The Gospel according to Luke (14)

(Background and introduction to Luke 15)

The word “prodigal” means “recklessly extravagant” (Webster’s Dictionary).


Recommended for self study: (14:7 to 15:31)

While at the feast, Christ noticed the behavior of some of the guests. They were picking for themselves the chief reclining places at the table. The Jews reclined at a meal and did not sit down as we do.

The Lord Jesus condemned the Pharisees later on for this very thing (Matt. 23:6). He told the guests that if they did this the host might have to move them if more distinguished people came, and they would find this humiliating. On the other hand it was far better to take the humblest place and then there was the possibility of the host calling such to a higher position.

All this illustrated the important conclusion that Christ made: 'For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted' (verse 11).

Christ had not finished giving His lessons at this feast. He now had a word for the host, advising him not to invite only the rich and his own friends, but to extend it to the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and, the Lord added, 'you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous' (verses 12-14).

If a common thing like a cup of cold water given in Christ's name will be rewarded in that day by God (Matt. 10:42), how much more will such humble and unselfish actions be recognized by the Lord! The whole of this episode is peculiar to Luke's Gospel and is followed by another parable, that of the Great Banquet.

Revelation 19:9, 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb' (N.I.V.). This gave the Lord the opportunity of giving this parable which pointed out the slackness and indifference of those who had been invited. A certain man was preparing a great banquet to which he had invited many guests (verse 16), but all started to make excuses for not coming. One had bought a field, so he must go and see it (verse 18). But it would have been there after the banquet surely? Another said he had bought some oxen and must go to try them out (verse 19), but he could have done this before buying. They would not run away!

Canon Tristram (Eastern Customs p. 82) says 'to refuse the second summons would be an insult, which is equivalent among Arab tribes to a declaration of war'. The third one declared he had just got married, so he was not able to come (verse 20). The Mosaic law excused a newly married man from war (Deut. 24:5)) but not from social courtesy.

The owner of the house became angry. The dinner was ready and there was no time to be lost, so the invitation went to others in the city, but in spite of this the servants told the master that there was still room for others, and we must remember that he had prepared a big banquet and wanted all the seats to be filled. 'Go out into the roads and country lanes and make them come in' the master ordered, and so all the seats were finally filled, but not before he declared, 'I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet' (verse 24).

The interpretation is not difficult. Those from Israel had been invited, but many of them refused to come. They first made excuses for ignoring the invitation. But upon their refusal, this broadened out. The public roads outside the city would surely have Gentiles and foreigners besides Jews and here again we have Luke giving prominence to Gentile response. All this symbolized the widening of the earthly kingdom, for it was all determined by God. It was never His purpose to limit His kingdom just to Israel. Israel was first by divine appointment, but not first and last, otherwise there would never be a time when the knowledge of the Lord would cover the earth as the waters covered the sea (Isa. 11:9). This widening of the divine purpose occurred during the Acts. But those of Israel who refused the invitation would be shut out (verse 24).

Christ now had a word for the multitudes that were following Him. Many doubtless followed Him with a wild and unthinking enthusiasm, but He had to tell them there was a price to pay if they were ever to be true disciples of His. What followed was one of the seemingly hard sayings of Christ.

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life -- he cannot be My disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple." (verses 26,27 N.I.V.).

On the surface this was a contradiction of the law, for Exodus 20:12 enjoins the honoring of father and mother and the Lord Jesus strongly corroborated this in Matthew 15:3-9 when He stressed filial duty as essential, actually quoting this verse from Exodus. There is a parallel passage of our context in Matthew 10:37-39 which reads:

Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me (Matt.10:37 N.I.V.).

And these words explain the passage in Luke. It is a matter of degree in love and loyalty. The Lord must come first in everything. There cannot be a relationship that has the precedence over Him. Not even the life of the believer can come first. Martyrdom is a possibility to the Christian and must be faced if true discipleship is to be experienced.

If the Lord Jesus is always put first and foremost, it may be that such conduct looks like enmity to other people. And this searching doctrine is elaborated in the next verse of our context:

And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple. (verse 27 N.I.V.).

Crucifixion was common enough in Palestine at this time; the disciples did not need any explanation of these words, for one could often see a criminal carrying his cross (compare Matt. 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). The cross speaks of suffering and death and this is what every true disciple of Christ must be willing to face.

What did the crowds think of that? What do the majority of professing Christians think about it today? This will certainly sort people out, the faithful, willing to go all the way with Jesus Christ, whatever the cost, or the unfaithful who keep to the easy way and deliberately avoid suffering. It must be pointed out that it is not for us to seek suffering; self-appointed martyrdom has no value. In His love and wisdom the Lord will lead His children into times of testing and difficulty when He sees fit to do so, but underlying all is the gracious and strengthening promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13 which is true for all time.

So the real disciple of Christ (one who learns from Him), counts the cost of following in His footsteps and goes forward because He knows that God's biddings are always God's enabling.

And it is this cost which the Lord emphasizes next in two ways. He cites the case of a builder of a tower. The first thing he will do if he is wise, is to estimate how much money it will involve and whether he has enough to pay for it. Otherwise he may start by laying the foundation and then find he cannot finish the work, so risking the ridicule of everyone who sees it (verses 28-30).

Or supposing a king is about to go to war against another king, he will weigh over whether he has sufficient troops and ammunition to obtain victory. If not, then he will ask for terms of peace (verses 31, 32). The Lord added:

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple (verse 33 N.I.V.).

That is to say, in putting Me first, he must be prepared to give up everything that claims precedence over Me. If he is willing for this, then he has the approval of the Lord Jesus and can be a fruitful servant of His. Christ sums up the teaching by likening such to active salt (note the Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 5:13). But salt that has lost its savor is useless and only fit to be thrown away (verse 35). Alas, all had not ears to hear, another of Christ's repeated sayings (Matt.11:15; 13:43; Luke 8:8; 14:35).

Chapter 15

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Him.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable:  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.  Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.  Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, "Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep."  I tell you that in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.  Luke 15: 4 - 7 (NIV) 

Jesus loved the lost, people who were “sinners”.   Read all of Luke 15.  The religious people of Jesus’ day were criticizing Jesus for hanging out with the wrong crowd.  He socialized with “sinners”.  In response to their criticism Jesus tells three parables to illustrate God’s heart and love for the lost.  He tells the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.

Too often Christians today act more like the Pharisees of Jesus day than like Jesus.  We isolate ourselves from those who are not Christians.  We avoid non-Christians because they have opinions we don’t like, do things we don’t approve of or are not interested in the things we are interested in.  We avoid spending time with people we are uncomfortable being with or are hard for us to love.

The fifteenth chapter commences with the attraction of the tax collectors and 'sinners' to Christ. They were ready to listen to him (verse 1). But between them and the Pharisees there was a yawning chasm. The leaders increased their muttering against the Lord. Contemptuously they said, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them', the inference being that He must be as bad as they are.

In answer to them Christ gives the beautiful parables that illustrate God's love and joy at the recovery of the lost, the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son. The first one is found also in Matthew 18:12-14. There is rejoicing in each parable and this in contrast with the chill indifference and opposition of Pharisaism and its cynicism. The wilderness here was not the barren desert, but the usual pasturage. As Dr. A.T. Robertson says, there is nothing more helpless than a lost sheep except a lost sinner. One only out of a hundred was lost. Yet the greatest concern is felt for that one by the owner who sets out to find it. The Greek shows that he 'kept on going' until he was successful and the sheep was found. There was no chiding of the sheep for its foolishness, nor grumbling at the trouble it had caused. Rather than this, he lifted the sheep on to his shoulders and carried it home and then, being so happy, he called together his neighbors to share in his joy.

What a lovely picture of Christ as the Good Shepherd and the heart of the Father (represented by heaven) Who is not above rejoicing over the recovery of just one lost person!

The second parable is set in a domestic scene and illustrates the same lesson. A woman has ten silver coins. The word is drachma and is only used here in the New Testament and was worth about a day's wages. In other cases we have the equivalent Roman coin, the denarius. The house was probably a peasant's hut without windows and had only the door for light. One of the coins is lost, so she lights a lamp and starts sweeping to find it.

Just as in the case of the lost sheep, the search is continued until it is successful. When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors to share her joy. The Lord's concluding words were:

... There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Verse 10 N.I.V.).

The angels share the joy of God Himself, no less than that. The third parable is that of The Lost Son and this and the previous one are found only in Luke. It is obviously in two parts, the younger son, representing the 'sinners' (verse 1) in their quiet penitence, and restoration, and the elder son, the Pharisees with their striving to keep the law and their cynical regard of ordinary people. The younger one, with the illusion of a 'good time' ahead, asked the father for his share of the estate, which was half the elder's portion, and therefore one third of his father's property. He left home with all he had and went to a far off country and squandered his wealth in the so-called 'good time'. To add to his troubles a severe famine took place and he was forced to find work to keep himself alive. All he could get in the way of work was feeding pigs, an odious and degrading job for a Jew, since pigs were ceremonially unclean to him. He began to feel the pangs of hunger himself, so much so that he could have eaten the carob-tree pods he was giving to the pigs for food. No one bothered about him, not even the companions of his vices, who had stuck to him as long as his money lasted. He was forced to think seriously, and compared himself in his present starving condition with the home that he had left where there was an abundance of food even for the workers. He came to the conclusion that there was only one thing to do -- to return home, confess his sins to his father and be willing to be an ordinary servant with the others. So he made the journey home.

Meanwhile the father with his great love for the boy had not forgotten him. Each day he hoped he would return and he kept looking out for this to happen. Then one day the father saw him a long way off. He was overwhelmed with joy and compassion, so much so that he could not wait, but ran to meet him, took him in his arms and kissed him. Greek students should notice the perfective use of kata. Kissed him much kissed him again and again; he was so overwhelmed with joy.

Not content with this, seeing the shabby clothes, he ordered the best clothes to be brought, a ring for his finger and new sandals for his feet and a feast to be prepared, because he felt that this great event must be celebrated! But what was the attitude of the elder brother? As he was coming home he could hear the festivities, the music and dancing, and on enquiry was told that his brother had returned and they were celebrating the event. Was he pleased? Certainly not; he went to his father and complained that for many years he had served him like a slave and had worked hard, but without any reward for it from the father, yet, after squandering the property and money, the other brother comes home and gets all this elaborate praise!

The elder brother was full of self-pity and jealousy. Nevertheless the father 'entreated Him'. The verb is in the imperfect tense denoting continual pleading. He finished by saying:

My son ... 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 (verse 31 N.I.V.).

What a glorious picture of the love and long-suffering of God! The father in the story pours out his heart to the elder son. One can imagine how the Pharisees and Scribes were silenced by these three marvelous parables. The third gives a graphic picture of their own attitude in the case of the surly elder brother.

Professor A.T. Robertson points out that Luke was called a painter by the ancients. Certainly he has produced a graphic pen picture of God's love for the lost which justifies the coming of Christ to the world to seek and save them. And what a privilege it is to make known this good news!

No wonder the apostle Paul said, 'Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!' (1 Cor. 9:16 N.I.V.).

Chapter 16

The preceding parables have shown the special faults of the Pharisees and those that follow on in this chapter do the same. Failure to see this makes great problems in the interpretation of the parables of chapter sixteen which are peculiar to Luke. The self-righteousness of the Pharisees, their hard exclusiveness, contempt for others, and their unscriptural traditions are mercilessly exposed by the Lord Jesus and apart from this, one cannot understand these parables. In fact it would be possible to take their wrong thoughts and actions as examples of Truth! First of all we have the parable of the Shrewd Steward which, while spoken to the disciples, concerned the outlook and conduct of Israel's leaders, and was in the nature of a warning to the Twelve. Christ had already given the story of the Wise Steward in chapter 12 verses 42-48; the one who could be trusted to look after his master's goods and servants faithfully. The reader is referred to this where we considered the word oikonomos, steward, oikonomia, stewardship and oikonomeo to act as a steward. The word oikonomos literally means 'house-manager', one who is put in charge of someone else's property. The house-manager of Luke 16 is very different from the one in chapter 12 who was so reliable. This one is the opposite. He ignores his responsibilities and plays fast and loose with his master's goods and is reported to the master who immediately calls for him and charges him to give an account of his activities.

Repentance - That divinely wrought conviction of sin in the heart that the soul is guilty before God, and resolute turning away from sin in which the sinner identifies himself with the gracious act of God in redeeming him. Repentance involves both a change of mind about sin, and a change of heart-attitude toward sin. It is at the time of renunciation of sin and an acceptance of the Holy Spirit's enablement to Holy Living. Repentance is necessary for salvation. Jesus asserted that it was a necessary condition









"His father said to him, 'Look, dear son, you and I are very close, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now is found!' " -- Luke 15:31-32 NLT


I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name, ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” -- John 16:23-24


  Based on Luke 15:11-32




The older brother grabbed a servant and asked,


“What is happening?”


“Your father is celebrating the return of your brother,” said the servant.


The older brother was very angry and refused to attend the party. His father came out to the field to talk to him.


“Please come and join the celebration,” said the father.


“All these years I have served you and I have never even thrown a party,” said the older son. “But this son of yours who has wasted his inheritance in a far away land is treated as an honored guest!”


The father put his arm around his older son and said, “You are always with me and all that I have is yours. But we must celebrate. Your brother was dead, but now he lives! He was lost, but now he is home!”














Some Things to Think About


The Prodigal Son is one of the best parables in the Bible illustrating God’s love for sinners. The father represents God and his great compassion for sinners who repent. The younger son represents any and all people who have drifted away from God’s love and protection. The older son represents anyone who might let pride or resentment stand in their way of rejoicing with God and His angels on the return of someone lost. Don’t ever look down on sinners or new Christians. Remember that we were all sinners at one time. And besides, wouldn’t you prefer to celebrate than to sulk outside?


The older son did everything right. In fact, he was very proud that he was the one who stayed behind and obeyed his father. But he let that pride blind him to all the benefits of being his father’s son. All that his father had was his. All he had to do was ask. He could have had a celebration every night! His brother returned and received all the blessings a son could ever desire. The older son could have experienced the very same thing, but he really didn’t know all that his father would do for him. Make sure you know all your rights as a child of God. You don’t want to miss anything that God has provided for you!


Just like the older brother didn’t realize all that was his, the younger brother didn’t understand what he was leaving. Instead of staying with his father and enjoying all the benefits of being his father’s son, he wanted something else. He thought there would be an even more exciting life for him away from his father. But all he found was suffering and want. Always remember that God has the very best planned for you. It is up to you to ask and receive all the blessings that are yours as a child of God.







When I read this parable, I can't help but side with the older brother, the "good" one.  The entire situation seems terribly unfair.  His brother misbehaved, wasted his half of the estate, and now gets rewarded for his sinfulness with a party?  Where's the justice in that?  I know I'd be angry if I were in his place.

This story is often called "the parable of the prodigal son."  (Prodigal, if you didn't know, is a word that means wasteful, referring to the younger brother's lifestyle.)  But it probably should have been called "the parable of the unfair father," since that's really what it's about - a father who is loving, but painfully unfair.

Of course, like all of Jesus' parables, this one has a point.  The father in this story represents God.  And as weird as it might seem, this is a story designed to prove to us just how unfair God is.

I've had long conversations with non-Christians who just can't believe in the Christian God's unfairness.  "You mean to tell me," They ask, "that someone could live a horrible, sinful life, committing every kind of crime and misdeed known to humanity, and then repent on their deathbed and be saved?"

"Yup," I say.  "As long as their repentance was genuine and as long as they trusted Christ."

"But if that's the case, why not just live your life however you want, and then repent at the last moment?  That seems horribly unfair."

Of course, we could always respond that no one knows when they'll die, but putting that aside for the moment, doesn't it seem wrong that God should be so unfair?  Shouldn't we get a special reward for being good Christians instead of being one of those last-minute conversions?  Why is our Father having celebrations for the prodigal son when we've been here, being so faithful all this time?

At least... that sort of thinking would make sense if we were the older brother in the story.  But I believe we're missing the point of the parable until we realize that we aren't the older brother.  We are the younger brother, the prodigal brother.  We are the sinful ones who took the riches God gave us and wasted them on worldly pleasures, seeking our own selfish ends and winding up with nothing but regrets.  We're the ones who come stumbling back to God, not just once but over and over again, having to ask forgiveness for things we knew were wrong to begin with but did anyway.  And every time, we see our Heavenly Father running towards us, with arms outstretched, ready to take us back.

Unfair?  Of course.  And thank God for that.











The Elder Brother

Text: Luke 15:25-32 NIV

Alternate Title: He Refused to Go In

Introduction: Most people who read and study The Parable of the Prodigal Son concentrate completely on the character of the younger son, his repentance, and the father’s forgiveness. And yet look at the text. It doesn’t end with the return of the prodigal. Almost half of the story is about the older son. The story is about two sons, who are both alienated from the father, who are both assaulting the unity of the family. Jesus wants us to compare and contrast them. The younger son is “lost”—that is easy to see. We see him shaming his father, ruining his family, sleeping with prostitutes, and we say, “yes, there’s someone who is spiritually lost.” But Jesus’ point is that the older son is lost too. Let’s learn from the text: 1) a startling new understanding of lostness, 2) what the signs of it are (so we can recognize it in ourselves), and 3) what we can do about this condition.

1. A startling new understanding of lostness—verse 28.

The elder brother would have known that the day of the prodigal’s return was the greatest day in his father’s life.

The father has “killed the fattened calf”, an enormously expensive extravagance in a culture where even having meat at meals was considered a delicacy.

The older son realized his father was ecstatic with joy. Yet he refused to go into the biggest feast his father has ever put on. This was a remarkable, deliberate act of disrespect. It was his way of saying, “I won’t be part of this family nor respect your headship of it.”

And the father had to “go out” to plead with him. Just as he went out to bring his alienated younger son into the family, now he had to do the same for the older brother.

Do you realize what Jesus is saying to his listeners, and to us? The older son is lost.

The father represents God himself, and the meal is the feast of salvation. In the end, then, the younger son, the immoral man, comes in and is saved, but the older son, the good son, refuses to go in and is lost.

The Pharisees who were listening to this parable knew what that meant. It was a complete reversal of everything they believed. You can almost hear them gasp as the story ends.

And what is it that is keeping the elder brother out? It’s because: “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed...” (v.29). The good son is not lost in spite of his good behavior, but because of his good behavior. So it is not his sin keeping him out, but his righteousness.

The gospel is neither religion nor is it irreligion; it is not morality nor is it immorality. This was completely astonishing and confusing to Jesus’ hearers at the time—and it may even be astonishing and confusing to you.

Why is the older son lost?

The younger brother wanted the father’s wealth, but not the father. So how did he get what he wanted? He left home. He broke the moral rules.

But it becomes evident by the end that the elder brother also wanted selfish control of the father’s wealth. He was very unhappy with the father’s use of the possessions—the robe, the ring, the calf. But while the younger brother got control by taking his stuff and running away, we see that the elder brother got control by staying home and being very good. He felt that now he has the right to tell the father what to do with his possessions because he had obeyed him perfectly.

So there are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord.

One is by breaking all the laws and being bad. One is by keeping all the laws and being good.

If I can be so good that God has to answer my prayer, give me a good life, and take me to heaven, then in all I do I may be looking to Jesus to be my helper and my rewarder—but he isn’t my Savior. I am then my own Savior.

The difference between a religious person and a true Christian is that the religious person obeys God to get control over God, and things from God, but the Christian obeys just to get God, just to love and please and draw closer to him.

2. What the signs of this lostness are—verses 29-30.

Some people are complete elder brothers. They go to church and obey the Bible—but out of expectation that then God owes them. They have never understood the Biblical gospel at all. But many Christians, who know the gospel, are nonetheless elder-brotherish. Despite the fact that they know the gospel of salvation by grace with their heads, their hearts go back to an elder-brotherish “default mode” of self-salvation. Here’s what the elder-brotherish attitude looks like. It is:

A deep anger (v.28—“became angry”). Elder brothers believe that God owes them a comfortable and good life if they try hard and live up to standards—and they have! So they say: “my life ought to be going really well!” and when it doesn’t they get angry. But they are forgetting Jesus. He lived a better life than any of us—but suffered terribly.

A joyless and mechanical obedience (v.29—“I’ve been slaving for you”). Elder brothers obey God as a means to an end—as a way to get the things they really love. Of course, obedience to God is sometimes extremely hard. But elder brothers find obedience virtually always a joyless, mechanical, slavish thing as a result.

A coldness to younger brother-types (v.30—“this son of yours”). The older son will not

even “own” his brother. Elder brothers are too disdainful of others unlike themselves to be

effective in evangelism. Elder brothers, who pride themselves on their doctrinal and moral purity, unavoidably feel superior to those who do not have these things.

A lack of assurance of the father’s love (v.29—you never threw me a party). As long as you are trying to earn your salvation by controlling God through your goodness, you will never be sure you have been good enough. What are the signs of this? Every time something goes wrong in your life you wonder if it’s a punishment. Another sign is irresolvable guilt. You can’t be sure you’ve repented deeply enough, so you beat yourself up over what you did. Lastly, there is a lack of any sense of intimacy with God in your prayer life. You may pray a lot of prayers asking for things, but not sense his love.

An unforgiving, judgmental spirit. The elder brother does not want the father to forgive the younger brother. It is impossible to forgive someone if you feel “I would never do anything

that bad!” You have to be something of an elder brother to refuse to forgive.

3. What we can do about this spiritual condition.

First, we have to see the uniqueness of the gospel.

Jesus ends the parable with the lostness of the older brother in order to get across the point that it is a more dangerous spiritual condition. The younger brother knew he was alienated from the father, but the elder brother did not.

If you tell moral, religious people who are trying to be good, trying to obey the Bible so

God will bless them—that they are alienated from God, they will just be offended. If you know you are sick you may go to a doctor; if you don’t know you’re sick you won’t—you’ll just die.

Moralistic religion works on the principle, “I obey, therefore God accepts me.” The gospel works on the principle, “I am accepted by God through Jesus Christ, therefore I obey.”

These are two radically different, even opposite, dynamics. Yet both sets of people sit in church together, both pray, both obey the Ten Commandments, but for radically different reasons. And because they do these things for radically different reasons, they produce radically different results—different kinds of character. One produces anger, joyless compliance, superiority, insecurity, and a condemning spirit. The other slowly but inevitably produces contentment, joy, humility, poise, and a forgiving spirit.

Unless a person and a congregation knows the difference between general religiosity and the true gospel, people will constantly fall into moralism and elder-brotherishness. And if you call younger brothers to receive Christ and live for him without making this distinction clear, they will automatically think you are inviting them to become elder brothers.

Second, we have to see the vulnerability of Jesus.

Remember, again, whom Jesus is speaking to (vv.1-2). Jesus is speaking to his mortal

enemies, the men he knows will kill him. On the one hand, this is an astonishingly bold

challenge to them. He’s talking to those who want to kill him and telling them that they

are lost, that they fundamentally misunderstand God’s salvation and purpose in the world,

and that they are trampling on the heart of God.

But at the same time, he is also being so loving and tender. When the father comes out to

the older brother, that is Jesus pleading with his enemies. He is urging them to see their

fatal error. Jesus does not scream at his enemies, or smite them, but lovingly urges them to

repent and come into his love.

And so we have a foreshadowing of that great moment on the cross when he says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). This love toward his enemies made him vulnerable and cost him his life. On the cross, instead of blasting his enemies, he lovingly took the penalty of their sins on himself. While we were his enemies, Christ died for us (Rom 5:10).

Knowing what he did for us must drain us of our self-righteousness and our insecurity. We were so sinful he had to die for us. But we were so loved that he was glad to die for us. That takes away both the pride and the fear that makes us elder brothers.


Good source books:

Bailey, Kenneth. Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15. Concordia, 1992.

Bock, Darrell L. Luke 9:51-24:53. Baker, 1994.

Ellis, E.Earle. The New Century Bible Commentary: The Gospel of Luke. Marshall, Morgan, and Scott, 1974.

Wilcock, Michael. The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Luke. IVP, 1979.


















The Main Focal Point of Luke 15

Mention the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” to many Christians and they will begin to remark on the force of this, one of the most well known of the “parables” of Jesus. And not without reason. The story of the prodigal son has been a major force in the Christian world down through the ages for inculcating the need for (and the rewards of) repentance. This article certainly does not wish to question the value of this service for Christians. But a careful reading of Lk 15 indicates that the prodigal son and his repentance are not the main focal point of Lk 15.1 Such a careful reading shows that the prodigal is like a remarkably gifted actor in a supporting role in a film or play, an actor who is so good that he steals the show away from the principal actor.2


1 There are certainly minor focal points in the chapter and the prodigal son is undoubtedly one of them. Further, being relatively minor in the objective structure of the chapter does not preclude, of course, a point’s being the major one for a given individual, as it most certainly has been in the case of the prodigal and his repentance for many a Christian in times past and present and, doubtless, future. Cf. J. C. Ryle in Luke (The Crossway Classic Commentaries; Wheaton, Illinois – Nottingham, England 1997), p. 205: “This parable is a forceful spiritual picture. Unlike some of our Lord’s parables, it does not convey one great lesson only but many.” That it certainly does, but it is the contention of this presentation that one can plausibly be presented as being foremost.


2 In what follows a number of English-language commentaries on Lk 15 will be cited. The number is only a very small fraction, of course, of the total number of commentaries in English, much less.


Luke 15 as Parable

Making a plausible case for the main focal point of Lk 15 is a procedure that must

be based on careful attention to details.

The first such detail occurs in v. 3. Here it is stated that Jesus told “a parable”

That is to say, all that follows is considered by the Lucan Jesus as composing one parable. True, there are three stories in Luke 15—the story of the shepherd who loses a sheep and finds it, the story of a woman who loses a coin and finds it, and a third story involving the father of two sons, the younger of these two sons, and the older of the two sons. Three stories, but only one parable.3

That is to say, the three stories are interrelated and each one has a role to play in the parable as a whole. The story involving the father and his two sons, both by reason of place and length as regards the other two stories is the most important of the three. The challenge involved in understanding the point of Jesus’ parable, then, may be reduced to understanding how the father and his two sons are to be understood in the light of the shepherd and the woman.

Now the point of the stories involving the shepherd and the woman is that they lost something valuable and found it. The fact that the sheep and the coin were valuable is made clear by the fact that the shepherd and the woman were extraordinarily happy to get them back—so happy that each organized a celebration.

The relevance of the story about the father and the two sons would therefore seem to involve the loss of something which is valuable, the attendant discovery, and the resulting celebration. The stories of the shepherd and the woman are presented in the light of their usefulness in illuminating the story of the prodigal son in relation to his father and older brother, for each of their celebrations is explicitly linked with the joy of heaven (v. 7) or with angels (v. 10) because of the conversion of a sinner. That is to say, the joy of the shepherd and of the woman is explicitly linked to what gives joy to God, and this in turn is based on a sinner’s repentance.4

The search for the focal point of the parable becomes therefore a search for a conversion that gives joy to God.



3 This point would seem to be obvious, but it is not. In The Greek New Testament (ed. B. Aland et

alii; Stuttgart 20034) pp. 269-270, the three stories in Lk 15 are labeled: “The Parable of the Lost

Sheep”, “The Parable of the Last Coin”, and “The Parable of the Lost Son”. This labeling has the

virtue of indicating the multiplicity of the three stories, but tends to obscure their unity, which is

implied in the use of the single, “parable”, by Jesus. Cf. also: the title used for Lk 15 by The New

Jerusalem Bible (London 1985), p. 1715: “The three parables of God’s mercy”. Or the subdivisions of Luke 15 used in the Saint Joseph Pocket Edition of the New Testament, pp. 186-187: “The Parable of the Lost Sheep”, “The Parable of the Lost Coin”, “The Parable of the Lost Son”. Or the following quotation from R. J. Karris, “The Gospel According to Luke” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1990), p. 707: “In three parables Luke champions the theme that God’s mercy breaks through all human restrictions of how God should act toward sinners”. Or the following quotation from W. J. Harrington, “Luke” in A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (London 1969), p. 1011: “[Luke] 15:1-32 The Parables of Mercy … Lk has explicitly established the original Sitz im Leben of the three parables of this ch.” Or G. W. H. Lampe, “Luke”, in Peake’s Commentary on the Bible (London1964), p. 836: “XV 3-7 The Parable of the Lost Sheep … 11-32 The Prodigal Son—Another Lucan parable declaring God’s welcome to the outcasts …”.

4 “ … the focus is on the joy at the recovery of a sinner, not on the fact that Jesus is the only one to do it. That is why the parable begins, ‘Suppose one of you …’” (D. L. Bock, Luke [The NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids, Michigan1996], p. 408). “Suppose one of you …” exemplifies a technique for drawing the listener into being a part of the story.


The Younger Son as the Loser of Something Valuable

The younger son is clearly the one who was lost; his return to the father’s household

is summed up by his father in the words to the older son which end the parable: “ … it is necessary to celebrate and rejoice, because this your brother was dead and has come to life, he was lost and has been found”.

The prodigal functions as the sheep which was lost and which was found, or the coin which was lost and which was found. This leaves two candidates for the main focal point of the parable—the father or the elder son. This analysis presumes, of course, that there is a main focal point and that this main focal point is confined to either the father or the elder son. This presumption will, it is hoped, be justified in the analysis that follows.


The Father as the Loser of Something Valuable

The words of the father cited above indicate clearly enough that he was well aware that he had lost something valuable—his younger son. The words he speaks to his older son in v. 32 indicate an exact parallel with the shepherd and the woman: he had lost something valuable, “found” it, and was reacting as they had reacted—by celebrating. And this celebration corresponds to the relevance of the two stories indicated in vv. 5 and 10: the conversion of a sinner. Thus it would seem at first glance that the father is the focal point of the third story because he is doing exactly what Jesus indicates as the relevance of the stories of the shepherd and the woman—celebrate out of joy over the conversion of a sinner.5

But the understanding that the father is the focal point of the third story results in difficulties involving both structure and meaning:

1) If the father is the main focal point the structure of the parable appears ill designed.

For the presentation of the elder son is situated in the climactic position: he becomes a foil for his father, but as foil he is given a climactic position in the structure of the parable more important than that of the father. If the father is the principal point of focus, the structure treats the elder son as an anti-climax.


2) If the father is the main focal point the meaning of the parable appears at odds with its life setting. That life setting is the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes at the consorting of tax-collectors and scribes with sinners (vv. 1-2). This grumbling is presented with the implication that it is negative, with the result that Jesus tells a parable to point out the need of change on the part of the grumblers (v. 3).6 But the father is not the one in need of change, as the story of the father and his two sons makes clear.


5 “This parable [i.e., vv. 11-32] is often called ‘The Prodigal Son,’ but it is really about different reactions to the prodigal. The key reaction is that of the father, who is excited to receive his son back. Thus a better name for the parable is ‘The Forgiving Father.’ A sub-theme is the reaction of the older brother, so that one can subtitle the parable with the addendum ‘and the Begrudging Brother’” (Bock, Luke, p. 412). The present study takes the position that the reaction of the father is the norm by which the reaction of the older brother is to be judged, and that it is this reaction of the older brother that is the main focal point of the parable as it stands. He is invited to make the father’s norm his norm, i.e., the Pharisees and scribes are invited to make the father’s norms their norm. The reactions of the older son and of the Pharisees and scribes to this example of the father are what is at stake.

6 The way the first two stories are introduced (“What man among you …” [v. 4], and “What woman

…” v. 8) clearly aims at the correction of the grumblers by introducing an a fortiori argument based

on their presumed involvement in the stories of the lost sheep and lost coin (cf. the use of ouj in v. 4

and oujciv in v. 8, introductory words which expect a positive reply) leading to similar conduct with

regard to the lost son.



The Older Son as the Loser of Something Valuable

If the elder son is considered the focal point of the parable the principal aspects of

the chapter come into focus:

1) If the elder son is considered the main focal point the role of the elder son

matches the climactic place given him by the structure of the text;

2) If the elder son is considered the main focal point the meaning of the parable

seems to fit the life setting of the parable much better: the elder son is in need of

change just as the Pharisees and scribes are.


Implications Involved in the Parable’s Interpretation

Once the main focal point of the parable is more plausibly attributed to the elder son, other aspects can be addressed. The principal aspect that needs addressing is the precise nature of the fault being attributed to the Pharisees and scribes. The emphasis on joy and rejoicing (cf. vv. 6- 7, vv. 9-10, and v. 32) suggests that these reactions are essential to understand what Jesus is driving at. The older son would seem to be ready to forgive his brother, but only in a grudging way. But his younger brother should be as valuable to him as the sheep is to the shepherd and the coin is to the woman—and as he is to the father.7

That is, when his younger brother is found he should be overjoyed. Beneath the anger of the elder son and the joy of the father lie fundamental differences in their attitude to the younger son. The father loved both sons and loved them deeply. His love for the younger is shown by the fact that he saw the son from a distance and went out to meet him and kissed him, all before he was aware of the son’s attitude of repentance (v. 20). But the father went out to meet the elder son as well (v. 28), and instead of becoming incensed at the elder son’s insensitivity, gently reminded him that this was his brother he was complaining about. That is to say, the father loved the younger son precisely as his son.

The older son, on the other hand, complained about his younger brother even before he knew of his repentance (v. 30). In speaking of his brother he does not even refer to him as such, but scornfully speaks of him to his father as “this son of yours”. His attitude leads him to contrast the younger’s profligacy with his own long years of slavish obedience (v. 29)8, thus ignoring the fundamental relationship attached to the fact of being “son”.9 In contrast, the prodigal is well aware of this fundamental relationship: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son”.

The older son had to be reminded of his relationship to his father by the remark “Child, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours” that is to say, he is the older son and because his brother has renounced his share in the inheritance the entire fortune of the father’s is his. In sum: the elder son did not value his younger brother as a fellow son of their father and thus did not have the proper relationship he should have had as son not only toward his brother but toward his father as well.10 Perhaps it would be fair to say that the elder son did not know how to love as a son and brother.11

But, of course, the theme of love based on kinship is not the only important theme in this carefully-designed masterpiece. The two introductory stories about the lost sheep and the lost coin each end with an application to a sinner who is repentant (vv. 7 and 10). The application is verified in the case of the prodigal by his own admission that he has sinned (v. 21). Thus is effected the transition from a lost thing (a sheep and a coin) to a lost person, the son who is “found” though the process of repentance for sin The action of the father corresponding to this attitude of contrition of the prodigal is of course forgiveness, but there is no explicit mention of the act of forgiving in the parable, even though the prodigal admits to having sinned against him and against God (v. 21). This act of forgiveness can be presumed from the portrayal of the father, and from the father’s attitude toward the prodigal, expressed in the parable.12 By its details the parable can be seen to presume it. And with this presumption of forgiveness mercy would seem to be included, for on mercy all true repentance is based. This tacit assumption of the attitude and the resultant act of forgiveness is instructive. It indicates that mercy and forgiveness are so intrinsically bound up with the nature of a true father that they can be safely presumed wherever there is true fatherhood. And this inevitably suggests that the parable has larger implications than relevance for individuals as such.


7 “It was the music and dancing that offended the older son. Of course, let the younger son return home. Judaism and Christianity have clear provisions for the restoration of the penitent returnee, but where does it say that such provisions include a banquet with music and dancing? Has the party canceled the seriousness of sin and repentance?” (F. B. Craddock, Luke (Interpretation; Louisville 1990), 188. 8 “His [sc., the older son’s] relation to his father is a servile one” (A. Plummer, The Gospel according to S. Luke (International Critical Commentary; Edinburgh 1968), p. 378.

9 “The older son represents the Pharisees. The unkindness, moroseness, and self-sufficiency of the older son are the exact type of spirit shown by those who find fault with our Lord for showing kindness to tax collectors and sinners” (Ryle, Luke, p. 209). “

10 “One purpose of the parable was to induce the Pharisees to come in and claim their share of the Father’s affection and of the heavenly joy. Another was to prove to the outcasts and sinners with what generous love they had been welcomed” (Plummer, Luke, p. 379).

11 25-32. In the episode of the elder son the murmuring of the Pharisees is rebuked, and that in the gentlest manner. They are reminded that they are sons, and that to them of right belongs the first place. God and His gifts have always been accessible to them (ver. 31), and if they reject them, it is their own fault. But self-righteousness and exclusiveness are sinful, and may be as fatal as extravagance and licentiousness” (Plummer, Luke, p. 377).

12 With regard to the robe, the ring and he sandals of v. 22 cf. the remarks of Plummer (Luke, p. 376):

“None of the three things ordered are necessities. The father is not merely supplying the wants of his

son, who has returned in miserable and scanty clothing. He is doing him honour.”



The Larger Dimension of Luke 15

The parable of Luke 15 is obviously thought-provokingly suggestive at the level of individual religious commitment, not only for the grumbling Pharisees and scribes, but also for any person who is conscious of the proclivity of good people to sit in judgment on persons they fancy to be less good.13 But Luke 15 is even more suggestive at the level of group religious commitment. In this second reading the father represents God,14 the older son represents the Jews, and the younger son represents the Gentiles.15 Details in the story support this reading. The mention in vv. 15-16 of the pigs that the prodigal is assigned to feed suggests that he has thrown in his lot with the Gentiles. The slave-like attitude in v. 29 towards the father’s wishes suggests the comportment of Jews who concentrate excessively on the letter of the Law. In this reading Jesus takes the grumbling of the “Pharisees and scribes”—could this be a merism referring to the totality of the Jews, those who were not lettered and those who were?—and uses it as an occasion to give his view of the call of the Gentiles in the context of the Jews as God’s Chosen People. The Chosen Nature of the Jews is by no means brought into question; if anything, it is reinforced. 16 But their attitude towards the reconciliation between God and the Gentiles definitely is brought into question. Jesus in Lk 15 is the focal point of this reconciliation in the life setting that gave him the occasion to speak the parable. Lurking under this amazingly evocative parable seems to be the supposition that each and every sinner, repentant or not, is of immense and unique worth. This is the only reading that makes sense out of the celebratory joy of the shepherd, of the woman and of the father, and of their expectations as regards the one sheep, the one coin and the one son even before they were found. And of Jesus with regard to the tax-collectors and sinners. Repentance is clearly of key importance. But even before repentance the prodigal and the tax-collectors and sinners merit extraordinary concern, just as after repentance their being found merits irrational exuberance.



13 Cf. the discerning comments of Plummer with regard to v. 7: “dikaivoi" oi{tine" ouj creivan e[cousin metanoiva". ‘Righteous who are of such a character as to have no need of repentance.’ The oi{tine" does not prove that dikaivoi" means those who are really righteous. It will fit any explanation of dikaivoi" and ouj creivan e[cousin. If both expressions be taken literally, the ninetynine represent a hypothetical class, an ideal which since the Fall has not been reached. But as Jesus is answering Pharisaic objections to intercourse with flagrant sinners, both expressions may be ironical and refer to the external propriety of those whose care about legal observances prevents them from feeling any need of repentance. Comp. v. 31” (Plummer, Luke, p. 369). And of Craddock: “ … it is very difficult not to think Jews or Gentiles, poor or rich, saint or sinner, publican or Pharisee, older son or younger son. But God’s love is both /and, not either/or. The embrace of the younger son did not mean the rejection of the older; the love of tax collectors and sinners does not at all negate love of Pharisees and scribes” (Craddock, Luke, p. 188).

14 A plausible case can be made for holding that the “Christian name” of God is “Father”. Cf. J. Swetnam, “oJ ajpovstolo" in Hebrews 3,1”, Biblica 89 (2008) 256-261.

15 “In the wider application of the parable the younger son may represent the Gentiles, and the elder

the Jews” (Plummer, Luke, p. 371).

16 Lampe’s reading of the story of the prodigal son, while oddly maintaining that the story is a parable (as noted above), has the following perceptive remarks: “11-32. The Prodigal SonAnother Lucan parable declaring God’s welcome to the outcasts (and, by implication, to the Gentiles) and the recalcitrant attitude of the Jews. The point is the same as that of the preceding parables, more fully worked out in respect of God’s love, the repentance of the outcast, and the blindness of the Jews to their obligations towards their ‘unrighteous’ brethren. … 15. The son’s degradation suggests the application of the parable to the Gentiles. 20. The father’s welcome precedes the son’s confession, and begins while the son is still far off. 22. The ring signifies authority in the household. 29. The elder brother, in whose position the Jews stand, is wholly unperceiving. The basis of his relationship to his father is servitude, and keeping commandments in a Pharisaic manner. By calling his brother ‘this son of yours’ he fails to recognize his brotherhood with outcast sinners. 31. The privileged status of Israel and the Pharisees is recognized by implication. Lk. always sees the Christian mission as directed in the first instance to the Jews as the chosen people. 32. ‘Your brother’ corrects the unbrotherly attitude of the Pharisee” (Lampe, “Luke”, p. 836).



Lk 15 in its entirety is a carefully-wrought parable containing three stories: the story of the shepherd and his lost sheep and the joy which he experienced when he found it; the story of the woman and her lost coin and the joy which she experienced when she found it; and the story of the father with two sons, and the different reactions of the father and of the older son when the younger son is first lost and then found. The first two stories are pointed toward the third. The focal point of the third story is the negative reaction of the older son who is presented as not valuing his brother as he should. The father’s obvious joy at the “finding” of his younger son provides the contrast needed to highlight the deficient attitude of the older son. The parable, spoken by Jesus on the occasion of the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes at the coming to Jesus of tax-collectors and sinners, has obvious relevance for the attitude of the Pharisees and scribes as individuals toward sinners (and, by implication, of all persons who fancy as living in God’s favor). But the parable also has larger implications, for it seems to be pointed toward the Pharisees and scribes as representatives of an Israel privileged by God. (15 May 2009)






God has a heart for the lost . . . PERIOD! (1-10) (See also: Lk 19:10; Ro 8:15-25; 2 Cor 5:10-21)

The central theme is therefore, “The Father’s Yearning Love for the Lost.” The Father seeks them, brings them back and rejoices in their Spirit-wrought conversion. That is the thrust of all three parables. (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Luke, p. 758)


What response should I have to God’s heart for the lost?:

A. See yourself (as well as everyone and everything) as lost (Ps 119:176; Isa 53:6; Jer 31:10-20; Ro 3:10-26; Eph 2:1-5)

“You’ve got to get people lost before you can get them saved. — D. L. Moody

No one is beyond his love. You cannot do anything that will keep him from kissing you and bestowing upon you the robe, the ring, and the sandals. Utter forgiveness is the only kind God gives.

There are only two qualifications for this forgiveness. First, we must see ourselves before we can see God. We must recognize that we are wayward sons if we are to see his love. If we know what we are, we can know his love. We must see ourselves in the lost son, and then we must come home. (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Luke, Vol. Two, p. 143)

“One of the main reasons for so much personal work coming to nothing is that truths are forced upon a victim to be saved even before he knows he is lost.” — Miles Stanford

B. Come to yourself (KJV) - Come to your senses (NIV) (Ps 51; Jer 50:6; Hos 6; 2 Cor 5:11-21; Eph 2:1-5; 2

Tim 2:20-26)

Did you ever think that when you became a Christian you made an announcement to the world that you are screwed up, desperately needy and weak, and horribly sinful? Jesus didn’t come for well people . . . He is only the Great Physician for really sick people.






















In Luke 15 we find three parables: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son. These parables were spoken by Jesus to the Pharisees, who were angry with Jesus when they observed how he received the sinners who came to him. These self-righteous people thought they had no need for a savior, and they despised those who did. They were not sick; why would they need a physician? To them, the "sinners" and publicans who were coming to Jesus were unclean and untouchable and to be treated with contempt.

But Jesus came as the friend of sinners. He came to seek and to save those who were lost. He did not come to save the righteous, who would not repent, but sinners. He did not come to heal the healthy, but the sick. He did not come to fill the rich, but the empty.

So Jesus’ actions irritated the Pharisees, and in Luke 15:2 we read, "But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’" Praise God, these charges were true. The Lord Jesus Christ does seek and welcome sinners, and when he finds them, he saves them and makes them children of God.

Thus, Jesus spoke these parables in response to the self-righteous Pharisees. In the parable of the prodigal son, the Pharisees were represented by the elder brother, and the saved sinners were represented by the youngest son, the prodigal. The theme of this parable is the love of God the Father for the repenting and returning sinners. 

Rejection of the Father’s Authority

The first point we want to mention about this parable is rejection of the father’s authority by the youngest son. Jesus begins the parable saying that a man had two sons, and the younger son hated the government of his father. Blinded by the devil, this young man thought that he could be truly happy only when he got out from under the restraints of his father’s home. This spoiled, rich young man from a rich home wanted to go to a far country to get as far away as possible from his father. To him autonomy spelled happiness.

The prodigal son knew that he would need money to live, so he demanded his inheritance, and his father gave it to him. Isn’t it interesting that sometimes God lets us do whatever we want to do, even if it involves sin? That thought ought to make us tremble! According to Deuteronomy 21:17, the youngest son received one third of the estate and the oldest brother two thirds.

The prodigal son immediately liquidated his inheritance and left with the money to go to a far country. As he left his father’s home, he burned all his bridges behind him, vowing that he would never return to this miserable home or see his terrible father again. To this boy, good was evil and evil good; light was darkness, and darkness light.

In Ephesians 4:17-19 we find a description of the minds of those who are like this prodigal son—the unbelieving, arrogant, autonomous, self-willed know-it-alls of this world:

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

In Romans 1:21 we find another description of such people: "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."

What about you? Do you hate your father? Do you hate your church? Do you hate your Bible? Do you hate worship? Are you waiting to break loose of all parental influence and go to a far place to seek happiness in independence and lawlessness? If so, you are deceived and blinded like the prodigal son. Soon, if God has mercy on you, you shall come to see that the way of the rebellious is hard. "There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked." In Galatians 6:7-8 the apostle Paul counsels, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction. . . ." "For the wages of sin is death," he says in Romans 6:23.

If you are seeking to cast off the restraints which God has put in your life, I counsel you not to do so. Do not be like Cain, who departed and went away from the presence of God. Why do I say this? Only in God’s presence is there fullness of joy, and on his right hand there are pleasures forevermore. Away from God and his kingdom there is only misery, destruction, and death.

The Reality Therapy of Far-Country Living

The second point we want to make is the reality therapy the prodigal son experienced after leaving his father’s house. Yes, in the far country there was no temple, no word of God, no worship, no Father, no Ten Commandments. There was nothing! We are told that this man squandered all the money he had received from his inheritance, wasting his father’s estate by living asôtôs, meaning spending money without any regard for the future, with reckless abandon. "Spend, spend, spend, spend, and spend more!" was this boy’s motto.

Some of you may begin to wonder why you are living in poverty and have no money. Are you spending, spending, spending, spending, and spending more? After squandering his father’s substance, this man ran out of money and there was no more. Down he went, into dire poverty and distress. This was God’s reality therapy for the prodigal son.

We are told that a severe famine came upon the far country. Let me tell you, God has a sovereign way of bringing a prodigal to reality. He does not deal with all prodigals this way, but only his chosen prodigals, his elect prodigals. He knows how to deal with a rebellious prophet like Jonah. He knows how to deal with a disobedient, rebellious son like this prodigal. He knows how to deal with a rebellious daughter, a rebellious husband, a rebellious mother, a rebellious wife, a rebellious father. He knows exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Our heavenly Father is a fisher of men and he will use whatever means he must to catch his people.

In Luke 15:14 we read, "he began to be in need." In Psalm 23 David tells us how God looks after his people, saying, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want," but here the prodigal son began to be in want. For the first time in his life this young man from a rich home lacked food. He had no money, no food, and no friends to take care of him. He was all alone and miserable. The country of great happiness had become a country of great misery for this man.

At this point, the prodigal son could have repented and returned home, but he didn’t. He had to go down further. He still hated his father, the church, the Bible, and all the moral guidelines and restraints of his father’s house. So God had to deal with him further. Before he could go home and take a new direction in life, the prodigal son had to experience more misery, wretchedness, and pain.

This son needed to eat, but he could not find a job during this great famine. First, he sought employment for a living wage but no one gave him anything. "Kid, don’t you know there is a great famine now?" people would say to him. I suspect he finally offered himself and his service for a dying wage to a pig farmer because it was all he could find. This type of job in itself was great humiliation for a young Jewish boy, because there was a Jewish proverb that said, "Cursed is the man who would breed swine," and according to Leviticus 11:7, the pig was an unclean animal.

But the prodigal son still had to go down, down, down into more misery and humiliation. After hiring himself to the pig farmer, he was treated by the farmer as less than the pigs themselves. The pigs were given carob beans to eat, which, for a human to eat would signify being in a state of the most bitter poverty one could be in. The prodigal son wanted to eat the pods, just to fill his stomach, but we are told that no one gave him anything, not even carob pods. This man was neither being treated like a human nor like a pig. That is why I said he was getting a dying wage.

What was God doing to this man? He was rousing him out of his deep coma, his deep deception, his deep blindness and helping him to see his true state. God was using the discipline of extreme hardship to bring him out of all unreality and deception. God uses famine, poverty, sickness, business failures, death, divorces, loneliness—every type of pressure we need—to turn us to himself. This is the reality therapy of far-country living. 

Reflection on Reality

The third point we want to speak about is reflection, which means the clear thinking the prodigal began to engage in. Here he was—in a far country, with no money, no friends, no food, no home, being treated as less than human and less than a pig. Luke 15:16 says no one cared for him. This was the extreme discipline of God.

God’s discipline worked, and in verse 17 we are told that he came to himself. This is a Hebrew expression for repentance: he came to his senses, he began to think clearly, he came out of his coma. The afflictions of God were working in this young man for the good, and now he began to think correctly about his father and his father’s house. He realized that happiness was not found in independence and lawlessness, but in dependence, submission, and service to his father and his God.

Reflecting on his situation, the prodigal began to speak to himself, saying, "You know, as I remember, the lowest people in my father’s house—the hired servants—always had food to spare." In the house of a rich man like his father the sons came first, then the slaves born in the house, and then, in the lowest position, the hired servants. Sons, of course, had what they wanted, and even slaves born in the house were absolutely secure. But hired servants had to worry every day about food, since they were not permanent members of the household.

But this son came to a realization that even the lowest members of his father’s household, the hired servants, had food to spare. In the Greek the expression means they were "surrounded by mountains of bread."

"Even the hired servants have an abundance," the son told himself, "while I am here perishing." This was the reality he finally faced. He was daily perishing—the Greek word is apolumai, which means continually dying—by reason of famine. So he spoke to himself, "I will arise, go to my father, and confess my sins." He now recognized that his problem was not his father, not his mother, not the temple, not the Scripture, not the church, and not the society, but his own sin. What clear thinking! God had opened this man’s mind, and he now could see reality.

This was true repentance. This was a change of thinking, from false thinking to correct thinking. The prodigal son now agreed with God and his word and saw all things in the light of God’s truth: "God is not the problem and my father is not the problem," he thought. "No, I am the problem. My sin is the problem. My thinking has been the problem. I was blind and deceived. I thought good was evil and evil was good, but now I realize my folly. I will go home, confess my sins to my father, and begin to walk in a new direction—toward God, toward my father, toward the temple, toward home."

This son now recognized that life, happiness, and true freedom could be found only in the father’s house, not in the far country. "I think I will find forgiveness there," he told himself, "as well as plenty of bread. I am going to put myself in the lowest position in my house. I will submit to everyone—to my father and mother, to my brother, to the home-born slaves, and to every other hired servant, especially those senior to me. I want to be the last person. Oh, all I want to do is obey my father. How I love the authority and government of my father’s house! How I love God’s commandments! Now I see that only they will bring me true happiness."

The prodigal son was embarking on a new direction in his life. His reflection caused him to realize that happiness is only found in God’s kingdom, under God’s rule. He now knew that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

 The Return of the Prodigal Son

The fourth point is that we must return, but only in the direction toward God. Let me tell you, not only is there a true repentance, but there is also a false repentance. I have seen both. C. H. Spurgeon says that false repentance is like many blossoms. We like blossoms and they have a lot of promise, but not all blossoms amount to fruit that remains and ripens.

The blossoms of false repentance soon fall off, bringing forth nothing. Oh, I have heard many promises, commitments, vows, and resolutions that people make. Most of them fall off and never turn into fruit. Blossoms are great, but only if they result in plenty of fruit that remains and ripens.

What is false repentance? We find several examples of it in the Bible. In Exodus 9:27 we read of the false repentance of Pharaoh. He told Moses, "I sinned," but that confession was forced out of him from terror. He was insincere and didn’t mean what he said, as his further actions bore out. In Numbers 22:34 Balaam said, "I have sinned," but he also was an insincere, double-minded man. He loved the wages of unrighteousness more than God, and in due time his blossom fell off, resulting in nothing. In 1 Samuel 15:24 Saul told Samuel, "I sinned," but he only said that to promote himself and get glory for himself. In Joshua 7:20 we read that Achan said the same thing— "I sinned"—but only after he was discovered and brought before the whole assembly of Israel. Judas Iscariot said the same thing in Matthew 27:4, but later on we learn that Judas’ repentance was not true repentance at all.

But two times, in Luke 15:18 and Luke 15:21, the prodigal son said, "I sinned," "Hêmarton," and his subsequent actions prove the sincerity of his confession. He now realized that he was a sinner and had sinned against God and his father. Sin is transgression of God’s law, and apparently this man now appreciated the word of God with its moral guidelines, and the Ten Commandments, and realized he had transgressed all of them.

We know the prodigal’s repentance was authentic because it resulted in good fruit. Having repented of his sins, this man got up and immediately began to move in a new direction, away from the far country of misery and death and to his father’s house of bread and happiness. True repentance is not merely a resolution. It must be proved and substantiated by deeds. 

Salvation Is of the Lord

However, no one—no elect of God—will take this new direction unless the Father draws him irresistibly. So we believe in the irresistible grace of God and in God’s Spirit working within a person, causing him to repent, to believe, and to take a new direction. In John 6:44 Jesus Christ said, "No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him," meaning drawing him powerfully and irresistibly to himself. In John 12:32 Jesus said, "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." So the Father draws, the Son draws, and the Holy Spirit draws us—powerfully, irresistibly, and effectually. When that happens, we take a new direction. We repent and move on, away from sin and toward God. Such repentance will be authentic and substantiated by good works. PGM It is caused by God’s love seeking through Christ’s death and resurrection in the irresistible work of the Holy Spirit.

As I was reading this passage in the Greek text I noticed the word heuriskô, which means "to find," is used seven times in all three parables. The lost sheep was found, the lost coin was found, and the lost son was found, as his father said, "This, my son, was lost, but now he is found." It is God who is doing the finding; we just don’t find ourselves. We are lost, but God seeks and finds us and brings us into his kingdom.

What else did the father say? "This, my son, was dead, but he is alive again." I don’t believe in self-resurrection. I am emphasizing the truth that God himself must raise us from the dead. God must seek us and draw us, and then we shall be drawn, found and made alive. No dead person can raise himself again, and no lost person can find himself. Only God can give life and only God can seek and find us. But we have the wonderful assurance that if there is a divine seeking, there will be a divine finding. 

The Father Receives His Son

The fifth point we want to examine is the happy reception the father gave to his prodigal son. In Luke 15:19 we read, "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."

What does this tell us about the father? First, it speaks of a father who was watching and waiting for his son. It speaks of our heavenly Father of infinite love, who is watching and waiting for us to repent and return to him.

Next, it says he had compassion on him. In spite of all the son’s sin, stubbornness, and rebellion, his father’s compassion never dried up. He still loved his son. We are told that this father ran to his son. That is not a dignified act for an old man. But, moved by love and compassion, the father forgot all decorum, dignity, and decency, and ran to embrace his returning son.

Then we are told the father kissed the son repeatedly. I am sure as he kissed, he told his son, "I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you." There were a lot of hugs from this old man.

And as the father was hugging and kissing and saying, "I love you" to his son, the confession came. When you are sought and found, when you are raised from the dead, you shall confess aright. You will not use excuses. You will not hide behind self-justification. You will not rationalize. You will not negotiate. You would say, as the prodigal did, "Hêmarton," "I sinned."

How clearly he sees now! "I sinned," the boy told his father. And then he says, "I sinned against heaven," meaning, "My sin is infinite because it is first and foremost against God." This is what David said in Psalm 51:4, "Against you, you only, have I sinned." Then he said, ". . . and against you," recognizing the great sin he had committed against his earthly father. Then he added, "I am no longer worthy to be called your son."

This is similar to the publican’s repentance in Luke 18:13, where we read, "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’" In the Greek it is, "Have mercy on me, ho hamartôlos, the sinner," meaning, "I am the chief sinner in the whole world."

That is what you will say when the Spirit of God comes upon you. God will not save anyone without repentance. But if he saves you, you will repent correctly.

The prodigal son was given full forgiveness of all his sins at that moment. And not only was he forgiven, but he was also restored back to full fellowship with his father and his father’s household. You see, many people think that just forgiving someone is satisfactory, but they don’t want to have fellowship with that person. That is not forgiveness in the biblical sense. If there is full forgiveness. Then there will be full communion and full fellowship.

The father started issuing commands to his servants. First, he said, "Bring the robe, the first one." In the Greek it means, "Bring that robe which is the finest in the house." This was a rich house, and the father was saying, "Bring that robe that is fit for the king." It speaks about distinction and being honored greatly. Oh, this son had returned to his father, only seeking the lowest position of a hired servant so that he could get some bread. But what God has for us when we turn to him will astound us.

Then the father said, "Bring the ring," meaning a signet ring, the ring that spoke about having authority conferred upon the recipient. In other words, he was telling his son, "You are still my son, a distinguished member of my family, a son with authority."

This prodigal son didn’t have any sandals when he came to his father, because slaves did not have any sandals, and that is what he had been reduced to. So the father told his servants, "Bring sandals for his feet." These were symbols of freedom and symbols that he was a son, for only sons had shoes, not slaves.

"My son is home!" the father exclaimed. "Bring the robe, the finest. Bring the signet ring. Bring the sandals." And then he said, "Bring that fattened calf and kill it." Apparently he had been expecting his son to return. God does this with us as well. Every elect, no matter how far he may stray from God, will return, in due time, and God expects it. So the father called for the fattened calf to be killed. This was a special occasion, the best occasion, a great, grand occasion. The Bible tells us there is great rejoicing in heaven and on earth any time one sinner repents.

So the father said, "Let’s have a feast and celebrate." There was music and dancing and great celebration because of the return of the lost son. Jesus speaks of such celebration in verses 7 and 10, as well as here in verse 23.

It is a miracle when a sinner repents. It is the work of divine seeking, divine drawing, and divine finding. It is a demonstration of God’s love in operation. It is a very special occasion, indeed. 

The "Righteous" Older Brother

God seeks sinners, not the righteous, through his Son, Jesus Christ, who came to seek and save the lost. "Righteous" people—that is, those who think they are righteous in themselves—do not need a Savior. But if you are "righteous" in this way, I feel sorry for you. Yes, you may tell me that you are rich, and that you are not lost or sick. But I assure you that if you stay in a state of self-righteousness, you will never experience the salvation of Jesus Christ. He saves only sinners. He heals only those who are sick and finds only those who are lost.

The Pharisees got angry with Jesus because he befriended sinners, welcoming them, eating with them, and receiving them. Jesus said such people would always remain outside of his kingdom unless they changed. In this parable the self-righteous Pharisees are represented by the self-righteous elder brother. So in verse 28 we find him angry and outside. He has no need for a savior, and refuses to come inside when his father invites him to join the celebration in honor of his brother’s return.

How many times God does speak to such people who say they have no need? But where do such people remain? Outside of the Father’s house, outside of God’s kingdom. In Revelation 21:8 we read, "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." And in Revelation 22:15 we read, "Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood." In Matthew 8:11-12 Jesus himself said, "I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Outside!

But, notice, the prodigal—this miserable wretch, this less-than-a-pig prodigal—is inside. He finally found happiness, not in the far country, but in his father’s house in fellowship and communion with his father. He who wanted only to be the lowest in the home—a hired servant—was brought inside and restored to his sonship, receiving exceeding abundantly above all that he ever asked for or could imagine. Praise God for his mercy to prodigals! 

The fifteenth chapter of Luke is called the gospel within a gospel. It tells us of the new direction taken by a prodigal son. This young man thought that true happiness meant leaving his father’s home and going to a far country where he could do what he wanted without any restraint. This son left his father’s home and went to a far country, but rather than finding happiness there, he experienced great suffering and severe discipline. When he repented and went home to his waiting father, he was blessed beyond measure. He discovered that the way of happiness is not through independence from God, but, rather, through submission to him. He learned that to seek independence from God and his holy will is to court disaster.

We must realize that God the Father loves us and, as the Bible tells us, his love is immeasurable, unfailing, and everlasting. Who can discern the width and length, height and depth of the love of God? It surpasses knowledge. "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" we read in 1 John 3:1. The God of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see this and deceived them into thinking that serving the devil is the way of freedom and true happiness.

God has a heart for the lost elder sons of the world (25-32)(see also Mt 21:31) or those who have lost their souls and their reason for living.

In this complaint, obedience and duty have become a burden, and service has become slavery. (Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: a Story of Homecoming, p. 70)

Sin God can deal with. That is what the cross is all about. It is stiff-necked, hard-hearted, unrepentant religious, pious, do-gooders who are lost and without hope.


The younger brother revealed his rebellious nature through loose living. The older brother acted out his rebellious nature quietly, through pride and intolerance. Society would call the younger brother profligate, wanton, and detestable. But the older brother society would call responsible, deserving, and respectable.


To God, though, they’re both sinners...rebels...lost. Only the younger brother was found. The older brother? The story remains open. (Charles R. Swindoll, The Declaration of Something Mysterious, p. 134)

The older brother was good on the outside, but something was missing. This may be what the little boy had in mind when he prayed,

“Dear God, make all bad people good, and all good people nice.” Or as Mark Twain’s adage has it: “He was a ‘good man’ in the worst sense of the word.” (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Luke, Vol. Two, p. 144)

Do you wonder how older brothers get this way? It is very easy to forget what we were like before we came to the Father! As time passes we begin to imagine we are “good people” because we have avoided sins of passion–and all the while sins of attitude run rampant within us. We do not regard our jealousy, pride, and judgmentalism as sins. We call them faults or shortcomings. So we easily become critical, judgmental, and unloving. Our surface familiarity with holy things had rendered them dull, insipid, and boring.

(R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Luke, Vol. Two, p. 145)

The prodigal son had no leg to stand on, no possible basis for spiritual pride. By any measure of spiritual competition he had failed, and now he had nothing to lean against but grace. God’s love and forgiveness extended equally to the virtuous elder brother, of course, but that son, too busy comparing himself to his irresponsible sibling, was blinded to the truth about himself. In the words of Henri Nouwen, “The lostness of the resentful ‘saint’ is so hard to reach precisely because it is so closely wedded to the desire to be good and virtuous.” Nouwen confesses:

I know, from my own life, how diligently I have tried to be good, acceptable, likable, and a worthy example for others. There was always the conscious effort to avoid the pitfalls of sin and the constant fear of giving in to temptation. But with all of that there came a seriousness, a moralistic intensity — and even a touch of fanaticism — that made it increasingly difficult to feel at home in my Father’s house. I became less free, less spontaneous, less playful. . . .

The more I reflect on the elder son in me, the more I realize how deeply rooted this form of lostness really is and how hard it is to return home from there. Returning home from a lustful escapade seems so much easier than returning home from a cold anger that has rooted itself in the deepest corners of my being.

The spiritual games we play, many of which begin with the best of motives, can perversely lead us away from God, because they lead us away from grace. Repentance, not proper behavior or even holiness, is the doorway to grace. And the opposite of sin is grace, not virtue. (Philip Yancey, What’s so Amazing About Grace?, pp. 205-06)

The selfishness of the older brother was less obvious and less vulnerable. He asked for nothing, desired nothing, and enjoyed nothing. He devoted himself dutifully to his father’s service, never disobeying a command of his father, and thought, no doubt, that he was the model of unselfishness; yet he himself was the center of his every thought, so that he was incapable of entering sympathetically into his father’s joys and sorrows. (G. B. Caird, The Pelican New Testament Commentaries, Saint Luke, p. 182)

The news of his scapegrace brother’s return sets him thinking of his own rights and deserts, jealously supposing himself to be wronged because his brother is treated with more than justice. When his father pleads with him, he interrupts with a harsh protest, which

contains perhaps more truth than he intended–‘Look how many years I have slaved for you’; working for his father has been an unrewarding servitude, and the obedience he is so proud of has been slavish and mercenary, never filial. (G. B. Caird, The Pelican New Testament Commentaries, Saint Luke, p. 183)





























Reflections on God’s Grace

Take the time to answer some of life’s biggest questions –

Who am I?

What kind of world do I live in?

What is my purpose for life?

What makes life worth living?

Everyone has answers to those questions. Your answers are the grid of reality through which you experience the world. If your answers correspond to the way things really are, you can see clearly. If they tilt, your sight and your life are distorted.

One of the problems Jesus faced in his teaching ministry was that the prevailing worldviews people had embraced were hostile to the Kingdom of God. So Jesus does things to explode people’s worldviews. Like tell strange stories. Like break the rules on the Sabbath. Like say abrasive things. You know why Jesus fought with the Pharisees and the Scribes and the Teachers of the Law so much? Because they were the guardians of a worldview that stood against the Kingdom.

The Pharisee’s Worldview…

God has put us in charge. (so we get to set/enforce the rules)

Good people keep the rules and bad people break them.

Good people are loved by God and bad people aren’t.

The problem with the world is the bad people. (stay away from them)

This is “self-salvation”, what is classically called “salvation by works”, by human effort, and it is a real problem, because you can’t be good enough. We think, “I need to be good then God will accept me.” When we believe that, we live under a crushing load of anxiety, disapproval and condemnation, and we heap that load onto others. Or, we come to believe we are better than others and are convinced that God owes us because we have earned his pleasure. The Pharisees believed this and hammered people with it. People resented them for it, and no one who ever failed or messed up would come to a Pharisee for help or healing or hope. But Jesus said things so differently and did things so differently that people flocked to him…

Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the

Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and

eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable…


Luke 15:1-3 (NIV)

Jesus decides it is time to get clear about this issue. So he tells three stories in a row because he wants us to get this straight.

People Get Lost… By Foolishness

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.”

Luke 15:4 (NIV)

Or Carelessness “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one.”

Luke 15:8 (NIV)

Or Willfulness Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

Luke 15:11-12 (NIV)

And By Goodness

But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. Luke 15:29 (NIV)


For this second son, it is not his badness that got him lost, but his goodness. He stayed home, did it all right, and thought God owed him. It is not his failure but his success that tripped him up. Can you hear his heart through his words?

‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.

Yet you never gave me...

Right then is our first hint that this father doesn’t just have one lost son. He has two. As

a matter of fact… The older brother is farther away from the Father than the younger brother! This is important to understand. Let’s start with this idea: you can be close to

God and still be far away.

Look at the older son…

And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me…

But he was angry and refused to go in…

Luke 15:31, 28 (RSV)

Younger Brother Lostness…

There is no hiding for the younger brother. Everything he is and has is right out there, easy to see. He says to his Father, ‘I am out of here. I don’t need you or want you. Just give me my stuff and get out of my way. I am going to run my own life, and I don’t need you to do it for me or tell me what is right and wrong.’ No hiding that!

When his life falls apart, there’s no hiding that, either. When he starts to think about it, he thinks… ‘Whew, this isn’t working out so well. Maybe I am not so smart. Maybe I really do need God, maybe I do need a fresh start, and maybe I even need a whole new life.” Everyone around you says, “Yeah, you really do!”

But Older Brother Lostness is Different…

Your lostness is hidden because of your goodness. He stays home, does it all right, and everyone approves of him. He approves of himself. So he can’t see his lostness. He can’t see what is killing him. And neither can the people around him. And what is killing him is his pride, his self sufficiency. All covered over very nicely by his goodness! He doesn’t think he needs a new life, he is convinced that he can manage life pretty well. He has this pride, “I am good. I have earned my place in this family. The family owes me.”

Signs of ‘Older Brother Lostness’…

He Is Angry about His Life and Withdrawn From His Family But he was angry and refused to go in. Luke 15:28 (RSV)

When his world comes apart, he gets angry and he withdraws. That is how lost older brothers handle their problems. They get angry about their life. They blame God.

And get angry at him.

He has a Judgmental Heart

But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!

Luke 15:30 (RSV)

Lost older brothers look down on people, on lots of people. Especially lost younger brothers. Can’t you just hear him talk about his younger brother, ‘I would never do that. Never.’ This younger brother is gone. And he is glad. It is another sign.

He Has No Passion For Christ likeness

“Lo, these many years I have slaved for you, and I never disobeyed your orders…”

Luke 15:29

Think about the phrases. ‘Slaved for you…’ ‘Your orders…’ This older brother hates his life. He doesn’t love his father. He sees his life as slavery.

He Believes God Owes Him

“Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me…”

Luke 15:29 (RSV)

‘You have never given me what I deserve’ is his conviction. It is his outlook on life.

And so he is a victim.

He Can’t Celebrate The Return Of A Younger Brother

“You never gave me a kid that I might make merry with my friends.”

Luke 15:29 (RSV)

“You never even gave me a goat” But he never asked for one! He never asked for a goat because he has nothing to celebrate. There is no party in the heart of the older son. They make terrible evangelists. Ask a prodigal younger brother if they are a Christian, and before too long they will start to dance. Prodigal brothers never quite

get over the fact that God has forgiven them. They make great evangelists.

What Is It That Pulls This Family Together?

The Father Eagerly Pursues His Sons

But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him…

Luke 15:28 (RSV)

It wasn’t the first time the father came out. He had been longing and looking for his youngest son for months upon months. And when that boy came home the father pounced on him. That’s the way God’s love is. Grace pounces! But now another son was lost and once again, the father goes out after him. It will take that to bring this family together. But it will take more.

The Father Willingly Bears the Shame of His Sons but he answered his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.


Luke 15:29 (RSV)

I want you to picture the scene to understand what the father had to bear. I imagine that all the father’s family and servants and friends had been invited to this party.

Word traveled fast, and people streamed in. Last to arrive outside the home was the older son. Again, word traveled fast. He was angry. He wouldn’t come in. And everyone sees the father go out to him. Silence descends on the hall. Then, through the walls comes the voice of the angry brother…

‘Lo, these many years I have slaved for you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid that I might make merry with my friends.

All throughout the hall, heads hang. Many – most fathers gathered there would never bear the insult, the shame. But this father is different. He bears the shame of his son’s lostness willingly. That is the heart of the Father. That is the heart of the Savior.

Willingly he leaves his home, walks out of the feast to seek another lost son. Willingly he bears the shame and pays the price of our lostness. Willingly he carries it all the way to the cross. Willingly. Why?

Because The Father’s Home Is Built on Grace

And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

Luke 15:31-32 (RSV)

That is the heart of the Father, and the central reality of the Kingdom that Jesus gives in

his gospel. It is all about grace.


Reflection Question: Summarize the key ideas in the Reflection in your own words.








God’s Grace Infused Kingdom

1. Look up the following verses, and summarize them in the spaces below.

Reference: Ephesians 2.8-9


Reference: Ephesians 1.8


Reference: Romans 3.22-28


Reference: Romans 5.6-11


2. How would you summarize what these passages teach about grace?



3. Give a definition of grace in your own words




Reflections on your experience






Additional Thoughts to Ponder: What about me? What about You?

I need to ask myself the question, do I love people in the way Jesus would want me to love people?  Do I view others as “sinners” and yet do not see the sin of pride and selfishness in my own heart?  We need to love as Jesus loved.  We need to acknowledge that we are sinners in desperate need of the grace and mercy of God.

Have you left the Father and the Father’s house? How long has it been since you left? How long have you been living in a far country, seeking happiness in stubbornness and independence and autonomy?  Have you experienced God’s sovereign dealings of afflictions in your life? If so, did you wonder what God was telling you through those afflictions?

God calls us back to himself through pain, poverty, sickness, depression, misery, loneliness, and frustrations. Have you found happiness in independence? The prodigal said, "I will arise and go," and he did so immediately. His was not a phony promise. God worked in the prodigal and brought about authentic repentance.

Are you a prodigal son who needs to leave the far country, leave your sin and misery, and return to God? Isaiah tells us, "Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, and he will freely pardon" (Isaiah 55:6-7).

Are you confident of your own righteousness? Do you look down on everybody else? Jesus concludes this telling story with the words of the angry son: “When this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:30).  This ending brings one back to the very beginning of the introduction: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’” (15:1-2). These Pharisees and the teachers of the Law represent the “older son” (15:25). These are the ones “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else” (18:9). Again, Jesus expresses their attitude this way: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (18:11-12).

Did you ever think that when you became a Christian you made an announcement to the world that you are screwed up, desperately needy and weak, and horribly sinful? Jesus didn’t come for well people . . . He is only the Great Physician for really sick people.


That’s why we ran to him. And Luther said that the definition of sanctification is “getting used to being forgiven.” — Steve Brown