I am preparing to go to summer camp with our youth group next week where we will be serving as missionaries at Lake of the Ozarks, MO. I am excited about the chance to share the Love of God through the Word of God with the people of the area. As I prepare to go I have been preparing Bible studies for our group and sermons for the kids with whom we will work. I would like to share a couple of these messages with you. The first one comes from Luke 15 and is commonly known as the “Prodigal Son”. I find this passage even more amazing every time that I read/study it.
Understanding the audience is the key to understanding this passage. There are 2 types of people who hear this message, although they are both in the same category of people. There are the sinners who know it and then there are the sinners who do not know it. Let’s read the first 2 verses and see if we can determine the differences between the 2 groups.
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 sinners who knew that they were sinners were coming to Jesus to be with Him and to listen to what He had to say. Jesus was exposing their sin (which they already knew that they had) and then offering them hope that no one else could offer. That is usually the response of many sinners when they come face to face with Jesus Christ through His Word because there they find the hope that they have been searching for. The second group is very religious yet they do not see their own sin problem. They are quick to point out the sins of others yet are blind to their own sin. Plus they are not excited about the fact that sinners are coming to Christ and having their lives transformed. Both groups are in the category of sinners yet one group realizes it and the other does not. Which group do you find yourself in? Do you realize that you are a sinner? Do you see your need for Christ or are you too busy pointing out the sins of others? Do you listen to Jesus’ Words or are you too busy being critical?
The 2 parables leading up to the “Prodigal Son” are also important in understanding the meaning of the “Prodigal Son”. The first is the parable of the Lost Sheep.
So He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? “When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. “And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:3-7)
It is obvious that the one sheep that is gone is lost. There is no question to it. Once that sheep is found and returned there is great rejoicing and celebration. There is one exception the 99 that were not found because they did not know that they were lost. Jesus is pointing out to the second group of sinners that they are lost yet because they do not know it (hence the phrase “ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance”) they do not repent and there is no rejoicing or celebration. He calls them righteous not because they are right with God but because they are “righteous” in their own eyes because of their “religion”.
“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? “When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10)
Once again, the one coin that is lost is not put into question whether or not it is lost. Once it is found there is great celebration and rejoicing. When one of the sinners who knows that he is a sinner repents then there is great rejoicing in heaven. There is no rejoicing for the other group of sinners who do not know that they are lost because they do not repent. These 2 examples are crucial in understanding the parable of the “Prodigal Son”.
The story of the “Prodigal Son” is actually a story of 2 prodigal sons, only one knows his sins while the other one does not. Let’s take a look at the 2 and see what we can learn. Many times while explaining this parable the emphasis is placed on the lost son who knows it and the father yet the “other” son is often overlooked. The whole point of the story is to get us to realize that the hearers of Jesus message (the main target) were those who identify with the 2nd son.
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. ‘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 15:11-32)
The first son mentioned, the “Prodigal Son” is the sinner who realizes his state and repents. Let’s look at the flow of events.
- First he is unappreciative of his father and family. When he asks for his share of the inheritance while his father is still alive he is basically saying, “Father, I wish you were dead”.
- Secondly, he believes that distance from his family will ease his conscious of the sinful lifestyle that he craves. For this reason he leaves his family for a distant place in order to spend his money and time in “loose living” as the Bible says. He has friends and pleasure as long as there is money but eventually the money will run out. When the money runs out the friends and pleasure disappear. Hard times come and the young man has to revert to feeding pigs in order to make a living. This still did not cause him to come to his sense, even though feeding pigs was a terrible disgrace for a Jewish man. He finally hits rock bottom when he gets to the point of wanting to eat the slop that he is feeding the pigs.
- Finally the young man comes to his senses. He remembers his father and all the riches that he has and decides to return to the father for help. Although this time, as he returns to the father, he is humble, much more humble than when he left. In fact he wants to return not as a son but as a servant. When seeing his father he admits and confesses his sins. The father forgives him and restores him to his rightful position. Once this sinner who knows that he is lost repents and returns to the father then the celebration begins. Do you remember the sheep and the lost coin? Those 2 are being echoed here with the son who knew that he was lost, humbled himself, repented and returned to the father. What about you dear friend, have you hit rock bottom and come to your senses? If not then how low do you have to go until it happens?
Now I would like to look at the 2nd son, the sinner who does not realize that he is lost.
- When he learns of his brother’s repentance he does not rejoice and does not want to celebrate, instead we see only anger and resentment. When a person has not been forgiven by God then he does not have the ability to forgive others and rejoice in their repentance. He sees mercy as unfairness. This son, when confronted by his father replies with the “it is not fair” answer right away.
- Although the 2nd brother remained with his father physically, his mind and heart were in another place. That is what it is like with religious sinners who do not realize that they are lost. Outwardly they use the mask of religion to try and show devotion while inwardly their friend and companion is sin. In verse 29 the true intentions of the 2nd brother’s heart are revealed when he says “for me and my friends”. He is not devoted to his father like he tried to portray. In his heart he wanted to party like his brother had done and he reveals himself in his anger. Instead of rejoicing and celebrating with the return of his brother he is critical and angry, more at his father than at his brother. Do you remember how the people who were sinners and did not realize it were treating Jesus because He was receiving sinners and sharing with them?
In conclusion, where do you find yourself? Are you a sinner who knows it? If so then turn to Jesus and let Him give the hope that you yearn for to you? Are you a sinner who does not realize it? How do you respond when you see sinner coming to Christ? Do you like to point out their past and shortcomings or do you rejoice in the fact that God changed their lives? God is always ready for us to repent. It is never too late as long as you are alive so come to your senses and return to Him while you have the chance.