Luke 15:11–32 (NKJV)
This passage contains the story of the Prodigal Son, which could just as easily be called the Parable of the Lost Son, a complement to the preceding passages in Luke 15 concerning the lost sheep and the lost coin. Here, the lost thing cannot be found by searching, but rather must be sought for by faith and prayer. Sometimes our best efforts cannot win the day. Sometimes we must trust God to bring what was lost back home.
11 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.Luke 15:11-19
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’
In this well-known story, the younger son of a wealthy landowner asked for his portion of the inheritance early. He took his bounty and traveled to a far land, and spent it frivolously. He found himself penniless and friendless, and took a menial job, going to sleep hungry at night. When he “came to himself,” he realized how very foolish that he had been, and sought to return to his father’s house, not as a favored son, but as a servant. His attitude had changed from that of an entitled, privileged individual to that of a servant.
20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’Luke 15:20-24
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
He made the long journey home, hoping for a welcome reception as a servant, but His father shocked him by welcoming him back home as his son. He received anew the trappings of sonship, and was welcomed home with a celebration. This is such a powerful picture of grace and mercy exhibited by a welcoming father. This is a picture of the kingdom of God!
25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’Luke 15:25-32
28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ ”
The account of the older son’s reaction is telling. The religious leaders had just criticized Jesus for eating with sinners. They had probably complained that He did not give them enough attention. Now, He brings them the story of the prodigal son who came home to a welcome reception, and topped it off with the account of the older son who whined when his faither welcomed the younger son back home. The church needs to realize that doing what we should do in the church is just the minimum, just our duty. Winning the lost is the greater work of the church. Yes, the church should care for its membership. However, caring for the members is not the totality of pastoral ministry. The church must evangelize the world in order to fulfill the Great Commission.
Looking at the big picture, the end game, will help us not pout or feel neglected when a sinner is celebrated for accepting Christ. This is the joy of heaven. Remember, God rejoiced just as strongly over your salvation. Help Him rejoice over every sinner that comes home. Stand on the porch and watch for them. God is preparing their hearts for repentance and redemption. Run down the dusty road and hug the dirty, the poor, the lost one that is headed home. Throw him a party, and tell the big brother not to worry. You still love him, too. But today is not his birthday. Today is the birthday of another, and it is time to celebrate!