The beginning of this chapter sets the scene; people gathered to listen to the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the groups who loved to gather were the publicans and sinners. The Lord Jesus spoke to them in a very special way in which they were drawn to listen to Him. Amongst them were the Pharisees and Scribes, who complained because Jesus received sinners and met with them. In response, Jesus spoke three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. In each, all have the same meaning – to rejoice when something lost is found. This is something which the Pharisees knew nothing of.
This Prodigal Son is probably the best known of all Jesus’ parables. The younger brother represents ourselves, the Father is Himself and the eldest brother the Pharisees. The younger son comes to the Father and says, ‘Give me my inheritance’ (verse 12). He has little respect for his father. He doesn’t say, ‘Please,’ or ‘May I have?’ No, he says, ‘Give me.’ Right fromstart the relationship is revealed between the young man and his father. He wants his money now. In other words, he wants he demands his independence, he wants to live his own life and not be tied down. If ever there was a boy who broke his father’s heart, it would have been this prodigal son. He is saying, ‘I don’t love you, I don’t want to be in your presence anymore.’ He wants his father dead so he can have his inheritance, an inheritance which wouldn’t usually be given until his father had died. It’s an unlikely event. The father is loving, kind and generous but the son days he doesn’t want any more to do with him.
With God, our Father, this is how everyone has reacted. We want to live our lives our own way, the way we want, not to go His way and be in His presence. It speaks volumes about ourselves. We may not be completely like him – he’s extreme – but in some way or other we’re like the prodigal son. It speaks of a time before our conversion, some of us may still have God outside our lives.
The Father responds by dividing the inheritance; one portion to the younger son and two portions to the older son. The younger son received a lot as his father was rich. Why did the father give him what he wanted? We don’t give everything our children ask for. Why should God allow us to live our lives as we choose today, knowing the lives we would choose would not be good for us? Our lives are not ours. We’ve been created by God. The prodigal son went off and lived as he chose. But there’s a day coming when we have to appear before God.
It didn’t take long for him to pack up and leave (verse 13). He went as far away as possible. That’s what lots of people do today, they don’t want anything to do with God. Most people are in that far off country, enjoying themselves, doing as they please.
It doesn’t take long for the prodigal son to waste all, he has expensive tastes. He just thought about living it up, enjoying himself. His lifestyle was one of excess. During that time friends came and joined him. They were living away from God. Not surprisingly, he lost all. Then there was a severe famine. He began to be in want. His plans hadn’t worked out as he thought, he was now in debt. With the famine, work was hard to find. It was a bad experience. This can happen to us. Something happens, goes wrong in our lives. What are we to do?
The best thing for the prodigal son was to go home. Now all his money was gone he was on his own and had nothing. We see people today who go through all kinds of difficulties, yet they will not turn to God.
The prodigal son stuck to a person of that country (verse 15). He was a foreigner, yet he attached himself to a person who didn’t know him or care for him. Because he didn’t care for him he sent him into the fields to feed the pigs. Jesus, in telling this story to a crowd who didn’t like pigs, who didn’t eat pork, was showing them how terrible it was for this man. He was now found amongst the lowest of the low, in a job a Jew would have found to be the worst of all. The situation became far worse. The famine was so hard there was not enough for the young man to feed himself, he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pigs’ food. He wanted to get amongst the pigs and eat their food. This man had fallen so low, it couldn’t have got any worse.
The heart of this parable is verse 17, ‘He came to himself.’ It came from being in a state of need. It implies he had not been in his right mind, living in a way that wasn’t real, wasn’t reality. He awakes to his situation. He sees himself. This is the work of the Holy Spirit convincing him of his need to return home, to come back to God. He recognises how futile it is to live as he was. Friends, have you come to yourself?
God is merciful. The son rehearses what he will say when he returns to his father (verse 18). He is truly repentant. He arose the next day and went home. He put into practice what he thought.
On his way home, when he was still a great way off, his father saw him. He knew the son couldn’t make it on his own, that his lifestyle had made him weak. He needed his father. It’s a picture of Jesus seeing us when we were a long way off. Jesus died for our sins on that cross. Here is true repentance, seeing yourself as nothing, looking upon the Lord Jesus Christ as your lord and Saviour, the one who died on the cross for us.
The father saw his son and rushed out to meet him. Oh what love! Why would God want us when we’ve turned our backs on him and rebelled? God waits, looks and observes us. The moment we repent He comes to us with His open arms, ready to receive us. The son starts talking but the father spares his humiliation (verse 22). The son was raised up to be the son of the father. He was given the robe of righteousness. When we repent, He delights in us. There is great rejoicing in the child of God who returns to His Father. What joy there is in church when we see people returning to God. Do you know that joy? Have you lived that prodigal life and returned?