Summary: Ninth and final message in this series. The Parable of the Prodigal Son demonstrates that misunderstanding the heart of the Father keeps us from experiencing His mercy.
This morning we’ll conclude our nine week journey through some of the parables that Jesus told. Before we began this series I thought I had a pretty good handle on these mostly familiar parables. And there is no doubt that much of my previous understanding of these parables has been reinforced to some extent. But what has really surprised me – in a good way – is that there is so much more to these parables than I had previously seen.
By taking the time to properly understand the context in which Jesus told these parables and by focusing on the particular audience and purpose of each parable, I’ve come to see these parables in a fresh new light. And I pray that is also the case for you.
This morning we end our series with perhaps the most well known and loved parable of all – the one we usually refer to as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. But I’d like to suggest to you that perhaps that’s not really the best title for this parable after all. Let me show you why I think that is the case. Once again, as we should expect by now, context is the key here. So let’s begin at the very beginning of Luke chapter 15, where we find this familiar parable:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:
(Luke 15:1-3, ESV)
It is at that point that Jesus actually tells a series of three parables that are all meant to deal with the same issue. All three of these parables have the same basic structure:
• Something (or someone) is lost
• The object (or person) is found
• The person who found what was lost throws a party and invites others to rejoice with him or her
And all three parables are directed to the same audience – the Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling because Jesus was hanging out with tax collectors and other sinners. That is an important thing for us to remember if we’re going to draw the appropriate applications from our parable.
The first two parables were short and simple. In the first a man lost one of his one hundred sheep and he left the other ninety-nine to go find the one sheep, which he then carried back home on his shoulders. When he returned home, he gathered his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him that he had found that one sheep.
In the second parable a woman loses one of her ten coins. So she lights a lamp and diligently searches her house until she finds that one coin. Then she also calls together her friends and neighbors to rejoice with her over finding that one coin.
In both cases, Jesus ends the parable by revealing the main point of the parable:
• There is great rejoicing in heaven over even one sinner who repents.
That is certainly a message that the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes needed to hear. As we talked about last week, these devoutly religious men were quite righteous by human standards. But because their religion actually held God at a distance, they failed to understand God’s compassion and His desire for people to humble themselves and repent and seek His mercy. So instead of doing what they should have been doing and sharing God’s love with those who needed it most, they actually avoided having any kind of contact at all with those they considered to be unrighteous sinners.
But Jesus leaves Hs audience with one unanswered question at the end of each of the first two parables. We don’t see how the friends and neighbors respond to the request to come and celebrate the finding of that which was lost. But Jesus has one more parable to tell – one in which He is going to focus on the answer to that question. And, I would suggest, it is a parable that is intended to speak primarily to these self-righteous religious leaders.
Since most of us are familiar with the parable, and we listened as the entire text was read earlier in the service, I’m not going to read the entire parable again. But allow me to quickly review the story.
A father had two sons. The younger son is the prodigal son. The word “prodigal” describes someone whose life is characterized by wasteful, lavish spending, and that is certainly an accurate description of this son. He asks for his share of his father’s inheritance, which his father gives to him, and then he goes and wastes that entire treasure in reckless living. Eventually he remembers how good he had it at his father’s house and returns home. He is prepared to humble himself and beg for his father’s mercy and forgiveness.