This parable may be a common story to most of us. To start with, let us read it right from the Bible. It is found in Luke 15:11-32. It reads:
Then He said: “A certain man had two sons and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood and not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living, but when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country and he sent him into his fields to feed swine and he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough to spare and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’
“And he arose and came to his father, but when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him and the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet and bring the fattened calf here and kill it and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
“Now his older son was in the field and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant and he said to him, ‘Your brother has come and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fattened calf.’
“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends but as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him.’
“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again and was lost and is found.’”
Repentance is a word not often used these days. You will see that the younger son repented of his foolishness in leaving home. He wasn’t just sad about, it but he actually did something about it. That is what repentance means. It means to no longer go in the direction you were going but to turn around and go in the opposite direction and go the way you should go. We all turn away from God and do our own thing and we land in trouble. Don’t let pride stop you from repenting and putting it right with your heavenly Father. The Father will have compassion; he will not make you a slave. He will restore you to full son-ship with Him. God is always waiting with arms outstretched!
I have heard this parable so many times but it makes me sad and upset. You may ask, “Why?” It is because I really didn’t fully understand it, until recently.
Sarah, a good friend of mine, lent me a book on the Prodigal Son. The book spoke about the older brother in the parable and how he thought that he was better than everyone and how he had done everything right. He felt he was righteous and his younger brother was not. It showed how he thought he deserved his father’s love more than his younger brother who went away and lived a prodigal life. Sarah only gave me a paragraph to read in her book and it deeply disturbed me, as the older brother’s thoughts and actions so described how I thought and acted. It made me really sad because what it showed was the older brother’s disgusting attitude. That was the beginning of my eyes being opened to the reality that living a life like mine was not what God wanted for me.
You have to be sad to change. You have to know that there is a need for change before it can take place in your life. This book clearly did that for me. It dawned on me what the older brother did—living a self-righteous life, striving to be holy by his own works.
In July 2010, I came across the teachings of Joseph Prince and Andrew Wommack and there was a revolution in my life. Since then, my life has taken an “about turn.” What I thought was the truth—the ideas I had found in the Word over the past sixteen years, was proved to be totally wrong. My concept of what personal holiness, righteousness and sanctification involved: was all wrong. I had the wrong idea of what God was like. I was sadly mistaken about nearly everything in which I believed. That is the contextual backdrop for what I have to say as we look at this parable.
The parable says that the second son came to his father and insisted on his inheritance to be given to him right away.
In the Old Testament Law there existed a law for a rebellious child. It said that if a child was rebellious once, he should be warned. If he was rebellious a second time, he should be brought before the elders of the city and stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
Now, the Jews who were listening to this parable would have thought to themselves right away that something was different about this parable. They would have noted that Jesus was talking about a rebellious son and yet his story did not have the son stoned. In fact, the father willingly gave in to his son’s demands.
For a son to come to his father and say, “give me my inheritance,” was akin to him saying, “Dad, I want you dead.” Instead of rebuking the son, the father may have had to sell some of his land, or his sheep, to give the son one third of his worth, leaving two-thirds to the older brother, who was his first- born son. The oldest son had responsibilities and privileges that other siblings didn’t have in those days.
In today’s money, in Sydney, a third of an average house would be worth about two hundred thousand dollars. If this household had full time servants, we can assume the younger son was given up to a third of a million dollars at least.
The youngest son went around and spent his money with drinking and wild living, including sleeping with prostitutes. When the money ran out, he secured a job feeding pigs. Pigs were unclean to the Jews, therefore, as a young Jewish lad: he had reached rock bottom and was tremendously unclean. Fortunately, the son soon came to his senses and thought about the servants in his father’s house who were treated better than how he was at the moment. He decided to go home.
As you read this, you might be wondering what a lost son or a prodigal son has to do with your life. I have to ask you, have you really been home to see the Father? The Bible records that we are seated in Heavenly places. Are you a person who has felt the Father’s embrace? Do you feel like you are seated in Heavenly places and are holy and righteous?
Or do you feel like a dirty sinner? Do you fall in sin and cannot seem to erase its memory from your mind? Do you have trouble staying clean and righteous? Does it seem as though you are in a pig pen? Do you long for a way where you could feel forgiven, clean and in a robe of righteousness? Do you need the power to stop all the sin in your life?
I didn’t admit that I felt like this to myself. I thought I was more like the faithful older brother. I had sins in my life, but I used to try to excuse them.
Let’s return to the parable: The prodigal came back to his father. The father saw him a long way off and ran to him. I have been told that in the Jewish custom of that day, fathers did not run towards their children. They were to be honored and respected and would expect their children to come to them. The father in this parable illustrates God the Father’s sheer joy when a prodigal child returns – rather than wait for them to get to Him, He will run towards them, longing to welcome them home. So once again, Jesus’ parable breaks all customs.
You see, the message of grace breaks all customs. The idea that we can be sinners and still be embraced by God is scandalous. One time, in the midst of my addiction, I was taken in a vision to Heaven where Jesus wanted me to go into the throne room and meet His Father. As a sinner, I was petrified to meet our holy God, but Jesus urged me and told me not to fear and then He took me inside. The Father embraced me with His love that day and said something I will never forget. Folks, I was a filthy sinner. Four days before this visit to Heaven I had been in the arms of a prostitute.
The father in this parable is a true representation of our Father in Heaven. He hushed his son’s excuses and carefully rehearsed speech and called for his best robe to be put on him. The robe signified the robe of righteousness that Jesus has given to all believers. Whether we care to admit it or not, whether we can handle it or not, we are righteous in God’s sight if we are born again. You may protest about being righteous but you would be just like I was for those sixteen years with the wrong theology.
His father gave the son new shoes, so he did not have dusty feet. This is similar to Jesus washing His disciples’ feet, showing that walking in this world will mean that our feet will get dirty, but we can be washed daily by Him. In the Book of Ephesians, it says that we are clad with the shoes of the Gospel of peace. The most difficult thing about most of us spreading the Gospel is that we don’t think we have a personal story to share that is exciting enough. But you should remember that your salvation story is unique to you and it still demonstrates God’s love and power on earth today – you should never feel that your story is not worthy of being shared. I remember when I was only about ten years old; I heard an exciting testimony by a motor bike-rider, who had lived a life or crime and drug taking. That night I asked God to give me a strong testimony to be able to share with people His overcoming love. Thinking back now, that was a stupid prayer!
The father gave his son a ring and put it on his finger. When I went to Heaven and met the Father, Jesus put a robe around me, a crown on my head and a ring on my finger. In those days the ring that the father gave his son was an official sign of authority. It could be used as a seal or as a stamp to have checks signed by. It represented all sorts of financial duties. Though we do not understand it that much, we also have been given authority in the Kingdom of God. We, as co-heirs with Christ, have power over this world. We have the authority to do great things. Yet without knowledge of this power and authority, we are ineffective.
Now let’s talk about the older brother. When the younger brother came home, this man became angry. As a person living the Christian life, going to church each week and reading your Bible often, it is not hard to start thinking that you are better than others. When you feel you have a good relationship with Jesus, you are very zealous with the things of God and you are always trying to learn more about the Kingdom, you might become quite proud of yourself and think that you are better than other people.
You might be like I was. If you meet a gay person in the street and they are not a Christian, you might be very cordial to them as a way of maintaining a good witness in the hope that one day you can help them see Jesus. But if you see gay people at church, a gay guy and his boyfriend praising God, you might suddenly rise up in judgment and say to yourself that they should not be allowed to come to church as a practicing gay couple. You might forget that once you were an unwashed sinner, the thousands of times that you have been forgiven. All you can think about is how they should be told to stop coming to church if they will not change.
There might be a man in your church that has a gambling problem and every time he sees you, he wants to borrow money from you. You know he has a gambling problem and now you will not even treat him like a human. You gossip to others and say: “How could he be in such a mess as a Christian?”
How quickly we forget that being conformed in our soul and body takes a lifetime. God has started a work in us and has promised to complete it. (Philippians 1:6) In the meantime we should rejoice that the Holy Spirit is bringing to the church struggling people to us so that we can love them as Jesus does. They will at least hear the word of God being taught and faith will develop as they are ready to receive.
Like the older brother, you might be full of self works, self-righteousness and pride and you might need to change. Or, you may be like the younger son that is lost in sin. Either way, there is good news for you. God knows all about both of these sons and He has answers for both situations. Why don’t you run to Him?