<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Lessons from the Parable of the Prodigal Son
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Lessons from The Parable of the Prodigal Son

By William R. Cunningham
February 11, 2007



What does the parable of the prodigal son mean?  What is Jesus teaching us through that parable?  This sermon is an overview of the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke chapter fifteen.  We will take an objective look at the parable and generate a reasonable conclusion about the lesson that it teaches us.

Scripture Lesson

Many would argue that the parable of the prodigal (wasteful) son has three parts and therefore three messages.  Others would argue that there can only be one message for a parable and therefore the parable has only one message.  It is most likely that this parable has more than one meaning and they are presented to us in the three characters and the three sections of the parable.

  1. The younger son
  2. The father
  3. The older son

Let’s look at these characters and the sections of the parable

Luke 15:11-19 {11} Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. {12} And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. {13} And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. {14} But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. {15} Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. {16} And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine 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 bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! {18} I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, {19} and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’

Here we see the plight of the younger son.  He asked his father for his share of the father’s inheritance.  He took the inheritance and went and squandered it on riotous living.  He got down to his lowest level and then came to his senses.  He figured that he would go back to his father and live as his servant because even his father’s servants were doing better than he was at that moment.

Now here would like to bring something to your attention about parables.  Parables do have allegoric features to them and some parables are more allegoric than others.  This parable has allegoric components, but it also has many “filler” portions as well.  It is most likely that the father, younger son, and older son represent something else other than themselves.  However, the other components of the story are only a type of props or fillers just to make the story.

In the son we see the process of a sinner repenting and coming back to God.  Notice here that it is a son that goes off and becomes lost so to speak and then he comes to his senses to come back to his father.  This is the picture of the lost that come back to God.  We also see the patience and love of the father, which is represented by his accommodating his son by giving him his inheritance.


The Father’s Response

Luke 15:20-24 (NKJV) -- {20} “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. {21} And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ {22} “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. {23} And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; {24} for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.

Here we see the lost son returning to his father desiring only to be a servant since he doesn’t feel worthy to be his son after what he did.  However, the father is so happy that his son has returned that he throws a big party so to speak.  This is in line with the parable of the lost sheep presented earlier in Luke 15.

Luke 15:1-7 (NKJV) -- {1} Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. {2} And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” {3} So He spoke this parable to them, saying: {4} “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which 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 neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ {7} I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

The last statement of the parable drives home the point of how important and wonderful it is for a sinner to repent and come to God.

From the father’s response in the parable of the prodigal son we see that it doesn’t matter how bad you think you’ve been.  It doesn’t matter how many mistakes you’ve made in the past.  It doesn’t matter how much of a bad life you’ve lived in the past.  What matters is that you repent and come to God who will graciously forgive you of your sins.  After all, that’s what God wants in the first place, namely a relationship with you.


The Older Son’s Response

Luke 15:25-31 (NKJV) -- {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} So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. {27} And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ {28} “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. {29} So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. {30} But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ {31} “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.

The older son seems to think that what his father did wasn’t fair.  He also didn’t seem to rejoice in the return of the prodigal (wasteful) brother.  His father made this big deal out of the return of the wasteful son and yet the older son received no such treatment even though he stayed and obeyed his father and served him.  He felt that he should have received something similar because he stayed.

However, we have to remember that the father wasn’t rejoicing merely because of the son.  The father was rejoicing because the son returned to him.  No such rejoicing was necessary for the older son because he did not leave.  The father told the older son that all that he has was his, meaning that he had access to all that the father had, which means that the older son probably could have just asked for a banquet or the like to entertain his friends.


Final Remarks

The point here is that God rejoices when a sinner returns home so to speak.  God rejoices when someone repents and turns to God.  We also see the love of God demonstrated in the father’s patience with the presumptuous son and the returning son.  There does not appear to be a direct allegoric identification here because it would have been very unlikely for a near eastern man to run after a returning sinful son the way this father did.  As I said earlier, it would have been unlikely that a son would have asked the father for his share of the inheritance and that the father would even do such a thing.  However, those are merely props to the story possibly showing the disposition of God towards us.

We should not think that we are so terrible that God does not love us.  We should not feel as though the sins of our past were so bad that God could never love us and that we somehow have no way to come into his love.  Consider that the reason that Jesus Christ came was to save the sinner, therefore, when a sinner repents then that sinner is fulfilling the purpose of Christ.  God rejoices when someone repents and put his or her faith in Jesus Christ.

We should also be mindful of those that want to lord our past over us.  They will bring the shortcomings of your past to the forefront and remind you how bad you were.  Do not give into those ploys of the evil one.  Instead move forward in your quest for righteous living by putting your faith in Jesus Christ.  After all, we cannot save ourselves and we surely cannot get our own lives in order.  The only thing that we can do is to give in to the will of God and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us.

God loves us and will take us when we repent.  Just like the father in the parable, we will be welcomed with open arms into the family of God if we would just repent and go home so to speak.  Amen.


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