The Prodigal Son
The amazing thing about The Prodigal Son is that it's a story lived out in the lives of so many families. Many that are here today…maybe you're the parent of a prodigal son or a daughter, or maybe you are the prodigal son or daughter. You know, sometimes we read these Bible stories, and we think of people wearing robes and riding on camels, and we just don't think it's real, that it doesn't apply to us. But the fact is…there's really no difference fundamentally between the characters and the times of Scripture and our time today.
Oh, maybe transportation has changed. Maybe a few jobs have changed. But the hearts of people have not changed, and the circumstances and the problems that people have are the same as they had in the days when Jesus gave us this parable. They're just like you and me. They have the same needs we have, the same wants, and the same problems. So when we look at this story today, we're going to look at a story that reflects your family or maybe that reflects you.
I want to talk to you today about the Prodigal. You find it in Luke, chapter 15. It's really the ending of a series of parables where Jesus has been challenged by the Pharisees who are confronting him. He's being challenged by them for why it is that he rejoices so much and seems to enjoy so much spending time with sinners, the tax collectors, those who are the outcasts of society. So Jesus shares a story about a lost sheep. He shares a story about a lost coin. Then he shares and ends the story with a lost son. We find that in chapter 15, beginning in verse 11. While it's a parable, I see so much reality in the story. I wonder if this isn't a true story that Jesus is sharing with us.
It says in verse 11: "Then He said, 'A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.' So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal [or wasteful] living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.'"
Two sons born in the same family, from the same womb, raised in the same home, with the same education, the same opportunities…two sons, completely different. Does that sound familiar? Two children from the same family, but it seems like they couldn't possibly be from the same family at all. If you're a parent here today, you've wondered about that yourself. You've wondered why it is that you can have two children (or more) who seem to be so different, one from another.
Here, we have a child who is rebellious. This younger son goes to his father and says, "I want my portion of the inheritance now"—an action that normally didn't take place in that culture until the death of the father. He is in essence saying, "I wish you were dead."…disrespecting his father and asking for his portion now. Amazingly his father gives it to him, and he, just a few days later, gathers up everything (which I think simply means that he sells his part of the possession…he seems to come into some liquid assets there and some cash), and he goes to a far country and begins to live it up.
Two boys in the same family and yet completely different. One is rebellious, and really, both are rebellious. I think before we go any further, we need to realize about rebellion. You know, all of us are sinners. All of us in this room, whether parent or prodigal, are born with a sinful nature. And one thing that you need to know…if you're a parent and you're not aware of the fact that you brought into this world a precious adorable little sinner, then one of these days you're going to be in for the shock of your life because they will disappoint you. They will show forth that they are sinful children. They will show forth a rebellion.
We all have the problem of rebellion, but I will admit that sometimes it is more pronounced in some than it is in others. That's what we have in the story that is before you today. We have a prodigal…and maybe you already have that prodigal child, or at least one who has that potential. There are some signs that you can see sometimes when a child is going to be that prodigal child. Generally speaking, they're very disrespectful of authority. They express a lot of discontentment with being told to do anything. That disrespect for authority becomes part of their nature and part of their reaction to all the things in life. You'll notice the disrespect here, how this younger son really treated his father in demanding his inheritance.
Not only do we see disrespect here, but we also see materialism. Materialism is certainly another sign of one who is perhaps destined to be a prodigal. You just have to ask yourself…he says here, "Give me the portion of goods that falls to me." Now over at your house, what gets the most attention? Is it the material or is it the spiritual? What is it that seems to get the focus of your house? Is it the things of the body or is it the things of the soul?
Do you remember that verse that just keeps coming up to us week after week? Jesus tells us back in Luke chapter 12, in verse 15…he says to "take heed and beware of covetousness..." Why? Because "…a man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." But when we live materialistically, we think that life does in fact consist of the things that we possess. A prodigal (on top of all of that) uses that as their measuring mark of how pitiful their life is and how necessary it is for them to break free. Materialism…freedom…all the other synonyms that they might use for wanting to get away from that thumb of their parent and make it on their own.
There are some principles I want you to see in the story, and the first one is right here. If you have a prodigal son or daughter…one who has left home, one who is about to leave home, one who has been gone for a short or a long time, one who maybe hasn't even left the premises but their heart has gone to a far country some time ago…I want to give you some principles from a parental standpoint, from the father's standpoint, for you to keep in mind. Also, if you are that prodigal, that you might take heed to the words of God here.
The first principle is right before us. This is what I want you to notice. The father didn't try to keep the boy from leaving. He didn't try to keep the boy at home. That's the first principle. I heard this saying, I think it's a good one: "Parenting is the orderly losing of control over your child." That's what parenting is. You take a person from a state of total dependence to one of independence, and in the process, you lose control. The problem is sometime parents don't want to let go of that rope.
And when the child turns prodigal, when the child rebels, when the child runs away or the child simply leaves the family at the first legal opportunity they can, that desire to hang on to that rope leaves such rope burns in your heart that your life is miserable. You can't get on with your life for fear and worry, for trying to take charge of the situation, trying to show them the right way, trying to bring them back, trying to hang on. My friends, the father did not try to keep the boy from leaving. He let him go.
There has to come a time when you let them go. Even if letting them go means they're going to fall off a cliff. There has to come a time when you let them go. I wonder if I'm speaking to someone this morning who remembers vividly the day that son or daughter walked away, who remembers vividly that time in their life when they chose the far country. Listen, the far country is just simply anywhere a person goes away from God. The number of steps it takes to get to the far country is one step, one step of rebellion, one step of disobedience against God. And that's what we have with the younger son. It is that step that causes them to want to break free. And that's what happens here. That's the rebellion.
Secondly, we see repentance. As we follow the young man's story, we see what is perhaps one of the best illustrations of what real true biblical repentance is all about. Repentance is simply a word that means to change, metanoia. It means to change your direction, to take a 180-degree turn form where you were going. It's not to think about or to feel sorry about or to be remorseful over…that's not repentance, that's regret. Repentance is a change. And we see this younger son come to that point in his life.
Look with me in verse 17 of our chapter. It says, "But when he came to himself..." That is the prayer of every parent of a prodigal. Really, more than anything else, even more than safety, is that they would come to themselves…that they would come to the point in their life where they realize where they are and what they have done and their need to change.
You see, phone calls, bailing people out, enabling bad behavior…that never solves the prodigal problem. It only begins when the prodigal comes to a point when they come to themselves. "But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!'" All of the sudden, the house doesn't look so bad. All of the sudden, mom's cooking is not so bad. All of the sudden, going to church…you know, that really wasn't that bad.
I don't say this tongue in cheek; I say this is the reality of a prodigal's life. They come to the point where they realize the very things they despised and hated are things they can depend on and grow from. They come to themselves. The word in the Greek means to come to your right mind.
It's like the story of that crazy man…if you remember the story when Jesus landed on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, and they went up into the area where there were tombs. There was a man running around naked. A man they couldn't hold down even with chains…a maniac. When he comes to Jesus, Jesus saves him. The Bible says that all of the sudden this man for whom no chain could hold and who was just at the end of his wits, sat down and was in his right mind.
It took him nakedness and living in a tomb to find Jesus, and it takes a prodigal their own journey of coming to a place, coming to that pigpen, coming to that pigsty…that end of their walk when they finally realize there is a better choice, there is a more sensible way to live. He discovers that for himself.
Now listen. I'm not going to tell any of you who may be the prodigal that you're not having a big time right now. Whether you're watching me on TV or whether you're just here in this room…I understand that leaving home has given you such freedom that you're really living it up. Maybe the apartment is starting to get filthy. Maybe that second notice on the water bill is starting to concern you, but really, you've been living it up.
You know, the Bible even talks about that. Over in Hebrews 11, verse 25, it talks about the pleasures of sin, but it goes on to say "for a season." You see, for a while you can always live it up. You can live that wasteful life. You can destroy all of the inheritance if you want to, but it's always for a season. I tell you, some of you are blowing it. You've chosen to walk away from all the values and things that your parents taught. My friends, you're blowing it.
I want to tell you something…blowing your life is not the same as living your life. Some of you could have gotten a good education, and instead, you blew it. Some of you could have gotten a good job, and instead, you've blown it. Some of you could have had a family by now, but instead, you blew it. Blowing your life is not the same as living your life. The life you find yourself in is a pigsty that needs to get you to wake up and to see I'm not living, I'm just blowing; I'm not living, I'm just destroying.
Do you know, in here is a second principle…a principle I really want the parents of the prodigals to understand as well. This is the toughest of all three of them. It's really something you don't see, but it is something the father also does. Not only does the father not keep him from going, but secondly, my friends, I want you to notice that the father didn't go and bail him out. That's tough. It's a tough call. It's something that every parent has to wrestle with.
It's not enough to just say, "Well, I'm super-tough." That works great until your child gets in that situation. When that happens, it's a tough call. I'm not saying there are not times when you don't need to bail them out, but what I am saying is there are times when you have to let them pay the consequences.
Let me tell you a truth here, if I can word this correctly: To allow the child to face the consequences of their behavior is to grant them a dignity. You see, my friends, there is no dignity when you bail out the child. There is dignity…listen to me…in learning to face the consequences of your choices. There is a maturity and a dignity there that is robbed by an overprotective parent. This father would not do that. He did not rob his younger son of the dignity of facing the consequences of his choices. So I want you to notice that the father did not bail him out.
Now you may be the prodigal, and I just want to ask you…have you hit bottom? Have you come to the place where this one is? He has spent all of his inheritance, and now he's working on a pig farm, living there among the pigs, jealous of the fact that they're able to eat these tree pods that he's not able to eat…that he'd like to get just a little bit of what they're eating. That really looks good to him. That's how incredibly hungry he is. Maybe you're wandering around and you just see a family and they're in Wal-Mart and they're just kind of laughing together…but their laughter seers your heart like a huge sword because you used to have that. Now the simplest things are such a painful remembrance for you. You've hit bottom.
Now, when we hit bottom, there are several things we can do. One thing is we can blame the parents. We can blame the parents all we want. Listen, I'm a parent. Not one of us here would say we've done things the way we should have done at all times. Not one of us would say we as parents haven't blown it along the way. That's part of being a parent, too. All I can tell you who are parents of prodigals to do is what I do myself. I ask God to forgive me for my failures. I ask my children to forgive me for my failures, and life moves on. That's all you can do. It may be that as a parent, you didn't do a thing wrong, and you still have a prodigal child.
Let me say something to you who are the prodigal sons and daughters here this morning. You're looking for someone to blame for your situation and the most obvious targets to blame are your parents. They got divorced. They didn't listen to you. They pressured you too much. Whatever it might be…they may be to blame. I understand that. But at some point in your life you've got to accept the fact that they blew it. You have to forgive them, and you have to start taking responsibility for your own adult behavior.
Although the father in our story here who represents God is not at fault here, we do see the son coming to himself which means he's taking responsibility for his own life. No matter what got you to where you are, you have to come to place where you take responsibility for your actions. If you need to get help, you take responsibility to get help. Those that I've counseled with and dealt with who are in the throes of addictions…no one else I have ever found helped anybody overcome or deal with or get in recovery from an addiction unless that person himself wanted to be helped. That is not a power that God has granted any parent. Only the individual can do that. That's the power of the addiction.
Maybe you're at the bottom of that well. Maybe you're in the midst of that pigsty. Maybe you've come to yourself, and you realize that it's time for you to take responsibility. That's what this man does. Listen to what he says in verse 18. Here's the repentance: "I will arise and go to my father and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.'"
Now notice what this man does. He doesn't just sit there in all that filthy mud and have a pity party. Repentance is not that. Repentance is not calling your best friend or your drug buddy on the phone and telling them what a bad life you have. No. He already had the bad life, but what he does…notice this…he says, first of all, "I will arise;" secondly, "I will go;" third, "I will say."
He has a plan. That's repentance. He doesn't just stay in the mud. He gets up and turns around, and he changes his life. That power is in every one of your lives. Every one of you has the power to change, to say, "I will arise, and I will go, and I will say. I will get help. I will take responsibility. I will encounter the consequences, but I will not continue to live in the mess I've made for myself." No parent can do that for you for any permanent length of time…no friend, certainly no buddy that got into the mess that you're in to begin with…but God can do that. You can arise and you can go. You can call out to God to give you a strength you don't have, and you can repent.
Listen to his repentance. This is so metaphorical of what happens to us in salvation, by the way. We don't come to God, and we don't say, "You know, God, I've been a sinner, but I tell you what, I'm a great singer, so I'm going to let you have me." No. What we do…and the only time we're ever really truly saved…listen to me…we come to God and we say, "God, I'm not worthy to be your child. Make me a servant. Make me a servant."
If you're not brave enough to do that, you're not ready for Christ to save you. If you're not willing to see that the world is totally upside down from the way you've been viewing it, then you're not ready to be helped. My friends, it's not that it's time for me to put all of this drug and alcohol aside and let the world enjoy me for a little while. It's when you come to the point and realize your own worthlessness, your own helplessness…when you see what's happened, when you've made your own decisions…that's when repentance comes.
See, some of you are saying right now, "You know, listen. That's fine for you, but I think for myself. That's where I am." You know, that's what Jason was saying as a character in the skit we just saw. So you're saying, "I think for myself." Let me tell you something…a simple one word: No. No, you don't think for yourself. That's the problem. You're letting everybody else think for you.
You're letting some of your friends who have you in the mess you're in think for you. You've let some of that music you're listening to get you there. That good country crooning about wine and women, and it just sounded too good. You've let that get you there. You've let some of those movies you've been watching do the thinking for you. The problem is you don't think for yourself.
If I could get you to think for yourself for three minutes, you'd go home. The problem is that you don't think for yourself until you come to yourself.
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