Jesus taught a parable that is commonly referred to as the Prodigal Son. The word “prodigal” is a description of someone who is wastefully and recklessly extravagant or self-indulgent; a spend thrift. It describes the lifestyle of one of the sons in the story. However, I believe this parable is wrongly named by most commentators and readers. The focus of Jesus’ parable is not on the sons but on the father. So, rather than being called the Parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son it should be titled The Parable of the Amazing (Grace-filled, Patient, Generous, Loving, Compassionate…) Father. You see, the focus of the Bible is not on man but on God. The Bible is ultimately a book about God more so than a “how to” manual. For certain there are practical insights about living and thinking but ultimately the Bible teaches us who God is, which if properly understood will result in living a life with purpose and proper meaning. In exploring this passage you will see 3 characteristics about God with relevance to earthly fathers.
Fathers extend love through patience (15:11-16).
The father had 2 sons. The younger son requested his father’s inheritance early, essentially viewing his father as dead. It was a complete insult with an ungrateful attitude from the son. Apparently he took for granted all that the father had done to provide and care for him thus far.
The son asked for his inheritance (tas useios) of material possessions like the land, animals, buildings, etc. He did not ask for his normal inheritance (kleronomia) which was the material possessions along with the management of its resources for future wealth and generational continuity. So, in essence he was saying, “Father, you and this family are cramming my style and are a hindrance to my freedom and happiness. I wish you were dead. I’ve got plans that don’t involve you or this family. I’m getting out of here. Just give me my inheritance so I can sell it and leave this place!”
The father had every right to rebuke the son and shame him publicly, expelling him from the family. In the social setting of Israel at this time, this son’s request was a supreme act of rebellion. In fact, it was even customary in that time to hold an officially ceremony, like a funeral, proclaiming that the son was dead (v.24, 32).
Yet, the father does not rebuke or expel his son. Instead, he extends his love through patience. He grants the son his portion of the inheritance with the freedom to choose, even if it is the wrong choice. The son journeyed off and wasted his possessions. And if that were not enough, a famine arose leaving the son even more hopeless. Almost at rock bottom he joins a Gentile to work in pig fields. This would have been a major disgrace to a Jewish raised boy (Lev 11:7, Deut 14:8). And if this were not enough, the son longed/lusted (epithumeo) to be fed with what the pigs ate.
1) For the Prodigal: Sin spirals.
You see, sinful living promises to please but always fails to fulfill. The prodigal thought freedom would be found in his independence from the father. Prodigals view God and his church as a hindrance to happiness. They want (demand?) God’s blessing and provision without the responsibility of being a true follower and lover of God. They want God’s hand but not his heart. Yet, in this discovery process they find that independence from the Father’s good pleasure only becomes slavery to sin and its consequences.
The Bible warns us of spiraling sin in Romans 2:3b-5
“…do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”
God takes sin seriously. Sin is rebellion not just against God’s law but against God’s person. It is a rejection of His character and love in your life. It is a failure to recognize God and His ways are perfectly good and beneficial to give true life and freedom.
2) For the Father: Love is patient.
The father gave the child freedom to choose, even if it was wrong. John MacArthur says of this passage, “And this is the agony that’s the most painful of any personal agony, the agony of rejected love. The greater the love, the greater the pain when that love is rejected. This is God, God giving the sinner freedom.” And God, in the agony of rejected love gives the sinner patience and freedom.
Fathers can learn to be patient from God’s example. One point I learned from this passage is to not waste the use of discipline for your children. The father understood that there are times to rebuke and discipline and there are times to be patient, giving freedom to make wrong or right choices. This is raising children to become independently dependent upon God.
Fathers extend love through pursuit (15:17-20).
The father’s love continued even in the midst of the son’s rebellion. He did the unthinkable of granting the son’s shameful request. Even more, when the son came to repentance and returned home the father was already expectedly looking for his return. In fact, the father’s compassion overflowed that he ran to meet his son and heavily embraced him.
To comment on this, author Kenneth Bailey writes, “Middle Easterners do not run… traditionally [because] they all wear long robes… No one can run in a long robe without taking it up into his or her hands. When this occurs the legs are exposed which is considered humiliating.” This cultural behavior shows the extent of the father’s love even to the point of self humiliation. The depth of the father’s pursuing love would be obvious to this audience.
As New Testament Christians, we can see that God pursues his people and has done so fully by offering His very own Son to pay the penalty for our sin. Jesus’ willingness to endure the cross is the supreme act of self-humiliation and exposure.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
Keep hope alive. As Christians or even wandering souls, we can trust that God does not want to give up on us or those we love. He has not abandoned his invitation for all those who call on the name of the Lord to be saved (Rom 10:13).
Likewise, if God is still pursuing individuals then we should do the same. Christians should not judge others based on personal frustrations or dislikes. We need to be reminded that we are channels for God’s grace not his judgment.
2 Corinthians 5:18-21 “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Fathers extend love through forgiveness (15:21-32).
This amazing father has had his hopes and prayers answered. His prodigal son has returned with a contrite heart. In response, the father forgives his son. Their embrace and reunion cancels out the son’s practiced speech of earning restoration through becoming a hired servant. The father simply extends grace and mercy and is ready to celebrate the homecoming. He pulls out all the stops – placing a robe, ring and sandals on the son. These are marks of a free man versus a slave who would have little if any accessories and go barefoot. A huge feast was prepared… you can almost smell the barbeque aroma!
In the midst of this celebration there arose some jealousy and bitterness from the older son. Rather than celebrating the repentant brother’s homecoming, the older brother became angry and refused to participate in the festivities. From the reader’s perspective, the older son’s attitude was equally shameful towards the father. This son was never seen to rise to the father’s defense in the earlier conflict. He appears equally distant from the father though not physically but emotionally. His self-righteous attitude of external obedience is eerily familiar to those of the Pharisees… and unfortunately many Christians today.
Many Christians are tempted to live with the “older brother” perspective. We have reduced Christianity and the gospel to living by a set of rules and check lists without little thought to how disgusting our self-righteous pride is to a holy God. This is a shallow understanding of sin AND a shallow view of grace. This older brother was untouched by his brother’s repentance and restoration. Where was the joy in this family relationship?
Above all, the father shows unfathomable grace. He extends forgiveness not to just the younger son but the older as well. He is an example of God the Father removing our sin as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12) and proclaiming that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).
Above all, we can understand that Repentance is always possible. No one is too far from God’s reach. The door is always open to those who return to God in repentance and faith. But realize that repentance is not mere words or actions to earn our way back to God. Genuine repentance is an accurate assessment of your own character and circumstances. It is a heartfelt brokenness realizing that you have not only crossed the line of God’s law but you have individually offended God’s person. You are undeserving yet through trusting and receiving God’s grace you become restored in a right relationship with God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ.