Summary: Sometimes the worst thing God can do is to give us what we want. the prodigal leaves for a "far country", a place which exists first in our hearts.
"The Prodigal Sons", Luke 15:11-32 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Restlessness> vss 1- 11-12
Rebellion> vss 13-16
Repentance> vss 17-19
Reconciliation> vss 20-24
Resentment> vss 25-32
When I told a friend I was preaching on the parable of the Prodigal Son, he raised a question: “Who is the most stressed out in this parable?” I thought the son, the father, and the older brother were in different ways rather stressed. But I was wrong. My friend said the one most stressed out of all was the fatted calf!
The parable of the prodigal son is the 3rd in a trilogy of parables, the other two being about a lost coin and a missing sheep. The word "prodigal" means "waster", one who wastes gifts and resources. The title comes from vs. 13 which tells how the son "wasted his substance in riotous living." -A lost coin, a lost sheep, a lost son.
Vss 11-12 reveal the younger son’s restlessness. He asks for his inheritance--an unusual, yet legal request. The boy was in effect saying, "I don’t want to have to wait around for you to die to get what’s mine, Dad; since you haven’t died soon enough to suit me, I want what’s mine now."
The fall of the prodigal began the moment he claimed his rights; when he separated his interests from the interests of his family--and not simply when he began to live separately and recklessly, far from home. The desire to leave home and face the responsibilities of adulthood is perfectly natural; the restless yearning to flee responsibilities is immature. As the prodigal grew restless, his polluted imagination conjured up exotic, far away places. He could envision the implications of total freedom from authority.
The father allows his younger son to leave. Sometimes the worst thing God can do is to give us what we want--to show us that our desires can’t bring satisfaction. The prodigal got what he wanted, but lost what he had. When we rebel against God’s will He sometimes says, "All right, YOUR will be done! See how you like it! God’s most severe punishment may be to give us what we want.
In vss 13-16 we witness the results of the prodigal’s rebellion. Gathering up his things, the prodigal leaves for a "far country"; a place which exists first in our hearts. Like so many of us, his happiness was conditional upon his circumstances; he was not content with his situation.
Freedom became freedom to sin, and pleasures provided a false enchantment, maybe even a deluded justification. The prodigal was eager to "see life", apart from God—yet to say, "I will have no more of God" is to say "I will have no more of life."
The lost son lusted for freedom without restraints and ended up enslaving himself. When his money ran out, his so-called friends deserted him--they were only friends of his wealth. He learned the hard way that we can’t enjoy the things money can buy if we ignore the things money cannot buy.
Destitute, he was forced to do for a stranger what he refused to do for his own father--to work. For a Jew, there could be no more demeaning labor than to be a swineherd. The "husks" or "pods" of vs. 16 were likely the fruit of the carob tree, which only those in abject poverty would eat.
Sin promises freedom but it only brings slavery...it promises success, but it only brings failure...it promises life, but "the wages of sin is death." Those who reject God’s rule are compelled to serve the devil.
We often meet our destiny on the road we take to avoid it. The lost son "came to his senses", and "found" himself, we’re told in vs. 17. The first step of repentance comes when people realize the foolishness of their actions, and sense the despair into which they have fallen.
The prodigal complains about no one but himself, and speaks of no unworthiness but his own. He doesn’t blame his plight on his former evil companions. He admits his eagerness to leave the protection of his home and offers no excuses to cover his guilt or justify his waywardness. He has reached rock bottom, and his only remaining resource is repentance. He confesses, "I have sinned; I am unworthy."
When he left home, he had a fairly positive self-image, and his wild companions assured him that he was a likable, generous individual. When he compared himself to the bums, harlots and degenerates, he measured favorably. Even later when he was forced to work at a pig farm, he may have compared himself to the other swineherds, and he may have figured he was better than them; very likely he was, considering his privileged background. But when his thoughts turned to home and he compared himself to the father he abandoned, he admitted he was no longer worthy to be called his son. He adopted a new standard of comparison. We may look around us at people in various degrees of depravity and assume we’re OK. But when our standard is Jesus Christ, we see our true condition, and how hopelessly far we fall short of His holy example and righteous expectations.