Summary: Did Jesus resort to using allegory as a clever ruse so as to keep things hidden? On the contrary! Jesus resorted to using parables so that the listener could better understand “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 13:11].
Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)
Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ
Sunday, September 6, 2015
by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter
In a Manner of Speaking: “The Prodigal Son”
Luke 15:11-32 [NET]
The scriptures tell us that on one occasion Jesus was sitting by the seashore (presumably by the Sea of Galilee) when a great multitude gathered around Him. So, He pushed off from shore in a fishing boat and sat down. Meanwhile, the crowd stood on the shore whereupon He began speaking to them in parables.
Later, His disciples asked, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” [Matthew 13:10; Mark 4:10]. The Lord replied: “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.” He continued: “I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” [Matthew 13:11, 13, 17].
Jesus often spoke in parables to explain difficult matters in simplistic terms. By using common, everyday experiences people of all ages, from the youngest to the oldest, could relate with what Jesus was saying to them regarding such things as: health, wealth, and relationships. But the Lord also emphasized eternal matters such as: life and death, heaven and hell, forgiveness and condemnation.
In the Greek, the word “parable” ( - pronounced para-bu-lays) is a compound word which literally means to: “put things ‘side by side’.” Thus, a parable was a story placed alongside that of another story; an underlying story so that the two stories paralleled each other.
Did Jesus resort to using allegory as a clever ruse so as to keep things hidden? On the contrary! Jesus resorted to using parables so that the listener could better understand “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 13:11]. Walter Elwell, professor, author and Bible commentator, explained Jesus’ parables this way: “His purpose was to reveal just enough truth to raise intense curiosity, promising more if the listeners went along, but also concealing enough of the truth so that the complacent would walk away uninspired.”
Here in Luke’s account are these three collaborating parables (the “Lost Sheep”, the “Lost Coin” and the “Lost Son”), which serve to remind us that those who are lost are the very ones who do not know they are lost and need to be found!
In his study Bible, John MacArthur wrote (paraphrasing): “The parable of the ‘Prodigal Son’ is the most familiar and beloved of all of Jesus’ parables. It is also one of the longest and most detailed of the thirty-six recorded parables found in the Synoptic gospels. However, unlike most parables, this one has more than one lesson.
The prodigal son exemplifies someone who exudes genuine repentance. The older brother illustrates the wickedness of the Pharisees’ and that of their self-righteousness, prejudice, and indifference towards repentant sinners. This earthly father symbolizes the heavenly Father, who is eager to forgive, and who longs for the return of the contrite sinner. However, just like the other two parables in this chapter, the main feature is the joy of God, and the celebration that takes place in heaven when a sinner repents.”
Yes, this story leaves us with an indelible image of our heavenly Father. And one of the first things we discover in this parable is [that]: OUR HEAVENLY FATHER SHOWS INFINITE PATIENCE (repeat).
We’re not privy to what precipitated the youngest son’s desire to leave home. All we’re told is that he goes to his father and pleads for his portion of inheritance which, by all accounts, was a most unusual request!
According to ancient Jewish customs, a son’s inheritance was received only after the father had died. However, while alive a father might decide to divide his estate while retaining the income; a sort of ‘living trust’. Typically, a double portion was bequeathed to the oldest son [Deuteronomy 21:17]. But for a son to ask for his share of the inheritance while the father was alive was tantamount to saying, “Father, I wish you were dead!”
We don’t know how the father initially reacted to his son’s request. But what is important to know is that this father could rightfully have disowned his son leaving him virtually penniless. But rather than disavowing his son, this father divided his estate between his two sons, giving the youngest son his portion in money, which presumably was sizeable. And I say that because this father owned both land and livestock; requiring both servants and hired hands to tend to his vast holdings.
To have sold off a portion of his holdings must have taken several days to transpire, because in verse 13 we read: “after a few days, the younger son