The Lost Son (Lk 15:11-32)

We all enjoy a bit of drama, don’t we? The TV programmes, football matches and films we all watch would be very dull without some drama! We need to see some action, emotion and tension to keep our attention and interest.

Today’s Bible passage is no exception. Its a captivating drama. Its a story by that master storyteller, Jesus himself. Its a powerful, dramatic tale that has deservedly become one of the best-known Bible stories.

As we shall see this morning, Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son is a great drama involving a reckless youth, a forgiving Father and a bitter brother. But as well as being a great story, this parable should also remind us of our heavenly Father’s great generosity and amazing grace. But before I go any further, let’s pray:

Heavenly Father, as I describe the drama of this passage today, help us to be humbled by your grace and grateful for your goodness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Reckless! A wayward son (v.11-13)

Once upon a time there was a man with two sons. This man was a wealthy farmer, and like most fathers he looked forward to passing on his estate to children one day. But his hopes were dashed on the day his younger son came to him and asked for his inheritance early (v.12). And he didn’t want this wealth to care for his father or invest in new property. He wanted it for “wild living” (v.13). He wanted his share of his father’s property so he could assert his independence and abandon his family. This son wanted to break all ties with his father and live a more exciting life in the big city instead.

Despite being very sad and disappointed, the father kindly granted his son’s request, and gave him his share of his property. Yet by demanding his inheritance and heading off to a far country the son was being enormously reckless:
• He was being reckless with his Father’s generosity.
• He was being reckless with his Father’s money.
• And he was being reckless with his Father’s emotions.

Without a word of thanks, the son gathered up all that his Father had given him and set off for a “distant country”, with no intention to return (v.13).

Sadly, of course, it’s not just in stories where people are reckless and ungrateful. It’s not just in fiction when people are selfish and sinful. In real life, each and every day, people say and do things that reject God and show no gratitude for his gifts. Like the son in our story, people are so often reckless with the good gifts that God, our heavenly Father, has given them. For example:

  • Some people are reckless with their health, by wilfully abusing their bodies with drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Others are reckless with their relationships, behaving in sinful or selfish ways that hurt and harm other people.
  • And, of course, many of us can be reckless with the time and talents God has given us. So often we use our energy and income on things we know are not worthwhile. On things God would rather we weren’t doing.

I wonder what things we give too much time and attention to? Could we be making more use of God’s gifts by serving him better and loving our neighbour more? Are we sufficiently thankful to God for all this gifts to us? If we are honest, aren’t we all a bit too much like the prodigal son than we would like to admit? Aren’t we all rather too quick to grab God’s good gifts to us, and rather too slow to say “thank you”. Too slow perhaps to ask God how he’d like us to use our time and talents?

Repentant! A sorry sinner (v.14-19)

Thankfully, the story doesn’t end with the ungrateful son and the sad father. All hope is not lost. Because the prodigal son does eventually admit his sin. He eventually realises how ungrateful and reckless he has been. And by returning to his father shows us all what true repentance looks like.

The young man is brought to his senses when his money runs out. Not only did the son squander his inheritance on wild living, but a nationwide famine also made money and food hard to come by. As a result the son was forced to take the most demeaning and degrading job possible for a Jew. He was forced to go and feed pigs to earn enough to live on. Eventually his hunger got so bad that he even envied the pigs for the food they had to eat (v.16).

It is in this crisis situation that the son comes to realise how foolish he has been. He is brought “to his senses” by his hardship and resolves to return to his Father (v.17).

In real life too, people often only acknowledge their need for God in times of hardship or suffering. CS Lewis once described pain as “God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world” and it does seem that hard times are particularly effective at reminding us of our need for God. They remind us that all the good things we enjoy are gifts from him, not things we possess permanently or by right. And physical suffering can remind us that only a relationship with God can carry us through the grave and into paradise beyond.

Having come to his senses the son plans what he will say to his father when he goes back home. He intends to say “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you” (v.18). This short sentence is a great model of how anyone can turn back to God. We simply have to turn from our sin, admit our guilt and ask for his forgiveness. No more, no less.

Restored! A forgiving father (v.20-24)

But how will God respond to our repentance? Will God accept our apologies? In our parable the son must have had the same questions in his mind as he made his long journey home. He need not have worried, however, because as he comes within sight of home he is warmly embraced by his father – even before he reaches the front door. His father is so pleased to see him that he disregards his dignity and runs to greet him (v.20). In fact he greets his son so enthusiastically that he hardly has a chance to speak and say sorry!

The reason for the father’s joy is that, from his perspective, his son has returned from the dead. He thought he had lost his beloved son for good, never to be seen again, but now he has come home! Such is his joy that the father commands a celebratory feast. The son’s return is to be a cause for widespread celebration and rejoicing, like we might celebrate a wedding, a birthday or a royal jubilee.

Did you notice that as well as being incredibly warm and joyful, the Father’s forgiveness is also total and complete? The Father doesn’t merely hire his wayward son as a servant, but restores him to his rightful place in the family home. He puts his best robe on him, puts a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. His restoration is complete.

The great news is that, like the Father in our passage, God delights to forgive us and restore us completely as his children. Jesus told this story to teach us about God’s amazing grace. Whatever we have done, whoever we are, we can be forgiven by God when we turn back to him. God is ready, willing and eager to welcome us fully into his family. He is totally willing to receive and restore us if we are willing to turn to him. I hope we all know this to be true? And do you know someone who needs know about God’s grace? Why not tell them this week!

Resentful? A bitter brother (v.25-32)

As I finish, you will have noticed there is one other character in the story – an older son. An older son who has worked hard on his father’s farm for many years and never tried to run away.

This older son is upset that the father has killed the fatted calf to celebrate his brother’s return. He is resentful that his father is not being as visibly generous and gracious towards him.

When Jesus first told this story, the Pharisees and other religious elites would have identified with this older brother. They believed they had served God faithfully for many years and resented Jesus offering God’s forgiveness so freely to ‘sinners’.

And today, many of us who have been Christians for years may be tempted to resent the resources used to reach out to non-Christians, or object to the warm welcome given to people who have only just come to Christ.

If that is us, we need to hear the words the older son heard from his father. His father said “My child, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (v.32).

In other words, if we are mature Christians our place in God’s kingdom is not jeopardised by new arrivals. Our salvation and our heavenly inheritance is not threatened when new people come to Christ like we once did. We are loved by God just as much as we ever were.

Rather than being resentful of new Christians, we should rejoice with them. We should rejoice with them that they too have come to experience God’s grace and love. We should rejoice alongside them that we have a God who forgives. A God who we can all know as Father. A God who sent his Son to the Cross so we could have the chance to be forgiven forever.

Phil Weston