continued to live his sinful life far away from his father.
      1. Even if personal disasters are not sent by God, they can sometimes make us think, turn to God and find our way back to our Father.

Luke 15:17-19

  1. In his great distress, the prodigal son comes to his senses and realizes that what he has become is not his true self. The son is not really a rebellious sinner guarding pigs, he is his father’s son.
  2. When the prodigal son comes to his senses, he wants to return to his father. He is not thinking primarily of returning to his home or his friends, he is thinking of his father.
    1. In the same way, every person needs to turn first and foremost to God our Father, and not to the church, friends, business, or anything else.
  3. The prodigal son realizes and confesses his sin. He is ready to accept a life as his father’s servant, as long as he is allowed to come back.
    1. But the son not only “thought” his confession, he also acted on it. It is important not only to let his confession exist in our heart or brain, but also to turn it into concrete action.
    1. From this we also learn that we humans are not just passive recipients of God’s salvation, we need to make a choice and actively receive salvation.

Luke 15:20-24

  1. The father of the prodigal son had not forgotten his son. But he was not preoccupied with bitterness, revenge or anything negative. The father’s love was constant throughout this story, and the longing for the son consisted only of love.
  2. The normal reaction would have been for the father to wait for his son in the house, demand a respectful confession of sin and then consider whether to take his son back.
    1. But the father running to meet his son in joy must have shocked the audience! An older man in biblical times did not normally run, as it was considered undignified.
    1. The prodigal son begins to confess his sins by saying what he had previously decided, but the son doesn’t have time to finish all three sentences before his father interrupts him and begins preparing a feast for his returning son!
  3. The Father’s reaction shows the tremendous love God our Father has for all people, and how God longs for sinners to repent and come back to Him!
    1. When a sinner repents, God is not slow to forgive, but quick and cheerful! God is so quick to forgive that the sinner barely has time to finish confessing his sin before God has begun His work of restoration.

Luke 15:25-32

  1. At first you might think that this parable is only about the prodigal son, but it is really just as much about the prodigal son’s brother.
    1. The brother of the prodigal son represents those members of the church who have not lived a debauched and sinful life, but have tried to live right and proper all their lives.
    1. At first, the brother of the prodigal son felt that the father’s instantaneous welcome of his returning son was an insult to his own obedience and faithfulness.
    1. The brother does not want to call his brother “brother”, but instead says “that one” and “your son”.
    1. The prodigal’s brother lived close to his father, but far from his father’s heart. He was more worried and bitter about his brother’s sinful life and his father’s possible punishment, than grateful for all the good things he had.
    1. When the brother refuses to come to the party, the father goes out to meet him and appeals to him to come in and join the festivities. But whether or not the brother listened to his father is not clear from the story and is thus an open question to the Pharisees who listened to Jesus. God wants the Pharisees too, but like the prodigal son, they too must choose God for themselves.
  2. In these parables, Jesus’ message can be summarized as follows:
    1. To sinners: repent and come home to your Father!
    1. To the religious leaders: be happy when the lost repent and come home to their Father.
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