Prodigal Son Luke 15:11-32
This is one of three parables in Luke 15 that go together to show us the ministry of the triune God in reaching the lost. Verses 3-7 describe the ministry of the Good Shepherd. Verses 8-10 describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit and beginning in verse 11 we see the ministry of the Father in redeeming the lost.
Man, in the person of the prodigal son, went to God, in the person of the Father, and demanded his portion of goods that he felt belonged to him. In Genesis 3 we find that man received from God, in addition to a body, a soul. It is man’s soul that is his most valuable possession. We are told elsewhere in Scripture that if a man were to gain the world and lose his soul, he would have nothing. We can take it and yield it to God, or we can squander it by offering it to the gods of this world.
Verse 13 records that the son took a journey into a far country, which is the world. Meditate on the little word “far.” Man separated from God is far from so much that God would offer.
Verse 13 also reads that he wasted his substance in riotous living. What a powerful picture of man as a sinner. He wastes his most valuable possession on what he feels is real living when in fact it is only riotous living. It is a lifestyle that neither satisfies nor lasts.
Verse 14 records that he encounters a mighty famine. Note that the famine arose. It was not always there. It was not there until man separated himself from God. A life of sin is like a famine. a famine that results in dying of emptiness and want. Verse 14 adds, “He began to be in need.” A major ministry of the Holy Spirit, as seen in the parable just before this. The Holy Spirit seeks to bring individuals to the place where they will see their need of Jesus.
Verse 15 records, “So he went and hired himself out to a citizen.” This vividly pictures man without God. Note, he did not return to God but rather turned to man and to work. The parable is as modern as today. Look about us and what do we see? We see a society in which there is obvious famine of everything that is important, trying anything to satisfy the wants of his soul and fill the emptiness that is always a part of being separated from God, attaching itself to the things of this world. The prodigals of our society are attaching themselves to drugs, to alcohol, to education, to materialism, to sex, to pleasure. The list could go on looking at the things a man, who is really in search of God, is turning to rather than God. They are searching for what we have found in Jesus. We need to tell them they will never find what satisfies in the things of this world.
Read Luke 15:15. Do not miss the fact that the son ends up tending pigs, remembering that the Jewish people wanted nothing to do with pigs. He went as low as he could go.
Verse 17 records, “When he came to his senses.” No man ever came to God without first seeing the emptiness of his life as it is being lived here and now. There is an interesting study of the word “senses,” which is the root for our word “sanity” or literally to be in the right mind. Read Ephesians 4:17-18. The prodigal is beginning to think as God thinks. Verse 18 records, “I will go back to my Father.” First, he felt the famine, then discovered that no man could help him, then began to come to a right mind, and then began to return to the Father, who was his real hope.
The verse goes on “and tell him I have sinned.” There is no other way to come to God apart from an acknowledgement that we are sinners. But he did not yet fully understand the concept of salvation by faith alone, that it is grace and grace alone that saves. He said, “I will be a hired servant.” When we get to verse 21 and he meets the Father he realizes that it is not possible to earn a place in the Father’s house.
Verses 20-24 are among the most beautiful in the Bible. They picture God’s love and all that we have in Jesus. We must say, “Praise God for all He has given to us.” Verse 20 records that when he was yet a far off the Father saw him. How could the Father have seen him afar off if had he not been watching for him? God wants every prodigal to come back to him. The Holy Spirit pleads with us and God lovingly looks for the prodigals’ return. How far away were we? Read Ephesians 2:13.
Notice that the Father had compassion. To appreciate this, we must picture what the prodigal son had to have looked like at that point. When we come to Jesus it is always the same. We come out a famine and out of wallowing in the garbage of a pig pen. And the Father has compassion. There was nothing lovely in the son. He was pitiful but the father still loved him.
The Father ran to him. The son arose and went but the Father ran. This is the only place we know of in the Bible where we find God is in a hurry. He threw his arms around him and kissed him. It is an expression of love that the Father shows.
Verse 21 reads, “I have sinned.” Not only did the prodigal son recognize his sinfulness but he was willing to confess it to God. “I am not worthy.” It is only as we come to grips with our unworthiness that we can truly come to God in confession of sin. It is only as we see our helplessness that we can begin to appreciate the graciousness of God. Note, there is no mention of working. When we come to grips with how sinful we are and how holy God is, we realize we can never earn our salvation. It is by grace alone. No amount of works can compensate for our sin.
Verse 22 reads, “Bring the best robe and put it on him.” They are outside the house. A banquet is ready inside but the son, is a sinner in filthy rags, and cannot enter God’s house. The robe is brought out. The robe is already made and waiting. Salvation has already been provided by Jesus on the Cross. And it is the best robe. That robe is nothing less than the righteousness of Jesus. Read Isaiah 61:10.
Put it on him. Everything is done for us when we come to God. The best robe is provided and put on. Read Zechariah 3:4.
Verse 22 goes on, “Put a ring on his hand.” The ring is both provided and put on, not handed to him. The ring represents the Holy Spirit given to each believer and speaks of both love and ownership.
And shoes are provided. God has not missed a thing. A kiss of welcome and reconciliation, a robe to replace our filthy rags, a ring to show ownership and now shoes for our daily walk with Him. Read Isaiah 52:7. Not only are we saved but we are equipped to walk in this life as ambassadors of Him. The son said, “I will return as a hired servant,” but God says, “You are now my ambassadors.”
Verse 23 reads, “Bring the fatted calf.” The Greek is clear. The scene has shifted from outside to inside the Father’s house. With the new robe now on we can enter into His presence. We are not outside looking to that day when we shall be with Him in heaven, but we are already at His banquet table as seen in Revelation 3:20. It is a fatted calf. Mediate upon that and how that compares to where he was when he was in the world. The pigsty has been exchanged for a feast. “Let us eat.” Fellowship is restored. Be merry. What joy there is in Jesus. You cannot appreciate verses 22 and 23 without reading again verse 15 and 16. How great is our salvation in Christ!
The message of this parable is so clear. God’s grace is so rich it cannot be understood. God’s grace comes when we least deserve it. Don’t read the parable of the Prodigal Son without marveling at the extravagant grace of God that makes us fully restored members of His family. The parable of the Prodigal Son is a parable of love and grace. Our response should be to praise Him for so great an undeserved salvation.