At Grace Life Baptist Church we have recently begun a short sermon series on The Parable of the Prodigal Son. I write this post for the benefit of Grace Life, but my prayer is that the sermon will be used to encourage a wider audience. You can also download the audio version of this sermon at www.gracelifelebanon.com or find us on Sermon Audio
The Enslaving Devastations of Sin
Jesus is the master storyteller, and His parables create compelling images in our minds. The goal of the parables in the Bible is to use ordinary people, activities, and topics to illustrate deeper, spiritual truths to those who have hears to ear. Jesus’ sheep hear His voice in the parables, but goats either can’t hear His voice or else stop up their ears so they can’t.
Two of Jesus’ parables stand out in the memories of most: the Parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. Before we get to the prodigal son story, we need to understand why Jesus told it in the first place. Examining the context is one of the first steps when studying Scripture.
Luke 15:1-2— Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
What’s this scene about? Tax collectors and sinners are “drawing near to hear” Jesus, and the Jewish religious leaders (the Pharisees and scribes) are grumbling about it (cf. 5:27-32; 7:39; 19:7), and some would say with good reason. The tax collectors of that day were subcontracted by the Roman government. They put in bids for how much they would charge to collect taxes for the Romans. If they got the job, they collected the taxes plus a percentage for themselves. The practice itself isn’t wrong. The problem was the lack of regulations on how much they could collect, and tax collectors were known for massive corruption.
The classification of sinners in verse 1 is a broad category. In the Parable of the Great Banquet in the previous chapter, Luke gives a more specific rundown of what kind of sinners we’re talking about.
Luke 14:21—“So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servants, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ ”
Jesus is eating with the outcasts of His day: tax collectors, the poor, crippled, blind, and lame (and prostitutes were often mentioned in the Gospels too). Although economics had something to do with the disdain the Jews had for these kinds of people, it was mostly about perceived moral superiority.
The Jews were right to consider the lifestyles of the outcasts as immoral, and they were right to neither condone nor participate in their sins. But they were wrong to shun them completely. Of course, some take Jesus’ practice too far and use it as an excuse to party with the heathen. Jesus was simply eating food with them as an opportunity to teach them the way of salvation.
Jesus answers the Pharisees and scribes’ grumbly question with three parables: the Parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coins, and the Lost Son. Let’s read about the lost sheep and coins first.
Luke 15:3-10—So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
These first two parables are nearly identical. The major difference is what’s lost—a sheep versus coins. So the basics of the parables are threefold: something’s lost, then found, and then a celebration follows. Jesus uses the familiarity of sheep and coins to illustrate the deeper spiritual truths that God (along with all the angels) rejoices when a lost sinner is found.
In fact, look how happy God is: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (v.7). “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v.10). Does Jesus mean there are people who are righteous and don’t have any sin to repent of? Of course not! He’s saying there are people who think they don’t need to repent because they think they are righteous.
The illustration of lost sheep and coins introduces the longer and more intimate parable of the lost son.
Luke 15:11-16—And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 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. 13 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 liv-ing. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
To help us digest this simple yet elaborate parable we’re going to break down our study into three segments; and today’s segment is mainly about the characteristics of sin that are evident in the prodigal son and serve as examples and warnings to all of us.
1. Sin is pride and rebellion (vv.12-13). Whatever else may be going on in the prodigal’s mind, pride is at the heart of his motivations. He comes to his father and says, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me” (v.12). Notice how demanding he is. He seems to think he deserves the inheritance from his father, but really what does he deserve? Nothing. The son’s pride is evidence that he loves the daddy’s riches but not his daddy.
Yet, the father grants his son’s depraved demand and “divides his property between them” (v.12), that is between the two sons though the father would continue to hold legal rights over the inhe-ritance until he died. Based on Deuteronomy 21:17, the older son was to receive a “double portion” of the inheritance—that works out to two-thirds for the older son and one-third for the younger.
Pride always produces some form of rebellion that has a hatred for authority. We know the prodigal wants to be “free” from the authority of his father because of his prompt action after receiving his inheritance. “Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country” (v.13a).
2. Sin is devotion to depravity (v.13). Notice again, the prodigal “took a journey into a far country” (v.13). Sin always takes you farther from home than you expect and makes you stay longer than you ever wanted. Teenagers and young adults, please beware of chasing the wind like the prodigal did. In our society, you’ve been taught that you’re “missing out” if you don’t sow some wild oats while you can. In reality, you may find yourself missing out on going to Heaven if you walk away from God even for one frolic with sin. In God’s kindness, He lovingly warns us not to chase after youthful lusts.
Ecclesiastes 12:1— Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”.
3. Sin is wastefulness and foolishness (v.13). While in the far country, Jesus says the prodigal “squandered his property in reckless living” (v.13). The word “reckless” in verse 13 was translated in the Latin Bible as wasteful, and it’s from this Latin word we get the word prodigal. The prodigal son is the wasteful son, and he certainly lived up to this name!
Sin is such a total waste of your life that we can only call it foolishness. Sin is foolish in many ways and for many reasons. For one, it’s deceptive. It always feels liberating at first, like you’re “discovering” yourself; but sin only leaves you feeling empty and depressed. It’s like snorting cocaine or popping pills. The euphoric feelings are real, and the feelings are good until the drugs dissipate and lay you low, hungry for another high. Sudden-ly, your supposed freedom turns to bondage and you look foolish.
Sin is so deceptive that lost people don’t even know they’re lost. Lost sheep and lost coins don’t know they’re lost, and lost sons don’t either. Ironically, the farther we run away from God the farther we ran from ourselves, from our true identity as created in God’s image, created to be in relationship with Him.
4. Sin is devastating and destructive (vv.14-16). After the money is gone and a severe famine strikes in the far country, the prodigal begins “to be in need” (v.14). In reality, he had always been in need, he just didn’t know it. “So he went and hired himself out” to a pig farmer (v.15). For a Jew, nothing worse could be imagined—living in a Gentile country, working for a pig farmer. It was so bad that the prodigal “was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything” (v.16).
The prodigal has hit the bottom. He’s penniless and abandoned by everyone including his so-called party friends. The prodigal stands to remind us that no one’s fit to govern their own soul. He’s a picture of what we look like apart from God’s mercy in Christ.
But it’s at the bottom that the prodigal realizes there’s something much worse than pigs and poverty. “But when he came to himself” (v.17a). That’s a vivid way of describing repentance, which will be our focus next week. The prodigal realizes that he has abandoned his father. He says, “ ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’ ” (v.17b). The prodigal remembers the goodness of his father.
In the same way, sinners like us enslaved to their sin need to be freed and reconciled to God the Father. How? By repenting of our love for sin and trusting in Jesus who died in our place on the cross.