Skip to comments."The Prodigal Father" (Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)
Posted on 03/13/2010 8:32:18 PM PST by Charles Henrickson
The Prodigal Father (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)
Our text today is probably the most familiar and well-loved of all of Jesus parables. It is the parable usually called The Prodigal Son. But this morning I would like to suggest another name for this story, and that is, The Prodigal Father. Yes, The Prodigal Father--he really is the hero of this story.
Well, first I guess I should explain that word prodigal and why we can apply it to both the wayward son and the waiting father. Prodigal is an old-timey word, isnt it? We dont use it much in our day, other than in reference to this parable. Literally, though, the word prodigal means excessive or extravagant. And when were talking about the prodigal son, were using the term in a negative sense. That son was excessive and extravagant in the way he spent what had been given to him. Our text says, He squandered his property in reckless living. Another translation says that he wasted his possessions with prodigal living. Theres the word. Other translations have riotous living, loose or wild living. Thats what it means to be prodigal in the context of this son. He blew his money carelessly. He was irresponsible. He was wasteful and reckless in how he lived.
But remember, the word prodigal can mean excessive or extravagant in a more neutral sense, even a positive sense. And this is where it applies to the father in our story. He was recklessly extravagant in his love. He was lavish and abundant in his love, in his grace, in his giving. And to both sons, really, both the runaway younger son and the stay-at-home older son. The father gave profusely and generously to them both. In that sense, then, I call him The Prodigal Father. Lets find out how he does it--and how he is excessively extravagant in his love toward us.
First there is the younger son, the one who runs away. The father is more than generous to him. First of all, the younger son says to his father, Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me. Well, thats kind of like saying, Dad, I wish you were dead! What an insult, what a slap in the face, to tell your father, I want my share of the inheritance, and I want it now! The father would be justified in slapping down this impudent son! But no, he doesnt. In fact, he accedes to the young sons request, which was really more of a demand, and he gives the young man the money. Already the father is showing his patience and forbearance and his costly love. And he lets the young man go his way.
Of course the young man runs away from home. He is allured and attracted by the appeal of the world. In this way, he is like the wayward Christian who drifts away from the church and lives like the people of this world. Its stupid, its foolish, but people do it anyway. They dont realize how good theyve got it at home, at home in their Fathers house. They think theyre missing out on the fun out there in the world. Who needs church? There are more fun things to do with my time. Its my life, and Ill live it the way I want! Father, I wish you were dead! In fact, God, you are dead to me. Ill live like a functional atheist, like the children of this world.
Have you been there, done that? Got any t-shirts? Yeah, I used my Saturday nights and my Sunday mornings to get drunk or go camping or sleep in or sleep it off, and all I got was this stupid t-shirt. No life-giving word of God. No communion with my heavenly Father. No fellowship with the family of God. How dumb. But weve all been there, probably, to some extent or the other. Maybe not in outright vice and bawdy living. But at least in drifting away from God and living for our own desires. Thats the prodigal son in us all, wasting and squandering our birthright.
But hopefully, finally, we get our head screwed on straight and come to our senses. And sometimes it takes failure for that to happen, for us to finally bottom out and realize our need. Thats what it took for the prodigal son: And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. If theres anything lower than for a good Jewish boy to have to hire himself out to feed pigs and to be so hungry as to envy their slop, I dont know what it is. This boy has really bottomed out.
But when he came to himself, he said, How many of my fathers hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants. Well, the young man has come to his senses. He realizes, I blew it! What a dumb knucklehead I have been! And this is good. This is repentance. Its good when we realize that our self-chosen ways are leading us down a dead end and that Father knows best. Thats only acknowledging what should be obvious: that the God who created us knows what is best for us. He makes a better God than we do. Duh!
Only theres one thing wrong with the young mans plan. He thinks to himself, I am no longer worthy to be called your son. And hes right about that part. But then he proposes to himself that he will approach the old man and try to strike a deal, to work his way back into at least a paying job: Treat me as one of your hired servants, is what he plans to say. But that is where he will discover the true prodigality of his father, his fathers excessive, extravagant grace.
And he arose and came to his father. OK, now as he nears the old homestead, what can he expect? A beat-down? A public humiliation? A tongue-lashing, in front of the whole town? Well, I certainly would deserve it, he must be thinking. But Ill just have to take my lumps and propose this working-it-off plan that Ive come up with. But now what does he see, coming down the road, coming right up to meet him? Its . . . Father, and, and . . . hes not angry! No, hes running to meet me, and he looks . . . happy! Hes running to meet me, and . . . and. . . .
A hug. A kiss. A fathers warm embrace. I dont deserve this! I, I. . . . Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. And then the words choke off, melting in happy tears. No more working-it-off scheme. Thats obvious now. Father doesnt want or need any more hirelings. He wants his son back!
Listen to this fathers reckless, happy, extravagant, lavish love: Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. Full restoration. And celebration! This is lavish, extravagant love on the part of this prodigal father! Costly love! Giving love! Love full of grace and tenderness.
How true this is to the character of our heavenly Father! God, who does not strike us down when we deserve it. God, who loves us so much he sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to show us that love in the flesh. Jesus, the friend of sinners, who welcomes them and eats with them. Jesus, who dies for sinners, the likes of you and me. This is gracious, costly love God lavishes upon us in Christ. Look to the cross and see the extravagant lengths God will go to restore us to his family. Costly love indeed!
And now you and I are back home, as Gods sons and daughters. What rejoicing there is! A festive celebration, and this is only the start! God has a meal for us to enjoy here in his house, and this is just a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come. Body and blood, life and forgiveness, promise and pledge of eternal life and an eternal home. Excessive, extravagant, glorious--this is how it is!
And they began to celebrate. But theres one other son to go, and hes not celebrating. That would be the stay-at-home son, the older son, the really religious one. This is the good son, the golden child--at least he is in his own mind. If the bad boy, the runaway, is the Prodigal Son, then this one could be called the Proud Ego Son. The Proud Ego Son--proud of how good he is, so much better than his brother! And how deserving he is of all the honors that should come his way! Thats the older brother, upset that theres this party going on for the runaway brat.
But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him. Again we see the patience and forbearance of this remarkable father. This son, too, is slapping his father in the face by not coming in, and yet the father comes out to meet him! What insolence on the part of this arrogant, defiant son! Listen to the disrespectful way he addresses his father: Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!
Have you been there and done that also, this older brother routine? Looking down your nose at those bad people worse than you? Thinking that you deserve some honors for being such a good church member all these years--as though you deserve thanks and credit for getting to live in your Fathers house? There is the Proud Ego Son who lives inside us all, especially in us longtime church members! Well, thank God that he does not cast us off and cast us out when we come before him with this attitude!
So the older son speaks insolently and rudely to his kind and generous father. That the father puts up with this and lets the older son talk this way is a profound demonstration of his extraordinary patience. And then the father even entreats and invites this rebellious son in, saying, Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.
How will the older son respond? Jesus leaves the story open-ended. He wants the scribes and the Pharisees in his audience to make the connection: God is calling them to repent. They are no better than the tax collectors and the prostitutes and the prodigals who have come home and that Jesus is now befriending.
So it is for us. All sinners are equal at the foot of the cross. We all come into the party the same way, only through the extravagant, excessive, lavish, reckless, costly love of our Prodigal Father. This is the running, rejoicing Father, who greets us all with open arms and holds a big feast for us that we dont deserve. Welcome home, all you prodigal sons--and you proud ego sons too! Welcome home, one and all!
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, This man receives sinners and eats with them.
So he told them this parable: . . .
There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me. And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
But when he came to himself, he said, How many of my fathers hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants. And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his servants, Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to celebrate.
Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound. But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him! And he said to him, Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.
John MacArthur has an excellent book called The Tale Of Two Sons. He goes into super deep detail about this story. I’ve heard that people such as Emerson called this story the greatest story ever told.
This hit home. Wonderful as usual but special and personal to me.
You have a way with words. They move me in ways I need moving.
In case I haven’t said this before, thank you.
Comforting implication here, to put it mildly.
When the older son gets angry, the dad replies, “Son, all that I have is yours.”
Usually overlooked is the fact that the prodigal son never gets his inheritance back. Though he's welcomed with open arms, what's gone is still gone. The temporal consequences of our foolish behavior often remain for a lifetime.
Pastor, that actually sounds like what the dims are doing to this country.
There was a man who had two sons....
Our pastor actually said this parable should be the parable of two sons, not just the parable of the prodigal son.
The son who stayed spoke the truth. God, in the form of the father, says that truth is irrelevant in the context of the moment. Despite the wickedness of the son who left, he is now home. What happened prior to the son coming home is irrelevant.
Note the method by which the son comes home. It is a ritual that we rarely see today. The son comes home with no expectations except to be a slave to the father. Is that what we hear today? Or do people expect some reward from God for coming home?
There are far too many people who expect rewards for retuning to the church or to God. Our small congregation had a number of people who were on spring break with the kids, and I’ll bet not many went to another service. BUT, they will be there next Sunday and act like nothing is wrong.
“be there next Sunday and act like nothing is wrong.”
Nothing is wrong. Church is not a talisman.
I remember street preaching winos when I lived in NC. They would preach for their drinking money. I would smirk until I figured out that I did all the “right things” but didn’t spread the Gospel. They did all the wrong things but they were spreading the Gospel. What are we supposed to do? Both? What do we do? Neither?
“Today Thy Mercy Calls Us”
by Oswald Allen, 1816-1878
1. Today Thy mercy calls us
To wash away our sin.
However great our trespass,
Whatever we have been,
However long from mercy
Our hearts have turned away,
Thy precious blood can cleanse us
And make us white today.
2. Today Thy gate is open,
And all who enter in
Shall find a Father’s welcome
And pardon for their sin.
The past shall be forgotten,
A present joy be given,
A future grace be promised,
A glorious crown in heaven.
3. Today our Father calls us,
His Holy Spirit waits;
His blessed angels gather
Around the heavenly gates.
No question will be asked us
How often we have come;
Although we oft have wandered,
It is our Father’s home.
4. 0 all-embracing Mercy,
0 ever-open Door,
What should we do without Thee
When heart and eye run o’er?
When all things seem against us,
To drive us to despair,
We know one gate is open,
One ear will hear our prayer.
The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Rev. 3:8
Author: Oswald Allen, 1861
Composer: Friedrich K. Anthes, 1847