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Luke 15:11-32



        When Harry A. Ironside, former pastor of Moody Memorial Church, was a young man, he liked to romp with his children, pretending he was a bear.  He would make a "den" by placing some chairs in a corner with an opening on one side.  Then he'd get down on all fours, growl, and chase the youngsters around the room.  One time as they were playing this game, his little son ran into the opposite corner and covered his face.  He was so excited he began to scream in fear as he heard the "bear" approach and felt his hot breath on his neck.  But then he suddenly turned and rushed into his father's arms saying, "I'm not a bit afraid, `cause you're not really a bear; you're my own papa!"

        Ironside immediately thought, "O God, at one time I was that way.  I was trying to get away from You, treating You as if You were my enemy--as though the worst thing in the world would be to commune with You.  I thank You for running me down!"  His dread had given way to a warm and joyous intimacy, for he realized that Jesus had paid for his sins.  He no longer needed to cower before his Creator.

        Often in our immaturity, we treat God as an enemy and refuse to obey or please Him.  Our perception of Him is corrupted by selfishness, sin, and silliness.  Yet, God loves us anyway, because His nature is love.  He continuously demonstrates His love toward us by being compassionate towards us, even in our rebellion.  We can see this illustrated for us in Luke 15:11-24.  Would you turn there with me please.  Follow along silently as I read this aloud for us.

        The narrative before us is a parable.  A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  Parables were snatches of everyday life which conveyed a spiritual truth.  To get the full benefit of this parable, we need to understand the backdrop against which it was spoken.  We must go back to verses one and two of this chapter.  Would you notice those verses with me please.  Luke 15:1-2.

        We see here that the tax-gatherers and the sinners were coming near Jesus to listen to him, but the Pharisees and the scribes were complaining about this.  They complained because Jesus received and ate with common tax-gatherers and sinners.  To understand this you must know the character and values of the Pharisees and scribes.  The Pharisees were a religious party or school among the Jews at the time of Christ.  The scribes were Pharisees who were interpreters and teachers of the Mosaic Law.  The word `Pharisee' means `separated'.  This was one of the chief religious parties among the Jews.  The Pharisees believed in being separated from anything that was common or unclean.  They considered the tax-gatherers and sinners as unclean.  The Pharisees were Legalists who multiplied the demands of the law.

        The Pharisees and the scribes were always in opposition to all the Jesus taught, did and represented.  They were trying to discredit Jesus and refute His claim to being the Messiah, The Son of God.  They were saying, "If He was the Son of God, He would know the law; and if He knew the law, He would not receive or eat with common people who could tarnish His ceremonial cleanliness."  It was against this backdrop that Jesus puts forth three parables:  the parable of the Shepherd and the Lost Sheep, the parable of The Woman and the Lost Coin, and the parable of The Father and the Lost Son.

(With that backdrop let's move into the circumstances of this third parable.)


The setting of this narrative is a typical Jewish home.  In this home there are two sons.  The younger son asks His father to give him his share of the inheritance.  In Jewish culture this was the same as saying to your father, "I wish you would die," because the inheritance was never dispersed until the father was dead.

        Although the oldest son said nothing, nothing at least that is recorded, this loving father divided his wealth between his two sons.

        Soon afterward the younger son gathered everything that he had and journeyed to Los Angeles, California.  There he squandered his estate with loose living.  He went to all the night clubs.  He went to all the rap concerts.  He drank up some of his money.  He lost some of it gambling.  He spent some of it on prostitutes.  With some of the money, He bought things that He had always wanted:  shoes, suits, radios, walkmans, etc.  He went to Disney Land and Universal Studios whenever he got ready.  He did it all.  That is why this parable is called the parable of the "Prodigal Son."  The word "Prodigal" means one who is

"1:  given to reckless extravagance; unrestrained in spending or using up one's means" (Webster).

When he had spent all of his money, a severe depression occurred and he began to be in need.  So, he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of the country and accepted a job feeding pigs.  No self-respecting Jew would eat pig, let along feed them.  Things got so bad that he was longing to eat the slop that the hogs were eating, and no one was giving him anything to him.  He had once had friends, but when his money ran out - so did his friends!  He found Los Angeles to be a callous city full of callous people.  Sin will take you down, and when you get down there is no one to pick you up.

        But something happened and he came to his senses.  He said to himself, "My father's hired hands have plenty of food.  Why am I out here starving?  I'm going to get up from here and go home.  When I get home, I'm going to confess my sins and ask him to hire me as one of his servants."  So He got up and went home to his father.

(Let's briefly get to know all the characters in this parable.)


There are two antagonists in this parable.  The first antagonist is the prodigal son.  You have already surmised that.  But there is also a second antagonist in the parable.  The second antagonist is the elder or oldest son.  We shall consider his words and actions later.

        The protagonist is a certain man who was a father.  We shall get to know him better as we move into the conflict or action of this parable.

(Let's do that now!)


The conflict of this story revolves around how this father is going to respond this rebellious, disrespectful son.  How is this father going to respond to this son who wished him dead?  How would you respond to this situation as a person; as a parent?

(Well the climax of this story is the heart of the action, because it is concerned with the response of the father to this wayward lad.  So, let's move on and consider:)


(The climax of this parable is wrapped up in the actions towards his son.  The younger brother represented the tax-gatherers and sinners, while the Father represented Jesus Christ.  Jesus loved the tax-gatherers and sinners like a loving father.  He knew that they were wayward and rebellious, but he awaited their return home like the father in the parable.  Jesus was concerned with the salvation and welfare of these common people.  Let's explore these actions with respect to Jesus,the Father..)

1.      The Father Saw His Son.

Evidently, his father was looking for him, because he saw him a long way off.  What a sensitive, insightful father.  He knew that his son really didn't mean those earlier harsh words.  He knew that his son was not ready for life in Los Angeles.  He knew that his son would be coming back soon, and he wanted to be there to welcome him home.  This is How Jesus Christ, i.e. God, responds to sinners.


2.      The Father Felt Compassion For His Son.

felt compassion 4697 splagchnizomai "to have the bowels yearn," "to be moved in the inward parts," "to feel compassion."

splagchnizomai is from

4698 splagchnon "an intestine."

splagchnon "b. the bowels were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of the tenderer affections, especially kindness, benevolence, compassion; hence equivalent to our heart, [tender mercies, affections, etc.]."[1]

compassion splagchna "The verb gives the oriental idea of the bowels as the seat of compassion."

Compassion is "a deep feeling for and an understanding of suffering with an accompanying desire to relieve that suffering"  (Webster's Third New International Dictionary).

        He felt suffering for Him because he had been young once.  He had an understanding of and a deep feeling for what His son was experiencing.  This is how God feels about sinners.

3.      The Father Ran To His Son.

There was great anticipation, initiation, and excitement.

4.      The Father Embraced Him.

What love!

5.      The Father Kissed Him.

What tenderness!

6.      The Father Ordered The Servants To Prepare A Celebration.

He ordered the slaves to bring out the best robe, a ring, and sandals.  He also ordered the slaves to kill the fattened calf and have a celebration.  What preparation!

7.      The Father And His Household Celebrated His Son's Homecoming.

What celebration!  What joy!  The angels in Heaven rejoice!!!


        We, likewise, should be concerned about the salvation and welfare of common people.  Some of these common people were the dregs of the earth; people who were cheating others to make a living.  Some of these common people were just plain sinners.  They had no religion, no pretentiousness, no image to protect.  These were the people that Jesus was concerned about, and these are the people that we should be concerned about.

        We have in this narrative a new kind of plot, at least new to our learning in this series of messages.  This plot involves a change in character story.  This is a reform story.  A reform story is a story in which an initially unsympathetic or evil character changes for the better.  Here the prodigal son changes for the better.  God can change a tax-gatherer to a tax-payer.  God can change a sinner to a saint.  God can change a common person to an uncommon Christian.  All He needs is someone to work His compassion through!!!

        We can learn a great deal from the various conflict motifs or designs that are contained in this parable.  We have already looked at the character conflict between the younger son and His father, but there is also a spiritual/moral conflict going on.  This is not proper spiritual/moral treatment of a father, but this is the spiritual/moral way a father should react towards a wayward son.  He should act with compassion.

        That is the way Jesus acted towards us.  He loved us when we were aliens from the commonwealth of God.  He loved us when we were rebelling and far from Him.  He loved us when we were worshipping pleasure and material in an attempt to fill the hole in our souls.  He loved us and waited for us to exhaust our frivolous means.  He patiently waited for us to return to Him.  Then He saved us.

        He is patiently waiting for some of you who are rebelling against right now!!!

        This is also the way we should act towards fellow sinners.  We should patiently wait for sinners that God has allowed us to know to come to Jesus Christ.  We should wait patiently with prayer and compassion.  Then we should celebrate like the Father celebrates over a son that was lost and now is found!!!

(There is also another possible application of this of this parable.  The parable can be applied to parents of teenagers, especially the father.  I have been doing some reading that points out two critical problems in the sex-role development of children to be absent fathers or male role models, and coldness from fathers who are at home.  The seven actions of the father represent the seven actions of parents of teenagers who are rebellious and seem to be saying to us, "I wish you were dead!"  How should we react towards these young people?  Our actions are seen in the actions of this compassionate father.  We should be ready to take up these actions:)

1.      The Father Saw His Son.


2.      The Father Felt Compassion For His Son.

3.      The Father Ran To His Son.

4.      The Father Embraced Him.

5.      The Father Kissed Him.

6.      The Father Ordered The Servants To Prepare A Celebration.

7.      The Father And His Household Celebrated His Son's Homecoming.

(But I have also looked at this parable in a third way.  I have looked at it from a personal perspective.  I am that prodical son.  I have been rebellious against God at times, i.e. before and after I have accepted Him as my personal Savior.  So His actions are particularly comforting to me.)

1.      The Father Sees Me.

2.      The Father Has Compassion On Me.

He forgave me!  He saved me!  He picked me up!  He turned me around!  He established my goings!  He put my feet on a rock!  He directs my walk!  He communes with me!

3.      The Father Runs To Me.

4.      The Embraces Me.

5.      The Father Kisses Me.

6.      The Father Has Prepared A Place For Me.

7.      The Father And Heaven Will One Day Rejoice When I Reach Home.

(There is also in this parable a sub-plot or second story going on.  The first and primary plot deals with the action between the younger son and his father.  The second, underlying plot deals with the action between the older son and his father.)

        If the father represents Jesus Christ or God and the younger son represents the tax-gatherers and sinners, who does the older brother represent?  You guessed it:  the Pharisees and scribes.

        The older brother was angry and not willing to join the festivities for his brother.  His attitude was one of self-righteousness.  He felt that He had been loyal and faithful to his father.  After all, he was not the one who had asked for the inheritance.  And yet when his brother returned home from blowing all that he had, His father ordered a celebration on his behalf.  When he confronted his father about this injustice, his father simply reassured him, "You have had my company and all of my goods are yours.  But the resurrection of your brother demanded rejoicing!

        The Pharisees and the scribes were angry that Jesus was receiving, eating with and saving the tax-gatherers and sinners.  They believed that they were being treated unfairly.  They reasoned that they had kept the law and not rebelled against Jesus and they should be the cause of celebration.  They were not concerned about the salvation of their Jewish brethren, but their own self-righteousness!!!

        The foil here, that which set's off or heightens the father's response to his younger son, is the attitude and behavior of the elder son.  The father was not angry with his son.  The father felt compassion for his son and hence was able to act on behalf of the son.  The elder son was angry with his brother.  The elder son felt no compassion for his brother and hence was unable to act on behalf of his brother.  We have already studied the relationship of anger to compassion and the relationship of compassion to forgiveness.  Anger short-circuits, inhibits or prohibits compassion.  Compassion issues into forgiveness.  So, where there is anger there will be little or no compassion and, consequently, little or no forgiveness.

        We can learn from the various character conflicts which abound in this story.  There is the implied character conflict between the older brother and the younger brother.  Although no direct copy is given to it, it is obvious.  We are not to be in conflict with sinners, we are to be compassionate towards sinners.

        Certainly this story teaches us about morally good behavior concerning one's father.  We should not dishonor our father by coveting his goods or by refusing to rejoice with him when a child of his is found.

        Certainly this story teaches us about the what really matters in life.  It teaches us about the important values in life.  Compassion is what really matters in life.  Fathers should have compassion on their rebellious sons.  And older brothers should have compassion on their rebellious little brothers.  They should rejoice when their little brothers come home.  Anger, which is allowed to fester and become bitterness is not a feeling that we want to entertain.

        This is not only natural, but spiritual.  We should have compassion on those sinners who are found and forgiven by Jesus Christ.  We should rejoice with Jesus and the angels in heaven over a sinner that comes to repentance.  We should not be jealous or envious of God's soteriological blessing.  We should know that all that God owns has been ours since we trusted him to be our Savior and Father, and thus seek to demonstrate His compassion towards lost people.

(Now is the day of Salvation.  Come to Jesus, now!)


Call to Discipleship


[1] Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Nineteenth Zondervan Printing 1978, pp. 584-585.

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