Parables of the Lost, Part Three

feeding the pigs

A Lost Son, Luke 15:11—24

This is the final “parable of the lost” in Luke 15.  What most people fail to notice is what Jesus said at the very beginning of the chapter—

Then Jesus told them this parable…(Luke 15:3a)

The whole chapter is essentially one parable, divided into three sections, not three separate parables.  If we understand that, then the meaning of the last parable, or the last section of the parable, becomes clear:  it shows the lengths to which God the Father will go to find and rescue that which is lost.   God, like the shepherd, seeks the lost sheep so that He may save it; like the woman He hunts for the lost coin so that He may use it, and like the father, God seeks the lost son so that He may have fellowship with him.  We learn a lot about God from this chapter of Luke, and we learn a lot about God’s marvelous plan and purpose of salvation from this chapter.

The story of the lost son is probably the most familiar of all the parables Jesus told, and it has been the trigger of salvation in many lives.  It is easily the most complex of any Biblical parable yet at the same time, it’s message is simple.  And it is also only found in Luke.

1.  A selfish son’s selfish demand, verses 11, 12

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.

The first thing we notice is that in this story we are treated to the “upper class” of Jewish society.  We have already seen the “working class” in the shepherd and the “lower class” in the woman, so it is natural that Jesus should tap the upper class to make His illustration complete.

We also notice the attitude of the younger son:  he wanted free of all parental restraint.  From what follows, it is clear that this selfish son believed that if he could live on his own without his parents, he could have whatever he wanted, go wherever he wanted to go, and do whatever he wanted to do.  He thought that “freedom” would make him happy, and he believed that freedom was freedom from his father.

So right at the beginning of the story is lesson that the majority of Christians miss:  It is dishonoring to God that a Christian should seek to meet his needs his own way.

2.  A selfish son’s headstrong journey, verse 13a

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country.”

The selfish son got his inheritance prior to his father’s death, which was unusual.  According to the Mosaic Law, fully one-third of the family estate would be passed onto this son at this father’s death, but the father graciously gave his son his inheritance early, essentially making it a gift, not an inheritance, so that his son could have his own way.

What is striking about verse 13 is that the selfish son journeyed to “a distant country.”  In other words, this young man went as far away from his family as he could get; he went to a country where his father was not.  How much resentment does a son harbor in his heart to do that to his father?  His father gave his son a gift beyond measure and his son took it and went to a place as far away from his father as was humanly possible back then.  In fact, he not only left home, he “got together all he had,” meaning he burned his bridges before he left home.  He completely severed all ties with his family.

3.  A selfish son’s heedless living, verse 13b

…and there squandered his wealth in wild living.

These few words open a window into the heart of the selfish son.  Here is proof of exactly why he wanted to leave home and why he needed money to do it.  This man exchanged fellowship with his family for “wild living.”  Godet suggests there two things that pushed this man away from his family:  (1) paternal restraints—he got tired of obeying the rules and got tired of living responsibly in a familial setting, and (2)  he was attracted by the world and enjoyments it offered.  These two things conspired to lure this son away from his family.

The selfish son wasted his father’s gifts on “wild” or “riotous” living.  Here is another powerful lesson for Christians:  No believer can keep the substance of God’s gift of forgiveness—peace and joy—when they willingly forsake Him for the pleasure of sin.  It is very expensive to leave the family of God.

4.  A selfish son’s misery, verse 14—16

After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

Famines were and are very common in the near east, but in a very real sense this man’s famine was both personal and spiritual in nature.  This kind of “personal” famine will overtake any believer who strays away from God; hunger of the soul is the very worst kind of hunger because nothing but God can satiate it.  What was a spiritual reality became a physical reality and this lost son found out the voracity of this verse—

…the rebellious dwell in a dry land.  (Psalm 68:6b)

So bad was his plight that he willingly gave up the freedom he wanted so badly in exchange for scraps of food.   This is always the way sin works; if we waste the gifts and privileges that are ours we ourselves will become slaves to the things that once gave us pleasure.

His new and wonderful life took everything he had and gave him nothing in return—

no one gave him anything.

His money ran out and so, apparently, did his friends.  Having left home in search of freedom, all he found was humiliation and hunger—or rather, they found him.

5.  A selfish son’s homesickness, verse 18

I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.

Like a man awakening from a nightmare, the lost son came to his senses; pride had given way to madness, now madness had given way to homesickness.  According to verse 17, he began to remember what it was like back home.  He remembered being with his father in his father’s house and those memories were like burning coals upon his skin, pushing him back.

We see how God uses two things to prod the backslider home.  First God uses outward circumstances—the famine.  Of course, this famine was not caused by the lost son’s rebellion, but God used it to highlight his sinful condition.  Second, God often uses the memories of past blessings to make the backslider long to go back to where they belong.  The lost son not only thought about going home, he actually did; his sanity returned.

6.  A selfish son comes home, verse 20

So he got up and went to his father.  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.

Many backsliders and sinners resolve to make things right, but this man actually did what he resolved to do.  He realized that he was wrong, but he had to go home to make things right.  There is no value in the confessing of sin unless there is a turning away from that sin.  Isaiah 55:7—

Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

He started out for home cold, hungry, and lonely, and kept on going until he neared his father’s estate.  It was a long journey that took him away, and it was a long journey back, but he never gave up.  In fact, it was probably harder for him to come home than to leave, given his weakened condition, both physically and spiritually.

What is interesting about verse 20 is that given what the son thought about his father, he, in fact, greatly underestimated the depth of love his father had for him.  He thought his father pictured him as he really was:  a selfish, wretched man who was willing to throw his family over to get what he wanted.  But that is not how his father saw him—

…his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him…

What is clear, and what the lost son did not know, was that the father never lost interest in his errant son.  He saw him from a distance and did not wait for the son to get all the way home; he ran out to meet him!

In response to his father’s demonstration of love, the lost son said this—

‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  (verse 21)

But that is not what he intended to say.  Here is what he was going to say—

Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’  (verses 18, 19)

He never got that last phrase out; his father never gave him the chance to.

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!  (1 John 3:1a)

When his son left home, the father gave him everything he had coming to him.  By taking his inheritance in advance, the son forfeited all rights to future blessings, but by grace alone, his father took him back.  God’s grace is sufficient for any lost son who comes home.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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