The Prodigal Son
Scripture: Luke 15:11-32
Today we take a look at the Parable of the Prodigal Son, who the characters represent and what we can learn from it.
One of my favourite paintings depicting this is by Rembrandt, featured below, showing the return of the Prodigal Son to his father. It is also known as ‘the Lost Son.’ To me, there is such a calmness and serenity about the scene. Notice the complete love and forgiveness etched on the father’s face as he stands over his son, leaning him against his breast and stretching his hands over him. The ultimate love of a father. The whole scene represents a symbol of homecoming, of the darkest of human existence illuminated by tenderness – weary and sinful man takes refuge in the shelter of God’s mercy.
As Jesus told this parable He was addressing the Scribes and Pharisees who were complaining about His association with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus is explaining that anyone is saved when he turns away from sin and comes to God the Father.
The Prodigal Son is believed to be, by many, a Christian who falls away from the truth and then later returns after repentance but this is not completely what the parable is about. The youngest son had come to his father to ask for his inheritance which is normally divided after the father dies, he was basically saying he wanted to go it alone, he didn’t need his father’s help any more. Luke tells us he went to a “far country” meaning that he wanted to get as far away from his father (God) as possible. The father seems to be symbolic of God the Father. Isn’t this exactly what many of us do in life – we move away from God, preferring to do things and live our lives in our own strength, putting our own needs before anyone elses and revelling in our own selfish ambitions and activities.
In the parable, the son finally spends all of his inheritance in sinful activities (Luke 11:30) and finds himself in a pigs sty, feeding the pigs, who ate better than he did. He then began to think of his father (God?) whose servants had it better than he did and so he “came to himself” (Luke 11:12) and decided to go back and ask for forgiveness. How many times do we see people who are broken and need God? How many times in the depths of despair do we cry out to God to ask for His help? The same happens here. The son rehearses what he is to say to his father long before he arrives to see him (Luke 11:20). God often waits until we are broken so that we will have only Him to depend upon; He cannot fix what is not broken because He is opposed to those who are proud and will only give grace to the humble or the humbled (James 4:6)
What is amazing here is that the father had been waiting and watching for the son to come back home because he saw him and recognized his son, “while he was still a long way off.”
Is this not like God the Father desires – that none should perish but that all would come to Him through Christ (2 Pet 3:9)? What is more amazing is that the father runs to greet him and when he reaches him, he kisses and embraces him (read Psalm 2:12). Remember that this son was in a pig’s sty and so was likely to be covered in filth and stunk up to high heaven. This was not just filth but pig filth, an animal that was detestable to the Jews and this son had even been feeding pigs!
Another interesting point is that the father runs to greet him. This was disgraceful in that culture because a father never ran, especially to a son because the son was to honour the father. The son confesses his sin against the father as a person needs to confess their sins to God (1 John 1:9) because our sins are against God Himself (Psalm 51:4; Gen 39:9).
The son acknowledges that he is unworthy to be called a son of his (aren’t we all?) but this doesn’t stop the father from commanding the servants to bring a robe for the son (perhaps representing being clothed in the righteousness of Christ or symbolizing the wedding garment at the wedding feast of the bride of Christ during the marriage supper in Revelation 19:9), put a ring on his finger (symbolic of being a member of the family and as such, a promise of permanence in the family), and finally to bring him shoes for his feet (since being in God’s presence is holy ground, we must take off our shoes but when we are born again we are a child of God and can walk with God and be in His presence due to Christ’s allowing us access to the throne). Finally, the father says to bring the fattened calf and kill it (representative of Jesus’ giving up His life as a sacrifice that satisfies the Father). Then they can eat and celebrate because this son was lost but now he is found. This is why it appears that this parable pictures a person coming to faith and not one that fell away and came back. It does not say the son was found, then lost, and then found again. This is a first time event.
The older son resented the younger son being treated like this. The older son seems to represent Israel and/or the religious leaders of the Jews during that time. They despised the fact that anyone but themselves could come to God and they considered anyone not Jewish as sinners, just as the old son did his younger brother (Luke 15:30). The elder son said that he had been with the father for so many years and he had never celebrated him! The Jews of the day believed that they were entitled because of their heritage as Abraham’s children. What they didn’t understand is that only if you are Christ’s are you really Abraham’s seed (Gal 3:29). It is grace and not race. The younger brother was lost (not saved) and was dead (in his sins) but now he is alive (he has eternal life) and is found (saved).
In this parable there is a lesson for us all. God calls us to come to Christ, no matter who we are and what we have done. He seeks us out in our sinful existence and draws us to Him because of His infinite love for each and every one of us. This prodigal son was who I was and who every Christian was before they were saved. They lived a life of sin just like I did because they were lost but God the Father drew you and me to Christ. You did not come to Him by yourself. This was the work of the Holy Spirit who drew you to see your need for a Saviour, forgave your sins and gave you new life.
Today, let’s celebrate God’s favour and grace in our lives. Give thanks for salvation and forgiveness of sins and the new life we have been born into.