Luke 15:11-24 This is one of my all time favorites stories that Jesus tells. Although, it is not specifically about him, it is about the love that our Father has for us, and the only way we can come in contact with that love is through Jesus.
It is also one of my favorites because of its complexity. At first read, it seems to just speak to people who need God’s love, but in context it is told because of the judgmental attitudes of the Pharisees (vs. 1-2.) Jesus tells this story for the benefit of the rebel Pharisees who continue to oppose Jesus for his inclusive grace to misfits. In this first article we will see God’s love to the rebellious son, who represents us. In part two we will look at God’s challenge to those who would block entrance in the Kingdom.
Jesus begins the story with a man who has two sons. The younger of the two tells his father (not asks) that he wants his share of the inheritance (1/3 of the estate). With this statement he is saying to his father, “Your way was fine, but now I’m going to do it my way. Give me what’s mine; what I’ll get when you drop dead so I can go out and live my life.” That’s pretty disrespectful, right?
Yet the father, who loves his son, didn’t balk at his son’s demand, but he divided the property between both sons. The younger son sells his property and takes his money and all his possessions and heads for a distant land where no one knows him. It’s a license to do whatever he wants to do since no one knows him – no one will hold him accountable.
He blows through his money in wild living; probably parties and vices and buying anything his heart desired. Then the famine hit and he lost everything including any friends he had acquired. He was stuck in a foreign land with no money, no food, and no way back.
So he hires on as a farm hand to feed pigs, which is illegal for a Jew (this would be most scandalous to the listening Pharisees). He is so hungry that he wants to eat the slop that the pigs are eating but no one would give him any!
The pigs are more valuable in the eyes of his employer.
Verse seventeen is pivotal, in saying he “came to his senses.” Jesus is saying that he realizes that his rebellious ways have brought him to ruin. The son’s life was much better when he was living under his father’s love, care and authority. Realizing that his father’s servants lived like kings compared to his current state, he decides to go and throw himself at the mercy of his father.
He begins to make his way back home all the while rehearsing his apology speech. He’s not going to make any excuses. He is willing to accept the blame and any consequences of his actions.
His father sees him a long way off. This isn’t mere coincidence that the father just happens to be looking when the son decided to return home. No, it suggests much more, that the father has been constantly on the look out for the son. He has been patiently waiting, expecting to see him top the hill at any moment.
The father runs to meet him, embraces him, and showers him with kisses and undeserved love.
At this moment the son starts into his speech, but the father interrupts him, and calls for a ring, a robe, and a feast. He is so overjoyed at the son’s return that he won’t allow him to finish or join the stewards in the servant’s quarters for that matter. The gifts he receives are not for servants, they are for family only. The father makes the great exclamation, “my son was lost and is found” demonstrating the joy of his repentant son.
This story is so great because it describes us to a “T.” We are the rebellious son choosing to go our own way even though God has offered a far superior way of living. God, the loving Father, lets us go and see for ourselves. Imagine a Father who loves us so much that he is willing to let us choose our own path. In doing so we always meet the same result as the son. We become famished, lonely, and dirty, with no resources, and separated from the One who loves us.
God the Father longs for us to come to our senses and realize that there is a much better way, under His authority, protection and provision. When that time comes he greets us as the father in the story greets his son, with overflowing compassion and love. He doesn’t condemn us or make it difficult in coming back like the older brother does.
He throws a party and rejoices at our return. What a great and loving heavenly Father!