The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 227)

The Parable of the Prodigal Son


Luke 15:11-24

Youthful Restlessness
The story describes a simple family setting with two sons in a farming household. The younger son grew weary of being at home. He wanted to see the world because it was becoming intolerable for him to live on that remote, lonely farm. The world was big and he felt acutely that he was missing things. So, he came to his father and asked for his future inheritance to be given to him now. It was a heartless, materialistic claim of his share of the inheritance so that he could leave home and live on it. It was the selfish request of thoughtless youth claiming its own to use just as it wished and he saw no reason why he should be denied the pleasures that he fancied. But he was stupid as well as heartless. He wanted to leave home to find freedom, not realizing that that so-called freedom would bring him into greater bondage.

This story has been repeated thousands of times since it was first spoken. Should there be any young person feeling the same way as this fellow did, I would ask you to stop for a moment, think and look to the consequences of what you are contemplating. Remember that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but the ends thereof are the ways of death” (Prov 14:12).

Deception of Worldly Pleasure
After leaving home, he went to a place where he was free to do as he wished. In a few graphic touches our Lord conveys the kind of life that he engaged in “he wasted his possessions with prodigal living.” He indulged in all the carnal desires of the flesh and of the mind. But before long he found that he had become a slave. It was a sweet slavery for a while, but the sweetness eventually passed away and the bitterness came.

Young people looking at him at that period of his life must have felt that it was a wonderful way to live - to have money to spend and indulge oneself in rounds of pleasure-seeking and carnal indulgence. He was being deceived and beguiled, seeking to live his life solely on the basis of his senses.

That is the tragedy of sin - it deceives and it blinds. Very soon this young man discovered that that kind of life costs a person everything and gives very little in return. We must never forget that there is pleasure in sin. If there wasn’t we would not commit it at all. But it doesn’t last. Moses realised that - we are told that he refused to “enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Heb 11:25). Sin has a great blinding power and the work of Satan is a work of deception.

For this young man things began to take a turn for the worse. While he had the money, he had plenty of friends and with those kinds of friends he soon wasted all his money. How true to life that is! Sin is the most costly thing there is! It weakens the will and blunts the conscience, and it hardens the heart.

Then came the day “when he had spent all”, and then he had nothing and he discovered who his real friends were. Not one of the so-called companions in pleasure had any heart to give to him when he was in desperate need. Then there arose a famine in that land. Who do you think sent the famine? God’s hand was, and always will be, seen at work in seeking and saving that which is lost.

He now begged a farmer to be allowed to feed the pigs. Pleading to be allowed to do the very thing that for a Jewish man was abominable. What a terrible mess he had got himself into! “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness” (Rom 6:16).

Plight of Fallen Man
The form and the expression of this younger son’s sin is incidental to the main issue of what the story is teaching. It could have well been any of a number of different expressions of sin. You don’t have to go away from home to be a sinner. You don’t have to “live it up” in a permissive society to be a sinner.

Sin is being in a wrong relationship with God. In Genesis, the temptation to Adam and Eve was to throw off the spirit of dependence on God. They listened to the Tempter to become independent of God. It was an incitement to ‘go-it-alone’. This is the essence of all sin and it is this which makes men and women sinners. It is an attitude of rebellion which is totally self-centred rather than God-centred. That is the very essence of sin.

This was the heart of the prodigal’s condition – he was in a wrong relationship to his father. God is revealed here as a Father. Sin then is being away from God and in that condition, breaking the very heart of God.

The next scene that is given to us is the young man’s resolution and return.

True Repentance
In Genesis 1, God said, “Let us make man in our own image, and after our likeness.” The image of God in man means two things. On the one hand it is that which characterises man as human, as distinct from the rest of creation. Man is a responsible being, capable of making a response to God. Even when he says “no” instead of “yes” to God, he is still, and remains a responsible being. This aspect of the image of God is never lost, even in the tragedy of the Fall.

On the other hand, the “image of God” means that man can never be truly himself by himself. He can only be himself when he is in a right relationship to God and in communion with God. The tragedy of the human situation is that because of our sinful human nature, we lose all our ability to say “yes” to God. We are no longer free to realise our divine destiny to be ourselves. That is the point of this story.

The son was in an identity crisis, trying to find himself. That is why he went into that far country, but in doing so, the opposite happened, and he lost himself. That is why he needed to “come to himself.” Just as we might be thinking that this young man is such a loathsome person, just at the point where we begin to see him as being contemptible and despicable, Jesus arrests our thinking. He uses a single phrase which opens a window and throws a gleam of light into our minds and stops us from being overly judgmental.

Verse 17 says, “But when he came to himself.” Not only is a sinner a stranger to God, he is a stranger to himself. That is why we must recognise the deep significance of what our Lord said when He said that the young man ‘came to himself’. This was his first and greatest need because until he came to himself he could not and would not come to his father. It was then that he began to see clearly and to think clearly. His situation had not changed and neither had his home changed, but the change was being wrought in him.

The story does not tell us how he came to himself, but the rest of Scripture tells us that it is a work of the Holy Spirit. The young man came to himself in a wonderful way. Now he was looking at himself as in a mirror, seeing himself as he really and tragically had become. He saw himself and he contrasted himself with the man he was and might have been. He had never known the value of home until he was homeless in the field of a stranger. But he knew it then and he saw it clearly then.

His great need was for everything to be revealed in its true light. He saw what his selfishness had done to him. He saw where his self-centred attitude had taken him. Through the working of the Holy Spirit all his deceptions were swept away and he saw the truth about himself and his state, his standing and his condition. Notice the phrase that followed the first, “And when he came to himself….I will arise and go to my father.” This ‘coming to one’s self’ is always the precursor of salvation. Unless people honestly face up to the reality of their condition, they will never come to terms with it.

Notice that in Verse 18, there is a confession of sin being made. He did not soften matters by speaking of his “faults” and his “failings”. He did not blame others. He simply blamed himself and said, “I have sinned”, “The guilt is mine”, “I am ashamed and am no more worthy”. He sees his sin as against the Lord. He had injured himself and his father, but his burden was that he had injured God. This is what true penitence is all about. It is the broken spirit that God will not despise.

Verse 20 tells us that “He arose and came to his Father”. How important it is, not simply to see ourselves as we are, but then to do something about it. The only thing to do is to come back to God.

Notice how the story which began with “Give me” ends with “Make me”. He has been taught by life, disciplined by sorrow, and scourged by the biting lash of his own foolishness. But now his stubborn rebellion turned into sweet submission. Previously he was only concerned about himself and what he demanded. But now, he said, “Father, I leave it all to you. You are wise, and I have been foolish. Make me whatever you wish to make me within your household.” That is what true conversion is all about. It is submission to the Lordship of Christ.

Joy of Restoration
It would be a very long road home and what thoughts, feelings and emotions there must have been in his heart and mind. The devil would be there every step of the way. He would cast fears into his mind concerning his friends. What would they think and what would they all say? There could be fears concerning his family as to how would they react. There could be fears concerning his father. Would he have him back?

Yet despite all the fears and the assaults of the Evil One, he still came. What he did not know was that his father had been watching and waiting all the time that he had been away. His pride, his sin and his rebellion were brought home to him all the more as he realised that his father had been true to him all along. Although he could not see his father, his father saw him. As the servants looked at the father running out of the house all of a sudden creating a lot of commotion, they must have wondered what it was all about. They had not seen him run like that in ages.

Father and son met a great way off from the house and with what feelings and emotions! In one moment he found all that he had been looking for in the far country. Part of the wonder of salvation is exactly this – coming home and finding forgiveness, acceptance, restoration and joy in belonging. It is a most emotional thing as well. The father “fell on his neck and kissed him.” He showered him with kisses as the seal of his forgiveness. He forgave him, and he forgave him everything, never once mentioning his sin.

The father brought out the best robe and put it on him and placed a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. The beauty of these items is that they are the outward evidences of his restoration.

Those clothes convey the message of what Christ does for sinners in the Gospel. There were no questions asked. The father had cast all his offences away in a moment and the son was received without a censure or a rebuke. This is God’s marvellous answer for the problem of sin. This is the Lord’s gracious remedy for blasted broken lives. There is joy and rejoicing, and a joy which is unspeakable and full of glory. Heaven rejoices and earth rejoices and the sinner himself rejoices!

If you are a seeking soul, seeking God through Christ, then in telling us this story, our Lord is teaching us that the eyes of mercy are far quicker than the eyes of repentance. He sees the sinner, long before the sinner sees Him. Slow are the steps of repentance, but swift are the feet of forgiveness. As sure as God is God, then the arms of sovereign love will embrace you and the kisses of assurance and acceptance be placed upon you. It is a wonderful story and yet it is true! It can be true for you even today. The Lord pardons sinners and cleanses sinners. He gives them joy, peace, hope, purpose and a sense of belonging. Perhaps these things are just beginning to dawn on you and you are just “coming to yourself” about your life and your future. Then listen to the voice of God, respond to the Spirit of God, and come to Christ, even now.

William Hughes
- William Hughes has served as a pastor for over 40 years. He is now retired from full time ministry but continues to be a conference speaker in different countries.

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