We have before us (Luke 15:11-32) one of the more moving parables presented by Jesus to illustrate a point and teach a lesson. It is important to begin by noting the object of the parable. It is the third in a trio of parables all relating to something that was lost. In the parable before us it was a lost son. The middle parable is the story of a lost coin and in the first parable is the story of a lost sheep.
The reason for these parables is to be found in the first two verses of the chapter. Jesus came under scrutiny for receiving sinners and eating with them. Of course what the Pharisees and Scribes failed to realize is that if Jesus had eaten with them he would have been receiving sinners and eating with them. Nevertheless it is because of the murmuring which arose around Jesus’ interaction with sinners that the three parables are presented. There are three to make a strong impression. They are framed so as to generate an emotional response.
Verses 7 and 10 strike at the heart of why Jesus was receiving and eating with sinners. It was the joy that results in heaven over a repenting sinner. Of the three parables the third one, the one before us reveals the dynamics, the interaction between repentance and grace. It does so because the concept is taken out of the animal world (lost sheep) and the world of the inanimate (lost coin) and placed before us in the context of a human relationship.
We all know what it feels like to one degree or another, what it means to be a prodigal. All parents know, to one degree or another, what it feels like to deal with prodigal tendencies in our children. So we read the story and we see ourselves. We read the story and we see others. We read the story and the pathos wrenches our own heart! We bristle at the arrogance and rebellion of a son. We ache with a forsaken Father. We lament the desperation of a life wasting away in a pig sty. We marvel that at the low point reason returns. Our heart yearns at the image of an aging father expecting the return of the prodigal and we trace the steps as he races down the road to meet the returning son. We then find ourselves aligned with an older brother who seems to make reasonable arguments only to realize the wise and aged Father is right in his defense of Grace!
In verses 11-13 we see the demand for grace!
Verse 11 introduces the parable by relating to us there was a certain man with two sons.
Verse 12 records the younger son’s request, "Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me." It also records the Father's response, "He divided unto them his living." This is not something that typically would have been done until the Father determined it was time. Most often it would be after his death when the inheritance would have been divided among the heirs. The younger son disrespected his father by asking for his portion while he lived. It could be argued that he was implying that his Father had lived too long and at bare minimum he had no interest in waiting for his Father’s demise.
In verse 13 we learn what the younger son did upon receiving his inheritance. "Not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country." He left the Father. He put distance between he and his Father. He cut his ties. He burned his bridges. He took what was his and went his way.
Based upon subsequent events we gain insight as to why he made these decisions. He wanted to do his own thing. He did not want to be subject to his Father. He obviously was of an age where his subjection was to be voluntary. He wanted to live a life of which his father did not approve.
The Father gave him his portion and let him go! Separation ensued. It was not a separation the Father desired but was forced upon him by the Son.
We also learn from this verse what his course of action was having left his father. "And there wasted his substance with riotous living." In verse 30 we learn the extent of his riotous living when his brother reminds the Father that he "Hath devoured thy living with harlots."
He was free from his Father’s dominion but immediately become a slave to his passions. He lived a wicked, ungodly life. Those who most think they do not need anyone telling them what to do are usually in the greatest need of someone telling them what to do.
Here was a young man that took the heritage and inheritance of his Father and lightly esteemed it. He failed to recognize the blood, sweat, and tears that had provided the wealth he was squandering!
He had positioned himself in life at a place where when his decisions had run their course his restoration would demand GRACE!