The Gospel of Luke - Part 68: The Lost Son — Luke 15:11-31
(These notes are based on lesson notes prepared by Rob Mahon for connection class leaders at Hoffmantown Church.)

Review:

Just to recap, Luke 15 can be titled Lost and Found. Last week, we considered

Today we will study The parable of the Lost Sheep taught us that we really need to realize that those we know who have not accepted Jesus are really lost and that we need to take the initiative to lead them to where they need to be. Each one of them is important.

The parable of the Lost Coin taught us that we need to be diligent about our task of telling others about Jesus, and we need to celebrate every person who comes to know Jesus.

The Lost Son:

Remember that the chapter opened with Jesus telling the scribes and Pharisees parables to show them that their criticism of Him spending time with sinners was wrong.

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.  Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” —Luke 15:1-2
The third parable is where we pick up this morning.
And He said, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” ’ So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate. Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours." —Luke 15:11-31
Though we usually use the word to mean a child estranged from his/her parents, the word “prodigal” literally means “wastefully extravagant”. It is rooted in the word “squander” in verse 13. It comes from the Latin translation of “squander” which is the Latin word prodigalis.

Jesus’ third story is the best known of all his parables. It is only recorded in Luke yet it seems to touch the heart of every person, believers and non-believers, who hears it. Maybe it’s because we’ve all known “prodigals”. And maybe, too, it’s because we’ve all been prodigals.

With parables, it’s always important to remember the context in which they were told. In the case of these three stories, Luke 15:1-2 helps us understand them. The younger son is a picture of “the tax collectors and sinners”, the older son is a picture of “the Pharisees and teachers of the Law”, and the father is a picture of God, especially Jesus.

This story is called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”. But the son is not really the center of the story. The story is, first and foremost, about the Father. Maybe a more accurate title for this parable is “The Parable of the Loving Father of a Prodigal Son”.

There is a wealth of insight to gain from this passage. We’re going to approach our study by considering each of the three people mentioned:

The Younger Son:

In verse 12 we see the younger son make his request.

"Father, give me the share of the estate" —Luke 15:12
Normally, the estate would not be divided among the heirs until the father’s death or at some point where the father was no longer willing or able to manage the estate.

According to Deuteronomy 21:17, the Biblical guideline was for the firstborn son to receive a “double share” and each following son a single share. In this case, since there were two sons, this means the younger son would receive 1/3 of the inheritance while 2/3 would go to the elder (firstborn) son.

There’s a selfishness in the younger son’s attitudes and actions that we can all relate to.

There’s no thought for how his actions impact his family. And there’s certainly no thought on the younger son’s part for God or His will.

Truth: The lost seek to fill their lives with things other than God.

And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. —Luke 15:13

The word squandered is from the Greek word διασκορπιζο [diaskorpizo] meaning “to scatter abroad” or as “to spend or use wastefully”;

Loose living — Verse 30 indicates immorality as major part of his lifestyle; it could be implied that word had gotten back to the family about how the younger son was living;

 You’re probably familiar with the well-known quote from Blaise Paschal, “There is within the heart of every person a void which no created thing can fill, but only the Creator.” All the things the younger son thought would bring happiness and fulfillment, only brought him misery and emptiness.

Solomon put it this way:

I said to myself, "Come now, let's give pleasure a try. Let's look for the 'good things' in life." But I found that this, too, was meaningless. "It is silly to be laughing all the time," I said. "What good does it do to seek only pleasure?" After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. While still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I hoped to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world. —Ecclesiastes 2:1-3, [NLT]
There’s a timelessness about the younger son’s experiences. In a recent edition of People magazine, the lead article was titled, “Where Are They Now?”. The article tracked popular TV actors/actresses from the past. It’s tragic how few of them saved or invested wisely what they earned. Most had lost all of their wealth. Several years ago there was a newspaper story about a past starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos who was then living in a refrigerator box under the interstate in Denver.

By verse 14 we see that it was time to pay the piper.

Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. —Luke 15:14-15
As I assume you know, Jews considered pigs “unclean” based on the Law laid out in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. The younger son had sunk about as low as he could go in the eyes of his own people — working for a Gentile, in constant contact with unclean animals.  Jesus told us how this works:
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin." —John 8:34
The son wanted to be out from under his father’s authority and ended up under a much harsher and uncaring authority. People don’t want to submit to God, so end up slaves of the “god of this world.”
...in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. —2 Corinthians 4:4
But then in verse 17 he comes to his senses. But when he came to his senses... —Luke 15:17  I like this phrase “came to his senses”. The Greek word for repent is μετανοεω [metanoeo] which is literally “to see afterwards” and means “to change your mind”. The younger son’s repentance began with a change of mind.

He saw his father differently, his situation differently, his needs differently. What a different attitude he shows in verses 17-19!

“But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” ’ —Luke 15:17-19
Before, he could not wait to leave; now he longs to go back. Now he sees how wrong his attitudes and actions have been.

Before, he insisted on his inheritance as a son; now he is willing just to be a servant. How humbling to return to his father and brother to be one of the servants!

Someone has said that you can outline the prodigal son’s story in this way:

What do you think are some things we can learn from the younger son?

When we are genuinely repentant there is a real change in perspective. It’s sad that, as with the younger son, it often takes tragic events to help us face up to reality. One thing we can really pray for our lost friends and family is that they will genuinely “repent”, that they will have the “change of mind” that is essential to accepting Jesus.

The Older Son:

Let’s do the older son next so we can save the father for last.  What are some things you learn about the older son from this passage?  Remember that the focus of the parable is on our attitude toward the lost. With parables, there is a danger of trying to read symbolism into every aspect of the story. It’s important primarily to consider what relates to the central message that Jesus is seeking to communicate.

But he became angry and was not willing to go in. —Luke 15:28
The older brother is a picture of the Pharisees and other Jews who resented the Lord’s loving concern for and association with “sinners”. Like the older brother, the Pharisees became angry at Jesus for having the same concern for sinners as He did for them. It also angered them when Jesus indicated that sinners and Gentiles could have just as a close a relationship to God as any Jews.

Some Christians fall into this same trap. They want the focus of the church to just be on building up believers. They see non-Christians as the enemy rather than as victims of the enemy (Satan). They resent it when a church takes steps to welcome “sinners” and help them feel comfortable in the services. We need to be careful that we are not more committed to our church traditions than we are to reaching the lost.

...and his father came out and began pleading with him. —Luke 15:28
Just as this father pleaded with his older son, so God through Jesus pleaded with the Jews, especially the Pharisees, to have a heart of compassion toward sinners. But just as the son refused to listen to his father, so the Jews refused to accept what Jesus said.

You know, God still pleads with His people to care for the lost. God’s heart hasn’t changed — He still desires for every person to be saved.

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. —2 Peter 3:9
Do we have the Lord’s heart for the lost? Are we as committed as He is to reaching out to every person?

Then we see the older son chew out his father.

But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ —Luke 15:29-30
The older brother resented all that the father was doing for the younger son. This is a great picture of a “works” rather than a “grace” relationship. The older brother felt that he had earned a better relationship and better treatment by the father. That was the Pharisees’ perspective — they focus on their works earning God’s favor.

But Jesus taught that salvation is by grace, not by works. Our relationship with the Father is built on His grace. There is nothing we’ve done to earn it; none of us live good enough to “deserve” salvation. All of us are equally in need of God’s grace:

For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. —John 1:16-17

But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are. —Acts 15:11

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. —Ephesians 2:8-9
Then we see the father tell the older son how to see it.
And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. ‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’ —Luke 15:31-32
The Jews had the joy of God’s long history with them of care and concern. The fact that God’s grace extended to all people should have added to their joy. But these Jews: I like verse 32 where the father says, “we had to celebrate”. When we care for the lost the Jesus does, then when people repent and turn to Christ it will bring the same joy to our lives as it does to the heart of God.

What do you think are some things we can learn from the older son?

Don’t forget that all of us have been saved by grace. None of us have done anything to merit God’s forgiveness.  We need to share the Father’s compassionate concern of the lost, the “prodigals”. God wants us be more “seeker sensitive”.

The Father:

As we consider the father in this story, we are looking at the heart of God. Jesus wanted both the “sinners” and the Pharisees to see God as their loving heavenly Father who most of all desires of His children to repent and come back to Him.  Here are some things we see in the father in this parable.

  1. God lets us choose. Verse 12 tells us that the younger son makes a request:
    Father, give me the share of the estate. —Luke 15:12
    Like the father in this story, God allows us to make our own choices. He doesn’t force His will upon us even when our choices are wrong. Life boils down to choices. What you are today is largely determined by the choices you have made in your life up to this point. The younger son here is making a very bad choice. It’s going to result in his losing his entire inheritance as well as heartache for both him and his father.
  2. God lets us make our own choices. When we disregard him, we can’t blame him for the consequences of those choices. People ask, “Why is there so much suffering in the world?”. Suffering does not come from God’s choices but from ours!
  3. God longs for our return. In verse 20 we see the father in this light.
    But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him. —Luke 15:20
    The imagery here is very vivid. Imagine this father, day after day, looking down the long road from his home, hoping to see his son. His son is long gone; there is no reason to expect him to return. But still the father looks.
This is the heart of God. Look back at Luke 13:34, how Jesus longed for the people to repent and turn to Him.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! —Luke 13:34
In Luke 19:41 is recorded one of only two times where we’re told that Jesus wept. And why did He weep? He wept out of love for people who refused to repent and return to God.
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. —1 Timothy 2:3-4 [LB]

2 Pe 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. —2 Peter 3:9 [NCV]
And then we see that God loves us — He fully forgives and fully accepts.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. —Luke 15:20
What a great picture we have here of reconciliation. The father doesn’t wait for his son. Instead, as soon as he sees him, he runs out to meet him and hugs him and kisses him.

God is like that with us. As soon as we repent, as soon as we turn to Him, He comes to us. He forgives us completely and accepts us back. He’s not like most of us. Most people are slow to forgive. Even when we say we’ve forgiven, we still hold things against people, we still distance ourselves from them.

For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more. —Hebrews 8:12

Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. —Romans 15:7
Then we see that God makes us His children, not just his servants.
But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again.' —Luke 15:22-24
The younger son is fully restored as a son to his father. God is like that — He doesn’t hold back. When we repent and turn to Christ, we are given the incredible privilege of being God’s children.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name —John 1:12

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God —Romans 8:16
And we see that God has great joy when sinners repent.
...and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate. —Luke 15:23-24
The Result is Joy:

One of the primary themes through all three of these stories is the joy it brings to God when sinners repent. Why does this bring such joy to the heart of God? God’s joy is an expression of His love. When we really love someone, we rejoice when they make right decisions.

We need God's Heart for the Lost:

Lastly we see that God wants us to have his heart for the lost. The father pleaded with the older son who was angry.

...and his father came out and began pleading with him. —verse 28
I wonder why sinners' repenting doesn’t bring as much joy to us as it does to God. Maybe it’s because people aren’t as important to us as they are to God. Maybe it’s because, like the older brother, we tend to “write them off”. The father wanted his oldest son to care as much about his youngest son as he did. Our heavenly Father wants us to care as much about His lost children as He does.

 We see how deeply God cares for the lost. How about us?

Lost people matter to God — do they matter to you? Everything Jesus did on earth was designed to encourage people to repent and turn to God. What are we doing?

Greg Asimakoupoulos, a writer and speaker tells the following story:

Following an exhilarating performance at New York's Carnegie Hall, celebrated classical cellist Yo Yo Ma went home, slept, and awoke the next day exhausted and rushed. He called for a cab to take him to a hotel on the other side of Manhattan and placed his cello — handcrafted in Vienna in 1733 and valued at $2.5 million — in the trunk of the taxi. When he reached his destination, he paid the driver, but forgot to take his cello.

After the cab had disappeared, Ma realized what he had done. He began a desperate search for the missing instrument. Fortunately he had the receipt with the cabby's ID number. Before the day ended the taxi was located in a garage in Queens with the priceless cello still in the trunk. Ma's smile could not be contained as he spoke to reporters, and his performance in Brooklyn went on as planned later that evening.

Even more desperate than this search is the pursuit by God of the lost. We should imitate his passion for priceless people gone astray.

Next Week:

Luke Chapter 16: The Parable of the Shrewd Manager. Read this chapter this week and come to class with suggestions as to what Jesus could possibly have meant by this parable.